Paintings, sculptures: voluble and voracious. Ronaldo Brito. 2015.
There is a kind of artist who spends their life yearning to see the world anew, for the first time; for whom producing art will always be about relearning to do so. They start by accepting, and even celebrating, chance. What they may encounter in streets and museums, by fortuitous accidents, becomes the raw material of their art. But it is up to them, and only them, to infuse it with life. The charm of this topological flow between life and art, between being and doing, is not conferred by accident – it is necessary to strive, persist and merit selection.
An unpretentious experimentalism, which requires an attitude of permanent availability, and also considerable reserves of plastic energy, runs through the work of Gabriela Machado from her perishable Coffee paintings to the recent bizarre sculptures. There are no preparatory stages or studies because there is no preview: from the off, the artist is involved with techniques and difficult material in search of forms which appear to refuse to take shape, at any cost.
The freshness of these discoveries, which are almost always solar, thus derives from a kind of suffering. Only the extreme effort and inconceivable discipline of improvisation can solve the dilemma of each sudden appearance. Discoveries are only recognized as such when the things are ultimately uncovered.
With her fascination for Giorgio Morandi, who was so important to successive generations of modern Brazilian artists, Gabriela Machado executed an important series of large-scale paintings in the 1990s. One of the recurring questions of our Brazilian plastic modernity resurfaces here: how to shed our proverbial ‘intimism’, the obvious product of the deprived conditions of the pursuit of art in Brazil? In acquiring scale and requiring an ostensible presence, these designs force the body of the artist into frank and de-sublimated movements. With their rearticulated movements, the challenge of scale resurfaces symptomatically in the work – everything suggests that the artist must act, until she loses herself, within the work, so that it achieves its necessarily unforeseeable destiny. Precisely because it is borne of a keen perception, which enchanted and excited the artist’s retina, the painting must expand and be transfigured until it reaches the limits of the improbable. Historic impressionist visual liberation continues to possess value here, in principle. Now, however, the whole body “impresses”, acquiring motor force and behavioural dimensions. With contemporary art, every attempt at painting faces the challenge of convincing us of the cognitive and imaginative power of material appearances on a planet literally hypnotized by the virtual. In such conditions, even in the case of an informed viewer, either the painting stimulates a burning, curious gaze, or it goes unnoticed.
In my view, the work of Jorge Guinle throughout the 1980s reinvigorated our pictorial field, restating in a contemporary manner the question of painting. A question which clearly goes far beyond its tragically interrupted production. Gabriela Machado, among others, was grateful for the encouragement. It’s not that she genuflected before the canvasses of Jorge Guinle and orbited around him: indeed, his paintings only left traces here and there. But the example of such a cultish, free and uninhibited approach paved the way for a contemporary adventure in painting. And if the idea was to continue the autonomous, modern, investigative tradition, as in the specific case of Gabriela Machado, this question renewed by painting would have to recommence at its beginning: the phenomenon of pure visuality. The instinctive reaction to optical stimulus, after so many years, is an intrinsic factor in her work. To the extent that the very construction of the painting is bound up with how much luminous intensity it is capable of emitting. She thus fulfils her main objective: to re-empower the visibility of the world. The eternal requirement of western metaphysics is reiterated: to preserve appearances. However, here it concerns something very different to the original Platonic manoeuvre – appearances, ultimately, only form part of essences. Due to its unimportance, we dispense with the current use of the expression reduced to the level of a golden rule of hypocritical morality. To preserve appearances, in the poetic sense, means to dignify a common and omnipresent element of the living world; to react, tastefully, to its stimuli and provocations.
Fleeting appearances form part of the unceasing metabolism of life, stimulating the texture of the world, and exciting the use of a logic of uncertainty. They are not, in some sense, images, and much less so representations. As soon as the seductive Red daubs (1999-2002), for example, are pacified and threaten to become prestigious signs of authorship, they are summarily discarded. A facile public reading conspired to freeze their uneasy form into beautiful images. The passing of time, I believe, will ensure their resurrection. With her healthy regime of aesthetic hygiene, this artist, at least, wants to frighten her shadow far away. She paints in the present under the irresistible influence of the future. Bouquets and vases of flowers are thus transfigured into bizarre, somewhat scary pictorial forms, ready to fly off the canvas and disturb the domestic peace. This is, without doubt, Gabriela at her best: The artist who is capable of imploding the composition, and disrespecting the sense of balance and proportion. The strange and somewhat inexplicable thing is that, despite all this, these canvasses are attractive, and radiate a certain unlikely, but welcome, beauty. This is partly due, of course, to the passion with which they were painted. Perhaps they convey the sense of ethical contentment possessed by whole things, where thought and action coincide.
All and any a priori result is, thus, anathema, and would paralyse what is a compulsive activity which is ignorant (as it must be) of its extent and measure. Without wanting to ostracise them – as they are also the product of dedication – the small canvasses, watercolours and semi-figurative designs do not transgress their motives; their latent memory persists. I prefer to regard them as contemplative pauses, which are indispensable to the work, in restoring energy prior to each decisive recommencement – recommencement meaning to resume the impatient, painful contact with the artist’s problematic destiny.
The unforeseen and imperative call of sculpture requires another radical recommencement of the work. At first sight, everything in this unprecedented engagement with clay and ceramics is hostile and alien to the volatile temperament of the artist. Three or four years ago, she plunged into the demanding process of learning (or un-learning) the rudiments of this ancient technique which only seems to fly in the face of the notorious impatience of her pictorial gestures. The production time is measured, slow and discontinuous, passing through the kiln, and eventually culminating in the bronze mould. Not to mention the problems of the practice – the cracking, explosions and burning. To attempt to sum it up in a single phrase: the thorny (yet pleasurable!) challenge is to conjure as many disparate manoeuvres in a single piece, spontaneously, quickly and casually. Having manipulated the clay to exhaustion, the pieces are taken to the kiln, then the paint is freely applied and they are arranged on crude, provisional, interchangeable wooden bases. Finally, the sum of all these efforts culminates in an almost surrealist objets trouvé, fortuitous objects, found on propitious occasions, in the outside world. They recall kitsch bibelots in the midst of the metamorphosis of artistic training. Some perhaps evoke the oil brushstrokes of De Kooning, which, by the effect of extroversion, leap out into space. The majority of them seem like the voluble paint of Gabriela Machado in an accelerated process of solidification. And, as they insist on growing, the sculptures now oscillate between wedding cakes and Medusas. As such, they reiterate the typical function of the imaginary world of the work, always concerned with redeeming the fallen beauty of everyday objects, and regenerating figures and forms worn out by the mistreatment of inattentive consumption which ignores the mystery of appearances.
Whatever they are, these crazy sculptures update the prospective vocation of the work, and aggravate their lyrical impulse. They multiply, proliferate and invade the environment with the absurd intent of adding their imaginary forms to conventional reality. It matters little what they may initially suggest to our conditioned gaze. The important thing is to produce and reproduce their experience, to follow them in their eventful, sometimes amusing, sometimes troubling, process of coming-into-being. As far as we can see, they want to preserve themselves in the perennial phase of transformation. Life’s urges reject the definitive; they well know with whom it is synonymous.