We are proud to share with you some images of the new paintings by Rafael Silveira at Choque gallery, in São Paulo.
The new pieces are bigger than the usual Rafael’s works and the relationship between frames and paintings are going more complex and expressive.
The paintings took part of the Caixa Cultural Museum in Brasilia and now are available at Choque Cultural gallery.
*Legends will be added soon
Rafael Silveira’s Cabinet of Curiosities
essay by Agnaldo Farias
The poet says to his brothers:
“Until now we haven’t done anything other
than imitate the world in its appearances,
we haven’t created anything.
What might have come from us which wasn’t already here in front of us, in front of our eyes, surrounding them, defying our feet or our hands?”
Vicente Huidobro, Non Serviam (De Manifestos, 1925).
Up until now, the reader passed through flowers, strawberries, flies, birds, spiders, skulls, hats, teeth, dentures, eyes, a lot of eyes, a heart… This book’s opening reveals Rafael Silveira’s omnivorous appetite towards pictures, images/things, images applies over creatures and objects. His motives and shapes vary vastly, they can be delicate and illustrative, much like the butterflies printed on matchboxes, flamingos walking through mist, a small row of wrapped teeth, the amputated hyper-realist finger.
The most interesting characteristic of his work, which puts him in a unique position in the contemporary scene, is when he creates in the sense proposed by the great Huidobro. This is when he goes beyond that ‘which wasn’t already here in front of us, in front of our eyes’ operating metamorphosis, fusions and unforeseen juxtapositions in between images. You can argue on the impropriety of the great poet for using the term ‘create’, indeed a bit heavy, since it places artists in a demiurge light. In this sense Barthe’s formulation on Giuseppe Arcimboldo is a valid one, a distant art relative of Rafael, ‘his (Arcimboldo’s) imagination is properly poetic: it doesn’t create symbols, it combines them, exchanges them, extracts them, precisely what makes him a lyricist.
Before proceeding, it’s worth remembering that the etymology of the term ‘image’ comes from the XIII Century, meaning the artificial representation of something – a person, a landscape, anything – as close as possible. Thanks to artists from the same lineage as Silveira’s belonging, the term ended up including the representation of an inexistent matter. Therefore if they do not exist, they cannot be represented, just displayed. A contemporary version of the Cabinet of Curiosities, determined to show only stranger things. Exactly what happens with the red bird from which veins leave the body, the main one blue, with its capillary roots runs through the translucent epidermis, devoid of plumage. The ajar eyelid from which a blue pupil lurks on the back of a fly. The sinister red rose, with its petals full of colour, from which emerges a skull. The heart which crawls with spider legs. The smiling denture. The loose eyes like marbles.
Children’s play? Yes and no. For starters we need to bear in mind that children’s play are designed by grown-ups and many of the things that adults make are in fact reflections of who they were as children and, furthermore, many of
the things that impact us also awaken the children we once were. So, be careful. There is nothing simple in the pages that follow. On the contrary, they reveal the fruitful dialectics between the perceived, imagined and remade worlds.
Now, let’s think about the production lines destined to overflow the consumer world, an entire planet liable to be conquered by images converted into small plastic animals, phrases printed in stickers, stationaries or cards collections. Remember that this encompasses from the Stegosaurus to the realistic peeing dolls. Add to them creatures which vary from the cute to the creepy – much like the plucked and boneless rubber chicken that the lads from twenty years ago carried by the neck. All the existent animals and vegetables, including the invented ones, virtually all of them, are replicated in images or three-dimensional miniatures. From the ordinary lion to the elegant fern made in some remote location in China, all of them for sale in some newsstand, toy store, garage sale and random flea markets. . Wherever you turn there are one or more of them. Besides ubiquitous they are also significant.
Roland Barthes in his Mythologies, talks about the role of toys in the pre-figuration of the adult life. He advances in this direction in a subsequent essay, commenting that ‘the object is the man’s signature in the world’. It’s both easy and fertile to unite both reasons considering the way in which objects, invading and composing the environment we live in, telling a lot about us and impacting indelibly our psyche.
The careful examination on the works that follow, reveal Silveira’s vast, almost countless collection of references, nonetheless one should try, starting with the old paintings, drawings and lithographs – produced in Brazil – by the naturalist artists of yore. The cult of circuses and fair grounds, creators of the modern entertainment industry. The fever of the XIX Century almanacs, one of the epitomes of the Golden Age of Printing. The eruption of Art Nouveau and from there, to the catalogues and colourful ads of the Post War America, the moment when adman began lifting off. Add to that the old comics, with their coloration reminiscent of pinkish hues and the chromatic sumptuousness of today’s graphic novels.
