Elle Przybyla

The sumptuous, when approached with restraint, creates a tension, an oscillation between a base desire and an intellectual cooling. At any given point, we tend to tilt in one direction more than the other. Like the corner of a room where two walls meet, discipline and the will of the senses are separate planes that collide, sometimes forming a moment of equilibrium, marked by a thin joining line that is barely perceptible and impossible to occupy. Bianca Regl injects her work into this line, amplifying it to provide glimpses of opposing, yet mediated forces at play. She does this not only with her choice of subject matter—luxurious folds of fabric, food, and the body itself—but also with her technique. She moves between the figurative and the abstract, thick materiality and wispy brushstrokes, all while methodically employing her palette to create visual checks and balances. 

To view Regl’s work is to be reminded of a particular lineage in painting. She draws heavily, but not exclusively, from classical Western traditions and the work of the Old Masters, particularly of the Baroque period. Although her references may be clearly stated—she occasionally gives a direct nod to the source of inspiration through her titling—she also incorporates techniques selectively, making her output layered and her experiments more nuanced. In the works that comprise the series Flowers and Two Passion Fruits (2017), Regl plays with light and dark, in some paintings employing tenebrism to give form to the details in her monochromatic compositions; in other cases, she increases the contrast levels to such a degree that it produces what seems to be a photographic negative or X-ray, where dimensionality has been flattened. Depending on her technique, the figure has exaggerated points, or it recedes. When viewed together, we see not only studies in color and illumination, we experience different visual textures. Regl’s iterative tendencies show a commitment to the medium itself and she is, fundamentally, invested in what a painting can do. 

While Regl works squarely within her artistic discipline, her collaboration with the architect Eldine Heep in Grammar of Disappearance (2019) reveals how flexible and rhythmic her practice can be. The premise of producing a new take on the still life, through a reactive and plastic process dependent on the contribution of another, is a gamble. But the precision with which she reworks her paintings based on Heep’s everchanging digitally-produced models exposes her work to a natural decay into abstraction. And it is, perhaps, in her purely abstract works where Regl becomes the most indulgent. In the largest of her paintings in this series (Grammar of Disappearance, Painting 9), she constructs a tapestry of complementary colors in a way that invents a visual sensation. The velvety purple and yellow-green create a seemingly shimmering surface that activates the senses to a material richness, an adornment privately possessed. The tactility of the patterned relief is reminiscent of her earlier Wallpaper and Brocades oil paintings (2014). Allusory rather than direct, these paintings possess an eroticism, a suggestive appeal, that intimate the intrigue of the domestic realm, with all its rituals and innuendos. However, the “gilded” reflective qualities Regl achieves may not always be what they seem. We are bedazzled, yet faced with the fact that all that glitters is not gold.

Although Regl’s work is not overtly political, it is not without commentary. Her most obvious statement may be seen in her Stucco series (2016), where Regl presents us with an uncomfortable contradiction. The white, ornately sculptural paintings, are overwhelmingly domestic, reminiscent of decorative moulding or, more immediately, a wedding cake. Each piece has an edible quality, with sugary frosting borders that seem to have been crafted by piping tips and couplers.  One is inscribed with “No Means No”—the unequivocal declaration that the lack of consent does not have shades of interpretation. Here we see the boundaries of bodily indulgence, the need to be clear with the rules of pleasure, especially when secreted within the institution of marriage, where violence can be all too permissible when bound by notions of duty. The fact that we cannot consume these paintings, despite the intuitive feeling that they would melt in our mouths, hardens the resolve. At the same time their celebratory, almost whimsical, decorative quality softens the message: while it is no less powerful, it is aesthetically digestible.

