Figurations through otherness

Alberto Tassinari


1             The more singular we become, the more we turn inwards on ourselves, on our memories and our wishes, serene, agitated or otherwise. However, we can never escape the fact that we are one of many. This is nothing new for a sociologist. However, for artists, it is essential to create, to invent until they reach the final stage, the finished work, so that the long awaited gaze of others can finally alight on what it was destined for. But this is also nothing new. This is art’s great gift. The observer is given gifts to savor, if the works themselves are worth it, as if they were the greatest gift, the gift of life itself. Over this we have little control; we invent as cohesive a story as possible, and when we can, we erase the original sins, the others who molded us, the language we speak, the age into which we were born…And even this is nothing new.

2             Though art may be made for others, this is not always its subject. Otherness, in the sense that we understand it, is much less likely to be a theme evident in art. That an abstract painting consisting of two or four little blocks of thick colored paint over a white background can make this possible, can make it one of art’s most valuable themes; this really is something new. It is one of the most wonderful revelations of Brazilian art from the current decade. Everything is extremely simple yet at the same time varied. The eye is drawn to one of the shapes and then soon after, it starts to assess another by comparing its differences in relation to the first. Thus the first becomes a template for the second. And it is at this stage that the subtleties arise. Everything that differs in the second when compared with the first is thrown into the foreground. And as everything ends up differing, with the exception of similar sizes, a mark in this way is defined by the discrepancies between one and the other.

3             Much in art and its appreciation is founded, if not explicitly, on comparisons. However, what has happened in Rodrigo Andrade’s works since the end of 1999 is that the finished paintings are themselves comparisons. One mark is always taken up as the standard against which the differences of the other are highlighted. The choice of the mark to serve as a template, however, is arbitrary. We can measure the left one (or the bottom one) against the right one (or the top one). But it is equally possible for the opposite meaning to take over, transforming what was previously the template into the one being measured. And in this way – something not always taken into consideration – it adopts the condition of another’s other. If the expression “another’s other” is somewhat obtuse, it does however describe the sociability for which these marks are precise metaphors. Though putting ourselves in another’s place is difficult, it is an exercise that we repeat throughout our lives. It is even more difficult if we consider that there is always an anchor in solitude, in the obstacles over which we have no control; it is through seeing ourselves as the other that the other demystifies us. This is something rare and virtually impossible. In spite of this, because another of art’s gifts is not its being but its potential being, it is something that we are allowed to perceive by the incessant to- and-fro of the eye between these colored masses that are so similar, so close, yet so different.

4             It is common for artists to reach their most artistically innovative by transposing something previously only perceptible from their trajectory to the interior of their most inventive works. If the forms that populated Rodrigo Andrade’s paintings around ten years ago managed to find a kind of sociability, this came about at the same time that the artist freed himself from two of the constants in his work: the theme of solitude and the successive influences of artists who were almost always expressionist in nature. Of course one thing attracts another. Depending on the chosen theme – whether it be accumulations of objects, collages of varying materials, window blinds, more or less abstract landscapes, pieces of furniture –, one artist or another has been involved in a dialogue with the works. The theme – briefly, that of solitude – had, in the oeuvre of an artist functioning as a paradigm, a value exterior to the work, even though it was loosely and inventively reinterpreted. However, from the end of 1999, Rodrigo Andrade’s paintings took on such autonomy that the forms, from being solitary became relational, and the to-and-fro between work and influence was also overtaken by the coming and going of the relational aspect of the forms. What is extraordinary about this is how his painting, which was always direct and graphic, grew even more with this aspect, showing a freshness and economy almost never seen before.

5             It is not completely accurate to label Rodrigo Andrade’s first painterly influences as expressionist. If one discounts his student and apprentice years, his first works, the paintings in synthetic enamel on kraft paper from 1984, were more influenced by Lüpertz’ neo-expressionism than by expressionism itself. Neo-expressionism is a contemporary painting movement, and has very little in common with the expressionism of the early Twentieth century. Impelled just like every problematic painting revival – as more of a counterpoint to minimalist painting (which never really ceased to exist in order to need to return) –, neo-expressionism tended to recycle expressionist signs – its codes as opposed to its poetics – rather than create them. An element of pop art collage, which also recycled signs, surrounded neo- expressionism. This perhaps explains the lively and light interpretation of the enamel and kraft paper that Rodrigo Andrade and his associates from Casa 7 (Carlito Carvalhosa, Fábio Miguez, Nuno Ramos and Paulo Monteiro) gave to what had earlier, for the German painting of the time, been sombre and historically weighted. The sudden rise of the Casa 7 group, as well as the welcoming climate for a “return to painting”, was largely due to the unpretentious use of these materials, and to the direct, almost graphic and communicative aspect of the paintings at the time, something which Rodrigo Andrade has never abandoned.