The animated cartoons from their very beginning – Merrie Melodies, Disney Before Mickey, in an arch that arrives at Sponge Bob (from the genius Hillenburg), the movies deliciously anchored in exaggeration by John Waters, Pedro Almodovar, Tim Burton, Robert Rodriguez, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, among others. Those committed in creating the most horrifying and rampant beings, among which perhaps the most representative could be the bestial Alien from Ridley Scott or the relentless Predator from McTiernan.
There are, of course, traces of Surrealism, Pop and Street Art. But the artists connected to the former, aspired to be original, much like the good representatives of Modern Art. For Rafael Silveira, on the other hand, references come from all over. As for the Pop art, its premeditated confusion with the real world was so intense that their criticisms went frequently unnoticed, while our artist escapes the world through the open fend which leads to the most exhilarated imaginary. While those from Street Art, as the name suggests, desire to share art with the entire world, unfortunatelly most of the time they in fact bring feeble visions or literal protests, of which the greatest formal quality is nothing but an application in walls or buildings of the cities.
As a good Post-Modern artist, Rafael, drinks from all fountains, like a river that grows with its tributaries. With numerous references from the consumer and entertainment worlds, he approaches the daily life under an angle that goes beyond the tangible, into a complex imaginary, that can be either sweet and soft as well as eschatological and obnoxious. His intricate and detailed compositions remind us of certain chronicles from the renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks, about a man who mistook his wife with a hat, or the recurring and absurd cases from people whom, struck by lightening, acquired a sudden and obsessive musical ability.
It’s possible to conjecture about the child our artist once was: plunged into Jetsons, TinTin, Richie Rich and super-hero comics. An assiduous collector of cards, an enthusiast of old magazines from every genre, a virtuous assembler and painter of Revell’s monster models, an habitué of circus and parks as much as his allowance permitted. The extension of such profile to the present days with a systematic digging of thrift stores, the constant scrutiny of antique stands, the drifting hours at e-bay and similar sites. Whatever the case may be, the important point is that our artist has transformed from more than a scholar of images into a learned of the most sophisticated nature, gifted with the rare talent of appropriating the most dissimilar imagery in order to create juxtapositions, overlaps and assemblages.
Following this lead, one aspect that should not be disregarded is the manner in which our artist, with the snap of his fingers, transmutes himself into one of his characters. In this book there are many evidences of such statement, with several photographs of him not only working but effectively interplaying with his creations. One such example is the photo that shows him under a more sombre light, with his bygone moustache and glasses with thick black rims, much in character, accusing his identity towards the surf, punk, ska, and psychobilly aesthetics cultivated by him.
His head and gaze discretely pointed upwards holding the painting ‘Eternal Love’ (2017) in tondo format, meaning a composition round in nature, also wearing a short sleeve shirt filled with purple flowers over a black background. One side of the shirt overlaps over his tattooed arm and on the other side the body is flanked. On his background wall, branching our attention is a poster with two skeletons: the first one, more precisely, is half a skeleton with skinless body, similar to the illustration we find in medical anatomy books, displaying most of his muscle fibres. To his side, with similar size, a completely stark skeleton… nothing but bones. On the outside of the poster, also leaning on the wall yet another skeleton, this time around a bit bigger and three-dimensional.
As for the painting Silveira holds, starred by a crimson skull, and therefore an additional member of the same family with holes through which red and blue arteries come out. Some smaller rebellious sparse veins, similar to uncombed hair or those which run right underneath the skin. Our artist looks to one side, while the skull looks to the opposite. The uncharacteristic appearance of the skull softened by the misaligned veins, gains a definitely humoured tone thanks to an obsolete ensemble of floating collar and bowtie. In summary, we are dealing with a vintage skull, from the same epoch of those thick black rimmed glasses and bygone moustaches. The frame of said painting has the same finish as the muscular fibres from the poster’s skeleton, as well as its pinkish-red tone.
