The images of the world
The stone has its mouth near its ear
And without ceasing it says to itself.
If it falls into the eyes
It will break into tears.
If it rolls on the back
It will sweep me away.
It presses upon my pocket
And in my head.
It is not a thought.
It is a self-absorbed idea. A stone closed
From the inside.
The stone recurrently appears in Daniel Faria’s poetry, as an immovable object whose serenity bears the wisdom of things. His stones are always mental, alchemical objects, static mediums that manage to translate existence’s complexity in amplified metamorphosis. Daniel Faria has been a stone man in his own way. I was reminded of him when I saw Homem-Menir, the work that introduces us to Paulo Damião’s most recent exhibition at Museu das Artes de Sintra, entitled As Imagens do Mundo e Outros Enganos curated by Victor dos Reis.
Starting this piece by addressing a different work, whose parallelism is the brainchild of my subjectivity, is an attempt to re-enact the aims of this exhibition: all the paintings are reproductions of others, images of yet other images; and all are aware of their own existence, like the stones in Daniel Faria’s poetry. But I hereby admit to this trick of mine. In the exhibition, the illusions do not want to acknowledge their nature – using the perceptive trompe l’oeil technique renders the works a simulacrum of the real, as if they possessed a cunning gift, scheming a ruse. They are, by their strangeness, curious objects. Curiosity with multiple meanings: in their metalanguage, the works reflect on their condition (material objects that mirror pictorial representations). The canvases want to be walls, where other canvases are projected, embedded in the painting; but, in that mysterious elegance, they also awaken a perceptible past, a history to which they would like to belong – that of the seventeenth-century baroque illusions, of the still-lives and reflections on painting, of the first museums with their Cabinets of Curiosities within palatial settings. Next to Homem-Menir, there is a small replica of the same painting on a small canvas, trying to replicate the paper materiality of the first one; it is on a thin, high table, like a piece of furniture, seeming to place the work in another context: that of a house. Where, besides a tablecloth and yellow light, there could be the portrait of a relative. Yet that comfort is not discernible. The depicted man-menhir looks like a figure in a yellow cloud, a kind of vaporous Rothko, a spectral being between abstraction and an AI portrait. These two paintings – original and copy – are on a blue wall at one end of the exhibition room. Besides being self-conscious as human representations, they seem to watch over all the other objects in the exhibition. It is almost a symbolic mark of the artist’s presence (or perhaps they want to make us think about our role as visitors, Invitation Figures that follow us throughout the venue).
In another corner of the exhibition hall, we see small canvases and painted papers clustered together, eager to deconstruct themselves. They represent objects, traces, one for each painting, as if it were a survey of materials – a bone, a menhir, a sheet of paper. Victor dos Reis’ curatorial eye, constantly prying, tries to shorten distances. And this is visible here: the paintings reveal their chromatic layout, with several palettes in series of three colours beside the works. They too, as ink on paper, could be paintings. We highlight Atelier, with naturalistic representations of a menhir painted on canvas on fictitious papers, illusorily compared to the real object displayed on a shelf, but still subdued to the power of paint. In another work, sheets of paper are painted on a thicker sheet that becomes a medium for the painting. It is a paper almost as thick as fabric, mimicking a canvas. At the same time, it frames a work in the making – a debate of forms as a contemporary, assumedly conceptual look, according to Cornelis Gijsbrechts’ perspectives.
On the right-hand side are five large, tall paintings. Self-reflexivity is replaced by dream, diffusion. The menhir reappears, eternally multiplied, whose repetition acquires a phallic significance. We pass from the attempt to construct a materiality, where the menhir is strangely displayed on another false sheet of paper – in a disorienting superposition of perspectives – to misty, scenography backgrounds, with an alchemical clarity. Finally, the menhir unites with the landscape and becomes substance.
The exhibition’s final sections again show small paintings. Different architectures and landscapes of different temperatures appear on small papers. But the climax lies in six paper panels on a foundation wall, where the three on top hide part of the three below. It reminds one of the first museums, whose agglomerations deprived the works of their individual autonomy. This idea, although relevant in the context of the exhibition, always consisting of overlapping images (the inclusion of Homem sobre Tábuas, a hidden representation, is fitting), is contrary to the meditative and delightfully planned restraint we had seen earlier. It becomes a more wanton act, removing an impossibly restorative side to works of art: that which is not seen, nor can be seen. The motifs are enigmatically repeated to infinity: the menhir, the man.
All this was a gamut of concealments, tensions – a progressive game of seduction, where what is shown is never dialectically revealed. Truth slips through our fingertips. Idealistic, romantic, reflective, the exhibition has a second part at Galeria Arte Periférica, Centro Cultural de Belém. Here it ends in blue, just like the initial wall – an expansive, contemplative colour, contrary to the illusory simulacra exhibited. A square, oversized blue, with two portraits and two landscapes small as stamps. A summary of what we have seen is on 150×130 centimetres. When we leave the exhibition, we always end up seeing a cosmology, a possible image of the world.
Paulo Damião’s As Imagens do Mundo e Outros Enganos is on show at Museu das Artes de Sintra until January 8.