Skeptical Garden

Rodrigo Cunha

24/Mar/2015 – 18/Apr/2015

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  • Press Release
  • Press Release


    Painters must know that their lines circumscribe surfaces. When they fill encircled locations with color, all they seek is to represent on this surface the shapes of observed things, as if this surface were made of translucent glass and passed through the visual pyramid from a certain distance, with certain lights and a determined central position in space and in its places.

    (Leon Battista Alberti, "On painting", 1435)


    From this passage, various theorists, historians and art critics have thought the metaphor of painting as a window to the world. By thoroughly observing the paintings gathered for the exhibition “Jardim Cético” ("Skeptical Garden") by Rodrigo Cunha, these theories of Alberti came to mind. Five hundred years separate the two, not to mention the geographical distance between Florence and Florianópolis, but I see a dialogue in the author's statement regarding the "translucent glass" which good paintings should emulate. Would it be possible to see this scenic construction, such as an Italian stage theater, in the images of Rodrigo Cunha?

    Firstly, what is gripping about this pictorial cycle of the artist is the presence of the human body. These anonymous are found, almost always, solitary within enclosed spaces which seem to be their privacy refuge – made either for work, or to call home. Their anatomies, although quickly recognized as heads, trunks and limbs, have cracks in their mirror of that which is real; should we naturalize this sequence of rosy cheeks and laconic gazes? Would it be about a family dwelling in the same household? In this sense, in fact, it is also worth puzzling over the similarity between the textures of the walls, the wooden floor tiles, and contours of the floor skirting boards.

    In two of these compositions, a small dog marks its presence in the same physical position, with its tongue sticking out. Certainly it will not be full of saliva; the figures of Rodrigo Cunha are more similar to the required thoroughness of a wax sculptor. Instead of the colorist, expressive paintbrush strokes – which many times indwell in a general sense of what would be "Brazilian contemporary painting" (in particular in regards to the making the human body present) - this painter fights an equally complex battle, but in the details. By choosing not to use previous drawings, counting on an image database that he mentally organizes like a sketchbook, the artist gradually sharpens his brushes in the field of the millimetric.

    Through the skepticism that sets the tone in the scenes composed by Rodrigo, we see these images with less or no transcendence. A cup of coffee, a sliced fruit and a unicycle, among other objects, seem to me closer to instruments of scenic composition of a peculiar domesticity than to immediate claims to allegory. Alberti’s window slowly begins to fog up and the movement of the characters painted in these stages on canvas is null.

    Even so, this possibility of interpretation does not stop our eyes from glancing back at some of these gadgets. What are a staff and a rake doing in this visual repertoire? They seem more appropriate for the spaces represented within the rooms of these characters; in fact, are these landscape polygons representations of paintings within paintings, or can they be seen as windows within the four corners of Alberti’s window painted by the artist?

    It seems clear to me, in the meantime, that these compositions come from a movement towards the classical tradition of Arcadian images. People in the nude roam the green of the leaves and seem to show the viewer that, yes, unlike these men cloistered before them, it is possible to live in direct contact and supposedly in harmony with nature, picking fruits, bathing in crystal-clear rivers and caring for animals without the use of hormones. However, in the only image where the landscape is not the background, but the domain of the extension of the painting, the human figure that is present contrasts with its Arcadian peers. Dressed, censoring its nudeness, it also offers its languid gaze to the public and is accompanied by fragments of a construction. The ruins of this last image appear to announce the same as the renowned painting by Nicolas Poussin in which there is a tomb featuring the phrase "Et in Arcadia ego", or "In Arcadia, I also exist". I, who? Death. The death of what?

    One can answer that we are faced with another sign of the end of a certain hedonistic idea of the experience of landscape. The immensity of Virgil’s Arcadia dies, but we are still left with the gardens. From there, it can be said that the paintings created by Rodrigo Cunha, more than fogging the windows of Alberti, leave cracks in its glass. In the absence of the single vanishing point desired by Alberti, the viewer is presented with the need to exercise his view and the limits of his own skepticism towards the images.

    Critical essay