In the field of contemporary art, the reductive character of every attempt to identify/translate, through language or technics, the work of an artist, is widely known. Video, photography, performance, conceptual art, painting, sculpture, drawing, object, urban intervention, institutional critique, installation, whatever the “support” is, we are dealing with a poetical universe put in practice in many different ways. The artist is not a specialist, but a general practitioner, ready to poetically step in by making use of the most diverse proceedings.
Time and again, artists transit through different languages. This is the case of Henrique Oliveira. Whether through two-dimensional painting on canvas, whether by installations made of wood or other types of materials, a main thread lined up the points of one same weft.
Having started to produce during the 1990s, Henrique is a singular case within the current Brazilian art milieu, in which the very young artists, whose production still barely delineates itself, already entered galleries and the whole organization that surrounds them. His approximation with the market, just as the market’s approximation to the artist, happened lately. Henrique had already produced for almost eight years before holding his first individual exhibition in a gallery. This important time of maturation of the work of art, which happened far from the requirements and velocity of the fairs and collectors’ demands, can easily be noted by those who had the opportunity to longer meet the frame of his work. There is a gradual and conscious movement in the stages of this work, which, I believe, results from this soother mercantile insertion through which his productions passed over the years.
Henrique inspires himself in a painting full of colors and ironies such as the Baroque and the Rococo, and he also has recourse to typical proceeding of the Abstract Expressionism, but without the dramatic affective tonality; his paintings emanate an almost joyful atmosphere, permeated by references to the universe of cartoons, i.e., injecting a pop drive in an abstract and expressive gestural. From this unlikely mixture, present in his oil and acrylic paintings on canvas, in 2003 Henrique made a decisive step forward, presenting for the first time, a grand “painting/intervention” made of waste wooden pieces, the artist had found in dumpsters in the city of São Paulo. At the time, such compositions were still flat, just as the two-dimensional paintings by which the artist had been influenced. In a kind of collage process, squares and rectangles of several dyes (those of each wooden piece) formed a geometry of constructive nature, although made with what was the most common and fated to waste, the dejects spread all over the town.
To this first series of works, the artist gave the name of Tapumes. In Brazil, this is how are named the wooden blocks used to prohibit the entry into construction sites, and also into wastelands. i.e, it is something visible that serves to occult what does not deserve to be seen. By transforming such fences from supporting actors to protagonists of the scene, Henrique produces a clear inversion, giving value and visibility to what that, up to now, in itself was fated to total invisibility and belonged to what hides and does not let appear.
This subversive proceeding also has other meanings. If the relationships between these interventions and some aspects of the painting, the geometry, the color fields, the planarity, are pertinent, the symbolic aspects of the material chosen by the artist to construct this new step of his works are unavoidable.
Through the 2000s, some expressions were coined in the so-called “Brazilian” art production, such as poética de gambiarra and estética do precário, just as were held exhibitions that precisely questioned the possibility of identifying an artistic production through the artist’s homeland. In such context, it is worthwhile to highlight that, if Henrique’s production may obviously enter such pigeonholes, it never opportunistically flirted with some of these categorization attempts.
There certainly is an interest in working on the tension between the material, which evokes the urban chaos of a city like São Paulo, and the register of the painting – so erudite and enclosed –, in order to contaminate it through this rudimentary, and even boisterous, dimension, of the world of life. However, the artist’s constant and consistent trajectory over the last fifteen years, passing through several waves without losing the rudder, shows the cohesion of his poetical project and also his indifference to those as often as not fleeting tags.
If the first works were flat and showed a clear transposition from the two-dimensional canvas situation to a bigger one, in the space, from 2005 and on, the process started literally to embody and flirt with sculpture and architecture. In the work Tapumes, exhibited at the Centro Universitário Maria Antonia, for the first time the artist fills out the inner part of the work. The wood gets tonus. Behind the laths is a volume through which what is rigid, firm, hard, straight, turns to have unsuspected organicity and flexibility. From then, one more stitch of the weft may be weaved: a relationship between the work and the body starts to exist. In the quoted work of art, what we see does not seem to be static, but rather a moving point. The bodies are moving, but not the paintings. Soon after the inhalation, the work is stuck there, full of air inside.
