Analyze the references / informing the practice

Saramago / themes of human consciousness

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Essay on Blindness 

  To understand some of the Novel's parallelisms, we must be situated in time. It was written during Salazar's time, a Portuguese dictator that ruled by the principles of leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. The inhumane situations depicted in the book establish a parallel to the way Portuguese prisoners were being treated in Tarrafal's prison, where Salazar would send people that criticized the Portuguese government.   Though the victims of the “white evil” in Blindness were not interned for any political reason, they experienced many of the same abuses by the military.

 The "white evil" is what the novelist calls a contagious decease that is upon humanity, which causes most people to go blind and only see white. Some people among the infected, survive, and they are profiled in the novel by one woman that sees - a symbol of still existing moral compassed people, with altruistic sacrifice for the good of the rest, amidst the chaos of the pandemic that is causing humanity to act orderless, hysterical and instinctively. Just like animals.

 You can establish a bridge with what is happening in the world in current times. This is why this novel is informative, at any stage of your life, at any moment - it is, in fact, timeless. It is a true, honest, and non-bias analysis of human nature and its instinct for survival.

 This novel informs my practice in so many ways, throughout the two years. Some of them being: a better understanding of our predispositions as humans; the relationships we establish with animals; how society is structured and how easy it is to dismantle; how flawed is the system we base everything upon; how inclined we are for selfish acts as a community; our ability to discard any rationality and act disproportionally to our values; how we are capable of the most horrific things like rape, assault, murder, all kind of erratic behavior in the right context; among many other aspects. Hence, using it as a bible for most of my practice inspirations. It is the most complete work of art I have ever read, conceptually, and technique-wise with a captivating and creative style of writing that is adequate to the violence and brutality of the book, a Saramago's well-known trait.

“If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals.” 
― José Saramago, Blindness

Author: José Saramago

Type: Novel 

Publisher: Portuguese Caminhos

Year 1995

"The only thing more terrifying than blindness is being the only one who can see.” 
― José Saramago, Blindness

 One of the great names of modern art, Richard Serra is known for his monumenal steel sculptures. Since 1989's with his Title Arc, a 12 foot-high curving inclined wall of rusting steel in the Federal Plaza in New York, Serra causes controversy in the art world, shaping it just as what he does with his sculptures. The piece ran through the center of the plaza, interrupting the walking path traversed by thousands of working people each day. The public outcry was immediate. But the most interesting fact noticed is that Serra had not used the site to define his art, but rather redefined the site with his art, thus proving his incredible ability to work both sides of the relationship. After years of battling court cases, the piece was finally destroyd. 

 His big-scale sculptural objects are carefully placed and thought-out strategically for each space, at times, as mentioned before, shaping the space. This is because of his fascination with humanity’s metaphysical bond with physical space.  After taking inspiration from Robert Smithson's collossoal sculptures he became interested in how specific locations could inspire, inform and contextualize a work of art. This relation with space surrounding the object is present in most if not all of my works. Similar to Serra, my architectural background pushes me to think spacially and in three dimensions, observing all the categories a space has to offer, once I enter in it, and how I can manipulate it. This is the way I experiment with cutting and shaping canvasas, or wood boards, in an urge to define the object to my own liking or concept, and to integrate the space atmosphere.  The reason why Richard Serra's is such a predominant influence across my work is because I draw inspiration from his shaping of objects to fit a space, the vice-versa relation (object defining the space) and his experimentation whithin the same medium and several other mediums like painting, drawing, video, among others. He is an incredibly complete artist, in my view. One that re-defined art as we know it. 

