Galeria Luciana Brito

Dudi Maia Rosa

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The Frame of the Subject


Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush
In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer:
"My soul, when I paint this next portrait
Let it be you who wrecks the canvas".1


In an exhibition where very assorted works – and others that are literally twins – appear under the same stigma of an ornamental frame, viewers tend to seek some reference, in what is framed, that may personify the artist in some unprecedented manner. The frame is a symbol of the institutionalization of painting, and what it encompasses should be assimilated into the realm of that genre – if not within the picture, then outside of it, for neither the apparent diversity provides any clue to what it deals with, nor does actually duplicating it lends it the parameters of a work of art.


Somewhat disconcerting though it may be – and, most certainly, this has nothing to do with work quality –, Dudi Maia Rosa is an artist to whose work critics have not assigned a place within the realm of Brazilian art.


Possibly, this is because he has not endorsed his work from the theoretical or historical viewpoints; or, more probably, because the poetics of his body of works somewhat denotes precariousness for having subjected formal research to issues that can only be viewed, in a systematic manner, as subjective and foreign to the institutional weight that Brazilian art has been validating. Actually, that which today has turned out a requirement to be fulfilled at no matter what price, even if by the artist himself, is something that he avoided since his days at Escola Brasil – a time when he fed on the unbalances and strains that art making keeps up on the verge of a direct clash involving subject and painting.


There is no way to avoid the misunderstandings generated by this type of quixotic attitude, as for instance a certain religious tone found in his work, the constant reiteration of more literal and symbolic contents in his paintings, or the persistent alternation between full abstraction and figurative traces. These elements actually prevent a safer approximation of art as a product, if not out of its awareness as a critical process, out of a commitment to stable, formal standards.


On the other hand, these impasses regarding the semantic operation through which his works have been conceived – which involved successful and not-so-successful instances – yielded a result, in the early eighties, that led one of the few reviewers of his work to spot in the title of one of the pictures, in a remarkably clear manner, the insight to the artist’s entire creative process to date: “Like Jonah, who spent three days and three nights inside a whale, Dudi Maia Rosa acts at the heart of painting, inside the pictorial medium. He is totally engrossed in it, in its innermost being; ultimately, he makes the painting practice one with his discourse.”2


Thus, from the vantage point of the artist’s struggle with an art making whose vigor is maintained, to a great extent, as result of metamorphoses and re-approximations, the artistic path he treaded along more than 30 years ought to be consistent and autonomous, even in terms of supportive reviews.


If an association were to be drawn between the most basic references in Maia Rosa’s work and the Surrealism of Magritte and De Chirico – for example, the attendance of a representational means like drawing, whose usefulness artists formerly overlooked – his first solo exhibition was an accomplishment that joined together humor and lyricism in a good quality painting. As the fine draftsman he is, Maia Rosa had no reason to set aside this resource insofar as it permitted him to reformulate biographical references in a transfigured scenery of the city of São Paulo – a sometimes virtuous, though undeniably promising atmosphere.


But, again, this practical freedom obtained by an exceptional talents had numerous implications because that was not the issue at that time; besides, it could only be viewed as an instance of alienation or a return, in São Paulo, to the meta-historical project of early 20th-century Mediterranean painters – something readily accepted today, but that at the time would be regarded as a surge.


In view of the Neo-Concrete structural refinement, Dudi Maia Rosa’s paintings were evidently anachronistic; ultimately, they belonged in the so-called New Figuration.  However, as we have mentioned, in the sixties and seventies, the subjects of his painting were oneiric fictions featuring the city of São Paulo as backdrop, and characters that almost surely could not be more removed from engaged art thinking than “Pinocchio” (1978). The rendition could hardly be viewed as an instance of wit or simulation of the subject within a post-modern context; rather, it was an identification with the most undeceived character in children’s literature and, what is more, a non-Brazilian character.


From the viewpoint of tradition, at best Dudi Maia Rosa’s career would undergo an incubation period before spawning figurative works in the eighties, when given the generation in which he belongs the artist would be regarded as a veteran of idiosyncratic and figurative lyricism. As a result, the wooden puppet would be humanized and, as a reward, be granted Brazilian citizenship and an independent body of flesh and bones. In other words, the handicraft aspect of Maia Rosa’s drawing was to secure its place in an ideological realm through the legitimization of a more intimist mood for the work of art in its own right.


Instead, along the eighties his work grew increasingly geometric as he undertook a virtually obsessive investigation of the support. He took a flat piece of wood that he first cut into a circle before making it into a spiral. Then he took plastic dough to build a bas-relief, a sort of picture-object on which he applied a pictorial fabric derived from his figurative trials and integrated to the surface that dramatically invigorated its movement. In one of the artist’s most important painting exhibitions, in 1982, an external reformulation of his pictures was on display that entailed a significant expansion of the works toward tridimensionality, and the assimilation of a “calligraphy” produced by increasingly autonomous and gestural actions. It was a painting rendered as an amplified “action painting” though with a remarkable concern for morphology as set apart from support, and bordering on the representational realm. In “Como Jonas” (Like Jonah), the “canvas” was archetypically shaped as a whale. Inside, amidst the highly expressive flow of linework and brushstrokes, anthropomorphic traces were spotted particularly in the profusion of movements surrounding them. 


The upshot is that both Jonah and Pinocchio had been swallowed by giant fish. However, the prophet transcended the iconic aspect and called for an individual action that, in painting, severed the past ties with workings identified with a certain art school or procedural system adopted by kindred or unrelated artists.