This relation between painting and body opens an important chapter in the work exhibited in 2006 at the Centro Cultural São Paulo. In a huge installation, the artist succeeds in expanding the “elasticity” of the wood by shaping denser areas of air, round, full of sinuosity and curves. The work appears in a huge scale, putting us in a less contemplative position; there is also an invitation to a physical approach of the work. And, as if such organicity in the shape, instead of straight lines, was not enough in itself, Henrique starts to use the wood imprinted by the passing of time, rosy, reddish, referring at once to the skin and the inner body. Outer and inner are there, striking up an improbable dialogue and establishing a totally new physical dimension.
This breakout point echoes until today. But, meanwhile, other paths were explored by the artist. If, on one hand, we can see the growing association between work of art and body, on the other hand, there is an increasing relationship between the painting on canvas and the wooden installations. What before looked separated, the result of the work from two distinct artists, progressively finds its intersection point.
One exemplary moment of this dialogue between installation and painting can be found in the Tapumes, exhibited at the Mostra Fiat Brasil, 2006. In them, the artist for the first time bases his work on flexible chipboards, which malleability makes possible the shapes to evoke brushstrokes. Finally, the movement of the painting in itself finds its place in the work.
Besides being painted, the wood has a singular configuration that lets unbound tips, unstuck from the axe of the body, just as if brushstrokes went out of the picture. The palette recalls the one used by the artist in the works on canvas with acrylic paints. The scale turns to have more bulk, so that each work starts to have a direct relationship with the exhibition space.
The Tapumes exhibited in 2009 at the Rice Gallery, may be considered as the summit of the idea of a pictorial texture taken as the sculptural element in the artist’s process. On a huge wall which frontality is potentialized, i.e., in a space that could perfectly receive a canvas of huge proportions, Henrique builds a work which at once is a painting, a sculpture and an installation, showing increasing control on each one of these vectors. The work reached the lateral walls of the room, filling out the space with remarkable visual eloquence.
Up to now, we have three grand line-forces acting in favor of another one, only poetical. The “traditional” paintings, the works on wood which unfold themselves into a powerful dialogue with the body, the fleshiness, and also those which create an unsuspected conversation with the painting, produce a miscellany between the pictorial register and the sculptural shape.
Artist capable of adapting himself to several kinds of contexts, or, even better, artist capable of extracting power from the most different places, in 2010 and 2011, Henrique created one more knot in the weft of his work by exhibiting the works Tapumes – Casa dos leões¸ at the VII Mercosul Biennial, and A origem do terceiro mundo, at the 29th São Paulo Biennial.
If in institutions and galleries, Henrique’s work appears as a contrast to the traditional white cube, tearing up its limits and introducing an element arising from the streets, fated to be discarded, rustic, into clean environments, which are more like aseptic bell jars, distant from the world of life, in the case of Tapumes – Casa de Leões, there is a kind of return of the wood to the local from where it has been rescued, the street, and, more specifically, to an old abandoned house in the city of Porto Alegre.
Henrique’s intervention is not invasive – on the contrary, it infiltrates such space. Therefore, it has enough wisdom to form a kind of amalgam with the house, as if such forms seemed to have sprout from this dark interior. Foreign body being born from another one, abandoned and decadent. The house, in its structure, appears as a plan on which the artist intervenes. Out from the windows and doors come shapes which do not seem to be able to fit in such place and, therefore, need to reach the outside. A scene that could have a before and an after. A kind of frame that makes us think how much more that body within the body could grow, spreading itself, extrapolating the limits which are represented by the doors, the windows, the sidewalk, the street and the city. The spoiled wood aims to go back to its original place.
Besides all the aspects mentioned throughout this text, the immersive aspect of A origem do terceiro mundo should be highlighted. Each one of us is invited to enter the work and walk through it. It is the only way to have a full experience. Painting, sculpture, intervention, and also a relational aspect, all these points are gathered in A origem do terceiro mundo. Just as the eroticism, other existing characteristic that can also be found – even if not always detected – in most of the works of the artist, is also present. The entry to the work refers to the entry of a woman’s body. It is not without purpose that the title refers to the classical L’Origine du monde, by Courbet, one of the most sensual works of art in the Western history of art.
We witness an artist whose work initiates itself with the painting, but, step by step, ventures not only through other languages, just as through other places and paths, making us think about the body, the nature, the eroticism, the city, and that also flirts, although obliquely, with issues related to the political and social context of the place in which the artist lives, and the places in which the work is exhibited, sometimes creating a kind of non-illustrative or non-controversial provocation against the conventions of the art circuits.
From the history of art to the dumpsters of the city of São Paulo, between the fences and the interstices of the body, an attentive look is required to discover and rediscover this work of polysemous nature offered to us by Henrique Oliveira.