6             As well as Lüpertz, or perhaps even more so than him, the great influence in 1984 and 1985 – the year in which he showed his oil on canvas paintings (no longer his enamel on kraft paper) at the São Paulo Biennial –, was Philip Guston. He, however, with his highly refined painting in counterpoint to the slightly hallucinatory themes of violence and detritus, was an overly close model for Rodrigo Andrade, with the blend of experiences that he had had as a comic strip artist and art student. As near as he was far. Brazil is not (North) America, and Guston, before his singular figurative paintings, had been an excellent abstract painter. The fact that in 1986 Rodrigo Andrade’s paintings became abstract, with paper collages and scratched and cracked effects, said much about the young painting scene of the 1980s. From Lüpertz and Guston to a near meeting of Rauschenberg with the new realism was an almost complete about turn. And in this there was no bandwagon-jumping or other inartistic intention on Rodrigo Andrade’s part. The “return to painting”, whose main representatives in São Paulo were the members of the Casa 7 group, was part of a wider movement commonly known as the “80s generation”. With the exception of Jorge Guinle, whose work was from the 1970s, nearly all the artists from the “80s generation” reached stages of greater autonomy at the turn of the 80s with the 90s. The best painting from the 1980s continued to be by the artists from the so-called “50s generation”: Iberê Camargo, Mira Schendel and Eduardo Sued, to give just three examples. Suddenly recognised, the young artists threw their nets wide, as they found themselves having to build their careers in public much more quickly than it is customary.

7             Between 1989 and 1997, Rodrigo Andrade’s paintings took on a new poetic intensity. The experimentation ended. Earlier, in 1988, it was as if he was excavating the canvas with milky, opaque tones, trying to extract from the painting what it was able to give without subterfuge, without influence, in a game in which it was only the artist facing the canvas and nothing else. But as they are like this (I am not attributing intentions to the artist here, but to my own deductions from the paintings themselves), these paintings, which are in general dominated by a scheme (bluish, whitish and sand are examples), are fragmented in multi-directional gestures and, although they are imbued with a deafened beauty, they lost the direct, frank character of the rest of the artist’s production.

8             This interpretation is perhaps correct if we consider that in 1989 Rodrigo Andrade created a series of paintings in which the graphic element (abandoned in 1988) returned in the use of blinds glued to the canvas, which served as guides and contrast to groups of clearer and broader brush-strokes. Everything passes by as if, beyond what the blinds should hide, we were able to see silhouettes of furniture, of night beings, of a reflection of the sun painted over the blinds and not in the spaces between them. A little like Kiefer, who used a landscape’s vanishing points to fix things to it, Rodrigo Andrade used the horizontally positioned blinds as a sign. However, he did not copy Kiefer’s use of ornamentation and other procedures over a plane with perspective. In a similar way to Schnabel at the end of the 70s and start of the 80s, Rodrigo Andrade pasted the blinds over the canvas, just as Schnabel shattered plates and stuck on their pieces. This double interpretation of two of the best painters from the “return to painting” is exactly that: merely interpretation. It has nothing to do with influences. In particular because the color is not either of theirs, nor are the brush- strokes, with their slightly broken tracery of pure color, drawn in parallel lines and radiating sun or night with- out one knowing if it lies this side or that side of the half-open blinds.

