João Lima Pinharanda Deciphering the World 1999

Written for the exhibition
The Enchanted Garden / O Jardim Encantado Galeria Antiks Design, Lisbon (1999)

Painting is the result of looking very hard – with eyes open and eyes closed. Manuel Amado looks at things until he has learned everything by heart.  

Looking is thinking, and thinking is building – like in drawing and painting. The actions of looking and painting generate combinations of elements out of the combinations of elements other people (or nature) have already created.  

New rules are defined for rules already in effect. A new play is performed, made from pieces of all existing plays. 

Representing (depicting) the world means to establish a new world; not a parallel reality, but an overlapping one.  

Representing means to search through what is outside of us in order to satisfy an inside need – that need being our guide in that action. 

Representing means deciphering the outside by means of a personal cipher.  Deciphering the world means searching for a map to situate ourselves. 

Feeling passionate about a thing drives us to represent it. By attributing an interpretative discourse (painting, in Manuel Amado’s case) to it, we turn that thing into an enigma. Turning it into an enigma reveals it as an enigma to others. That is to say, it triggers public interest, turning it into an object in the world of each person who sees (thinks) it, and on it builds other / new overlapping realities.   

The garden is one of the most efficient ways of seeing, thinking and building the world. 

The garden is the ideal mediator of every passion. 

The garden is a circumstance that is both universal and particular. It stems from a variety of concrete historic times and reflects all subjective and individual times.  

The garden accepts all dimensions: from Eden to the Babylonian terraces, from the eclectic Renaissance window to the revealed labyrinth of French flower-beds, from the invented English lawn to Zen mental constructions, from the urban tree’s solitary pit, sadly left to the dogs, to the cacti-filled shelf in a sunny conservatory.   

Each garden contains a cipher. The perspectives it forms are the lines in which that cipher is inscribed and the rules that organise its language; light and shade, the tall masses of greenery, the sculptural volumes of the box-shrubs and the forms, colours and smells of the flat flower-beds are the words of that language.  

The cipher, left by the garden’s builder, is continued by its keepers and visitors.  

Understood or misunderstood, made more complex or destroyed, the cipher inhabits the garden’s design but grows with the plants that give it body, lives in the mosses that cling to the trunks, in the moisture that emanates from the rocks; it dies and is reborn with each season. 

New shadows, cast by bodies in continual growth, absorb the sun that daily moves around the garden, the roots absorb the waters, the flowers give themselves to one’s sight, smell and touch.   

The cipher of which we speak exists as both a cultural reality and as the ideal scenery of every visitor. The cipher can be established by objective historic studies, freely invented at each new visit or redefined as the map of a personal obsession.

To stroll in a garden is like drawing and imagining an open destiny. To make a stop during that itinerary and read a novel or poem is to create another universe within the universe, turning each moment into a time within another time. To make a stop in the garden simply to look at the garden is to make a guess at the itinerary still ahead, to create a garden in a state of becoming, an endless possibility of new gardens.

To touch, smell, plant and cut the things that make up a garden allows us to, on a variety of levels, exchange bodies with the garden, embodying it.  

Gardening is more than just doing garden maintenance. In Portuguese, ‘gardening’ can also be an informal way of describing a walk with no certain destination, no defined duration, and no precise aim.   
Painting is Manuel Amado’s ciphered way of combining all this: the actions of strolling, cutting, planting, seeing, reading, smelling, imagining, drawing and remembering. 

Manuel Amado paints by heart, to satisfy an inside need. He paints memories of a memory: light and shade, lost places and cities only inhabited by light; he paints houses or, finally, ‘enchanted gardens.’ 

All the paintings in this exhibition can, in the end, be summed up as the first of them. And the title of all this recent series of paintings can still symbolically be applied to the oldest of them. 
The real ‘enchanted garden’ is not the one that here unfolds itself into multiple vistas, altered by the freedom memory ensures. The ‘enchanted garden’ is, precisely speaking, the painting that opens the exhibition, the one quite simply called, as if it did not wish to reveal any particular magic about itself through that title, The Woods Pond

This picture is the only one that is not part of the present series – either in terms of date (1993), depicted location (the garden of Pimenta Palace, near Campo Grande, Lisbon), or of approach to its subject. However, it is the one that accumulates all the energy from the past and passes it to the more recent paintings, which depict views of the Ajuda Botanical Garden, also in Lisbon. Representation is a memory game, and all memory is a condition of survival. 

We can almost imagine Manuel Amado’s words about the family garden of his childhood: ‘At night, our garden games took on a secret fascination: the fascination of fear. This fear, however, was mingled with joy, and we never retraced our steps in the labyrinth of the night. The crawling of the leaves across our legs and faces became a crawling of the skin. Our knees, stung by the rough grass, would soon bleed, studded with gravel and dust, like laughing mouths studded with teeth.  

Wires would tear our shorts, and the peacocks’ screams would sound at the same time as the children’s. We were searching for a treasure, we were searching for each other in the deep gloom of a wood that was both real and a dream. We were far from the wide ground-floor windows, out of which came the light of a finished dinner, the muffled sound of adult conversation, the smell of some cigar, the music of a negligent piano. Neither time nor exterior space existed.’   

Then, Manuel Amado was in the enchanted garden, and in the timeless harmony of that place he would find a treasure for the rest of his life – regardless of how far away from their life would take him and the other children. 

Now, Manuel Amado paints bright days or their shadows, the conventional lighting of a stage without characters. 

Manuel Amado has a slow working method. Vague masses of forms are sketched in charcoal, and then colour comes to define volumes and contours until the emergence of a clear, precise image that conceals all mistakes, all hesitations, all fears.    

The imperturbable clarity Manuel Amado builds today, as if he were the keeper of some original perfection that is not connected to the history of painting but rather to his personal history, as if he were the harbinger of an aurea mediocritas1 that could be practised even in the midst of the most aggressive contemporaneity, actually reveals to us places that could not exist – and are thus filled with endless melancholy, with invisible yet permanent anguish. 

1 A famous phrase by the poet Horace, meaning that virtue and happiness are to be found in a middle point between two extremes.