Thanks to details such as these, it’s perceived that the aforementioned photograph, as a matter of fact, has nothing of spontaneous. It was meticulously constructed. Here the spontaneity passes by subsequent depuration and revisions, clued by rows of brushes delicately placed side by side, the fine tubes and small vessels of paint, all of it disposed on the table surrounded by the space in between the left arm, the poster and the skeleton. Hence embraced by themes connected to mortality.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF IMAGES ACCORDING TO RS
In Brazil, I believe, my work communicates with very old things, from artists who are not Brazilian per se, but have Brazil as a theme. Rugendas, Eckhout, Matius and Spix… elsewhere I really like Audubon, Gil Elvgren, Haddon, Sundblon… besides a lot coming from the graphic arts of the XIX Century. (Interview with the artist, 2018)
The references are somewhat vague, since one does not explicitly see them represented in the artist’s creations. While others not related are, much like Giuseppe Arcimboldo. It’s possible, nevertheless, to speculate all of the possible affinities with the poetic of Rafael Silveira. His intense relation with times gone by is already explicit by his presence as trumpet player on the musical group Os Transtornados do Ritmo Antigo (Disturbed By Old Time Music).
The most distant point of departure between the previous references is the Dutch illustrator and painter Albert Eckout, a member of Mauricio de Nassau’s entourage, who lived in Brazil’s North East (Dutch Brazil) from 1636 to 1644. He was one the first European settlers to make recordings of the lush tropical landscapes, contemplating the variety of the flora, elaborating beautiful and intricate still lifes with local fruits, also depicting colonial architecture with their isolated manors in the midst of the plantations and presenting the distinct ethnicities compounding the population, features on the Tupi series, an admirable sequence of natives’ portraits, exhibiting gracious poses inspired by European portraits. As such, his works had the split effect of conveying both that which was said, as well as those who said it.
Is it not always as such? Of course, but Eckout’s works merits comes, even if unconsciously, to turn all this unassailable. Teaching that the gaze is, in fact, a cultural construct and that the reality is subordinated to the social position of the observer. Touching on Rafael’s, if the mastery of the Dutch painter is raw material for his work, the perception that the search for objectivity, invariably winds up into the realm of fantasy, is another.
Before going to the second source named by our artist, one cannot resist to turn apparent his consonance with that of Arcimbold, the Italian genius. An avant la letre Surrealist, who made use of determined elements from a certain profession in order to portrait the faces of those depicted. Fruits and vegetables to the marketer. Meats to the butcher. Rafael Silveira has similar dexterity, patent in various forms, not only in the recurrent filling of the contours of both the male and female semblant with birds, insects, fishes and so forth. All of which properly harmonized with the background landscapes. Arcimbold’s style procedure becomes even more discernible via the resourcefulness with which he welds the part of an object or being to another in order to splice a third.
Much like what happens in Signori Cuori (2015), in which a man whose head is adorned with glasses acts like a nest, perfectly created by vegetable vines having landed in its top, the same crimson bird from before. Disturbed (2015) a portrait in which the face is concealed, perhaps even more analogous to that of Arcimbold, if the purpose of the flowers, leaves and branches were not that of mimicking a nose, mouth, eyes, cheeks as those from the Italian pro. In the same line as Infinito Singular (2017) an exquisite work where an ocular globe, carved into a plant, shapes an eye from a figure whose profile is defined by the frame’s scheme.
The second cited source, comprehends two eminent German naturalists, Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius and Johann Baptist von Spix, both doctors, but the former a botanist while the latter a zoologist. Together, in 1817, they embarked on a three year journey, throughout Brazil, assigned by the King of Bavaria, Maximillian I Joseph, starting from Rio de Janeiro, crossing Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and reaching the Amazon in order to go up upstream and finally arriving in Peru. They returned with 6500 plants, 85 mammal species, 150 fish and amphibian species, 350 bird species and 2700 insects, besides piles of drawings and watercolours detailing all sorts of plants, trees, small shrubberies as well as stems, leaves, epidermis and petals of said organisms. Such illustrations had animals of all kinds and sizes, besides the astonishing variety of insects from Brazilian lands. The vast majority of these creatures were virtually unknown to the European botanical and zoological societies.
The meticulous illustrations accompanied and perfected the representative conventions, by seizing up the distinct views of the vast fauna. It’s easy to understand the impact that people from all over the globe, being experts or not, had upon the first contact with such universe uncovered by those naturalists. Certain records of both animals and insects surpassed even the most boundless imagination, since the magnified detailed views exposed unsuspicious monstrosities. The transposition into and augmented scale, turned a simple fly into a criterion for construct of freaky entities.