9             The reticulations of the bands of color and paint that the blinds created through their forms continued between 1992 and 1993, but the blinds themselves left the paintings. They were no longer necessary, although they had contributed to producing a series of unique paintings, in which the linear and pictorial, the illuminated and the shadowed, the seen and the half-seen are blended in a dose that is hard to find at these almost antagonistic dimensions. These aspects, albeit less arranged but no less potent and communicative, were intensified in the paintings of 1992 and 1993. Yet again, there is an artistic alter ego. Like all the others, it is not unintentional. However, as in the paintings from 1989, the artist interprets more than he is directly influenced. A painting that is drawn as it is painted, and vice- versa, a painting divided into squares, finds its master and inventor in Van Gogh. And in this way the paintings move through landscapes that are neither figurative nor abstract, with a raven here and there, in oneiric scenes in which the back of Van Gogh’s chair drifts, changes color, and in which its fields become vertical, and drift as well, and in which night and day are confused. There is a twisted beauty in these canvasses, a kind of bound and rebound, as if they needed to walk alongside for a moment, furtively, to simply lose themselves in another, as conversation does not happen with just anyone. They are sad canvasses, yet at the same time radiant, and there is more than a little of Van Gogh in this. But there is also the power that they radiate and, in contrast, the driftlessness with which they let themselves go. There is the battle to interpret, subject to victory and many losses – and in this the failures align themselves with the successes, as two sides of the same courage – of perhaps the most satisfactory of painters.

10           In the paintings from 1994 to 1997, the traces of Van Gogh disappeared. It was as if a voyage had been completed. From the early neo-expressionist influences, those that, as we have seen, the expressionists barely had, to the collision with the source of all expressionism, the direct, graphic, colorful and communicative aspect of Rodrigo Andrade’s paintings varied greatly, growing increasingly in strength. He returned to the solitary beings from the paintings of 1984 to 1986. The trace was exchanged for large areas of color. And there was only still a trace because the contour of things was outlined. The large colored masses, without half measures, direct as always, began to mold the painting. There are volumes, baggage left in the path, perhaps, shadowed beings, isolated and alone, and the more they are together, the more alone they are. Some of these paintings are compositionally extremely simple. Just a few colored areas, a few things. They t the whole world in them, and here the master is Goeldi. But these are neither prints nor drawings. They are expansive paintings. Everything is quiet. Nothing communes with anything else. Everything is separate and alone. And it seems that the path to follow is to abstract these forms. To see what will happen.

11           One of the most gratifying things for someone who follows an artist’s progress is to watch the transformation of something that is already excellent art into art on an even higher level of invention. Between 1998 and the end of 1999, Rodrigo Andrade perfected the Goeldian forms of earlier years. Goeldi gave him the shelter, albeit a lonely one, of quieted things. Without knowing the results, the painter started to simplify these forms. They are quiet. They have a place. They are maneuverable. It is not important if a vertical black mark bears little resemblance to a door. Or that two cubes bare little resemblance to two chests. The forms occupy the same space, and this is what is important. However, they don’t interact with each other. The artist flattens them. They become squares. And still, nothing. Now they oat in space, as if having lost their earlier vigor. Then a single black cube is placed in space. It sits, but is alone. It goes back to the squares. They attempt to achieve very similar tones, in a kind of Morandian exacerbation, so that the squares can also perhaps communicate between each other. Still nothing. They return to their contrasts. The forms also take on greater geometric regularity. Maybe this is the case. But what is this violet background doing in the picture? It returns to the pale background, to tonalization. Everything is white and gray. Nothing. Apart from an orange square at the side of the painting, as if to say: contrast! It then moves on to a pale gray background over which are two rectangular blocks of yellow. There’s something here. In the yellow over the almost white pale-gray there is a new contrast. But the yellow forms are still alone. Will they always be like this? Yes. However, the contrast of the yellow on the white is intriguing. Instead of the contrast of a color on the white background, would it not be more appropriate to add the contrast of one color in relation to the other?

And the doors open. So carefully designed, colorful, direct and separate, but now the forms measure each other endlessly. The scream of The Scream, which reverberates throughout the space in waves, an emblem of the expressionist space in which forms pull and push at each other – different from the other scheme of modern space, the cubist one, in which the forms penetrate each other –, finds an unexpected version here: the yellow almost rectangular form, with half-moon corners is this and more so because it sees itself pushed into, represented in the other, and in this way it is compared with the almost square irregularly outlined brown form. And all this so that, with the contrasts between the background and the forms and between the forms, it takes on even greater contrast, the forms take on depth. They are highlighted even more from the background and become more different from each other, just as the background becomes nearly always white, contrasting, itself taking on the appearance of a tablet on a wall. Finally, victory. And, as in a Mondrian, a victory that any one could conquer. As long as it was, of course, Mondrian.

