One builds a house of what is there (...)Time unmakes and builds the house again:and rhyme, a sun brought, echo by echo, to birthilluminates, unspaces it back to time.
Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson: Air Born/Hijos del aire
Georges Duthuit described Matisse’s funerals in Nice as being held on a gloomy, unpleasant day. As the cortège prepared to take the body to its final destination, the sun’s rays tore through the sky’s grey canvas, above the Cirniez mountains. One final salute to the painter, from that phenomenon which he had spent all his life attempting to capture and reflect: ‘it would be hard not to think, without erring on the side of sentimentality, but simply because it was so, that the sun had attempted to pay its own tribute of sympathy to its most faithful servant, and that its appearance amounted to saying to all of us: "Here I am, bearing the tribute of the light”.’ Such is one of modern art’s tasks, to convey a joy that has broken through gloom, to respond to the world’s clarity with a gesture of the hand: an art of breathing in unison with the elements that are found and offered.
Light is the main character in Manuel Amado’s paintings, walking into silent, vacant rooms. Amado is an architect who has become increasingly more preoccupied with the feeling of habitat, with the essential mode of generating a space. In Art and Space, Heidegger pointed out that emptiness, rather than being nothing, or even a deficiency, is, much to the contrary, the movement on which places are founded: ‘The creation of space brings forth freedom and openness for man’s settling and dwelling.’ The individual has not been exactly denied in Amado’s images; we might think it as an observer, occupying the same point of view as the spectators themselves: a gaze that ecstatically focuses on the patient work of the sun’s rays. A dwelling that amounts, consequently, to listening to the gifts of the ‘accomplished day’ in complete serenity.
In 1987, Manuel Amado saw for the first time paintings by Edward Hopper, which impressed him strongly. It is easy to draw connections between these two artists; however, certain features significantly separate them. Hopper focuses on the conflict between the modern city and nature, as seen in his well-known ghostly houses by railway lines, but especially on a conflict that is the abyss of anguish, the depression of a whole society; his paintings depict individuals sitting on a sidewalk (Sunday), looking desolate between desire and reflection (Excursion into Philosophy), or searching for company (Sunlight in a Cafeteria), their suitcases unpacked in some hotel. The world folds itself upon its spleen, and the optimism of progress is halted by these brilliant images of disillusionment. Amado’s work, in turn, very rarely features such anonymous, debilitated beings; there is a painting, rather atypical of his production, entitled Night Carriage, in which the partial figure of a young man seated in a compartment of an otherwise empty train carriage. Every station and unhitched locomotive wagon in his ‘Railway Stations’ series is condensed into this individual, who is about to take a journey into the night. However, the figure is also reminiscent of a ghost, a projection of a mind that has internalised nomadic passion.
Manuel Amado’s moods are hard to identify, but his gaze suggests a distancing from Hopperian solitude, where night is something more than a suggestion; the Portuguese painter focuses his attention on those parts of the day (dawn, afternoon splendour, twilight) during which light turns everyday things into enigmas. Valéry thought that what is not ineffable has no importance whatsoever; something must push us beyond the sayable, into another way of seeing.
The rooms are contemplated at a moment in which they are about to explode, and the protective space has become a spectacle full of subtleties. The viewer’s position, it should be acknowledged, does not demand a concrete optic, but simply an assumption of the narrative core.
In the houses painted by Amado the doors and windows are open; the transparent sky is not disturbed by any cloud, and it seems as if everyone is away: the place reposes in itself. ‘Painting,’ wrote Giorgio de Chirico, ‘fills us just as much with its material and technical content as with the enigmatic and disturbing aspects of the world and life.’ Some images, indeed, can show life’s disturbing and enigmatic aspects as well as its lyrical and comforting ones. The phantasmatic and concrete spaces of Manuel Amado’s aesthetics possess a very high emotional temperature: they are thanks for the very existence of that moment. Chirico himself pointed out that a vision of happiness represents the presence of the desired object: ‘this very luminous image not only casts its luminosity on the images that follow it, but also on reality. Thus everything that illuminates our happiness seems beautiful to us, and everything becomes pleasant or, at least, bearable.’
