CARLOS UCHOA’S PAINTINGS: THE LANDSCAPE AS STILL LIFE
In the 19th century the tradition of painting as representation of the outside world went into a crisis when the advent of photography threatened it with extinction.
Destined as it was throughout centuries to look out from its standpoint, painting was suddenly forced to turn inward and search its structure for the upkeep of its pertinence.
While bearing in mind certain formulations contained in Filiberto Menna’s book La linea analitica dell’arte moderna: le figure e le icone, we could say that, beginning with Seurat’s Neo-Impressionist proposals, the picture (in other words, the result of painting’s need to represent the real or ideal world) gradually dwindled away – or became increasingly transparent – to the point of bringing up painting itself behind representation.
The crisis sprang precisely at this point, between the tradition of outer world representation and the need to present itself as a new datum of this same reality, where painting was to thrive throughout the 20th century.
The process through which painting was submitted during Cubism to rid itself of habitual modes of representation was as widely communicated as the radical attitudes of many artists set on upholding the independence of painting as a specific language. To this end, these artists simply broke with all representational elements in their productions, thus preventing the possibility of creating any illusion of tridimensionality. Without a doubt, this was a radical attitude on the part of different artists such as Mondrian and Kandinsky, among many others.
Upon being deprived of its traditional function to represent the world, and restricted to the development and further investigation of issues from their structural elements, a portion of 20th century painting veered toward the border between its own specificities and those of other celebrated art types. Here I refer to an entire constellation of works by national and international artists who decided to operate, for example, on the confines of painting and sculpture. In this process they brought to light a number of borderline productions that ultimately forced the introduction of a new art form. Because of the short temporal span separating these productions, the new category in which they belong has not yet been duly qualified. Works by Marcel Duchamp, Naum Gabo, Hélio Oiticica, Carlos Alberto Fajardo, and other artists are included in this category.
Obviously, throughout the 20th century a number of artists came forth as backdrop for this crisis, who still viewed painting as space for the representation of objective or nonobjective world, and used figuration as starting point for their productions.
The more recent works by Carlos Uchôa do not conform to any of these painting trends. His paintings on canvas and paper are affiliated with a tradition apparently spawned in the passage from Impressionism to Postimpressionism, the pertinence of which remains unchanged.
Seemingly Uchôa’s production dwells right on the edge of painting, between the representation of the objective or nonobjective world and its introduction as an independent reality.
Most certainly, to operate on this borderline involves dealing with the tradition of painting as representation of the world and natural element of painting itself, the same way a painter deals with planes, colors and lines inherent to that art language.
On the other hand, age-old genres of painting that include historical, religious, and mythological scenes, animal representations, portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes are implicit in the tradition of painting as representation of the world.
Whereas Vlaminck stood out for his colorist genius and dexterous handling of the paintbrush as a weapon, he always kept in mind that, ultimately, his production paid a tribute to the tradition of landscape in western painting, though it inveighed against established styles.
The same remarks offered above about Vlaminck’s paintings are applicable to landscapes by Castagneto, Cubist still-lifes by Picasso and Braque, and portraits by Francis Bacon, all of them exemplary of painting itself, even if availing themselves of the tradition of painting history.
However, Carlos Uchôa’s production is closer to the works of those artists who possibly set themselves in a more radical manner on the border between “picture” and painting. Although these artists include a few Brazilians whom masterfully operate within this system – Alfredo Volpi, Ernesto de Fiori, and Iberê Camargo, among others –, all indications point towards Uchôa’s work being closer to Giorgio Morandi’s production.
Perhaps Morandi was the only 20th-century master painter to remain faithful to still life, a painting genre that reached its apogee in the 18th century. Amazing as it may seem, as one of the painters who most contributed to free painting from subject, or from picture, Morandi carried out this revolution within the confines of still life, a totally conventional genre in principle.
In the face of still lifes by Giorgio Morandi, however, our perception of painting’s rendition through numerous brushstrokes – which apply different hues of a same color to different areas, thus building recognizable forms – not only informs us about the painting’s capacity to affect and draw us toward its reality, but also promotes our self-awareness within the world in which we are plunged. (This is where the remarkable capacity of art, and not only painting, resides. Whereas Morandi’s canvases successfully mobilize viewers, some video installations by Gary Hill obtain similar effect. This holds true even though certain installations by this U.S. artist still pay a tribute to the tradition of painting itself, particularly to Rembrandt).
In the face of paintings by Carlos Uchôa we verify the great tradition of a landscape painting that is not exactly descriptive, but visionary. It is a tradition devoid of Turner’s heroic character, though it features the delightful and yet anguishing lyricism of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich and Alberto da Veiga Guignard (mostly the latter’s, for sure).
In his paintings Uchôa contrasts the vertigo brought about by the whiteness of paper, or the whiteness rendered on canvas, with forms built with earthen colors, resembling rock formations between air and water, land and sea.
However, in contrast with this visionary element that pays a tribute to picture, even if remotely, his painting comes forth plain and autonomous, free of narrational occurrence.
In the face of paintings by Carlos Uchôa the observer is bewitched (yes, this is the word) by the construction of a space that is fundamentally informed by still-life tradition. It is precisely in this singular construction of pictorial space that Uchôa’s landscapes meet with Giorgio Morandi’s still lifes.
While operating within the confines of picture and painting, landscape tradition and sill-life tradition, Uchôa renders art with its most fundamental property: its capacity to touch and impress, to make us aware of ourselves in the world.
At this turn of millennium, while successfully rekindling the observer’s self-awareness of the surrounding world, Carlos Uchôa’s paintings reveal how mistaken are those individuals who claim that painting has already fulfilled its role in art history.
São Paulo, Brazil 1998
Tadeu Chiarelli is chief curator of the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo and teacher of 19th - and 20th-century Brazilian art history at the São Paulo University’s School of Art and Communications (ECA-USP).