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Richard Serra / Body and space relation

Title Arc (1989) on Federal Plaza New York
London Cross 2014
Gagosian Gallery
Backdoor Pipeline
Gagosian Gallery

 

 

 Joan Miró was among the first artists to develop automatic drawing as a way to undo previous established techniques in painting, and thus, with André Masson, represented the beginning of Surrealism as an art movement. However, what particularly caught my attention about Miró was that he persued his own art interests in the world. He chose not to become an official member of the Surrealists to be free to experiment with other artistic styles without compromising his position within the group. Ranging from automatic drawing and surrealism, to expressionism, Lyrical Abstraction, and Color Field painting. W hat I take from Miró onto my work is his type of painting in which he would transcend its two-dimensionality. So this interest in transcending the boudaries of a medium is what constantly drives me as an artis, experimenting with every new piece, much like Miró did with collage works, for example. 

 The symbolic and poetic nature of Miró's work, as well as the dualities and contradictions inherent to it establishes a bridge between how I use poetics in gestural movement.

 Miró did not completely abandon subject matter, though. Despite the Surrealist automatic techniques that he employed extensively in the 1920s, sketches show that his work was often the result of a methodical process. Miró's work rarely dipped into non-objectivity, maintaining a symbolic, schematic language. This was perhaps most prominent in the repeated Head of a Catalan Peasant series of 1924 to 1925. This epoque relates more, I belive to the ways I perfom automatic drawing in my work. Having experiemented with automatism in the sense of beginning with no idea or concept attach to the exercise, I always ended up pulling towards a previouslly established idea, even if I did not want to. Thus, adapting this technique to making guided by the themes around my practice. 

Miró / Automatic drawing

Head of Catalan Peason (1925)
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Head of Catalan Peason (1924-1925) other studies 

 

 

 The Night Journey is one of the first experimental art games in the industry build alongside the Game Innovation Lab at USC. It was first exhibited in the Fundación Telefónica, Madrid, Spain. (September 19, 2019 - January 23, 2020) and it is a project based on the universal story of an individual's mystic journey toward enlightenment. This directly connects to Bill Viola's deep interests in mystical traditions such as Zen Buddhism, Christian mysticism, and Islamic Sufism. The game offers something quite different from the fast-paced, shoot-’em-up world of a typical video game. There are no aliens or terrorists taking aim, and if players’ on-screen surrogates run too quickly in trying to advance to the game’s next level, the landscape smears. This makes it a game that rewards you for slowing down and for introspection, advice you don't often hear or see in our modern world, especially in London where I'm based. 

 Visual inspiration has been drawn from the prior works of Bill Viola, which afford reference for 3D objects, scenes, and presences in the world; provide textures for the landscape and objects; and permeate the world itself, creating a bridge between the “real” and the “imagined,” memory and experience. For this reason, it is directly connected to my own practice through the bridges it establishes between concept and storytelling. I have mentioned briefly in the Archive that, the intentions within my work are more related to creating a bridge between the Artist and the Viewer, in the sense of introducing the audience to the artist's concept around experience and memory, making it clear that the Art does not separate from the Artist.  Like Viola, my work proposes an exercise through experience, my own. And how we must reflect on our life's events, learning from them, thus walking towards our enlightenment destination. 

 The experimental quality of this project, along with so many others of the same author, mimics the experimentality existent in life. Not only that but the fact that this game is an experiment within the world of modern art, paving new ways of connection between the fields of philosophy and art, religion and life, game production, and symbol of art. 

Bill Viola / the existencialist journey of The Night Journey 

The Night Journey (Experimental Art Game) 2017-2018

 

 Viola's work often exhibits a painterly quality that I appreciate dearly and try to use it in my paintings. In the case of this project, his use of ultra-slow motion video encourages the viewer to sink into the image and connect deeply to the meanings contained within it. This quality is what I most value in his work and transport it to most of my practice, if not all of it. The gestural movement portrayed in this 45 second long video has accompanied my work since the 3D experiment  and has manifested in the painting phase, as the ability to capture an emotional experience through the choice of a scene that can inform the viewer fully of the emotion surrounding it. With my work, I take the gestural movement and mix it with a narrative, capturing the poetry I want the viewer to see with the depiction of one chosen scene.

