From stones to architecture
Paulo Venancio Filho - Text for the exhibition Voluminous - Galeria Frederico Séve, New York - 2009
The atmosphere of the paintings is both aerial and solid. They are clear and straightforward, just like architecture by the sea. The pictorial elements do not conflict, but counterbalance each other as in architecture. It seems that we are on another constructive plane, different from the random arrangement of the stones that served as models for the series of drawings that preceded the present canvases. Can this have been required by painting itself? The greater solidity of the support and even of the pictorial action would undeniably lead to a more corporeal than visual struggle. This corporeality thus requires a surface almost equal to and as resistant as the wall. In a building site, a pile of gravel is to the building under construction as the drawings are to the paintings. In the former: the stones’ arrangement is arbitrary and fortuitous. In the latter: the lines create an organized constructive dimension of architecture. In the drawings, the individual solidity of each stone was evinced by the most fragile element in appearance, that is, the line. A very thin and simple outline was enough to establish the rigid three-dimensional nature of the stones.
In terms of still-lives, nothing could be less lively than stones, nevertheless, those were quite animated visual creatures. So much animated that the incessant drawings were not capable of using up all of the possible infinite variations. This continuous experience gave Beth Jobim a control of forms – be they in juxtaposition, opposition, approximation or distance. In a way, this control would end up demanding some kind of three-dimensional presence, less visual and more physical. We experience the birth of a voluminous painting. And that is not all. The paths that the drawings suggested and hid could only be experienced through a corporeal immersion in the pictorial space, incorporating into the painting movement that takes place in real space. Would it be exaggerated or anachronistic to say that the canvas itself has become cubist? A cubism not of the geometric cube, but of the real stone; of a tactile solidity, present here and now. There was a certain ambiguity that the drawings frequently suggested: were they micro or macro stones? This seems to have been transferred, with the increase in scale, to the canvases, although in a manner that constantly makes us think: are we in or out of this space? The pictorial architecture now forms window-like planes, openings to somewhere we do not quite know, ways in and out of the infinity of space. In any case, we will always find ourselves immersed in a truly Matissean well-being. A pure symbiotic tropical Mediterranean atmosphere envelops us. In order to get there, the insistence and the isolation of this intense blue were necessary. It was necessary to insist, to assert the blue: in what other way could you achieve sustainability in such an aerial color? The architectural solidity thus became permeable to the atmosphere and to its own light. Although they are abstract, uninhabited of human presence, one cannot stop sensing in the canvases the presence of the sensorial experience of the city that originated them. For all the abstraction of this blue, there is no way one can not perceive it as a distillation of the uncountable blues preceding this sensorial, palpable, straightforward and friendly day-to-day companion. Only based on such an experience can one be led to build something solid and permanent that is an architectural pictoriality, as is the case here. The material presence of the canvas has come forward, leaving out corners that now hide, now arise in rhythmical space, of masses that support each other, with vibrating alternation, or better still, alternating the negative/positive transition. This alternation is mitigated by the contrast, or rather by the continuity between blue and white passages through the same uninterrupted luminosity.
In these paintings, there is an intense modern Brazilian combination of Amilcar de Castro, Volpi, Willys de Castro, Niemeyer, Portuguese wall tiles and the landscape of Rio de Janeiro, all equalized in the same temperature, as if all of these elements were readapted in one same freshness and clearness. Nature, architecture and painting are there, coordinated by a sensibility that experiences and renews the Brazilian modern drive. Thereby, the ancestry of the Iberian wall tiles appears alive, monumental, tectonic; their decorative force is amplified by the constructive will. And the painting becomes something like a mural collage. Little by little, it ventures and gain volume. Subtle edges appear, and the painting seems to play an illusionist hide-and-seek, extremely active, appearing and disappearing, continuous and discontinuous, suggesting ambiguous spaces, possible passages and openings through which one can be at ease. Space offers itself so luid and passable, that, as in architectural space, these paths present themselves free to the eye and to the body in movement, opening here and closing there. At present it seems that we are on one side of the painting and that we can walk to the other side, but from the moment we try, we discover that we have come back to the starting point and then the back becomes the front, just like walking through a glass pane. Hence the continuity between inside and outside that these paintings visually provoke. Without the luminosity that exists in them, they would lack clearness and light. These elements are common and characteristic of our open and positive constructive chromatic: the transparent light prolongs itself between interior and exterior.
Of the architecture, we do not exactly experience façades as seen from the outside, but a continuous passing through doors and windows, spaces where not only the eye moves, but also the body. A continuous, rhythmic and vibrantly modulated walk. The pictorial planes alternate as if they were precise cross sections of space and we feel, in the clear definition of each of them, something like the presence of the real wall. More recently a color appeared which, ear-thy and rusty unlike the blue, is nothing near atmospheric. Instead, it reminds us of corten steel and therefore also of Amilcar de Castro´s sculptures. If this relation actually exists – as I think it does – it is one more sign of the Brazilian modern space in which this painting transits and that it renews. Elizabeth Jobim’s work is between intimate and monumental, an Amilcar sculpture and a Willys de Castro active-object. Painting with the transparency of the sky and the solidity of the earth.