In this creator, I find a silent challenge, a movement on the verge of experience, through symbolic associations in which a paradoxical revelation of the numenic takes place. Modern art has conquered blank space, that chromatic game in which painting dives into its ‘foundation-less foundation,’ radicalising the potentialities of white light. Amado takes up that mysterious splendour but also revives the memory of painting, refusing to explore full abstraction, in spite of the importance geometry holds in his painting. As Octavio Paz poetically wrote in his poem ‘White’: ‘transparency is that which is left,’ an evanescent phenomenon, a delta of desire that affects the objects surrounding us in our everyday lives.
Pedro Tamen wrote a poem on ‘Casa Sobre o Mar’ / House Above the Sea’, a series of paintings by Amado: in it, the painter unveils the light and explores ‘a house of absence’ (both empty and occupied), purifying and reformulating the world’s structure. The notion that Amado’s works are something like a reconsidered Mondrian brings into the foreground the idea of the sublime, that is to say, the feeling of powerlessness brought about by the impossibility of reducing to a concept a physical or mathematical magnitude that surpasses us. Mondrian found in the North Sea a metaphor for that infinity in which nature achieves contact with something superior, which was, in Rosenblum’s words, an extension of the Romantic search for a place in nature so primitive and distant from man and his works that the ‘spectator could feel like the witness of a new cosmogony’s first moments.’ Unlike Mondrian, Amado does not look for the transcendent in a ‘world without objects;’ on the contrary, he displays an attraction for the mundane, a pleasure in naming that which is limited by our horizons, in a paradoxical everyday sublimity, a thankful poeticising of the very act of dwelling.
‘Windows of my room’ is a verse in Fernando Pessoa’s ‘Tobacconist’ poem, a text Amado brings into contact with his triptych Fernando Pessoa’s Room, a beautiful room with an open window painted on three different times of the day, from morning to night. That sequence confirms Manuel Amado as a painter of time in stairs and corridors; while looking at a chair from different angles or noting the details of a beach tent, he condenses instants, interweaving his personal emotion with the sun’s rays. Geneviève Moll wrote that Amado’s paintings could be placed in the same ‘constellation’ as Bashô’s haiku. A haiku reflects an awareness of life’s fragility and precariousness, the awareness of being suspended between two abysses: a revelation of tense, transparent instants. Amado’s visions are of the lyrical kind: vivaciousness, presence of the unrepeatable.
The streets, the arcades, the façades and the beach dialogue with the inner corridor, the armchair, the windows and the wind-flapped curtain. Amado paints the air and the intercalary spaces, testifying of his presence and, particularly, of his moved silence. His paintings include many thresholds (doors and windows). Before them, the gaze pauses for a moment prior to entering or looking in; that is the boundary that makes seeing possible, a configuration that now circularly turns to us. In that boundary, both light and shade have the power to ‘draw.’ Tanizaki once described the wonders of toko no ma, the place where architecture becomes ritual and a play of light and shade: ‘the air in these places contains a depth of silence, and in the darkness an eternally unchangeable serenity reigns.’ These shadows are evocative, not of tragedy, but of beauty: they draw our gaze to a precise location. As Heidegger once wrote, serenity is a return to dwelling, that is to say, to that essence on which things repose. To paint the feeling of being here, the aura of dwelling, even when we are apparently absent.
The tribute of light and shade reaches the heart of the house in a curious painting, Inner Room: late in the morning, someone is still sleeping in bed, back turned to the sunlight; that person could be the same young man who sat in the train’s compartment: from journeying to dreaming. Inside, experiences and desires accumulate, and waiting has yielded an unconscious body, a breathing caught unawares. Such images are enigmatic, perhaps because of their extreme clarity: the road’s curve, life’s door ajar, offering solely the patient space of hope.
Manuel Amado depicts the instant in which inside and outside fuse together, when we hear the echo of footsteps in a corridor where light and shade alternate.