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Date Minted:  February 11, 2020

Artist Description: A silly idea that begins to grow but then becomes a challenge, how high can I get? For this you need to add height, little by little. Everything you have done in your life will help you get there, but now that you have a goal you must use all your ingenuity to reach the clouds.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Stairs represents possibility. It was the first thing I thought of when I looked at this beautifully-colored and impeccably-composed piece: possibility. See how the canvas stretches upwards. See how the frame seems to extend beyond its own boundaries, up and up and up well past the point at which it is intersected by the screen. Rather impressively, Stairs differentiates itself from most other crypto art with its quiet compositional brilliance and its playful nature. To me, Stairs actually seems most at home to be in a world of videogames, the kind of indie games made by small studios of artisans and which so often manage to communicate sprawling philosophical ideas with little more than a well-devised world and intelligent gameplay. Stairs contains that same capacity. In this little piece of artwork —intermingling a washing machine, a rickety ladder, and colors at home in a Rothko painting— is the truest depiction of success I can remember seeing (spoken as someone who has only tangentially touched it, for what that’s worth). Because herein is inspiration but not delusion. It’s achievement but cognizant of humility. It’s grandiose but also (literally) built on a haphazard stack of assembled experiences. In Stairs are all the trappings of achievement: the ideation and the reality, the work and the payoff (which, off-screen, we never see), the pride of getting this far and the pain of looking up and seeing only an endless array of ladder rungs stretched heavenward above you. 

Set against a sky trisected into sunset orange, grey-green, and black, artist Monfa Cabrero’s Stairs appears to us like a stage show. There is the lighting from the background, but literally a stage light hanging from a wire in the center of the piece. Below it: the proceedings at hand. We are in stage center, sitting upon a small green half-circle that might well be a hill or might otherwise be a small planet. Upon the ground, there’s a guitar, a bicycle, some old vinyl records scattered about, a large cardboard box, a bookshelf with a few volumes on it, and a globe. These form a foundation for other items in an ascending pile. The aforementioned washing machine. A suitcase and more boxes. What look to be bunny ear antenna from an old TV. A boombox. A chair. And a small ladder extending upwards from the pile, leaning precariously atop it, with a wire stretching out from its zenith to somewhere off-screen. From this wire, the stage-light dangles. But the grand majority —more than half— of the piece centers on the tall and narrow and perfectly-straight second ladder which is affixed to all that came before it. A few pieces of scaffolding wood have been attached to its backside, but really, when it extends upwards into the air, it extends upwards into the air of its own volition, on its own merits, and all alone. This ladder punctures the whole of the second grey-green sky segment, and enters the top-most section of the image, the thick black band of shadow that eats up everything around it. Into it, the ladder rises. And it disappears into the miasma.

Of this piece, Monfa writes “A silly idea that begins to grow but then becomes a challenge, how high can I get? For this you need to add height, little by little. Everything you have done in your life will help you get there, but now that you have a goal you must use all your ingenuity to reach the clouds.” Are the items the artist has chosen representations of what they built their own ideas upon? There are the hallmarks of a child’s life, the adolescent search for meaning in activity, books and music and sports, the laundry-like responsibilities of adulthood, and then, eventually, a place without peer or parallel, the lone ladder with nothing like it around. Achievement is one way to describe what Monfa is talking about. Ambition is another. Success, I’d bet, would be the term of choice for some. But maybe I was hasty before. Maybe I missed the easiest allusion of all. The piece is called Stairs. The central object is a ladder. It’s not the achievement that Monfa seems interested in demonstrating…it’s the climb!

I mean, what more is there —practically— to a life than the collection of ways we spend our times: who with, doing what, and where? That artistry is akin to a series of stepping stones is a pretty common thought, I’d think, but the beauty of Stairs is in its specificity. Not just in the actual decision of which images and items to include, but in, say, the Artist Description, the comparison of ambition to a challenge: “How high can I get?” The thrill not only of climbing the ladder, but wanting to see where it leads, and whether you can even get there. 

Another broad stroke of genius in Stairs is, in my estimation, its ambiguity. The band of impenetrable black along the frame’s top edge is where all the possibility I’d previously alluded to would exist. That capital-P Possibility would be impossible to see from the outside, and probably still pretty difficult from within, something beyond sensation, beyond form, beyond easy identification. The engine is kickstarted by the mystery. 

Functionally, the piece unfolds like a child’s pet project, and like a child with a pet project, energy is in no short supply. The intensity and creativity and I’ll-do-anything-to-finish-what-I-started mentality. I’d half-expected this piece to contain two little legs dangling out from the shadow segment within it. Recognition that this ladder was being climbed by someone else. As opposed to the even more terrifying potential truth: That it’s meant to be climbed by you or I. 

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