Much has been written about the stillness that reigns in the paintings of Manuel Amado. It has not been stressed that this stillness implies a paradox, though only an apparent one, that marks Manuel Amado's art as both modern and Portuguese: the simultaneous existence in his paintings of presence and absence, of eloquence and ineloquence. The modernity of the paintings resides in their presentation of a reality that is devoid of meaning except insofar as it is invested with meaning by our individual subjective consciousness or fantasy. A statement by Manuel Amado in a recent interview makes the point: «Painting is the most direct way there is of representing reality, considering that it is we who make reality and that its representation is, therefore, transmitted directly from one mind to another, without the interference of words» (italics mine).
The Portuguese character of Manuel Amado's work is immediately apparent to anyone who has been on a street, in a house, on a railroad platform, or in the landscape of almost any region of Portugal, particularly the region to the east and south of Lisbon. This Portuguese quality has also been commented upon, though not quite in the terms in which appears to me. If I were to attempt to name the fundamental characteristic, perhaps even the fundamental theme, of Manuel Amado's paintings, I would call it the expression of «saudade», in the sense in which it has been defined by Antonio Jose Saraiva : «The sentiment we call saudade bears a unique contradictory duplicity: it is both the sorrow caused by absence and the delight caused by presence, through memory».
In the same interview Manuel Amado declared that he is inspired to paint by «every thing I see when I am at peace. Or, to be more accurate, the memory of what I saw when at peace. I can even say that I paint in order to attempt to see better what I 'have already seen, to be sure. And I like it when someone tells me that this is the way they remember having seen it».
An illuminating example of paintings that attempt to fix the memory of what the artist has seen when at peace is the series of canvases in the present exhibition representing the interior of a house that has no permanent inhabitants and that most of the time stands empty. It is lived in occasionally and by various branches of the same family. It is both empty and not empty, inhabited and uninhabited. The paradoxical, ambiguous nature of the house makes it a natural subject for Manuel Amado. The stillness that pervades its rooms is undisturbed by the sound of voices or footfalls. Its chairs, tables, beds, lamps, the shadow they cast, and the light that falls on and around them speak of absence, not only in the sense of emptiness, but also of absence of the painter, who here embodies in forms of lucid plastic presence the memory of what he has seen in perfect uninterrupted «peace».
The pictorial and formal traditions from which Manuel Amado's paintings stem have to do in the first place with his training as an architect and his practice of architecture before he began five years ago to devote himself entirely to painting. But there are also strong affinities between his work and that of artists of the recent as well as more distant past: Giorgio de Chirico; italian artists of the quattrocento, especially Piero della Francesca and the designers of intarsia panels of architectural perspectives; but also, with respect to framing, crooping and lighting, film-makers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Michelangelo Antonioni. The artist has put the matter clearly and succinctly: «It was in Africa, while I was in the army, thinking with nostalgia of my distant realities and impelled by de Chirico, by the cinema and generally by Early Renaissance Italian painting, that I found the principle of my own way of painting. Since then, and until today, it has always been the same way, mine».
The geometric forms, perspective compositions and cast shadows of Giorgio de Chirico's paintings have influenced artists as diverse as the Belgian Rene Magritte and the American Edward Hopper. Manuel Amado's paintings have links with the pictorial language of both Hopper and Magritte. It is as true of Magritte and Hopper as it is of Manuel Amado that their «way has always been the same». Once they evolved their own style they never departed from it. However, their indebtedness to the Chirico is only one component of that style.
Magritte owes as much or more to the imagery and theory of Surrealism. His sources are verbal as well as visual. He achieves his artistic objectives by means of puns and unexpected twists. Long before deconstruction became a fashionable mode or criticism, Magritte deconstructed the relationship between objects, images and words. An image of
a pipe is not a pipe. And why should that image have the title «This is not a Pipe» rather than «Song of Love»?
Hopper has his deepest roots in a tradition of American realism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His principal theme is the ennui of American urban life, which, like Beaudelaire's «painter of modern times», he endows with a dimension of heroism.
Manuel Amado's paintings are less complex and more straightforward than the art of either Hopper or Magritte. Their objectives are more innocent and intimate. They engage us and speak to us on a more purely visual plane. They are, in a word, closer to immediate, direct perceptions and sensations, which, in the artist's own words, he endeavours to paint «without interference of words ... in order to attempt to see better what I have already seen, to be sure».