Luísa Soares de Oliveira The House of Mirrors 2007

Written for the exhibition
paintingPAINTING / pinturaPINTURA  Centro Cultural de Cascais, Fundação D. Luís I, Cascais, 2007

1 – As it is well known, art historiography and criticism have always known how to procure the necessary means to try and capture their subject. Thus, the former has classified works of art according to technique, style, genre, school or movement, while the latter defined methods to analyse art pieces, studied how relationships and considerations were developed within the work of a given artist or generation of artists, and more generally discussed the relevance, or inconsequence, of this or that work of art within the context of its time. By proceeding thus, specialists in a variety of areas tried to make their work easier by organising and classifying a number of objects that are so diverse they always manage to evade, in one way or another, every attempt at grasping them by means of thought, language and writing. Every art history or critical text is unable, and must always be aware of that, to encompass the view of reality a work of art always offers. This introduction is a warning against rash classifications, such as some that have been made concerning the work of Manuel Amado, a work that, though obviously produced in the present time, evades being included in a particular style or family. We are unable to find any contemporary close relatives to it, but his first exhibition, in 1978, by invitation of Cruzeiro Seixas, allows glimpses of a sensibility rooted in a time that revived the use of figures and images – let us, for instance, think of French Nouveau Réalisme, of Aillaud and Monory’s frozen, empty spaces – in combination with an interest in spatiality that probably stems from his architectural studies. When we consider the paintings he created during the nearly thirty-year span since that exhibition, we are struck by the remarkable internal coherence of that body of work: instead of subjecting himself to time’s contingencies, Manuel Amado remains faithful to the universe that founds and explains his painting. A universe made of memories and personal images, of visited places and spaces, of a cold, cloudless, dawning light, the reconstructed luminosity of childhood recollections.  

2 – However, that does not mean that the classificatory impulse that underlies all thought will not manifest itself in this specific case. The artist himself, while considering the selection of his works to be exhibited, defined the following thematic groups: beaches, exteriors, objects, architectures, interiors and a more general grouping, which he entitled ‘portraits/old paintings.’ Many similarities with the ancient painting genres can be found here. Out of the chosen terminology, the ‘portraits’ (which make up, indeed, a rather small group) are the only ones that make use of the old terminology defined during the modern age. All other groups are classified as subdivisions of a more general term, such as landscape or still life, refining the organisation of the world that defines it. In this ordering he has imagined for his work, Manuel Amado is dealing, not with visible reality, but with the memory-operated rearrangement of the most powerful impressions of all his life.     

3 – In fact, the works shown at the present exhibition mark the end of a cycle and the beginning of another in this artist’s career. Some time ago, he presented a solo exhibition at the King Luís Painting Gallery, in Ajuda National Palace, Lisbon. All the pieces shown contained references to the theatrical universe. Sceneries, stalls, stages and props were used to compose spaces void of players and audience, thus enhancing the unreal, phantasmatic quality of the theatrical performance. Once in a while, certain characters from the commedia dell’arte would appear, but could never be precisely identified. Everything conveyed the impression that what had interested the artist, what had inspired his work and thought, had been the creation of a space suffused with unreality, but at the same time rooted in his deepest memories. After this series, Manuel Amado chose to return to those subjects and motifs, already mentioned above, that had made his work emblematic and instantly recognisable. But is this subject-matter so different from the previous one? One thing is certain: the same unreal quality is present in his painted work from the beginning. And this becomes even more surprising when we hear the artist talk about his work: that view is taken from the Campo Grande house where he lived as a child, in that other scene the lunch bell could be heard, that landscape was the view from the window of the beach house, or of his Setúbal or Lisbon residences. Everything seems perfectly identified. Yet, at the same time everything possesses an aura of unreality that hypnotically holds our gaze.  

4 – This feeling is certainly rooted in the peculiar technique Manuel Amado chose for his work. Instead of the architect’s precise, geometric lines, to which he could perhaps be used, each one of his paintings is composed of successive, overlapping layers of oil wash. There are no defined contours, and traces of brush or spatula use are rarely visible. In other words, the rigid separation of colour areas is only an illusion created by the distance between the viewer’s eye and the surface of the picture, since even the preparatory drawing, which precedes the first coat of paint, is a vague, blurred sketch of the compositional lines that will organise the space. Consequently, any possible references to classic painting, which we could find in the use of linear perspective, or to photography, which prolongs classic painting in its strict separation between light and shaded areas, fade against the materiality of these paintings. All that is left of such references is a mirror play between memory and its impression, which creates a labyrinth of vertical, horizontal and orthogonal lines, of light and shadow, in which even the humblest subjects – bathrooms, corridors, the folds of a sheet on the bed – have their own place. 

5 – The mirror reflects reality, that is certain; however, in doing so it creates an image that is neither real nor imaginary, but virtual, changing constantly in accordance with the movement of the beholder’s eye. Virtuality: that is the term that best defines Manuel Amado’s pictures, which have no precise referent, issuing mainly out of a time-polished mental idea. Like the more widely available computer-generated virtual images, Manuel Amado’s paintings present the artificial cleanliness of eternally accessible worlds, composed of colourful pixels. They are also phantasmatic since, in spite of the constant indication of light and shade areas, time passes not through what is imagined. These walls bear no moisture stains, no crumbling paint, no graffiti; the streets are free of trash. There are no inhabitants, apart from the woman who shares his deepest affection with the places. There is no time, thus; only space. And, as we explore the whole of his work, that space becomes increasingly (and virtually) more open, from picture to picture, from painting to painting, limited only by one’s limits.