Regl’s systematic approach to portraiture and figurative paintings, like her rigorous work with color and experiments in impasto, highlights her proclivity for mastery. Contemporary figurative work—whose resurgence in popularity seems as much about tipping the balances of representation as it does about documenting how we present to the world (as overwrought as we are in an era of streaming selfies and aspirational lifestyle snaps)—can largely be a vehicle for the narrative behind the images. The current artistic choice seems to be to either grapple with technology’s influence on an enduring medium or to report the silent story and color in the omissions. When devoid of some element that resonates with some immediate sociopolitical imperative, an artist’s foray into figurative work may be dismissed as a purely academic or formal exercise. Yet craft can provide an anchor and, eventually, the freedom to be willfully unmoored. While Regl’s subdued attention to formalism can be reassuring—generally absent is a direct confrontation or challenge to the viewer to deconstruct meaning—her deliberate erasures create a precarious presence, as if the subjects are either emerging from or retreating into the shadows. Unlike portraiture where larger notions of identity are as much the subject of a work as the individual depicted, Regl releases her portraits of the responsibility of having a storyline or to be, in any way, sensational. 

In her recent figurative works Setting / Rising (Gesture) and Setting / Rising (Movers), Regl presents a study of states, where the kinetic meets the constraints of the canvas. Characterized by figures assuming different postures and full-bodied, gestural brushstrokes, these paintings not only impart movement on to the canvas but also remind us of the physicality involved in the act of painting. While the large-scale paintings in Setting / Rising (Gesture) possess the grace and athleticism of dance, some of the smaller works in Setting / Rising (Movers), portray dramatic moments that, once again, challenge how the aesthetic can cushion the blow. 

There are curious points of absence in her figurative works. While her subjects are recognizable, sometimes dynamic, they are incomplete. In Untitled (Slow Turn) Gestures, we see a woman (Regl herself) depicted at different moments in time. The visible action is in her limbs, particularly the legs, which she renders in high contrast, similar to the petals in Subtraction Flower (2017). We see the figure from the back, kneeling; from the front, sitting; and again from the front, but at a different angle, walking towards the edge of the frame. Yet the eyes are drawn to a blank focal point, where the body’s center of gravity disappears into the background. The midsection and upper thighs are left unexposed to light, or more accurately covered in such a way that the area becomes indistinguishable from the environment. 

In Movers, Regl returns to the Baroque, invoking Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s torqued mythological figures as subject matter. Set in mid-action, with bodies so achingly desperate to break free, their plight transcends a mere depiction of a scene. The subjects seem to be resisting the limitations of their material reality. In one painting—one of several named Untitled (After Bernini)—Regl depicts, with a titular silence, the Rape of Proserpina. It is an interpretation of an interpretation. Working in counterpoint to Bernini’s booming version of events, where Pluto’s desire to be in absolute possession of the flesh is an almost audible struggle, Regl etches away to the muted other side, placing Pluto in absentia, both lifting Proserpina into autonomy and hinting at the trauma imprinted in bodily memory. The artist empties the volume of Proserpina’s thigh by introducing areas of erasure where Pluto’s hand grasps her—the point where Bernini masterfully makes the marble supple with soft indentations. As Proserpina struggles to escape, her body disappears and Regl marks this absence by revealing striated patterns, evocative of an anatomical drawing. Proserpina’s flattened, partially abstracted figure becomes not so much an object, but a subject or idea. 

The power in Regl’s work often lies in the omissions. She trains her eye on the traces, the indications, rather than the events themselves and we are left to fill in the gaps. While there is a palpable reverence for the senses, she employs a restraint that at times seems to be an expression of agency and others an insinuation of an ambiguous aftermath. Throughout her work, there are punctual moments where she forces us to consider the silence and silencing, the unspoken consequences of extremes. While she does not negate the pleasures of desire, she reminds us of the line between the absolute exhilaration of being and the disappearance when boundaries are crossed. Paintings, like books, have suffered false crises: something is always dead—until it’s not. Yet, the task of bringing something new into the medium is daunting. Regl works the canvas to continually change the focal point, reminding us of the importance of due diligence.