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Pequenas notas sobre figuração: Eugénia Mussa, Daniel V. Melim e Thomas Braida, at the Monitor, Lisbon

By definition, figurative art is artistic manifestations where there is a recognition of what is represented, be it the human figure, elements of nature or objects created by man. Focusing on figurative painting, or figurativism in painting, the exhibition Pequenas notas sobre figuração at the Monitor Gallery in Lisbon brings together works by three young artists, Eugénia Mussa, Daniel V. Melim and Thomas Braida. Three contemporary approaches to a practice with a long tradition.

The two oil paintings on wood by Daniel V. Melim (Madeira, 1982) are part of the set of paintings of the polyptych-altar that the artist designed specifically for the space of the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova, in Coimbra, part of the residence Ano Zero, during the 2019 Coimbra Biennial. Daniel V. Melim combines several areas, including drawing, painting, writing, performance, voice work, music or even meditation. He is interested in history, traditions, ancient and pop cultures, for its spiritual, collective, relational and rooted dimension.

The set presented at the Coimbra Biennial last year is full of symbols representing a cosmogony. Spaces, human figures, children and the elderly, bones, puppets, ships, the sky, the sea, flowers, among many other elements, relate and dialogue among themselves, forming a complex narrative that speculates about the origin of the universe.

The piece trabalho nas entranhas, placed at the entrance of the Monitor, where robust, country figures contrast with the delicacy of the small puppets they handle, would be a fundamental piece in that set since it is an agglutinating element of the four axes of the work – the origin at the base of the altar, suggested by a painting where the figures of three children are recognized, this being the second painting presented at the Monitor; the protection, evident in the paintings at the top of the altar; and the feminine and masculine symbols, on the left and right, respectively.

Both paintings, made from photographs, remind us of the old black and white photos, coloured by hand with paint blurs to provide more realism to the image. Paintings on painting.

The human figure is found in the three paintings by Eugénia Mussa (Maputo, 1978). The challenge posed by adding it to the painting is limiting, but also allows an evolution. “I’m interested in discovering what I can do more by limiting myself. When I make paintings with people, I start from a certain limitation in my work, to then make an evolution or learn something from it”, she says.

Eugénia Mussa records fragments of her walks through the city, cuttings from books and magazines, or even stills from amateur videos found on YouTube, through vast layers of vibrant colours, arranged on canvas or paper, using a classic oil painting technique.

Her paintings are in movement – in the brushstroke, in the painting gesture, in the environment depicted – with an immanent joy. A group of individuals who gather in a clearing to play, sing and dance in Girls dancing; two characters who jump on a trampoline in a city garden in Trampolim; or the vibrant immobility of Sole Carrier, through the orange tone that precedes all the other layers of color. These are scenes that can be heard and convey a sense of lightness, in a kind of “joie de vivre”.

Emilio Salgari’s novels sparked the imagination of Thomas Braida (Gorizia, 1982). They made him add something to reality, to make it “more appetizing”, as he says. Most of his paintings evoke a fantastic universe, through the representation of grotesque figures, where myths and fables meet. Although these creatures do not appear in either of the two paintings presented at the Monitor, we are taken into an ambiguous, enigmatic, mysterious and involving atmosphere.

In Boccetta, the resin applied over the oil on slate distinguishes the different layers of representations, placing them on different planes visible, through the transparency of the previous layer. The permeability of painting with this technique translates the mysterious imaginary of Thomas Braida’s work.

The exhibition Pequenas notas sobre figuração: Eugénia Mussa, Daniel V.Melim e Thomas Braida presents three possibilities of contemporary figurative painting, which can be seen at the Monitor Gallery in Lisbon until July 25.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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