Catarina Alfaro Manuel Amado 2016

Written for the exhibition:
The summer has been your own house and your life’s drift stayed... – Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Cascais, 2016

The summer has been your own house
and your life’s drift stayed;
now you must travel out to your heart
as across the plains.
The enormous solitude begins,
the days grow deaf;
your senses lose their world to the wind:
dried leaves reft.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours (tr. Susan Ransom), Camden House. Rochester, NY: 2008, p. 95.

The criterion behind this choice of paintings by Manuel Amado now shown at Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, that is to say, the various possibilities of creating groups and relations within this universe of images, is freely devised by Paula Rego, in a curatorial approach that is unrestrained by any kind of systematic vision or predefined selective methodology. Even though they share a common subject – the empty but inhabitable spaces of houses, or of theatrical stages and boxes –, these pieces, created between 1975 and 2008, only truly coalesce around an inquiry into a meaning that emerges out of things (Nietzsche’s enigma or Heraclitus’ daimon).

"The pictures all have an ominous simplicity”, Paula Rego stated, while selecting the paintings. There is indeed no doubt that Manuel Amado’s work develops out of a mystery that is, in principle, a simple one: normal things are seen from a different angle, and thus our conceptions of subjectivity in comprehending the world may become the real source of the enigma. Each one of these paintings is, then, an exercise in perceiving the invisible in the visible of the piece. Instead of reflecting the visible, Amado’s painting makes something visible. Painting, as Klee paradigmatically stated, is always a means to capture forces, rather than a matter of replicating or inventing forms. That is the reason why no art is ever figurative, and the task of the painting is defined as an attempt to make visible those forces that lack visibility1; "The struggle with the shadow is the only real struggle. When the visual sensation confronts the invisible force that conditions it, it releases a force that is capable of vanquishing the invisible force, or even befriending it”2.

The invisible forces in Manuel Amado’s painting are, first of all, his affective ties to the spaces he has inhabited, which are revealed through memory, not a photographic one, but a reconfigured memory that contains resonances from both the past and the present, the moment in which these spaces are being remembered by the artist through painting. But can life, time and their memories be made visible? In À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust spoke of involuntary memory, distinguishing it from the voluntary memory that illustrates or narrates the past. Involuntary memory, which according to Proust contains the essence of the past, works in completely different terms, by joining two sensations that existed on different levels of the body and are graspable each by means of the other: the sensation of the present and the sensation of the past. Out of their conjugation, something emerges that could not be reducible to only one of them3. The spaces Manuel Amado creates grow out of confrontation areas where divided sensations refit themselves into one another, precisely as Paula Rego pointed out: "It’s as if he paints to eradicate a ghost, something he will never be able to do”.

In these works the spectral realm and the eternal moment, that sphere of immobile time which fills the rooms of the various houses the painter inhabits or has once inhabited, perhaps as far back as in his childhood, exist side by side. They are places of identity, seclusion and intimacy, but they are also relational places because it is in them that his family microcosm develops, as well as his relationship with the world and, principally, with his painting. Note that the only truly human figure in them is a depiction of his wife, Teresa Amado, in a work from 1996, Teresa Sleeping. However, this human presence plays no illustrative or narrative role, emerging out of crumpled bedclothes as if it were about to be claimed by the light that steals into the room. In the three pieces entitled Fernando Pessoa’s room, the poet’s presence is suggested by two recognisable personal props: the raincoat and hat laid on a chair, unerasable signs of his existence in that changeless place, altered only by the vibration of sunlight.

The theatre’s stages and sets are, to Manuel Amado, another place of identity, a second means to relate with himself and others. This affinity with the art of the stage was transmitted to him as a child by his father4. In the late 1950s he began acting in the Teatro Universitário company, and later he would work alongside Lourdes Castro on a performance of Antes de Começar, a play by Almada Negreiros, which took place at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Modern Art Centre, in 1984. This exhibition includes three paintings in which the artist depicts theatrical interiors, clearly displaying his experience as a set designer. But we can also find scenic trompe-l’oeil elements installed in the reality of everyday living spaces, as is the case of The Living Room, 2008, adding a disturbing element to the apparent order and serenity of domestic life.

It is Manuel Amado’s perspectival eye – ever-present in the definition of these interior places, as befits a painter who is also a classically-trained architect – that renders visible the depths of light and colour, of palpability and intangibleness in these remembered and relived spaces, where everything is at once intimate and strange. The unifying, structuring element of perspective brings to his painting the physical and psychological resonance of all images of inhabited places. Etymologically, perspective means to see through something, a penetrating kind of sight – as opposed to the contemplation of an intangible opaqueness – that demands an awakening of the senses. Perspective is part of an artistic vision that alternately creates and reconfigures images. While being a feature of the pre-existing view, it can also change the relationship between the model and its depiction. Paula Rego also highlights this disturbing element: "The pictures are all very formal. They are very slick compositions. The shadows, the composition, are reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s work, but much more claustrophobic and dangerous”. The uncanniness of these paintings is further enhanced by their highly finished look: not even traces of the oil paints’ viscosity are visible. There is no place here for informality, only an increased generation of planes, brought about by the painter’s grasp of perspective.

The titles of these pieces evoke the places depicted in them – flights of stairs, various rooms that sometimes contain distinctive props, corridors or theatre boxes – as if explaining what we plainly see. The titles are mapping tools, devices that apparently help to decipher the places and enhance the images. However, their merely descriptive and sometimes redundant nature does nothing but exacerbate the pictures’ ominous simplicity, to echo Paula Rego’s warning. Often, as is the case with No-one’s here yet (2004), or the Fernando Pessoa’s Room series (1993), these titles end up heightening the dramatic weight of absence and a tension between the conventional use of these spaces, inhabited only by the artist’s involuntary memory, and the presence/absence of the painter.

Even so, these pictures of instability or permanence, singularity or repetition are also largely sunny depictions of an intimately mastered space.

1 Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Continuum, 2003, New York/London, p. 56. First edition: Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation, Editions de la Différence, Paris, 1981.
2 Ibidem, p. 62.
3 Ibidem, p. 68-69.
4 V. Biography.