Ifirst met Audrey Barcio as a spitfire grad student at UNLV in 2015/16. She had a passion for abstraction that superseded that of any artist I’d met before. Her then-more-sculptural work was imposing, with a minimalist dynamism that captured a complex relationship with both herself and the world. She, like so many of the better artists in Las Vegas, left the city in search of greater opportunities towards the end of 2016. Luckily, Audrey has returned to Vegas on several occasions. Her current exhibition is Sight \ Line, a series of feminist abstractions at the Sahara West Library. In her statement, she points to the history of abstract art making and her incorporation of feminism though contextualized marks. The structure of the work carries personal and historical significance, whether related to her grandmother or to the underrepresented history of women in abstraction. 

“An important factor of why I do abstraction is that I lived next door to my grandmother,” Audrey said in a recent interview. “She was a self-taught artist and did really nice figurative painting. And then as she got older, she lost her eyesight. And her work got abstracted and emotional. … That’s where my love of abstraction comes from, is watching her work evolve.” 

The incorporation of sculptural aspects through sewing, a reference to her grandmother’s domestic responsibilities, and the use of angle and line, present dynamic aspects ripe for interpretation. The work in Sight / Line is in part about place, and the place Audrey has chosen to interpret is Las Vegas. 

“There’s a repeated form that comes up a lot … in my work—the Luxor,” she said. “For me it’s a bit of a duality. One of my favorite works that I’ve been obsessed with for a really long time is this drawing by Agnes Martin. [It’s] two triangle forms, and it’s just like a really beautiful drawing, but then it has a gold leaf top.”

“This work by Agnes Martin … where triangles go upward, historically reads as masculine, she said. “It’s supposed to be a really powerful mountain. But then when it goes to a negative, it’s supposed to be female, and a valley and water. And there’s something about this work that kind of has, like a little bit of a balance between the two. That’s something that I think about a lot—if there could be far better equality amongst all humans. It’s a challenge.”

With strong markings, intuitive subtext, and subtle allusions to the female form, down to its chromosomal makeup, Audrey develops a dialogue around gender politics. The dazzling colors and prismatic patterns are representations of larger cultural ideas.

“I think my work is really political without it being really overt,” she said. “And when you go back and you look at the history of abstraction, all abstraction is very political. And it was rebellious. I think it gets dismissed really easily. But I think if you stop and investigate, then it is that information that shows up. So there are a lot of Xs. And I think an X also is something of like, you know, as two lines intersecting. It’s two opposites coming together. It’s what’s above and what’s below.”

Certainly, when we talk about women in abstraction, the ones who have been the most celebrated are not necessarily the most structural. We commonly look towards the feminine as curved and soft. We place our biases there. Audrey’s work refutes the notion of soft, unintentional forms and claims the angular, structured, and linear as the genderless and eternal, rendering a series of deeply compelling transgressions. Her work lovingly pushes the forward notions of what can be claimed visually based on perceived identity.

“When it comes to American abstraction, it’s rooted in male artists, and there’s not a ton of historically female artists that have grown to the same level,” she said. “And so for me, it’s wanting to make sure that I’m carrying that forward.”

Sight / Line is a triumph of methodology, comprehension, and expression. The work is simultaneously meaningful and beautiful, and in many ways that is what great art is all about. 

Audrey Barcio’s solo exhibition Sight / Line is on view at the Sahara West Library in Las Vegas through Aug. 26. 

Photos: Becca Schwartz

Posted by Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a wizened veteran of the Las Vegas arts and journalism scene, a lonesome cowboy riding the high desert who occasionally wanders in to communicate dispatches on the innumerable goings on in this thing called civilization. Beware his haggard stare and keen eye.