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Fernando Lanhas vs Álvaro Lapa

Fernando Lanhas and Álvaro Lapa are two pivotal and emblematic figures in Portuguese contemporary art, particularly from the second half of the 20th century. At first, reflecting about them can be a separate and distinct effort, taking into account the traits and particularities of each one, as creators and individuals. Nevertheless, as we delve into the reading and analysis of the works of both artists, and when we consider their motivations and creative processes, common aspects emerge that establish solid bonds between them. There is an unexpected and also unambiguous relationship between Lanhas and Lapa, which boosted the exhibition L vs L, at the gallery Quadrado Azul in Porto, a space that also stands out for its national importance.

Fernando Lanhas (1923-2012), graduated in Architecture from the University of Porto, takes the geometry, the rigour and the structural balance he mastered in his studies right into the canvases. He developed an outstanding legacy that stood out and affirmed itself before his contemporaries, and is still one of the most valuable efforts in Portuguese painting. Although his first attempts with paint and brush were driven by figures, Lanhas quickly found his own place in the abstract exploration of the organic, spatial and architectural. A body of work emerged, characterized by pure abstraction, materialized through straight lines with a distinct acuity and followed by chromatic choices that equally simple and prodigious. He was deemed by many as the country’s father of geometric abstractionism, a title that can hardly be contested.

In turn, Álvaro Lapa (1939-2006) was one of the most enigmatic figures in the Portuguese artistic landscape, something that stands out both in the plastic and writing realms, which are forever intertwined, materializing the deep reflections and doubts from the artist’s philosophical effort. Consequently, everything that Lapa produced appears as a difficult or even impossible mystery, finished in a striking way, which simples stuns the eyes of any viewer. It is through painting and drawing, of a representation barely explicit and conceived at the very limit of abstraction, that his pictorial work reveals itself uniquely, and it is possible to affirm that it is one of the most singular works ever performed.

Fernando Lanhas and Álvaro Lapa, both ahead of their time, shook, influenced and left their mark on an era and continued to inspire the generations of artists that followed them. They created and produced works capable, due to their indisputable quality worth, of transcending tastes and opinions, something that seldom occurs. As Gustavo Carneiro, the exhibition’s curator and one of the heads of Quadrado Azul, pointed out, both names are inescapable and approach, fuelled by a similar motivation, the will to understand the Universe and the Man, although they have explored them under different lenses and forms. In Lanhas, it is known that his concerns stemmed essentially from scientific questions, from the fields of astronomy, geophysics, archaeology, anthropology and ethnography. As for Lapa, his work makes reference to several literary and philosophical influences, such as Stéphane Mallarmé, followed by a continuous, permanent and indelible self-representative character.

One of the greatest affinities between both artists is that none of them studied painting and, notwithstanding, they found their tools of thought, study and personal research in the trace and the piercing movement of the brush. In Lapa, this singularity is more emphasized, to the extent that he was artistically self-taught. They also have time in common, its passage and meaning were elements perennially present in their artistic production, which not only characterized their work but can now serve as a prism of observation about the authors themselves. Their singular atemporality is something that describes them, a characteristic that qualifies this exhibition as currently relevant, incisive and revealing.

Seven works of each artist are exhibited at Quadrado Azul, which, considering their formal and plastic differences, are displayed in different walls, face to face, in a poetic clash. The experience obtained from these two works, when seen separately, will not be similar, one of them erupts ­impetuously from the canvas, its support and echoes around the space, and the other imposes and reveals his aesthetic quality and formal perfectionism. Respectfully, Álvaro Lapa’s art pieces challenge and defy the spectator, who is toned-down and stabilized by the visual and formal clarity of Fernando Lanhas, converging in an equally dynamic and harmonious exhibition.

Regarding Lapa, two pieces were included in the great retrospective of the artist that took place a year ago, with Miguel von Hafe Pérez as curator, at Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. The current exhibition is an opportunity to again look at these works in another context, less impressive and bewildering, but more placid, due to the work and the artist who stands by his side. Gustavo Carneiro emphasized that, although the exhibition tends to present itself as a collective effort, it was conceived and outlined to be understood as one single piece. It is necessary to understand this show as a body of work that, despite having two separate hands, converge in a set that owns the exhibitioner room. The spectator is given a unique, plural and dynamic reception, with several meanings fused in an unprecedented aesthetic experience.

In this regard, albeit the dichotomous and confrontational title L vs L, what actually takes place is the convergence and the communion between them. A bond is celebrated, fortified through a particularly symbolic and valuable exhibition that must be reflected, seen and felt, until March 3.

Constança Babo (Porto, 1992) has a degree in Photography from the Escola Superior Artística do Porto [Porto Superior School of Art] and a Master's Degree in Artistic Studies - Theory and Criticism of Art from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto. It already has an important number of critical texts, mostly published in the online magazine ArteCapital, from 2015 to the present, with some texts of exhibition guides related to galleries, as well as the production of press releases. In addition to the writing work, she also dedicates himself to the photographic work of exhibitions and art events.

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