The romanticist and novelist Alejo Carpentier argues that the birth of Latin American literature came to be not from writers born on the continent, but from those who had as their goal to describe it. The lush nature, with its practically immeasurable fauna and flora, the atmosphere gifted with an unusual luminosity, unbearable for some European painters (as for the French Nicolas-Antoine Taunay), according to Lilia Schawrcz’s O Sol do Brasil. Not sufficing, in the same study, Lilia tells us that the contact with the new world ‘walked much further than the eyes could see or the reason admit’. Feeding extravagant narratives, from a considerable number of travellers, all of them fantastical or perhaps even supernatural. The experience with the new world forced those who embarked there, to search / invent of new designations, syntax, new strategies in the realm of language.
The analysis of both paintings and drawings from Rafael Silveira, in which plants, trees, bushes, flowers, animals, insects and entrails emerge, among other organic elements, suggests long hours passed in front of this kind of naturalia. In this arena it’s
possible to include the intricate drawings of Margaret Mee, the celebrated and massive Aldboun’s Birds of America (of which our artist has a modern copy over a pedestal in his atelier), arriving at the contemporary Walton Ford, whose exuberant and fantastical beasts is heavily inspired by folk stories. Borboletas no Jardim (2017) radicalizes his Un-Portraits: human portraits in which the contours are smoothed and vaporized, yet holding the feature / shape for the manufacture of a pictorial composition with natural elements instead of a face (e.g. a spontaneous flower bouquet under a flying brown hat).
We may also mention the production of the great German painter, Johan Moritz Rugendas, who in the trail of the naturalists, like Martius and Spix, ended up in Brazil in 1822, commissioned by the Baron Von Langsdorff, with an expedition bearing his name. Besides being the artist who has travelled most extensively through Latin America, his scenes from everyday life, of all classes, and vast quantities of portraits, could be considered among the finest of the genre in the XIX Century, mainly due to his plastic qualities, body of work, and romantic extraction (even without the rigorousness of his naturalist counterparts).
And how to evaluate the impact of such artworks, as well as the several publications that followed after the return of Spix and Martius? The works of the positivist scientists finally revealed an accessible scale to both scholars and the more broad audience, a vertiginous eruption of information, uncovering wonderful and monstrous details of the life matter. The drawings, watercolours and paintings made with microscopes and magnifying glasses created an impact similar to that of the Galileo’s telescope. The subsequent editions of these works spread through the world, inspiring hundreds of artists and illustrators from that time until the present day.
Closing Rafael Silveira’s tributes to the most remote historical sources, it’s fundamental to mention Art Nouveau, the French variant of the wave which swept Europe at the turn of the XX Century. The quest of this movement was to give a more formal organic quality, inspired by nature, to the industrial manufactured objects of that epoch. Criticized by the moderns because of its ornamental essence, one must now recognize the movement’s remarkable use of curved lines, fragments and shards, all present in the works of William Morris, Victor Horta, Hector Guimard and Antoni Gaudi. The intricate finishes of complex forms, the swirls and pylons, were, in some of the cases, developed to the point of befuddlement and were responsible by a Baroque revival, albeit under a new perspective: bringing to the ordinary objects (like tea cups, furniture, lamps, even a building) the mysteries of organic life.
THE HALLUCINATORY WORLD OF RAFAEL SILVEIRA
I collect color palettes. They could come from a photograph, an old chromolithograph, an Indian matchbox label, a comic book cover, a movie poster… the sources are the most diverse. I believe it’s important for an artist to go deep in a incessant visual investigation process. I’m very obsessed with this, in fact, I do all the time for pleasure.
Rafael Silveira’s unbridled imaginary blends secular historical references with elements of the post-war pop culture, especially those of the American style. That was when admen, film-makers, designers, writers and commercial artists from the entertainment industry created a gateway to a vast audience, disturbed by the violence of direct and indirect massacres and avid for news from a more gentle world. Circuses, amusement parks, movie theatres and comic book stores were part and parcel in this business model as well as in the pervasive ads from the dreamlike American way of life.
THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY:
CIRCUSES AND FAIRGROUNDS
Rafael Silveira might be considered as being obsessively devoted to these historical periods and along with its culture where glorious circuses and fairgrounds emerged: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey , the early XX century Cirque de Solei as well as the fabulous Dreamland park in Coney Island (sadly destroyed by fire in 1911). Carnivals and funfairs are nothing but a magnified version of the Wunderkammern, or Cabinets of Curiosities. Such glorious collections bloomed between the XVI and XVIII centuries when the commercial revolution embraced the Age of Discovery. All sorts of rare objects and creatures were organized in four categories: naturalia (for animals and organic specimens), exotica (foreign plants and beasts), artificialia (man made tools and artifacts) and scientifica (scientific instruments).