In 1984, Maia Rosa undertook his first trial with synthetic resin, which imparted translucence into a mimetic imitation of painting.  Now there was way to produce further mimetism, because the body of the work itself was transparent, and the structure that supported its weirdest formats was finally evident, openly exposing the virtuous tricks of the artist who resorted to construction to render his oneiric and playful effects. Maia Rosa’s gestural embryo had spawned a new medium: painting was no longer the application of paint on canvas, but the aggregation of pigment to resin as ground for the pictorial surface, which then was put up as a single body.


The possibility of having Maia Rosa identified as a representative of figuration in the eighties – something that hardly passed his mind –, and one for whom the art issue became increasingly more ethical to the point of turning religious, was buried alive. The series “Fibers” (1984), in which he used a fiberglass fabric for canvas, naturally added visibility and certain obviousness to the artist’s output that began to annoy him. After all, it was inadmissible for an artist committed to painting to have his works merely cast in resin and pulled up from the floor as dies of a new dimension; and,, what is more, to have them abridge into impersonal shapes a mode of self-knowledge contained at the heart of his artistic thought. The notion of art as a less sensorial, less chromatic, and less “successful” commitment seems to have informed each of the more limpid and well-finished pictures he produced from there on.


Soon, a stage began in which the artist introduced corrosion in the surface of his works. It was a crisis period rendered in terms of a mayhem diversification of media, which resulted in a significantly less productive transition for his work. It was a period of isolated accomplishments resulting from an evident unbalance between the diverse procedures and media, and the possible solutions for each case. However, in one of these works titled  “Santo Sepulcro” (Holy Sepulcher, of 1991), Maia Rosa resorted to a strangely Minimal formulation to attain the “consubstantiation” of the medium into tomb. Even the picture surface heralds a certain ambiguity: it was rock, a tombstone, but it also boasted the lightness of fabric. This efficient maintenance of representation at a much more sophisticated level attested to the compelling exhaustion of the support and to the adoption of diverse materials that would be unjustifiable unless they complied with the essential parameters of the pictorial process.


It was only in 1994 that Dudi Maia Rosa showed works in which te term “device” was finally more broadly applied to procedures he developed for, and resolved in, his painting. Ultimately, the conflict between the translucent element (synthetic resin), the permanence of gesturality, and the assortment of media – plaster, wax, aluminum – generated works in which the surface concentrated all levels of strain in organic reliefs, synthesizing the thermochemical reactions that took place during the workings. From the thematic viewpoint and not by chance, works such as “Aos Polignaneses” (1994) and “Para Ismael” refer more to the Other than to the self, in the sense that they feature a greater autonomy of the object in relation to the subject, without preventing the attendance of a poetics founded on the individual.


In other words, until that time the artist could be said to tread a path in which art making was synonymous with self-decoding into pictures, unquestioningly connecting with literary characters, and being somewhat like Pinocchio, Jonah, and Job in a plastic drama involving animic and psychological issues. The time had come, finally, for him to rid his work from this theatrical mode, from a concept of art making in which handling any mundane, material things such as paint, plaster, clay, and metal would lead to the production of an inherent and impregnated content. In fact, like the Collodian character, Dudi Maia Rosa remained diametrically opposite to the iconoclast, bound by the moralizing burden through which to wish for a general rupture; and, to suppress the fundamentals of his work for an initiatory proposal was to expose his own (wooden) body to fire.


In “Lázaro” (Lazarus, of 1997), the transparent resin cast into a bas-relief rendered an unbearably abstract drawing reluctant to suppress or repress something that no longer has a place in our world; finally, it blindly delineated integrated figures. Indeed, nothing was so pleasurable or strategic, and even the material that best suited the artist’s research – polyester resin – was an absolutely synthetic and aggressive substance, notwithstanding its translucent and unworldly appearance. However, the device managed to conserve a poetics in which figuration seemingly flowed in color from a spring inside the painting. And the oneiric scene went back to its due place as an escapement for the awareness crisis that the more genuine artists cannot avoid.


Today, the series of ten new paintings – which are so called because of the prevalence of the panting medium in them – reveals an artist who deals with the same content featured in his early pictures: a naïve Surrealism, gently rendered by the talented painting of a São Paulo petit bourgeois, finds an awkwardly situated solidness. It no longer roams the canvas surface as actions of a talking puppet, nor it is transported in the belly of a mythical monster. Now we know that this inevitably substantial medium is a product of awareness and mastery of a trade.


The painting as support for the subject follows the logic of a looking glass that, like the picture, also boasts an ornamental frame. In this surface, the content is no longer accessible except through the combination of other gazes, given that the actor who played the artist in that context has left the scene and gone on his way.


Perhaps they are many mirrors for several Narcissusses, and doors nearly shut, which lead to this diffuse terrain beyond the surface. It is as if when discussing Otherness in the field of painting, this surface had to be drained by a mass of obscure or simply undefined depth, one in which nothing else can be attached.

Like the institution, the frame cannot cope with the Self. The surroundings it now represents are but a sign of the acknowledgment that, after all, the artist cannot account by himself for an aesthetic or a nation, and that he cannot escape his extreme exposition before which theoretical stilts ridiculously try to keep him above the unfailingly rising tide.

The frame is contiguous to the picture interior; it belongs in a turbulent surface that has always been peopled by signs that now are flooded, submerged into a shifting nature, though weighty enough to last. Thus, the work manages to uphold once and for all a painting that has never had a place, except in the workings that make it possible.


Rafael Vogt Maia Rosa


1. From  The Painter. In: Some Trees, John Ashbery, 1956
2. Frederico Morais, Como Jonas, no Ventre da Pintura, Revista Módulo, #79, 1984

16.08.2001 to 06.09.2001

tuesday - friday, from 10 AM to 7 PM
saturday, from 11 AM to 5 PM
free admission