  But this quality also makes his work perhaps unusually accessible within a contemporary art context. As a consequence, his work often receives mixed reviews from critics, some of whom have noted a tendency toward grandiosity and obviousness in some of his work. Yet I don't identify myself with these critics. On the contrary, I feel his work is very ambitiousness: his striving towards meaning, and attempts to deal with the big themes of human life, are just reflections of what, ultimately makes us human -this search for the why of things - and it gives him a bravery that only some will have, to even attempt to answer these huge quesions. 

 His early work establishes his fascination with issues that continue to inform his work today. In particular, Viola's obsession with capturing the essence of emotion through recording of its extreme display (The Dualism present in his work) began at least as early as his 1976 work, The Space Between the Teeth, a video of himself screaming, and continues to this day with such works as this one, showing two actors in states of anguish. This notion of Dualism  (explained further in the Archive section) is very constant in his projects and reflects his deep interests in the existencialist dillemas of life. I believe this connection is what makes him so close to his work, like two entities that cannot separate from each other. These beliefs fuel his work, and give it that poetry that to some is so hard to understand, because, ultimately they haven't had the same experiences as him and the works don't speak volumes to them. 

Bill Viola / the poetry in the gestural movement

Bill Viola, Silent Mountain video work (2001)
Still shot of video Silent Mountain, Actors Anguish

 

Jeff Wall's photography skills make him an influential figure in postmodern art. This artist is well-known for staging photographs,  composing his narratives in detail, according to his thematics. 

 A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993 is based on a woodcut named Travelers caught in a sudden breeze at Ejiri by Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai. Jeff Wall reworked the composition in a way that challenges the assumed narratives, one that is affiliated with certain times, places, and people. How? By controlling all the characters, scenery, and even to the last detail like the flowing tree leaves that move even in a still moment, due to the wind. This, obviously takes many tries to achieve, something I find rather remarkable - the patience that this artist has to study every particularity can only mean that he is truly passionate about creating art in this method.  The work is actually constructed with the facilitation of over fifty images shot over several months. The images were then scanned and digitally processed so that Wall could achieve the desired composition. It’s almost spotless to detect the resemblance to Hokusai’s original. The artist himself linked the procedure to cinematography and not entirely on photography due to the exhaustive process surrounding the one final image. Like the pinnacle moment that tells us everything, we need to know (something I strive to achieve in my paintings).

 His work is set in Typhoon season in Japan. Wall’s photograph depicts a flat and open landscape where four foreground figures are unmoving as they get washed by a sudden blast of air. The travelers struggle to hold on to their hats and several other possessions. When I look at this work of art I find it poetic and even rather comical. None of my research informed me if this was his intention or not, but that the scene provokes a small giggle in me is undeniable. It reminds me of London's busy streets when it's raining. Observing the citizens rushing around through the wind and rain remains to this day, even after living here for almost two years, quite poetical to me. Maybe it's because it is so different from my usual small-town scenery.

 I feel this project captures perfectly the poetry in the fragility of the human body, how we survive through routines and systemic actions that, when "a sudden gush of wind" comes and shakes us, ripping us off our stableness, we turn to children again, lost and confused, trying hard to maintain balance in an unbalanced world. 

Jeff Walls / constructing the narrative

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Jeff Wall's Sudden Gush of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993
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Katsushika Hokusai's Travelers Caught in a sudden breeze at Ejiri (1832)

 Jenny Saville's painting is easily identified by the subject matter – heavy women painted usually nude, positioned in awkward angles. Regarding technique, you can spot her works from the thick, painterly brushstrokes; on her recent work, painted as realistic as possible. With this unique concept around her paintings, she has created a niche for overweight women in contemporary visual culture. thus distancing her from other recent artists. 

 She is known primarily for her large-scale paintings of obese women. Along with these types of bodies, you can also see traces of liposuctioned figures, trauma victims, deformity correction, disease states, and transgender patients.

