Maria Alice Milliet

May 2002


Two years ago at this same gallery, Antonio Henrique Amaral was showing a set of drawings in an exhibition I called Intermission. And I was right. Following a brief diversion ― a real divertissement, in the words of the artist who drew out of the sheer pleasure of drawing ―, his painting now makes its come back as a pictorial expansion, onto large-format canvases, of gestures rehearsed on paper.

This development brings to mind another moment in Amaral’s career, back in the eighties, when he assumed for the first time the automatism of gesture, a procedure that originally was a marginal action ― after all, it was born out of graphic notations and doodles scribbled aimlessly and unintentionally in the margin of datebooks and notepads – that when transferred to painting proved itself capable of de-stabilizing a solidly built oeuvre. In those days, critics were reticent, except Sheila Leirner, who offered a more open-minded opinion about the work. The audience gave it a cool reception, no longer recognizing the celebrated “painter of bananas” in such iconoclastic and chaotic output. From this irreverent phase, a few paintings remained at the artist’s studio – something unusual, considering a production so highly sought by art collectors. Twenty years later, today the market begins to spot fine qualities in works it previously regarded as mishaps.

This reassessment in a way goes against the dynamic force that moves the artist’s interventions in paintings that he once considered finished. Unlike what we would expect, he is not moved by a desire to outdo himself, but simply by an inner freedom, an energetic attitude that drives his latest output. The spontaneous gesture that once disrupted his polished painting surfaces as a device that upset form, technique, and ideology-based contents, now stops being a transgressive act and asserts itself as the practice of another language.

Seen in retrospect, Amaral’s work reveals an oscillation between two distinctive representational modes. This tension between oppositions generates alternating phases, as the controlled and static figuration yields to the pulsating, dynamic disarrangement and vice-versa. This contentious issue in itself is what adds contemporary actuality to his work. In a society marked by the dissolution of traditional values, one in which coherence is no longer a prerequisite for “serious” work, and the contradictory, the plural, and the heterogeneous come forth in all human manifestations, an Olympic art, free of all confrontation is hardly admissible. Conflict management – a highly militant ability – has always been part of Amaral’s work.

Flows, rather than contention, are what we find in Antonio Henrique Amaral’s current paintings. Color is featured in them as sheer sensation. Space is totally deprived of a horizon. Everything takes place in a field of expanding and retracting forces, in turmoil, in incessant movement. The set of paintings presented in this show may be viewed as the fabulation of a highly energetic realm of dream and drama, constantly undergoing transformation. The painter records this fantastic adventure on a month-to-month basis. In April/2001, scattered, connected or clustered small batons float on the surface, drawn by the undercurrent tide.   In June/2001, the pulsating gold magma takes up the center of the painting, allowing glimpses of the red that warms its depths and causes its edges to shimmer.  In August/2001, there is a shower of vagrant stars. In September/2001, a perverse joy of an outburst reigns sovereign. Space appears to have been swept by cosmic rubble: debris, fragments, shattered objects, and even a flower that remained incredibly intact are propelled across it by a destructive blow. Finally, in 2002/The follow-up, a great enigma appears in the sky as sparkles reach out to infinity, defying the gravity of an imaginary planet.

This short review of Amaral’s work is enough to suggest the creative potential of the dream world. Even Bachelard, the philosopher who advocated the right to dream, claims that there is a time when we must set our feet on the ground. He warns that the skies we climb are always inner skies altogether ― desires, hopes, prides. We are too much amazed by this journey to make it into an occasional spectacle.I would say,on the contrary,that for the artist,the spectacle is born of this very amazement.