The Beautiful itself

Delson Uchôa

28/Apr/2015 – 30/May/2015

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  • Press Release
  • Press Release

    The Beautiful itself


    When looking at the beauty of the enchanting symmetrical patterns in a painting by Delson Uchôa, the viewer has two options: to stop at the surface of appearance, or to leap into the Beautiful itself. I use here this concept of Platonic sonority after having spent three days immersed in the world of the artist from Alagoas, whose routine in the studio, close to a beach secluded from the hustle of Maceio, includes hours dedicated to the contemplation and the care for the beautiful in a philosophical sense: in the paced dedication to these giant paintings full of wefts and bright colors, to look into a mirror, to contemplate the beauty of the things of the sensorial world and from them to yearn for the extra-sensorial. Anyone who has read Plato can perceive here a Neoplatonism from Alagoas, which brings the philosopher Plotinus to the table where a traditional dish of mussels - purchased in the shantytown on the edge of the Mundaú lagoon - is served. To build a text that comes close to this tropical feast, I discuss the work of Delson Uchôa according to the idea of beautiful in ancient philosophy. Invitation to the reader: read this while reclined in one of his ottomans in a room with walls covered by very colorful layers of Uchôa’s painting and step inside a body of the world which only aims to entice, through beauty, the search for beauty itself. The Beautiful as the search for the source To understand the work of certain artists it is necessary to leave the detached position of spectator. How to enter a two-dimensional work? The artworks of Delson Uchôa often have multiple layers, overlapping coats, which can be raised and entered into. You put yourself between two colorful skins, you become one of the layers. Another similar immersive experience to this of covering oneself in paint is to be a three-dimensional body in the home-studio where Delson works. If the house were flattened into a two-dimensional surface, it would have as many colors as the paintings displayed on the various walls of the house. There are paintings on the floor, there are paintings hanging by wires, swinging loose in space, and paintings resting on huge outdoors tables, drying its colors in the sun to a more dimmed tone, and so that the rain may draw small puddles of color. All this is surrounded by a plant garden watered daily at 5am, with rare species, grown without hurry, waiting for the painting of nature to grow in its own time. The house is a three-dimensional painting that contains two-dimensional paintings on various planes. Delson prepared a room for me in the house-painting with Tear (1989) on the wall opposite to the bed and Calota Lunar on the sidewall. On the bedside table he left three books: a collection of articles on Neo-Platonism, the translation of the Iliad by Haroldo de Campos, and Invenção de Orfeu by Alagoas poet Jorge de Lima ("there is always a cup of sea for a man to sail"). I, who believe in the chance God and who believe that an artist is revealed by the books he or she has read, allow myself to be conducted by these three planes of the house, in happy respect for synchronicity. Phrases from these books begin to be drawn on floating and invisible patterns in the house-painting. And in the game of dimensions and spaces, I wonder if all of this could not explode onto larger than space dimensions, to the fourth, the fifth, the sixth dimensions. What would the beauty be like grown in size, volume, time, and in who knows what other coordinates? It would be the beauty that one can think of but cannot perceive with the body we are made of: the intelligible beauty but not sensible. In the theory of Plato's ideas (remember that in my room there was the book on Neo-Platonism?), our sensible world, that which the body perceives, is the shadow of the intelligible world. A shadow is a descent in dimension. A three-dimensional body has a two-dimensional shadow. How to go the opposite way, from the world of shadows towards the intelligible world? The procedure suggested by Plato for the return to the complete origin, the return to the original home, is to go up steps with the impulse of love, as one climbs a set of stairs. Love, in Plato and in Neo-Platonists, is nothing but the yearning for beauty. And, as all yearnings, is never satisfied, thus always wanting more beauty, yearning for the beauty of the above step. First, one loves the bodies of the perceptible world through the senses. Then one realizes that beauty cannot be in only one body, and thus one starts to love multiple perceptible bodies. From there, one can see the beauty in the productions created by these bodies, in the crafts and in the intellectual creations. Finally, one comes to love as the yearning for the ultimate beauty, which is wisdom, and at this point the lover has stopped loving the shadows of the beautiful and is very close to the true beautiful in all of its dimensional plenitude. This is the beautiful itself. In the Neoplatonism of the Renaissance, the steps described by Plato in ‘O Banquete’ are replaced by mirrors positioned farther and farther away from the true beauty. The beautiful of the material world is a pale reflection of the original beauty in a distant mirror. The origin of the Beautiful When speaking about his house-painting, Delson says that it feels as if living inside the whale. Inside, surrounded by the paintings, he inhabits a body lined with colored mucosae. He feels as if painting from within a "living-painting". "Is to live inside the painting a perpetual reflection?" he wonders. Here the word "reflection" suggests both the thought of the steps to achieve the beautiful itself and the reflection of a mirror. Would living inside the painting be to look only to oneself, to the narcissistic "beautiful itself"? Does the artist who live in his own work risk, as Narcissus, obsessing with his own reflection in the lake and there languish in autophagy? Not if, as the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus argues, there exists the yearning to return home, to the origin, a movement whose patron is not Narcissus, but Ulysses, the hero who after the Iliad undertakes the return trip to Ithaca averting the seductive beauty of Calypso and Circe, towards a more virtuous beautiful, which is the source of itself and thus similar to itself. Delson Uchôa also goes in search of that which resembles him, in search of that beauty he sees reflected in his own works, but which is a beauty of higher dimension, the shadows of which he continues to add as layers to pieces made long ago. I do not mean to suggest that he is accessing a beauty of superior metaphysical order. I maintain, however, that he seeks a beauty similar to him - or similar to his imagerial production – in the origin of the wefts and mandalas that accumulate in the layers of his works: the Brazilian standards of craftsmanship are used by Delson as a core from which everything arises. And which in turn comes from, in the limit of the series, a condensed point, he tells me - a source of everything that can be called the beautiful itself or Uno or "the moment immediately before the Big Bang". So what difference does it make to speak of the beautiful itself, or the beautiful in me, or the beautiful in each painting and in each body, if everything was once an atom of that dense core of pure undivided beauty? The autophagy practiced by Delson swallows the whole. Autophagy The question of autophagy appeared in the production of Delson Uchôa when he unrolled very old paintings, made decades before, and decided to continue to paint them, as if feeding on his previous production. In addition, his work method is autophagic in that it assimilates as a paint stroke every mark made by the routine of the house, as the oldest layer of each work has been the fabric of a tablecloth or the resin spread over the floor tiles. In the latter technique, the artist spills transparent resin on the clay tile floor, waits for it to dry, paints on the floor above the dry resin, steps onto that unusual carpet, drags furniture around, sweeps, uses household cleaners on the floor-painting. And one day, peels the painting off the floor, lays it on a work table and, to this base full of memory, adds elements, lines, colors. Exercising the "perpetual reflection" of living inside the painting, there is somewhat of a self-portrait here, which extrapolates the face and records the day-to-day movement, the time of that which is portrayed. No painting is completed in less than six months, and the artist usually dates the year of start and the year of conclusion of each piece. It was once the floor or the tablecloth, and before that, it was the atom of the core of the world. It takes time for the creative process to generate worlds. Two photographs of a fishing corral show the autophagic accumulation of times. In the first image, taken in the 1980s, the work is installed on a wooden fence built inside the water, the corral, an indigenous fishing technique still used to trap fish in Alagoas. The painting is a narrow white canvas in which the artist set a maze of geometric figures. Would the piece be the white canvas or the interaction of the canvas with the corral fence? The second photograph of the same work, made around 2006, makes it clear that the work does not exist without the corral: now the fence has been added to the original white canvas, and goes along with it wherever the piece is taken. Hybrid Culture Still in cultural autophagy, the artist looks into the mirror of popular Brazilian Northeastern art, to the geometric designs in truck trailers, to embroidery, to basketry, to the Marajoara pottery and returns, like Ulysses, to the virtuous origin of everything. As he often claims, "the abstract does not exist". What exists is a cognitive system that does not recognize the source of those standards. In Alvorada, the canvas that lived in the routine of the house has merged with a straw mat, the kind used for sunbathing on the beach, and the weft of the mat guided the drawings made with a brush. Indigenous handicraft and geometry are integrated into the workmanship of the piece that is part of the "first generation mestizoes" as Uchôa explains: The ‘Mamelucos’ (Portuguese term for a person with both indigenous and European ancestry) are the pieces that have the indigenous and the European in their DNA. Geometric patterns appear in the Neoplasticism as well as in the indigenous craftsmanship, so it is difficult to tell if the eye color comes from mother Earth or from the European grandmother, but one thing that is certain is that some of Delson’s compositions echo basketry and art nouveau, Brazilian northeastern brightness, and the stained glass of cathedrals. Hence why Alvorada is a ‘mameluco’ painting. Palmares and Catolé are ‘cafuzas’ (Portuguese term for a person with both indigenous and African-American ancestry), having a mix of indigenous and African elements, resulting in a more defined geometry, of colored rectangles like those of African fabrics. And among the first mestizoes, the mulatto woman painting is Muxarabi, in which the African