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Gonçalo Preto: under the light of a slow-burning blue flame

A Cadência de uma Chama could have been the prologue to Gaston Bachelard’s The Flame of a Candle (La flamme d’une chandelle, 1961). Or it could be the name of an unseen sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon (1975). Nevertheless, Gonçalo Preto chose this title to string together, in one continuous train of thought, a new series of fragmented narratives. We all know that this is what a title does, but it seems to us that the analogy transcends this heading.

The “flame of a candle” is not as powerful as a lamp, does not warm like a bonfire, perhaps does not blaze like a match, nor does it spark like the sun, nor is it blue but yellow, slow-burning, yet, as a source of light, it equally influences our perception of the world. By candlelight, a romantic setting; a thrilling sound heard in the flickering light; a religious sect ritual among candles, the dread of a solitary torch in a wide empty field. There are numerous cinematographic possibilities to illustrate the psychoanalysis of fire (to which Bachelard also devoted a book: La Psychanalyse du feu, 1938), but, when faced with the “flame of a solitary candle” (the image that truly catches our attention), the attentive reader puts aside their reading and contemplates the flame, seeing beyond the light, introspectively meditating. At once the fantasy of a dream arises and the mind is flooded with poetry and other thoughtful words.

This is Gonçalo Preto’s third appearance at Galeria Madragoa. The canvases are large and the tones range from dark depths (which in the artist’s work may vary widely between matte and gloss) to enamelled blues. The themes appear loosely, much like a splintered memory or even because the stillness of the flame prevents us from perceiving it any other way, feeding our short-sightedness. Córtex (2023), the first painting, is a visiting figure for those who enter. As soon as we get closer, this painting turns out to be a body, an X-ray of the soul that opens up the passage between the material (mundane, ordinary) and the immaterial (intimate), reality and fiction.

This is followed by the triptych of paintings Três Ws (Poente), Três Ws (Outrora), Três Ws (Dúplice). Preto calls the viewer’s attention to “where”, “when” and “who”, setting us in a dialogue of transparencies and transfers among the various layers dressing the place, the time and the character – a doppelganger of sorts duplicating our souls. All of a sudden, we are reminded of another painting by the artist, Charlie (2020). Blue overwhelms the rooms, binding it all together. The same electromagnetic blue spectrum is also the colour of an X-Ray, and Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva’s text states that Gonçalo Preto identifies the tone with the body’s “inner spaces”.

Lastly, Fada I and II (2023) and PartituraEstrelas e Estilhaços (2023) reveal our true location (in the gallery and indeed in the universe): we are within Gonçalo Preto’s mind, and we see what he intends to show us. The ambience is hospital-like, with an aseptic harmony, the lighting is intense, but synapses happen, one after the other with comet-like velocity, in the microcosm and macrocosm, in the brain and beyond, in the starry sky.

Preto’s fascination with the mystery of shadows, the transmutation of the soul or the fragmentation, quietness and solitude of bodies is not new, but this is perhaps the right light for interpreting the artist’s work, the need for the low luminosity of A Cadência de uma Chama (of a candle, the candle sighing and breathing faintly also in Pedro Morais’ seminal Focus Fatus Locus Solus).

A Cadência de uma Chama by Gonçalo Preto – which, we must add, is from a slow-burning candle, despite its blue tint – can be seen until March 9, at Galeria Madragoa.

Frederico Vicente (Lisbon, 1990) master in architecture (FA-UL), researcher and independent curator (postgraduate at FCSH-UNL). In 2018, he founded the Sul e Sueste curatorship collective, a platform that aims to be a hinge between art and architecture, territory and landscape. As a curator he has regularly collaborated with the INSTITUTO, in Porto, from which we highlight exhibitions such as "How to find the centre of a circle" by Emma Hornsby and "Handmade" by Ana Paisano. He was also the curator of the exhibitions "Espaço, Tempo, Matéria", Convento da Verderena, Barreiro; "Fleeting Carpets and Other Symbiotic Objects" by Tiago Rocha Costa, AMAC, Barreiro or "Do Território aos Lugares", Museu de Almada, Almada, among others. Professional activity orbits mainly around the multiple ramifications of architecture.

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