Passages. Robert Morgan. 2003

One of the most enlightened aspects in Gabriela Machado’s new paintings is their purposeful sense of movement. One might see her linear forms as ideographic signs — not in the literal sense of having a preordained meaning — but in the abstract sense. They are signs that carry the connotation of visual pleasure. Whether Machado is painting on canvas or paper — or constructing sculpture from paper rolls — her use of the gesture retains a certain kinesthetic relationship to space. In essence, her gestural forms are embedded within the space of the painting. Her gestures are abstract forms, to be sure, but they are also very real. Machado’s paintings are an expression of being within the present tense. They represent a heightened moment of awareness in relation to the action of the brush. They are signs of contemplation, moments in time that are transformed into passages of feeling, states of mind.

Gabriela Machado is a creator of space, a dynamo of persistent activity. Her gestures are about the connection between things, the spaces between the marks and the surrounding white space. She understands that space in art is not something that is given, rather it is something that the artist creates, something that is realized. There is a fundamental attitude of relaxed expectation at the moment one of her paintings is conceived. Machado studies the surface, imagines the whiteness, before she makes contact. The gesture is a linear progression of thought or, in other terms, the emptying of thought, as used in some forms of Buddhist meditation. There is a term in Zen Buddhism called mu or “nothingness.” In such a meditative state, the mind relinquishes itself of all worldly practicalities. The body and mind fuse together as a single force. The gesture of the hand holding the brush empties itself of all worldly thought, and the trace of that emptying-out is what remains. It begins with a single stroke, a single continuum of movement in relation to the brush. For Machado, the gesture becomes the key to enlightenment. Rather than consuming space, the gesture defines the space. Absence is given a presence. The abstract configuration progresses through time as the brush moves into the emptiness in order to bring the picture into being.

The eminent theological Pierre Teilhard de Chardin used to speak about the “sacred space” — the place of ritual, the passageway or entrance from one world to another, from the world of the secular to the spiritual world. For Teilhard de Chardin, the culmination of experience — the moment where human life attained significance — was the moment of the discovery, the moment of Being in the world. One might easily transport this notion of the sacred space from theology into art, into the space of the gesture, or — should we say — the relative moment of time/space.

Given that the gestural mark employed by Machado is as much a temporal act as a spatial one, one cannot deny its representation as a form of relativity. Machado’s work is essentially about this kind of gesture — a gesture that encapsulates the relativity of her experience in time/space. Her way of working, thinking, and feeling is a process of manipulating the brush and paint — the quiet, deepened resonance of alizarin crimson — that goes far beyond the reaches of a predictable or imposed emotional context.

Upon entering the gallery space, the viewer is surrounded by these abstract linear forms dancing on the surface of her paintings. They are simple and direct. There is no fuss, no hesitation. They are filled with confidence and a subtle exuberance. They refer to the architecture of the place, but not in the literal sense. They are metaphors of a spatial presence — passages into a space that functions through the interaction of people. They are organically drawn, but geometrically conceived. There is a strong biomorphic intensity in Machado’s forms, a strident alacrity that gives these recondite paintings the sense of being alive, of an organic wholeness, and of having a rendezvous with the world of the senses.

Then there is the question of the paper rolls that descend in loops from the ceiling. One should not ignore the fact that this Brazilian artist began her career in architecture. Her architectural rendering gradually gave way to the kind of painting she does today. She sees her energetic coiled forms as inextricably bound to architecture. This, again, is tied to a certain Eastern sensibility, a way of seeing organic structure within the containers of walls and windows, doors and ceilings. Machado offers us a way of representing space, of enlightening our sense of visual pleasure as our bodies pass through open rooms.

There is something intrinsic about these paintings that is unavoidable, some quality that is difficult to ignore, a quality that gets under the skin, that forms itself within the act of seeing. This unavoidable confrontation with Machado’s tense, organic forms — whether two or three dimensional — is an indelible aspect of her work. It is the result of a process by which she thinks and enacts feeling. Her forms appeal to the senses in a manner that goes beyond the routines of everyday life. Her Brazilian heritage is very much a part of these paintings. Their sensuousness is indefatigable. They are paintings that are given to the senses. They delight us for the simple pleasure they offer. They are weightless, but they are also deeply held within the mind’s eye. Machado’s painting and constructions give us a moment to pause, to reflect, and to begin again. They offer us a vision of another world, a relative world where time and space and body and mind fuse together. They add a caress of joy to the passages of everyday existence, a sanctuary that makes us feel connected.

Robert C. Morgan is a writer, international art critic, curator, poet, lecturer, and artist. His recent books include The End of the Art World (1998), Gary Hill (2000), and Bruce Nauman (2002). He is a Contributing Editor for Sculpture Magazine and Tema Celeste (Milan), and in addition writes for Art News, Art Press (Paris), and Art and Culture (Seoul). He holds both an MFA in Sculpture and a Ph.D. in Art History. In 1999, he was awarded the Arcale Award for Art Criticism in Salamanca, Spain.