Inside the variety of those collections, the genetic aberrations had special attention for sure. One of the cabinet’s heritage to the circus was not only the use of domesticated animals and extreme human body capabilities, but the display of individuals who, “injured” by birth defects/diseases, were abandoned by their families. The well-known bearded woman, whose disorder could be easily solved by today’s medicine, ended up finding – in the curious eyes of the public – her only way of subsistence. The Barnum & Bailey Circus, one of the biggest shows on earth, even had in their lineup of attractions an entire segment entitled The Freak Show.
Although the circuses were better suited for the exotica and the naturalia, the amusement park was the preferred carrier of artificialia. It’s also noteworthy that the hall of mirrors, the shooting galleries and the rollercoasters all combined elements in line with the scientifica, although the ghost train invited guests more towards fear and spooky sensations. Thanks to these entertainment institutions, the public could (even if only for a moment) enjoy their lives, safeguarded from reality by an arsenal of popcorn bags, ice cream cones and candy apples.
CORNUCOPIA OF FANTASIES
Rafael Silveira’s method, consists in blending apparent disparate elements, observing and, ultimately, punctuating their similarities. This poetical mechanism percolates his drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations spreading , to his entire body of work, the characteristic atmosphere from a cabinet of curiosities, albeit in a much more modern paraphrase. No wonder his latest exhibition was named Circonjecturas (Circonjectures).
The show’s entrance gave no room for doubt: a corridor illuminated by black light, lamps drawing attention to six pairs of giant red fluorescent eyeglasses, all of them with spinning lenses filled with hypnotic depictions. Similar to the old cinema hypnosis vignettes, this mesmerizing effect prepared visitors for what was to come.
All far-removed from today’s graphical hyper realistic mission, erstwhile children’s books, vintage magazines, eroded labels and unlike pallid posters he shows inspired and sophisticated chromatic explorations. Our artist, the collector of color palettes, reveals to be an respectful and exquisite reader of his ancestors.
Fanny and Funny, Doce Ilusão, Falling in Love (all from 2009) owe their color schemes to the accurate examination of malicious semi-nude imagery where women in suggestive poses go over spurious surprised situations. The so called pin-ups became notorious in the cinema, as well as in the hands of the great American painter Gil Elvgren. Since 1937, countless numbers of them have graced and embellished military airplane noses, all the way back from the second war, towards an even greater total of calendars hanged in the walls of gas stations, car repair shops and analogous habitats.
The luxurious women created by Elvgren, besides the beauties rendered by his mentor – the precious Haddon Sundblon, are all revisited by our artist in an absurdist and twisted way. Pretty faces and perfect bodies play with preposterous proportions of distorted figures. Birds, balloons, cars, comics, insects, fairy-tales, flowers, the impeccable skulls, all erupt through the pores and end up steering our perceptions towards a perambulation over a contemporary version of Bosch’s Garden of Delights.
In several cases not even the frames of his paintings escapes untouched. From the simple, but richly ornate, Naturalia (2011), they become part of the artwork, penetrating the paintings and his narratives. Something very clear in Believe (2014) in which a cadaveric human figure has it’s semblance composed by wooden trappings. Another interesting parallelism, between canvas and frame, happens in the series Somos os Insetos do Cosmos, from 2016 and, finally, the strengths of such approach can be perceived in Infinito Singular (2017), ensuring to the frame an active place in the gorgeous mayhem of natural personages.
Rafael Silveira’s febrile imagination never seems to rest. His association with the designer Flávia Itibere, his wife, has opened him up to entire new and interesting perspectives. One such gripping example is Intangível (2017). Inspired by a sumptuous dress, made by white plumage covered by a black lacy ensemble, the artist mounted the piece in a mannequin and inserted a swan head over his neck. The ensuing painting – which is now part of the Oscar Niemeyer Museum’s collection – was even featured, together with its cognate creature, in a special installation at MON’s departure hall after Silveira’s 2017 triumphant solo show .
In it, an enormous glass dome became a sanctuary for the sculptural dress, surrounded by a sequence of croquis, process photographs, the painting itself, along with the mutilated head of the metaphorical being. By means of such display, the museum’s curator, and author of the preceding words, had – and continues to have – the following desire: that the visitors would leave that building enveloped by a dreamlike atmosphere… hopefully, much like the one offered to readers of the present book.