Emídio Rosa de Oliveira The Intermittent Passages of the Light in Manuel Amado’s Painting 1992

Critical text on Manuel Amado’s exhibition at Galeria Nasoni, in Lisbon
Magazine Artes Plásticas N.º 18, June/July 1992

It would be worth walking along these paintings to prove how much we need to pause in order to see. These nitid visions possess a quietude that is physical rather than sentimental. Onto the canvas are fixed, by means of thin layers of paint, several simulacra of a world in the process of vanishing. The painter acts as a fixing agent… "Painters do not forget, they fix; their memories function like an image open to all directions, where the eye searches for a centre while a mobility of centres floods in”1.

In this painter, memory does not appear in the form of faces: his painting always develops in relation with the light and the various framings that both delimit and dilate space.

One paints in order to see better: remembrance disengages itself from the ocular intensity of these paintings, which selectively evoke peace and the silent preservation of places. These pictures have the advantage of not being polluted by the human figure, their subject being sunlight and the modulation of space by an itinerant rhythmicity of successive gazes.  

We are confronted by a visual ecology – something that does not surprise us, but rather highlights the inherent qualities of the painter’s materials and of Portugal’s rich atmospheric light, which has been used by several foreign film directors in their work.

This painting combines two impulses: the scopic, which, without resorting to the sharp focus of the hyper-realists, materialises on the canvas a "sensoriality of the hand”; and the cinematic, which cuts out space in accordance with the incorporeal ideality of light. These images are "exact images”, unaffected by any literary vagaries – they simply confirm in painting the architectural and auratic qualities of the places and recesses that the eye doubly revisits in the painting.

The pictorial gaze causes the reverberation, from painting to painting, of a mental reverie that evokes Fernando Pessoa’s lapidary phrase: "When I want to think, I see”2. For Manuel Amado, painting, as he himself states, "is only made to be seen, and thus should fulfil the high expectations that underlie the action of seeing”3. We must know the surface of things before we can start looking for what lies beneath. The atmosphere of these theatres of memory, circumscribed by a door frame or a window, generates a continual back-and-forth between the houses’ interior and the limitless, oceanic exterior of the landscape. The fusion of these two universes brings into this painting the exemplary figure of the "half-open”: geometry, by means of its precise outlines in combination with the floods of light, develops a plastic volume of tangible tones.

The Resonance and Communication of Spaces

In this painting, everything combines to allow light to transmute and distribute itself in the transparency of colour – the smoothness of the walls and the lustre that glides over the furniture highlight the polished quality of these images, whose depurated framings further extend their silent dialogue with light.

The visual comprehension and colour temperature that run through these paintings show that Manuel Amado is not one of those artists who, as time goes by, completely lose sight of what the eyes miss.  

Optics and geometry remain equal partners in Amado’s painting. Space is never closed, being instead an interiority that is revisited by the excessive clarity of the exterior,  which the painter wisely filters, without letting himself be contaminated by the clichés of the present time. Manuel Amado does not mistake vision for visuals. Visuals have become a tradable asset in a caricatural form dictated by fashionable and circumstantial precepts. The visual element is here intensified by the reflective penetration of the gaze; instead of being reduced to a reflexive tic, it is generated by the skilful metamorphosis of paint saturations. To SEE is dependent on the hierarchies and infinitesimal dosages of the chiaroscuro. What is fleetingly seen behaves like a fluid; colour is fluent, rather than solid. The visible colour is essentially born out of the combination of two lights, one incorporated into the opaque space and the other spread across the diaphanous space. The visible is captured through what A. Lhote called the "play of screens”, which he defines as a series of oscillations, a ceaseless back-and-forth of values that only cancel themselves once they have conveyed to the viewer a feeling of depth4: "la lumière n’éclairerait rien si rien ne lui faisait écran”. An insight that St. John of the Cross had already elegantly formulated:
"[T]he light in itself is invisible and is rather the means by which the objects it strikes are seen. But, then, it is also seen through its reflection off them. Were the light not to strike these objects, it would not be seen and neither would they. As a result, if a ray of sunlight should enter through one window, traverse the room, and go out through another window without coming in contact with any object or dust particles off which it could reflect, the room would have no more light than previously; neither would the ray be visible.”5

We reckon, then, that light as color or splendor manifests as a reflection off the opaque body it has struck, creating glowing areas across the space of this painting and casting on the floor the geometrics of the window as the paradigmatic grid of the whole picture – at least since Alberti.

Through that window, our gaze advances across space, undisturbed by the obstacle the surface of the painting might present.   

Amado’s peculiar way of dealing with space and framing puts us in mind of Edward Hopper’s painting "Rooms by the Sea”. This affinity, however, does not in any way diminish Amado’s originality; instead, it defines him and his painting as quite unique, somewhere between his original formation as an architect and the cinema, an art he did not pursue, but to which his painting owes much.

In this painting, the memory of images gains a chromatic visuality from which emanates a luminosity that disturbs us due to the mutant, ephemeral excess of the sunlight. They are, in the end, "paintings of light”, captured with consummate technical skill and a modest sensibility that perfectly fits the simplicity and light-heartedness of M. Amado’s discussions of his work. Strictly speaking, these pictures are time-images, to use Deleuze’s term, their creases smoothed out by painting, in a ceaseless play of appearances and illusion. Manuel Amado’s painting, without incurring a metaphor, opens a door to seeing.

1 Molder, Maria Filomena, Jorge Martins,  Imprensa Nacional, Lisbon, 1984.
2 Pessoa, Fernando, Livro do Desassossego, Ática, Lisbon, 1982.
3 Amado, Manuel, Artes Plásticas nº 12, Lisbon, 1991, interview by A. Almeida Brandão.
4 Brion- Guerry, L., Cézanne et l’expression de l’espace, Albin Michel, Paris, 1966.
5 Cross, St. John of the, The Collected Works, ICS Publications, Washington, 2017.