Nanuqim / The Atelier Journals
Although this is an anthology of drawings, I would like to borrow the expression rarefaction, or more specifically context rarefaction, from the realm of literary criticism.
Actually, the term refers to a resource that has featured in the poetry of several periods, but contemporary poetry is responsible for adopting it, obviously not as a programmatic item but as a rather recurrent device, due either to the fragmentary character of several aspects of contemporary life, or to the need to give unity to what constitutes us as individuals. When the translator José Antonio Arantes claims, for instance, in his introduction to the Irish poet Seamus Heany’s anthology, published by Companhia das Letras, that the poems from Heany’s recent collections (Station Island, The Haw Lantern, 1987, Seeing Things, 1991, and The Spirit Level, 1996) sound more rarified than the previous ones, he is probably referring to the poems’ small scope in context. As if Heany had a vocation for metaphysics, even though his poems were inspired in his homeland, his childhood, i.e., a commonplace background.
This wish for transcendence can be felt in many other poets, of several periods and nationalities, but it hardly ever corresponds to the technical aptitude for reticence, which is able to draw the outline of what is only suggested with lucid precision. Wallace Stevens, in his long poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar” or in one of his late short poems, the splendid “Of Mere Being”, provides another fortuitous example of that poetics of “airing”. Out of sheer pleasure, I transcribe the poem below:
OF MERE BEING
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
Understood as a resource of extreme decantation of language, context rarefaction only apparently suspends the flow of meanings. On the contrary, that momentary suspension enhances meaning, requiring some sort of reflexive intuition from the reader; it focuses on the clear meaning of words, as well as on the silence in which words are inscribed. Pursuing and finding the matter that gives life to that poetic silence is a vital principle for a certain kind of poetry.
I would like to borrow the term rarefaction from literary criticism, especially because it corresponds to a similar resource in the plastic arts, a resource that I cherish in my work: collage. Not collage as a mere juxtaposition of parts, which exposes the cartilage as a war trophy. Neither the collage that explores the cleverly decontextualized traffic of meanings. But collage as the search for a new harmony, made out of pieces, but whole and one, in which the articulations work in a subtle way, beyond the point reached by the eye.
Thus understood, collage requires the spectator to explore an unknown space. The context from where the parts have come from is lost. Both color and shape have forgotten their place of origin. The integrity that I want for my collages is due, on the one hand, to this break from the context to which they originally belonged, and on the other hand, to the discovery of connections able to inaugurate a context that, because it does not leave any traces behind it, seems to have created itself.
This search for a possible harmony, departing from the technique of collage, creates a space in which the evenness of more or less abstract shapes coexists, undisturbed, with the depths of the setting. If that is already visible in my collages, when I paint I try to amplify and enrich this seeming contradiction through a series of nuances. From that results, most of the time, the discovery of an aerial space, as if the picture had been built with superposed smooth layers, and managed to preserve, in between them, empty spaces that draw the spectator’s eye, returning the idea of perspective to him/her – only now recreated.
I would like this space, discovered thanks to intuition and continuous work, to be the expression of my
bom lugar, even though I sometimes have the impression that it is also the place of vertigo.
Like paper itself, when I draw I am driven to appropriate space, and this spatiality gives a rarefied impression to the drawings, reinforced by the lines, but also by the opposition between the lines and the black areas. These drawings, open-ended, if I may call them so, are part of a larger group, started in 1992. To it I have added the works being developed in several materials, such as cement, glass, styrofoam, canvas and paper. But I have also included all sorts of objects that are part of the daily life of an atelier, from a pair of pincers to a glass of water, or a leaf. I have used the verbs “incorporate” and “include” to make clear that, even while I understand and explore the technical potentiality of several materials, I do not forsake a unifying project, according to which the drawing itself must explore the small recesses of my private geography. With my drawings I map out the geography of everyday life, which evades me when I paint or when I work with cement. But I sincerely believe that, if this unity is occurring, it is due more to intuition than to planning.
In the same way as I almost always depart from collage I usually end up drawing. The asymmetry with which I cut out pages from magazines, books, newspapers or photographs, without any kind of previous plan or intent, allied to the playful nature of the first attempts at composition, are two of the basic ingredients of the origin of my collages, and my whole work, for that matter. Apart from those traits – asymmetry and playfulness – what I do when I draw is to establish a net of internal relationships, which had only been suggested at the beginning of the process. If during the collage the paper knife and the scissors are as determining for the cut as the hand, at the drawing stage the pen obeys and is subordinated to the vital commands of breathing. My aim when drawing it to be able to incorporate my breath into the line, but not in a conspicuous manner. Just enough to make the drawing breathe as well, without any fuss.
Drawing is breathing with topmost consciousness and a minimum of air. Naturally this equation summarizes what I think of this group of drawings. To quote but one example, it would be blindness to apply the same equation to the hard and incisive line of one of the greatest Brazilian drawing artists, Poty Lazzarotto. The tense quality of his line is due as much to his predilection for the traditional metal-tipped pen, which, in his own words can be dealt with as a violin, as to the very particular rhythm of his breathing. And yet we breathe differently, each one according to his own vital rhythm.
As far as my perception goes, I employ my line for the construction of a space that eliminates the opposition between the interior and the exterior worlds. Finding communication channels between the inside and the outside allows me to extend the relationship between the drawing and the surface of the paper.
As part of this wired structure, the black areas of Indian ink have a balancing function, anchoring one’s look. These covered surfaces act as counterweight for the weaving of lines. I like to think that thanks to them my drawing has the ground as its departing point. Which did not prevented me from sometimes making the opposite mistake of attaching an exceedingly large anchor to a canoe. Succumbing to the ground grammar is a mistake I try to avoid by rooting my feet in the ground while loosening my hands skywards.
Thus, as I document my atelier production, I simultaneously explore the black subtleties of Indian ink, with its always renewable possibilities, and go on building a poetics of airing – most of the time like a blind man, feeling his way around. This hollowed out constitution is what softens the tragicity of my Icaruses. Caught in the middle of their fall, with their bodies open, they expose, beyond their black bones, the air that gives them life. The same air that accepts their fall keeps them momentarily suspended. Hurt, but far from disintegrating, they still fly and one can imagine them falling into a garden.
Icarus falls in heaven is the title of one of my canvasses. I do not remember whether I have also made a drawing of it. What separates an actual drawing from the mental decision to make it is a very thin line, but in some cases that border is never transposed. As for my Icarus, I would like the anxiety of the fall preceding death, although inherent to the human condition, to share the protagonist role with the flowers of the garden, yellow hibiscuses. Icarus is the bird-man, who is terrified but accepts the inevitability of the ending as he has accepted, with fear and joy, the challenge of the first flight. It might be possible to transplant the frailty, beauty and liveliness of the garden hibiscuses to the imaginary realm of the drawing and yet, have them stand for a softer version of the majestic indifference of nature.
Many times I think that there is some sort of architectural severity behind these drawings, a severity that causes me pain but that I nonetheless search. Fragile but authentic. Although my lines derive from the huge silence of which I am also part, they might become, in happy moments, conduits that allow happiness to circulate, happiness without adornments or loudness, that many times I have not even felt within myself. It is that happiness, in its version that borders architecture and mathematics, the secret motor of the somehow temporary stability of these drawings.
Do livro inédito NANQUIM,
desenhos e posfácio de Carlos Dala Stella.
Tradução de Déborah Scheidt