Red (Suspended). Paulo Venâncio. 2002

To isolate an action from everything else, to attach and give oneself to it – that means nothing to no one – and to establish an irrepressible and constant connection with it, and to make from this fragment an available absolute that yet has no means of support: such is the aim of Gabriela Machado’s drawings.

We find in them a constrained and extreme gesturing. Constrained because it does not overflow beyond a single gesture, and extreme because it concentrates all in this gesture, broadening it to its maximum. Once done, nothing can be remade or corrected. Its existence should be in the way it has come up.

What may trigger this precise performance, the insistence on a moment that closes around itself and does not allow continuity? That would be the case of a “primitive” interruption in the flow of contemporary life, so instrumented and demanding the construction of an artificial phenomenon that, so to speak, dematerialize the traditional presence of a model. For these drawings refer to a “model” that is literally spatially built: strips of toilet paper suspended in space. In opposite to the traditional studio procedure, which keeps the painter before the model during hours, days or months, and, as in the case of Cézanne, made the apples begin to rot, here it happens in a few seconds, nothing more. Why such pressure? Why to get rid of the subject so fast? Why not to linger on it? Or maybe it’s only in this way that it will be sustained? Is it the continuity of the same impulse that in the past originated huge, immense still lives, some over two meters high? Such loss of proportion, to augment them beyond the scale of the body, wasn’t it also a manner of offering them sustainability?

In each drawing there is an established relationship between the gesture and the whole, an one to one relation between the pictured thing and the space of the paper. A single gesture will determine the occupation of space. And the homogeneity of color originates a unitary and indivisible substance. The entanglement of brushstrokes, which is so intricate that becomes a ball, seems to indicate an unstable tri-dimensional object, a sculptural body that seeks to be released into space towards the final entropy of a gesture tied to itself, encapsulated.

For afar, it comes to our mind the ideogramatic oriental drawings on paper that, once done, can’t be corrected. Gabriela Machado’s drawings demand a self control beyond any established tradition, and this is what calls our attention. But that certainty that the oriental men had and was able to transmit laid on the consolidation of a meaning established throughout millenniums. And we are quite far from this. We are every day more distant from our own Western believes. Not wanting to make any analogy with the “uncertainty principle” of modern Physics, we find here something of the kind. What guides such brushstrokes? To what direction? And, if there is a direction, why that one and not another? Is there any difference if they move from top to bottom, or from the left to the right? These are the questions one asks and finds no answers. Indeed, these drawings seem to transmit a present-day sensation, the indecision that constitutes our times.

Before this, which the work definitely accepts, the answer is to provoke an intensity, to affirm a condition in a resolute mode, with no hesitation. That’s what the artist tries to achieve. With no drama, heroism, anguish or despair. And this momentary action may be perceived as something parallel to an event from nature or life in general; that in itself may seem without value, casual, insignificant, interesting or not, but through it there is a search to establish a determined intensity of experience. To make something our own with all possible intensity.

We have the experience of a painting looking for self-sustenance before the Painting that no longer can sustain itself. We start by not having where to lean on. With no points of support, no ground to build on. So, the only support is the ever intense contact of the brush against the canvas. And the movement that is not interrupted until the end. At the same time an act of concentration and distension, that only it can offer, and that, if interrupted, could no longer sustain. So that an intensity is created from the contact between pencil and paper. And the contact offers support, a body of brushstrokes.

Everything also seems to have become very limited. There is not much to say, the theme is scarce, concise, abrupt. The area of action is ever smaller, in all senses. It’s like to step on a rope, on a thread we must walk through. A distance that the act of walking expands – the very act of painting paints. There are few available options. Only the ones the body offers. Specially the gesture that can’t be decomposed in several operations and that perfects a repeated, self-stimulated and self-referenced exercise of skill.

