Fruta Feia by Nuno Henrique









What is this? An arbitrary sequence of words, a coded message or an odd poem… a chromatic scale, a set of signs, the recording of a scene or the description of a landscape. It’s all this and it’s also part of Fruta Feia, Nuno Henrique’s most recent exhibition, at Galeria Módulo, in Lisbon.

Fruta Feia presents about 40 drawings. However, it is a composition with only one colour, rhythm and shape. The drawings occupy the walls of the gallery randomly, scattered in length and height, and grouped in small series with slight differences in trace and colour. Each drawing is on coloured binding fabric, material that refers to Nuno Henrique’s experience with publishing and artist’s books. The terms that mark this unusual “work list” – endive, smoke, pink orchid, seafoam, yellow, off white, celery, steel, slate, coffee and taupe – are actually the pantones of these fabrics and their sequence pinpoints the installation’s chromatic rhythm. The colour palette is well known, typical of the artist’s work, uniting a body of work that goes beyond drawing and sculpture.

Nuno Henrique walks on multiple paths, now intertwined in Fruta Feia, a project filled with references to his own artistic practice. It was developed in the cyclical return to a point of origin – in the landscape of his native island and in the urban territory he inhabits; in the artistic canon and in the historical chronicle; in mythology and daily life.

The origin of this new effort is his own work. The research took place inside him. The repeated forms on the walls of Galeria Módulo were recovered from the artist’s sketchbooks. As he says, they are “interpretations and enlargements of minimal traces lost between study drawings; measurements; VAT calculations; budgets; diagrams; lists and everything that is written down during the frenzy of thought”. Abstract doodles, recognizable contour forms, records that refer to previous projects now emerge. A collection of visual symbols with meanings and memories of other times and works is born, acquiring a life of its own. The contours we decipher are distinct from those the artist first outlined and also from his later interpretation.

Matter and technique are elementary. Each piece is just paper. Drawing and its support are one and the same thing. In this work, Nuno Henrique also resorted to the origin of the material, producing the paper from scratch in a long and delicate manual process. He redesigned the sketches during the papermaking process, outlining their contours with white paper pulp on the still fresh coloured sheet. I managed to visit the artist at the Dobbin Mill Studio in Brooklyn, during this process. I witnessed his focus while creating the paper pulp, calibrating the density, adjusting the pigments, manipulating the moulds and presses, repeating the drawing exercises, in the attention given to each step and moment. Repeated, long and meticulous exercises like this are what give body and time to his ritualistic exercise.

The citation axis and the layers of interpretation of Fruta Feia place the work close to the linguistic field, in a “proto-language”, as Francisca Carvalho writes in the exhibition text. Rediscovering the sketches drawn by the unconscious, recovering and redesigning them to understand and internalize, is like learning to write, like practicing handwriting. In this conscious experimentation with the unconscious, a sound piece also appears in the gallery space. In Taquara, Brazilian term for an instrument made of splint poles, a voice interprets each drawing as a sound sign, reading the exhibition as if it were a score.

The suggestive alliteration of the title expands the associations to matter and color – fruit pulp, paper pulp. The signs are repeated, each series acquires a cadence, where the colour variations underline each nuance in the trace. The drawing exists before the paper: drawn in absence on another sheet, it appears here as if it had always been present. As Samuel Silva once said about the artist’s practice: “Nuno’s work is about doing the same thing. The challenge is not to try to do something different, but to look for different ways of doing the same”. In Fruta Feia, Nuno Henrique revisits the forms of his thinking, just as he has revisited other aspects of history and memory, in a cyclical process of self-recognition.

Fruta Feia is at Galeria Módulo – Centro Difusor de Arte, in Lisbon, until 7 March.

Joana Valsassina is a Portuguese curator, writer, and cultural producer based in Lisbon. Working as an independent curator and the co-curator of The Art Gate artspace in Lisbon, Joana has previously worked at MoMA and at the Drawing Center, in New York; and at MAAT, in Lisbon. Joana holds a master in Museum Studies from NYU and a master in Architecture from the University of Lisbon. Besides developing her curatorial practice, she writes regularly for Umbigo Magazine and produces the Lisbon-based arts iniciatives Bairro das Artes and Mapa das Artes.

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