And, to top it all, they’re red… Paulo Sérgio Duarte. 2002.

The color of blood overpowers the off-white, seems to punish it in a romantic drama. One might think of each painting as a tiny condensed theater, soliloquies of red, like a contemporary shout. But there is no anxiety in this color; if it shouts, it does so for sheer joy, the joy of creating, in opposition to the memory of color choices and the allusions they imply.

At first we see nothing but color, but immediately we follow closely the swift brushwork. The paint does not float: it sticks to the surface, but not to the point of pervading it. The wide, blood-colored brushstroke clashes with the white plane; it reigns in solitude over what until then seemed to be an immense spread of white. Now it imposes itself and redimensions the surface on the scale of the body. The gesture is continuous, swift, and sometimes self-overlapping. Its speed varies depending on the support: faster and smoother on paper, slower against the resistance posed by the rough surface of the canvas. The Gestalt of the final result is disturbed by the movement that suggests it has gone as far as the arm could reach. We are clearly a long way from a past time — though modern — when painters worked with their wrists. In this painting, Gabriela Machado mobilizes her entire body. And its form is also this movement. In this way the presence of the body is literal and constitutive of the painting. It is worth emphasizing that there is here no allusion to the phantom of the body or the memory of figure. What we do find is the presence of the body in the traces it leaves on the surface.

But the gesture is not as free as it seems. It has nothing to do with instincts or drives. In fact, the artist looks at a model, her point of departure, the image of which will be transformed by the action of painting. There are large-scale installations of continuous lengths of toilet paper taking up part of the studio. A circuitous path has been painstakingly built, suspended in the air, almost sculptural: this is her “model.” What the eye follows and the arm tries to trace are sections of this suspended path. The metamorphosis of the white paper installation into a blood-colored painting becomes a form of mimesis without representation. For those who are repeatedly killing painting, Machado’s work is a lesson. In the realm of commonplace objects, performative somersaults, digital primitives and their electronic palettes with millions of colors, in this pretentious regression labeled “postmodern,” an investigation like this one renews our belief in the persistence of art.

The issue of the beautiful, although banished from aesthetics for historical reasons, returns from time to time from exile in contemporary works such as these paintings by Gabriela Machado. Why are these blood-colored brushstrokes on canvas beautiful? The loneliness of the dark red is a necessary condition, but clearly not a sufficient one. The conciseness of the final result and the starkness of the single, continuous brushstroke are also relevant. There is, then, a moral — or ethical, if you will — component in this artistic practice that dignifies it. But there is also mimesis without representation in the search for a form that can translate space into a plane giving up any attempt at illusionism, denying depth, reducing this space to pure convulsive movement on the surface. Last, there is the scale of the human body, which generates immediate empathy with the body of the observer, as if its dimensions could not be other than these. All of this, I believe, goes into the beauty of these paintings. And, to top it all, they’re red…

Paulo Sergio Duarte

An art-critic, Professor of Art History and researcher at the Centre of Applied Social Studies / Cesap da Universidade Candido Mendes, Rio de Janeiro, he has lectured on the Theory and History of Art at the School of Visual Arts, Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro. He was chief consultant of RIOARTE (1983-85) and the first director general of the Paço Imperial / Iphan, from 1986 to 1990, where he was responsible for its establishment as a cultural centre, during which time exhibitions by Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, Sergio Camargo, Miró, Gaudi and Amílcar de Castro (the only retrospective of the artist during his lifetime) were mounted. He is the author of the books: Anos 60 – Transformações da arte no Brasil (1998); Waltercio Caldas (Cosac & Naify, 2001); and Carlos Vergara (Porto Alegre: Instituto Santander Cultural, 2003).