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Middle Finger Pedestrians, by Gonçalo Preto

In the exhibition at Galeria Madragoa, Gonçalo Preto presents several almost pitch-black paintings that, with great subtlety, cut out the figures: bright points that illuminate the night of Middle Finger Pedestrians.

The night is what hides part of the vaguely cinematographic images, decontextualizing them and preventing any attempt at a narrative reading. Likewise, whenever the sun sets, the visible elements become less clear, they get submerged in a darkness-related mysticism. But, in Gonçalo Preto’s paintings, the light shining on the night reveals a fragmented universe, composed of signs compressed by the surrounding void. In the work LUNAR, the tree has no place, it is not restricted by any context. It emerges from the gallery floor itself. It is possible to affirm that it is no longer a tree, but rather a luminous surface. It is so dense that it loses its meaning: it ceases to be a tree and becomes a unique and unrepeatable form. The set of works, which points to the erroneous nature of a night stroll, establishes internally a silent relationship, without any language, through image-based stimuli.

In this exhibition, Gonçalo Preto’s painting underlines the proximity with the mechanism of photography, especially with the act of shooting. The images are instantaneous shots of a reality. Thus, the concept of snapshot – a blink of an eye, according to Rui Gueifão, author of the exhibition’s text –, a flash over the night, which overexposes the bodies and objects, illuminating them; or making them luminous. But that only allows us a very limited access to the action, because nothing exists beyond the twilight. The flash is a momentarily violent gesture, which reveals only the surfaces that interrupt its progression, reflecting more or less that glare. But the peculiarity of these paintings is that the parallelism with the photographic language ends there. After all, the resemblance with figuration ends in the lengthy contemplation required. In Morcego ou Macaco?, the hand bitten by the animal has almost no texture. Its shining whiteness resembles a glove or a prosthesis rather than a human hand. In Artéria, the breast of a dead pigeon, on the ground of the gallery’s upper floor, is represented by an impasto. Instead of mimicking, it artificializes. The young artist fictions a reality that, despite the apparent familiarity, is not ours. It is something entirely different and artificial, materialized through the technique of painting.

Art is the quintessential place of the night (of fantasy, of the unfathomable). Like the natural night, it is dark and fascinating. Gonçalo Preto, in Middle Finger Pedestrians, proposes us a simultaneous “walk” in both dimensions – therefore, the layout and lighting of the space did not seem adjusted to these mostly black paintings, making it difficult to see them.

In Portugal, Gonçalo Preto’s painting occupies an odd place, a consequence of the union between technical virtuosity, deriving from tradition, and its consequent subversion, in favour of artificialism – similar to Gil Heitor Cortesão’s work. The exhibition highlights the uniqueness of the young painter’s work, which, even considering the lengthiness associated with painting, proposes a slowdown. Something that opposes this vertiginous contemporaneity.

Middle Finger Pedestrians is on display until January 11, at Galeria Madragoa.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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