For the series of paintings presented in the show, Alejandra Seeber used the familiar psychological method and motif of the Rorschach test: a symmetrical blot is produced by folding a painted surface in half. In the test developed by Hermann Rorschach in the early 20th century, the patient is shown the resulting abstract splotch and asked to freely associate in order to reveal unconscious, in some cases psychotic, thought. Seeber makes this procedure her own by continuously working with the smear, further crystallizing what she sees in it. During the process, abstraction is tamed into figuration, symmetry is destabilized, and the original smudge is in turn refined, disguised and, in some cases, even completely covered.
Seeber initially introduced the blot procedure into her series of paintings depicting domestic interiors. In the often sparsely furnished rooms, she placed a glob of paint at the interior’s “corner” and folded the canvas on the line where the two represented walls meet. The fold here takes the form an anomalous growth that spreads into the otherwise homey setting, as if to represent the psychological or physical traces of the human body upon its architectural confines. The dark matter of the blot intervenes between the subject matter and the viewer, impeding comfortable viewing and embedding a growing sense of unease in the midst of these domestic environments.
In later paintings, the fold becomes the primary vehicle for the compositions, giving way to even more “interior” preoccupations. In Japanese Rorschach, the stain is fleshed out to become a landscape of sorts. In the sections of the canvas where the surface was folded, ripple-like striations appear and murky areas of brown are the result of primary colors in close contact. In the corners of the canvas, a blue sky is elaborated with the contour of a cloud and grass is emphatically sketched with repetitive green strokes. But the nature of the place does not reveal itself easily. The painting instead hovers in a state of perpetual flux, somewhere between the automatism of the stain and the painter’s attempts at reining it in.
By employing the randomized procedure of the fold, Seeber’s work is continuously in dialogue with the history of Modernist abstraction. However, while the random spill of paint was then considered non-referential, Seeber always acknowledges its capacity to become form in the eye of the beholder by elaborating the preliminary formlessness into form.
Andy Warhol made a series of Rorschach-like paintings in the 1980s, smugly proclaiming that he “was going to hire somebody to read into them.”1 Seeber in a sense follows up on this unfulfilled promise. However, while miming the test’s procedures, the paintings do not easily function as portals unto the painter’s mind. Like a coy reflection upon this very fact, Seeber has included a painting of a painter’s palette in the show. As the only image in the show that is not culled from the folding technique, this decoy reminds us of the conscious, willful and often humorous fabrication behind the work on view. Although the title The Pregnant Painter invokes a state of mind as well as a physical circumstance, an understanding of the artist cannot be easily deduced from the sum of work on the wall. Rather, Seeber passes on the test, presenting the viewer with Rorschachs of her own.