Three of the five large paintings in Vienna-based artist Anna Schachinger’s first New York exhibition (all works 2018) have nearly identical compositions. Measuring roughly six by five feet and rendered in ink, oil, and acrylic on linen, they show two women: one facing the viewer and ironing a piece of cloth, the other tending to a pile of fabric behind her. Painted with dabs of color and some broken, undulating lines, the pile reaches the top of the image and encircles the ironing woman’s head and upper body as if it were an elaborate headdress or the back of a large throne, endowing her short, stocky figure with a regal quality. Another pair of figures is present in the scene: a nude male running with a female thrown over his shoulder appears in outline on the portion of cloth that hangs over the ironing board’s side. The fluid, linear style of this vignette recalls that found on Classical vessels. The outstretched leg of Schachinger’s male figure reaches beyond the edge of the cloth, making him a kind of floating presence in the ironing room: an apparition, a daydream, a myth.
Schachinger is of Austrian, Ecuadoran, and Mexican heritage, and traces of this diverse background may be glimpsed in her work. Aspects of the Western European tradition are plainly visible in the aforementioned three paintings. With their delicate palette and sophisticated brushwork, they hark back to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century canvases by painters such as Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. In addition, the motif of the ironing woman appears in works by artists ranging from realists like François Bonvin to Edgar Degas, who explored it thoroughly in the 1870s and 1880s, to Picasso. In fact, Schachinger’s paintings, which are each titled Büglerinnen (Women Ironing), are similar enough to Degas’s Repasseuses (Women Ironing, ca. 1884–86) that one may assume they were inspired by it. At the same time, the bulky forms and earthy colors of her females resemble those of pre-Columbian figuration—the similarity perhaps relating to the artist’s Mexican and South American heritage. Such figuration was also found in another work in the show, Loin and Men, which is assembled from several pieces of fabric sewn together. A central square of linen, framed by broad stripes of black velvet, is painted with an image of a man and a lion locked in a fight, the snarling animal thrown on its back and the man standing on its chest, clutching at its hind legs. The image is cut off by the edges of the linen, and the painted forms have been half-heartedly extended onto the velvet border, where the medium does not stick and the figures thus become pale and ghostly.
The “Büglerinnen” paintings and Loin and Men seem to be parts of a single, albeit vague, narrative, one concerning women busy with housework and men immersed in heroic deeds. But while Schachinger’s women appear to be quite real, the men seem to be merely images or ideas in the women’s world: they flutter about an ironing room or decorate pieces of fabric stitched by a woman’s hand.
Schachinger is young (she was born in 1990), and her production is fairly uneven, with some works displaying a loose and confident manner and others appearing slightly affected or awkward. Her varying imagery and painting styles evoke different registers—the symbolic, the art historical, the ethnographic, the domestic. Although sometimes resulting in a muddled quality, this diversity also suggests that we are seeing the beginning of a distinct artistic trajectory.