A personal relationship

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti


“It is painting which is close of kin to that we find on ships’ masts, on bridges, on smokestacks; it is the kind of painting someone does in the outdoors, whistling, as the surfaces get covered with fresh paint over old paint, protecting and brightening at once. There is something cheerful about such painting, […] a sense of being engaged in some immediately physical and meaningful action”¹ . The above words were not written about Rodrigo Andrade’s artwork, yet they describe it very precisely, especially regarding the idea of a necessary and direct work, and therefore “significant”. On more than one occasion, Rodrigo has emphasized directly or through his exhibitions the close relationship, almost symbiotic, of his work with amateur painters², while putting himself up a hybrid position; “you can see my painting as kind of link of continuity between the shallow and poor painting of the Republic Square and Jasper Johns, who is the highest of quality, sophistication, everything. There is a will to put the painting within a framework that is not for great art. A kind of democratic utopia.³” In this aspiration to naive sophistication, an important part of the fascination by Rodrigo Andrade’s painting lies. What he like in the rough canvas of Sunday painters is to suspect, since it is not a pure idea of something abstract and even outdated (towards the fascist exaltation of a primordial “purity” of the popular, which aims at the same time appease and keep this exciting popular on a “primordial” state), but the ability to effortlessly achieve the simplicity and economy of menial tasks, their clear and direct objectives. The main feature of the paintings Rodrigo has produced since the late 1990s, regardless the choice by abstraction or by figuration, is the use of thick layers of ink, which protrude on the canvas or, in other cases, directly on the wall, as geometric shapes (in the case of abstract painting) or as the represented image (in the case of the figurative one). The landscapes, in particular, are produced through a process that perfectly illustrates the unusual place of Rodrigo Andrade in this pictorial lineage of which he speaks (“from the Republic Square to Jasper Johns”); the artist starts painting by a relatively conventional manner, usually from photographs taken by himself, after covering the canvas with a transparent plastic that the continuation partially cuts. Then he prepares a lot of ink, until he reaches the chosen shade and applies it on the unprotected parts of the canvas, quickly, with a spatula. Finally, he smoothes with a squeegee the surface of this uniform layer of paint and last he removes the stencil. Without the careful preparation of the tone of the ink, the latest stages of the work could be compared to the preparation steps of a wall at construction, when the surface is plastered and smoothed before receiving the painting: “The physical experience in the realization of my work is intense. I feel muscle pain, exhaustion. […] The work takes a Herculean scale of achievement. And I think that physical prowess gives a concrete dimension to the act of making art”4.

In a certain way, the physical aspect of the work becomes more explicit in the abstract paintings, more specifically those in which the ink is applied directly to the wall, making it almost a representation of the idea of a canvas. Applied by monochrome layers and almost always in rectangular shape, these wall paintings, even with all its specificities, do not refer to the fresco or mural tradition, but they directly allude to the canvas and, not by chance, have been “installed” with some frequency in museum rooms, next to pictures or conventional landscapes5. In this sense, imitating the frame format, they operate beyond their physicality in a conceptual framework, and they could be compared to iconic works as Surrogate Paintings, by the American artist Allan McCollum, for example. The fact that these works are not among the many references mentioned by the artist or by critics who have written about his work is probably explained by the simple reason that Rodrigo’s paintings operate from within the painting itself, and not from an external context to it, as the conceptual practices usually does. While it makes fun of the classic pictorial conventions by subversion, Rodrigo’s artwork does not want to become something else; unlike the Surrogate Paintings, his paintings never cease to be exclusively paintings. That’s why that, even after starting to use the photographic image as a model for his figurative paintings, the artist almost never uses found images: “When I started this photographic painting period, I used to imagine I enjoy myself in the world of all the available images, like many current painters, but that is not what happened. Only photos taken by me, with which I have kept a personal relationship, turned into painting”6. Extending this reasoning, it seems possible to say that in Rodrigo Andrade’s work everything is personal and unique, even the way of looking at the world and images, always thinking how they can become paintings. Describing the landscape represented in a picture that he wants to paint, for example, the artist already sees it as painting, talking about the dark woods along the creek as a “horizontal” mass (referring to the movement the squeegee will have to do on the ink) and about the reflection of the sky in the stream as “vertical”. If the landscapes depicted are often trivial, it should not be confused with a desire for exemption by the artist, as if the represented scene were him nothing to him. On the contrary, it is like something that would attract him to the banality, justifying the physical and mental effort to produce the work, to rescue through painting exactly that inexhaustible flow of images that are presented to us constantly. The mass of ink, its weight and its very particular appearance are the tools that Rodrigo uses for this rescue, without much explanation or justification, only the desire or perhaps the need to establish a personal relationship.


¹ DANTO, Arthur C., Between the lines: Sean Scully on Paper.

² For this idea, there are some meaningful exhibitions: “O Jogo dos sete erros [The 7 differences game] – Ranchinho e Rodrigo Andrade”, Galeria Estação, São Paulo, 2012 and “Praça da República [Republic Square]”, Ateliê 397, São Paulo, 2015.

³ Interview to Thiago Mesquita, in Resistência da matéria, Cobogó, Rio de Janeiro, 2014, page 91.

4 Quoted interview, page 137.

5 For exemple, in the exhibitions Paredes da Caixa [Caixa’s walls], at Caixa Cultural São Paulo, 2006, and Rodrigo Andrade: óleo sobre [Rodrigo Andrade: oil on], at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, 2010.

6 Quoted interview, page 90.

Text originally published in the exhibition catalog, Rodrigo Andrade: recent landscapes. Curitiba: Sim Gallery, 2016