 I believe that her artwork responds towards the historical image of the expected “ideal-perfect” woman that in reality has been changed throughout the ages or due to medical conditions. Her work acts as a commentary on that fake, unsustained expectation of women's bodies. For instance, I believe she draws or has at times drawn, inspiration from females from the renaissance period, due to the plump aspect of the portrayed women in her practice.  But the adding of deformity goes against those intentions of the renaissance and, I dear to say, even today when photoshopping women's bodies have become the routine to certain industries. For this reason, I feel Saville's work remains important to women, and to today's society. It shines a light on themes such as acceptance, nature, and fertility, and empowering of the woman gender. Her grotesque works remind us of the fragility of the human body, (a concept I have identified within many of the references) and how those fragilities are centered in our essence as humans, thus being a symbol of strength, not weakness. 

 Her approach to painting is very traditional, she uses paintbrushes and oil paint as her main tool. She uses this medium in such a way that you can see brushstrokes directed violently against the canvas surface. When gazing on one of her paintings you can tell she pays attention to detail and the curves, lines, jagged edges of the human body, representing each flaw as much as she represents each characteristic of the skin, body, and face. You can say there is an organic quality to her work made through the detail and that's what I find most interesting in this reference. The brushstrokes, the emotion in the painting process, all of that passion is portrayed in the work.  Visually, I enjoy her style and I think it resembles my latest paintings in many different parallelisms (see quote on abstraction and figuration). Experimenting more around her technique is something that I will definitely fo in the future. When I research more about the concept and themes that fuel her creativity I find myself increasingly captivated by her raw depictions of human flesh, pushing me to be as transparent and skilled as her.

Jenny Saville / technique

Jenny Saville, Pause, 2002-03. Oil on canvas, 10 x 7 ft / 305 x 213 cm.

“You can almost have a figurative and abstract painting exist in the same picture, without it being a conscious movement between abstraction or figuration.”

— JENNY SAVILLE

“I am quintessentially figurative. I am rooted in figuration and actually, maybe picture making is not figuration.

I am a picture maker, I’m an image-maker. 

Even if I start completely abstract, which I do often — just throw loads of paint on a canvas — my instinct, my animal instinct is to make something of it you know not to let just have paint sensation but to make an image.”

— JENNY SAVILLE

Paula Rego is only mentioned as a reference lightly, as she has no real influence in my work beside in Failed Project. Her narrative rich paintings are what poses as more interesting to me in her work. I don't care much for her figurative style, neither do I for her painting style. Nonetheless, mentioning her for her transition between abstract and representational comic book style seems appropriate.

 She is known for her paintings and prints based on storybooks and her style has evolved throughout her career, constantly - something I can relate to in my practice, also in the lines of evolution from abstractional backgrounds ( in the first set of paintings) to more narrative based figurative recent works. 

 In her early works, Rego was strongly influenced by Surrealism, and particularly by the work of Joan Miró. This shows itself not only in the type of imagery that appears in her old works but also in the method employed, which is based on the Surrealist idea of automatic drawing, in which the artist attempts to disengage the conscious mind from the making process in order to allow the unconscious mind to direct the making of an image. (also establishing bridges with my practice) Her almost verge on abstractionism is exemplified by Salazar Vomiting the Homeland, painted in 1960 when Portugal's right-wing dictator Salazar was in power, but even when her work veered toward abstraction, a strong narrative element remains in place. The two principal reasons why Rego adopted a semi-abstract style in the 1960s. was that first, abstraction dominated in avant-garde artistic circles at the time, which had set figurative art on the defensive. And the otherwas that Rego was also reacting against her training at the Slade School of Art, where a very strong emphasis had been placed on anatomical figure drawing. Rego's apparent dislike of crisp drawing techniques in the 1960s shows itself not only in the style of such works as her Red Monkey series of the 1980s, which resemble expressionistic comic-book drawing, structuring Rego's work as depiction's of scenes surrounding folk-themes from her native Portugal.

Paula Rego / narratives envolving social drama

Paula Rego's Policeman's Daughter (1987) reveals the geometry in the baackground that can be related to the abstracionist phase of her practice as well as mine 
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Paula Rego's series of Semi - Abstracional paintings Red Monkey Series (1980)
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