12           Rodrigo Andrade is not Mondrian and neither does he intend to be. But the great examples also serve, among so many other things, as examples. If I’m thinking of Mondrian, it is because Mondrian is an artist whose compositions also possess relational forms, in which a yellow square emphatically underlines its weight in the composition, just as this is a clear function of its parts. As well as this, without trying to suggest that Mondrian is an expressionist, his trajectory has evident expressionist moments. The meeting with cubism was necessary so that the greatest constructivist painter of the Twentieth century could start to investigate new forms based on what he already had. And those were paintings with considerable symbolism. Symbolism of a kind, that in a broad sense, he never relinquished. His use of only verticals and horizontals and primary colors for his paintings, while it may sound arbitrary nowadays, is always a reason to think twice, as someone who chooses something arbitrary does not choose something basic. And it is here that comparison may bear fruit.

In Mondrian’s basic and relational forms there was an aesthetic ideal of a society in which functional relations also held sway (and capitalism and social- ism answered this demand, even if only theoretically and differingly). Even more so, they also held sway in the relations between sensitive forms, and not only in the molding scientific and technical rationality of the world. Art, in this way, would also mold the world. In his reflections on modern art, which I am only paraphrasing here, Argan investigated these themes. But if the situation changed, if it were no longer the basic that we should hold on to, wouldn’t there be loss as well as gain in this?

And so the schemes come in, the oblong forms, secondary relations, small differences. Above all, due to the exaggerated thickness of the paints, things that have always lived alongside the canvas move into it; a color and its vehicle, but here in a way in which the paint does not paint; rather, it coagulates. If its limits tend to regularity, even so the thick paint rebels, deepens, cracks, deforms, as if it were pieces of another scream, no longer the expressionist scream of nature as in Munch, and mentioned earlier, but short screams, deafened ones, from beings already culturally amalgamated and whose emblem is no longer Munch, but the pile-up of Andy Warhol’s layers of color.

In this way, everything loses an evident universality, and it is as if everything shrinks. But is this shrinkage or lucidity? To put it another way, how would a rectangle with an irregular border of a whitened salmon color, and a more regular rectangle of saturated terracotta orange measure each other? They are nothing more than tunics of strange and beautiful paint, barely there and, therefore, full of differences. For my part, although they are perhaps somewhat anodyne tunics, and in a way a little like foreign beings that visit and hang onto the white canvas, I never tire of looking at them, of comparing and reflecting on what is not right, and whether they are defects or qualities.

And if art does truly promise happiness, I also do not tire of reflecting on how happy such contingent meetings are. In the place of a constructivist ideal that was at the same time an aspiration to and a criticism of society, and according to which we would be examples of free and universal relations (I am again thinking of Mondrian), the thing that Rodrigo Andrade’s painting has to offer is much more the figure of something already possible and, in this way, of what is contingent, unexpected. In his paintings from 1999 onwards, only one form can exist in the company of another and in the comparison it establishes with it. They are each other. They exist only in this mirroring. More than anything else they are this mirroring. Prior to each form is the pair that constitutes the forms.

And they are divergent forms, diverse, they are not examples of a universality, but are parts, always parts, of one being with another, this also a part. It is more through a chain of beings and things that a universality can insinuate itself, open, never complete or subdued by only one look. The ideal of being equal to something is substituted by the possibility of being together with something. Otherness gives us parameters which form us, just as in the painter’s trajectory between 1984 and 1998. At their freest moments, however, the identities endlessly exchange properties. Before the self, the id, there is the pile-up, something loving, as perhaps there is in all art. It is here, clear in these paintings, from which nothing is excluded; with their idiosyncrasies and their qualities. It no longer matters what is more essential or more accidental. The pair comes first (and these paintings only accept even numbers). And the “color-of-an-escaping-don- key” finally finds itself on equal terms with the purest and most luminous of blues.

​​Text originally published in the book Rodrigo Andrade. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2008.