Colombian artist Fanny Sanín became a pioneer of the geometric abstraction movement and a key figure in modern Latin American art. Her symmetrical design motifs are characterized by blocky, simplified shapes consisting of two to five colors. Though they vary in size and composition, each of Sanín’s paintings share the artist’s unique aesthetic. Her cohesive geometric works evoke a sense of calm in their methodical construction.
Born in 1938, Sanín grew up in Bogotá, Colombia, and studied art at the University of Los Andes. Her emergence onto the art scene, along with contemporaries Jesús Rafael Soto and Raúl Lozza, coincided with post-war European influences of geometric abstraction. As a style rooted in orderliness and stability, geometric abstraction offered artists a respite from their volatile surroundings.
Latin American art is often known for its brightly colored, fantastical works—most notably portrayed in Frida Kahlo’s Surrealist paintings—as well as its use of magical realism and folk mythology. However, the breadth of the region reaches into widely varied art forms, such as geometric abstraction, which originated in Europe and spread throughout Latin America between the 1930s and 1970s. Sanín became a pioneer of the geometric abstraction movement and a key figure in modern Latin American art.
During the mid-20th century, many Latin American countries experienced extended periods of civil unrest, tumultuous government, and stalling economies. Geometric abstraction is based on systematic expressions of organization and structure that many artists’ lives and environments may have lacked. Although Sanín left Colombia to study at the University of Illinois in 1962 and continues to work abroad, her paintings reflect her identity, rooted in Colombia.
As a student, Sanín explored sculpture, architectural drawing, theatre set design, and printmaking, but ultimately dedicated herself to painting. She believes the medium allows her to delve most deeply into pure abstraction, devoid of figurative representation.
Initially, Sanín created works using a gestural abstract style, like contemporaries Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Joan Mitchell, but found her true voice in the geometry of hard-edge, symmetrical compositions filled with flat planes of color.
Living in England early in her career provided Sanín with access to the greater European art world and introduced her to paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Mark Rothko, and Frank Stella. Their adept and radical employment of scale and color proved inspirational. Sanín also points to Wassily Kandinsky and Henri Matisse as influences.
To construct visual discipline in her paintings, Sanín explores spatial order through symmetry. Color and form are the artist’s only subject matter. Her methodical artistic process—meditative in nature—includes creating multitudes of preparatory studies and mixing her own hues.
Sanín was one of the few female geometric abstraction artists, and she breathed life into the genre, particularly at a time when other artistic genres often overshadowed it. In the under-recognized field of Latin American geometric abstraction, it is important to note Sanín’s contributions creating artwork reflective of the political, economic, and social realities in Latin American history.
This exhibition was created as a companion to Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín, a small focus exhibition exploring the artist’s meticulous working process. On view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts from July 14–October 29, 2017.
All works are part of the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts unless otherwise noted. Additional images from Museo Frida Kahlo and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.