“People have this desire to control time, to record time,” says the Orleans painter and printmaker Antonia DaSilva. “For centuries, humans have tried to figure out time, but we can’t actually do any of that. We can’t hold onto it — it’s this arbitrary thing that we’ve created. But what if we could collect and accumulate time?”
DaSilva’s recent mixed media works — showing at the Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown from Friday, July 2 through July 22 — attempt this: “I wanted that image of the clock, representing time, to be overly present in layers,” she says. “Conceptually, that is what I was thinking about.” They will appear alongside works by Jefferson Hayman, Diana Horowitz, Daniel Ranalli, Sarah Hinckley, Dermot Meagher, and Linda Bond.
DaSilva, who is 25 years old, has a lot of time ahead of her. She grew up in Chatham and spent weekends exploring Provincetown’s galleries. (Her parents — both architects — moved to Orleans about four years ago.) When she was studying dance at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, she realized she was in the wrong field. “What I really wanted to be doing was the visual arts,” she says.
So, DaSilva went to Smith College to study painting and printmaking. In the summers, she took classes at the Fine Arts Work Center. (This is where she met artist Vicky Tomayko, who helped coordinate the show at Schoolhouse.) When the pandemic hit, she returned to the Cape and finished her B.A. remotely. She plans on staying until Covid is truly a thing of the past.
Even though DaSilva moved away from dance, her love of “expressing myself in a way that’s bigger than myself” stuck. Her work engages space and the viewer in ways that traditional painting does not. Like a performer, DaSilva draws you in.
DaSilva started experimenting with cutout paintings going beyond the rectangle when she was at Smith. A different series, Thought Clouds, consists of paintings on balloon-shaped pieces of plywood. “For those pieces in particular, I was thinking about comic book speech bubbles,” she says, “and the way we draw cartoon clouds and that relationship — the humor that is often inserted into it. What if clouds were just thoughts?”
The Collecting Time series tracks time as it became elastic and indeterminate over the course of the pandemic. “It came from that idea of collecting ephemeral things — people collecting time, or clouds, or light, or shadows,” she says. “How would I translate that into images — this idea of accumulation and control?”
There’s a lot of preparation involved — reading, taking notes, sketching, planning on an iPad. “Once I cut all the pieces, the composition might shift,” she says. “I just respond to what those pieces actually are, and it changes. I don’t like to end with the same image that I started with.”
Using some rectangular panels is part of that control. “The rectangle was important because it creates this very structured boundary,” she says, “and that’s the idea of our attempt to control time, to slow it down. Conceptually, I decided I really needed that rectangle there as attempted containment.”
In pieces such as 6:15 pm, DaSilva cuts out circles from stock wooden panels while attaching more on top, hovering over the negative spaces to create a theatrical staging of different levels that float and recede. The colors — deep yellow, turquoise, and sage — are bright and graphic. Where, previously, she resisted the four sides of a painting panel, here she integrates it by hiding it in plain sight.
“All of these started with layers of silkscreen,” she says, which were printed directly on primed panels to create a base for layering oils on top. “The silkscreen takes the oil paint in a way that’s different than the primed surface,” allowing her to wipe back into it, layering and accumulating color.
The shadows are an important part of the work, and DaSilva has gone as far as painting the back of the panels and their attendant pieces with color so that they cast a soft glow against a white wall. By creating work that engages the space beyond the work itself, she tips it purposefully towards installation. “With installation, the viewer is really forced to interact in a specific way — a spatial way,” she says.
DaSilva adopts a pared down, cartoony look for her shapes and forms. “I’ve always been interested in comic book imagery,” she says. “The absurdness of the situation or the way the character is drawn so it’s stretched out in funny ways, and how that will express action or emotion. I just formally enjoy the shapes, the solid areas, which is part of why I like silkscreen so much — it can be very graphic, but I also think it adds a feeling of play to the work.”
DaSilva’s pictorial collection of clocks, clouds, and cutout shapes are all part of a personal iconography: “You can use everyday objects, but in ways that people don’t think about — maybe make them encounter that object in their life in a different way by changing the scale, changing the context, abstracting it. I like the idea of broadening the way that we think of something as being useful.”
The event: “Collecting Time,” works by Antonia DaSilva
The time: Friday, July 2 through July 21; Wednesday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m; Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The place: Schoolhouse Gallery, 494 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free