NIGHT AS A MATRIX FOR DAY
All criticism eventually succumbs to the temptation of metaphor. Finding analogies for a work’s true trajectory or, through condensation, to intensify the production of meaning deposited in its object is not always a noble task. When it extends over the course of a few decades, the task is somewhat easier. By observing its development and transformation, the reader may judge the dose of arbitration contained in the criticism. But if our hypothetical reader beholds only the artist’s most recent work (as is the case with the Vergara exhibition), this correction of course becomes naturally complicated. Poetry (or narrative) on the page, or the plastic event which unfolds upon the canvas, are but the end results of a trajectory. Yet it is precisely this end result which we call art – that which makes every work of art self-sustainable (to use a term dear to economists). Justification for the critical text might thus lie in the fact that it accelerates processes of communication, its intimacy with the work allows access to aspects of a particular and specific knowledge of its poetics. But the construction of metaphor belongs, nonetheless, to the order of censorship and, in the case of art, not only because of the passage from the visual to the literary order, but also because of the selective nature of models. Every metaphor proposes to be a model for its object and one must always remember that an awareness of guilt does not redeem the guilty.
Vergara’s work finds itself at a moment in which his painting expands, simultaneously, in two diametrically opposite directions. On one hand, it praises transparency in celebration of the plastic fact and, on the other, expressiveness steeped in the very material which, in its somber opacity, presents a drama. We stand before two manifestations of the same pictorial language. In any work of art, language is the place where a poetics materializes and installs itself. We therefore stand before two poles of a same poetics. In order to discover the body which brings these extremes together to integrate them, we must not be blinded by its plastic generosity – by the luminosity of some and the expressive theatricality of others. Cunning procedures might trick us into finding a false leitmotif which would lead to the identity of opposites in a play of order and chance. This confrontation is present at both extremes, albeit controlled or demoted to the level of their craftsmanship. Necessarily so, for Vergara is not naïve – he is knowledgeable about the history of Painting and understands to what extent this problem has been explored in twentieth century art as criticism and as reaction to the industrial world’s totalitarian rationalization of life.
The works undoubtedly possess and expose the elements which unify them. Among these is the fact that the two poles are based on a pre-established structure which organizes their surface. Here, however, resemblance ends.
At one extreme, the artist performs a graphic, geometrical operation which precedes the pictorial work itself. Dividing the territory of the canvas makes way for the play of chromatic opposites to be supported by a static mesh, a safeguard against intervention of the apparently out of control, random element. A gestural element which contradicts its instinctual origin, already the object of calculation and control, introduces the movement, dynamizes the whole of the surface, breaks the rigidity, and, allied to transparency, finally liberates the sign from its purely graphic vestiges. Paradoxically, the programmed, indispensable, reflected intervention appears as an index of chance.
But if, at one pole, the structure pre-exists as a starting point for the internal organization drawn upon the surface of the canvas, on the other, it may be found externally, in the environment of Minas Gerais, where iron oxide pigments are collected for the paint industry. At one extreme, constructivist graphic meaning gains expressive elements of chromatic play which substitute clarity of line for imprecise contour, added to the transparent luminosity, as the plastic event, that which Paulo Venancio Filho defined as the “pictorial event”. At the other extreme, a setting is provided and, shall we say, energized by a mythical history of the technique of painting. The work gains its initial configuration where pigment, its privileged raw material, is extracted in natura. But there is no symbolism or anything that might take place outside and far away from the work’s surface – there is awareness that this narrative which juxtaposes itself as anecdote would inhibit the essential experience.
These large canvases impregnated with images and figures, printed in the ovens of the pigment factories, may carry with them the presence of chance as a distant memory, a surprise in the act of their making. Yet here, still, randomness will be submitted to successive procedures which transform chance into order. A subtle game of inversions is established when we observe the two poles of his poetics, their powers lie less in the elements which make up each extreme and more within the relational universe of the differences, oppositions and changes of signals.
Within a setting in which all possibilities have been previously defined, printing preserves that moment of chance at the instant of its discovery and successive interventions will only cease when this random element, governed by intention, achieves the intended result, its opposite. Marked as a memory of passage and exchange between surfaces, its somber-toned expressiveness evokes a night scene yet, in opposition to this tradition, the scale is not intimate. It irradiates and constitutes itself through a spatiality foreign to the range of the night gaze. Its scenic, dramatic dimension simultaneously wishes to evince, before any metaphor of the world, praise for a zero degree of painting which, with minimal procedures and extreme economy, achieves a maximum degree of expression. The tinge of melancholy which this pole of Vergara’s work can evoke in its tonality and in the fragments of figures – vestiges of the exterior world with which it literally came into contact during its making – appears, rather, as a requirement of the material itself, as though this encounter with its origin needed to be preserved from euphoria of any sort, reaffirming, in its physical evidence, an awareness of the age in which it will be inscribed as a work of art.
Observing the dimensions of language which extend to both extremes we may find the minimum common denominator of this experiment which apparently divides itself and forks into opposite paths. It is not a matter of the random gesture at play with a previous organizing scheme. Here, we should be reducing and mistaking method for procedure. What both extremes herald is praise of painting as it appears in the pictorial act itself – as sought in limits furnished by a transparency which reduces color to the necessary minimum for presentation in movement and in the silent habitat of painting as reconstructed in the printed canvases. The dilacerated dwelling in the fragmented images and in the shadows is, nonetheless, stable and serene, as if created after the fact from a chronological perspective, like the discovery of a geological stratum which precedes them and upon which the optimistic canvases are supported by colored transparencies. Night as a matrix for day.
Paulo Sergio Duarte - Rio de Janeiro, September, 1990