To be locked on the borders and to get loose, to entangle itself, to contract – the drawing seems to want to have sculptural capacities. A sculpturing body seeking its own energy. In this way, a momentary and intense hardening of the body is transferred to the painting and presents itself with a rising/decreasing visual trembling, an unfolding that curves itself in spirals, a struggle that witnesses a holding to the surface. At the end, there is only a knot, a suspended entanglement, in interrupted fall.

Another fundamental issue of these drawings is color. Hard to imagine them in other color if not red. Such choice is not coincidence. It’s impossible to ignore a series of associations red brings up. Red grants to the brushstrokes a height made of color alone. It makes a body of color. A consistent, carnal, tactile, expansive, romantic, vulgar, luxurious, excessive, intense, vehement, invasive color. It is all suspended in the air. We are very far from Yves Klein non-material, incorporeal, cosmic blue – blue tends to the dissolving infinite, while red tends toward the finite body and action. In these drawings, color wants to vehemently grab the gesture, to stress and to affirm it. That’s the reason of such heavy and flaming red. A vibrant, active, dynamic, sentimental, vulgar red. A red with a Spanish touch, Goya-like, bullfight poster, a kind of tauromachy contained in the immaculate white sheet of paper.

This pictorial experience is processed through the contrast between visual densities. From solid objects like bottles and flasks of still lives, we go to an airy, impressionistic element, a pure spatial/luminosity phenomenon. The diaphanous transparency of the hung toilet paper is the very non-materiality of the weightless air, delicate absorption of light, impregnated by aerial luminosity, about to be broken, ripped. Pure luminous materiality, translucent and incorporeal, a vague vapor, nymph like, bloodless.

By transferring it all to another visual thickness, weight and density, these drawings create a relationship between extremes: corporeal and incorporeal, materiality and non-materiality, start and end, birth and death. From an unfocused structure to a focused center, a certain de-referring of space happens, a repositioning before all things. A second degree re-approximation. Dimensions are altered, originating some of the largest still lives ever seen, and the drawing acts as if wanting to “blow” the image. The fascination for the augmented brushstroke is like a gas balloon that resumes a slow movement after a touch, propelled by an almost visible transfer of energy. The very brushstroke has turned the subject, the very motive. Marcelo Nitsche, during the Seventies, has isolated the brushstroke cutting it into a plastic surface, turning it into an object, like so many others of the time. But even though it captured the fascination of a self-imposing act that carried in it, even if remotely, the presence of beauty. The isolated and expanded brushstroke turned itself into a beautiful, total and homogeneous decorative object; the brushstroke was always in a single color. And that was fundamental: to be only red, yellow or blue. A single, total presence, with no ambiguity among other brushstrokes.

Gabriela Machado paints brushstrokes. The act of painting has become the subject and the brushstroke itinerary, the theme. By isolating a single action and repeating it several times, not until exhaustion, which couldn’t exist, but until the self-conviction of its validity, so prosaic and necessary, a certainty kept in suspension. The brushstrokes mingle with a figure that is trying to form itself.

The unexpected beauty of the toilet paper in the space has something of the absolute contemporary prosaism: in a recent movie, American Beauty, the scene that lasts a few minutes of a plastic bag fluctuating in the air, seized by the wind, was “beautiful”. This post-modern almost sublime, inverting all that Romanticism has associated with sublime, was presenting in the banal nothingness of any residue a unique and incomparable dimension, and if perceived by anyone in the street, most likely would not call any interest. It’s a bit tragic to note that the sway of a piece of garbage in the wind may be the object of continued attention and to express a floating condition, provided it’s isolated from everything else. Here, also, in this suspended toiled paper, we find something like this irreverent, disincarnated, unsubstantial beauty, moving from the touching to the trivial without falling into contradiction. And, on the other hand, gains substance through a vehement red that is also a life emergency.

Paulo Venâncio graduated in Philosophy from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (1983), before taking a Master’s in Communication (1992) and a Doctorate in Communication at the same university. He is an art critic and professor of the School of Fine Arts at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. His has broad experience of the arts, particularly the History of Art, focussing on the fields of contemporary art, Brazilian art, and criticism of Brazilian art, painting and culture.