element is Moorish, from the trellises that protect the privacy of houses in Brazilian colonial architecture. Presented at the 53rd Venice Biennial, Muxarabi is made with three overlapping layers that can be manipulated by the visitor. The last layer is to be used, written on, modified by the visitor, in the private comfort of seeing without being seen, and of writing what you wish in the gentleness of the light filtered through the piece. Having the first generation of cultural hybridity in Brazil been defined, Delson Uchôa looked at Latin America as a whole, and joined Torres-Garcia by going towards the source pointed out by the primitive symbols that populate American Rhapsody and which take on a ritualistic character in Catedral TG. Here, the temple, the house which connects man and original mystery, receives the initials of the Tupi-Guarani language branch and the name of the Uruguayan artist who inverted the map of South America: Our north is the south. Just as the Torres-Garcia map appears to be hung ("like a piece of ham," says Delson), the painting Catedral TG must be lifted during a ceremony, so that the five circles, unfolding before the spectator, emphasize the movement of ascension, of distancing from the material beauty towards the intelligible beauty. Delson also speaks of these circles as moons, as ostensoria and as a tribute to Oxumaré, the Orisha of cycles symbolized by the rainbow. The circles of Catedral TG syncretize joy, magic, mystery and religion, pointing to the hybridism of the Latin American soul. In Florão da América, the circles are concentric, suggesting totality as the meeting point of several wholes: a fabulous America. The expanded miscegenation The latest series of Delson Uchôa expands painting and discusses the idea of culture in times of globalization. Pieces from the series Bicho da Seda work with a new element that guides the composition and patterns of the painting: parasols made in China, laying decorative colors and patterns in the dry savanna landscape of Alagoas. Of course, calling these objects parasols is much better suited to a discussion of expanded painting than to just name them umbrellas. The shadows are recurring metaphors in the discussion about the mimetic function of painting, which looks at the three-dimensional nature and from it creates a planar representation. Delson Uchôa sprinkles the landscape of the savanna with the industrialized colors of the parasols and then records the result in photography. In several of the records, the parasols are narcissistically installed near the reflecting surface of a water well, leading to the disturbing beauty and the risks of not observing these photographs beyond the bright methacrylate surface. The presence of industrial and synthetic elements in the landscape colors the sandy sadness of the Caatinga (Portuguese term for the Brazilian northeastern savanna), but has its ugly side. The parasols are frighteningly cheap, produced at the expense of very low wages and high environmental impact. Beyond the colored surface, the beauty of matter reaches a political discourse. Rebirth and light The painting goes through transformations in the work of Delson Uchôa and in art history. It comes back strong in Brazilian contemporary art, with many young people following the style started by the exhibit Como vai você, Geração 80?, from 1984, in which Uchôa presented A festa no céu, a work done on the ceiling of the Parque Lage building, like a tropical Sistine Chapel, paying homage to the history of art and to the particularities of Brazil. In the 1980s, Delson was already an art history expert, which he studied voraciously and in solitude, in parallel to the demands of medical school, completed in 1981. The invitation by Marcos Lontra to present a work in the today famous exhibition of Parque Lage motivated him to put together what he read in the collection Gênios da Pintura with the figurative and geometric references of popular painting, of the amusement parks of the Northeast of Brazil and of truck trailers. He was interested in the "cultural and luminous stridency of the Northeast" and the painting on the ceiling is the beginning of the integration of European art and Northeastern popular art. For Delson, the exhibit Como vai você, Geração 80 revealed the possibility of working from a ‘skein’ of references, the threads of which he follows to this day. Novelo (skein in Portuguese) is also the title of an expanded painting, which Delson claims to not mind if someone prefers to call a sculpture, but which are literally "parasols-paintings" expanded onto the third dimension. Again the idea of a dense and complete core appears in Uchôa’s discourse in the skein figure that contains all the threads, which can explode in differentiations recognized as folk art, European art, figuration, geometry, primitive symbols, colors, nature, water, beach and parasols. Uchôa identifies the 80s as the instant of the Big Bang. All that is beautiful is the bright reflection of the light from the source. Who does this reflection, art or nature? It's the whole creative process: the naturing nature. In the paintings of Delson Uchôa the beautiful expands to many dimensions, comes out of the wall to occupy the space, the home, the savanna, the discussion about national art and global economy. The photograph Craibeira chegando à praia brings us back to the Neoplatonic painting by Botticelli. Craibeira shines with its iridescent colors reflecting the sunlight, the sand and the water mirror. It is not Narciso obsessed, it is Venus embodying beauty. Paula Braga, 2015.

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