STRANGE PROXIMITY

In a country where a good deal of contemporary art is directly or indirectly related, whether by virtue of its interaction with or reaction to the constructivist episode which then, as now, marks its art, the paintings which Carlos Vergara has been creating since 1989 produce a sort of strangeness. This differentiation occurs through the way in which it incorporates local affairs. Paradoxically, what makes it strange is that its Brazilian-ness is not associated with provincial stereotypes. When we reject the icons which a certain figuration explored in order to create exotic images of itself, we recognize the reflective effort of those constructivists and post-constructivists who were guided by a conceptual order in which any local element is mediated by some many instances that it goes unperceived. But in what way is this painting the bearer of a strange proximity? I recall one of the many short texts in which Walter Benjamin narrates his dreams, texts in which anxiety resembles the sensation many Brazilians experience before these canvases. In this dream, he found himself beside a huge stone wall, so close it did not allow him to see the rest of a building; his anxiety grew because he knew that the stone wall was Notre Dame. Though he stood near the cathedral, he could not back off far enough to be able to see it in its entirety – a veritable nightmare. If memory does not fail me, this brief narrative was translated by Maurice de Gandillac as Proche, trop proche.

Vergara’s painting is charged with this excessive proximity. At first, his procedure underlines its immediate character – the monotype of the walls of a small iron oxide pigment factory in the city of Rio Acima, halfway between Belo Horizonte and Ouro Preto (if you stick to country roads) in the state of Minas Gerais. The presence of these tones belongs to the landscape of this immense region in which iron emerges from the soil and the hillsides. The local population coexists with these colors in the same way that those who live in the Amazon coexist with many shades of green. For historical reasons, these pigments are also present at the origin of painting in Brazil, if we exclude the artistic manifestations of Indians (of aesthetic-anthropological interest). These pigments are already present in early nineteenth century painting, in Mestre Athayde’s work in the region’s churches. There is, therefore, this immediate chromatic presence of the landscape and the very history of painting.

The color and the immediate nature of the procedure are not enough for us to understand these paintings, there is also their scale and an intelligent inversion. Visually, the earth tones (rust, ochre, and bright oxide red) are not enough to transport a significant part of Brazil to these canvases. Their generous dimensions and the intentionally fake, artificial nature of the elliptical structures which support them like exposed vertebrae are also somehow familiar and we find it difficult to accept this fragile grandeur as part of ourselves. We speak of landscape, yet the canvases obviously suggest interiors. A double movement charged with meaning: to bring to the place of art as an interior scene the chromatic values and extension of the exterior. And to evoke the fact that objective values still reside, uncertain, like a nebulous subjectivity in the country’s cultural awareness.

We find these values dispersed in Brazilian works of art past and present, but it seems to me that they are rarely united in a single work. Vergara’s painting is romantically invested with belief in the fragment, in the piece of wall as a possible whole and the fact that this encounter cannot be shaken by an inhibiting rationality, but captured at the very moment of the canvases’ imprinting. At present, the sublime presupposes no transcendence here. On the contrary, the half-light of these canvases directs the gaze to a territory in which we find ourselves so submerged that we can barely see it.

Paulo Sergio Duarte - Rio de Janeiro, May, 1995

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