Record of the artist Alfredo Nicolaiewsky's process.

“True art has the ability to make us nervous”, Susan Sontag.

The phrase that serves as the epigraph for this text was taken from the essay against the interpretation, published in the eponymous book by American thinker Susan Sontag. Since, in the mid-1980s, I read it for the first time, I appropriated it because it translated well a feeling that I had already experienced a few times and that, in the future, I would experience again.

To a certain extent, for the author and for me it does not matter – at least not at first – what the real work of art “means”; it doesn't matter what it "means"; it doesn't matter its "content". What really matters is how it is able to mess with our consciousness and our sensations, transforming the mind into our sixth sense. When this occurs, it also does not matter who the artist is or who was, where he was born, where he lived, his “context”, etc.

***

The first work that made me nervous this way was a painting by Leonello Berti, an Italian artist who lived in Ribeirão Preto, where I was born. I was a teenager and I went to visit an exhibition of artists in the city, before it was sent for exhibition in Europe. I don't remember the title of the painting, let alone where it ended up [1]. I only know that, in front of her, I was sure that I was seeing a real work of art. Her hairs stood on end, an extreme excitement and the absolute certainty that it had been worth living her whole life just to be there, looking at her.

Untitled, Leonello Berti. Collection of the Ribeirão Preto Art Museum.

After a few years, in 1977, already in São Paulo and an art student at ECA USP, I went to the old Galeria Arte Global to visit an installation by Julio Plaza, The girls ( The boys): in the middle of the installation I found myself struck by a kind of lightning. Frightened in the middle of that installation so simple and, at the same time, so powerful, I suddenly became aware of my whole body and, not knowing what to do, hurried out of the room, the gallery, and I only stopped to think about what I had happened when he was already on the other side of the street (the gallery was on Alameda Santos). I remember that, afterward, I took a deep breath and went back to the gallery. From that experience, art was never the same for me, and I was never the same for art. [2].

“As Meninas”, 1977. Inês Raphaelian Archive.

Years later, in 1988, in a late afternoon, passing through Estados Unidos Street, I entered Galeria São Paulo. As I approached one of the paintings hanging on the wall, I noticed that the canvas continued as a drawing on the wall! What was that, my God in heaven? So, had I also lived all those years to come across that kind of revelation that transformed me as I observed each of the works on display there? (actually the show was a large installation).

When I managed to recover, I decided that I had to know the authorship of those pieces. Finally someone from the Gallery showed up and told me those works were by Carmela Gross. The artist would open the show in a few days and all that was needed was the tags to complete the assembly.

Untitled, 1987. Carmela Gross.

***

(I do not believe that a fact that occurs to me now has influenced these three very powerful experiences: although I was only a student of Carmela Gross at the Department of Plastic Arts at ECA USP, Julio Plaza and Leonello Berti also had some connection with my training: Julio , at the time, was teaching in the same Department where I was a student and Berti had been a professor at the Ribeirão Preto School of Plastic Arts, when I was a student in the children's course at that School.

On the other hand, and to assuage any possibility of endogeny, if these were my first three experiences with true art, they were not the only ones. Works by Vuillard, Giambologna, Mike Kelly, Andy Warhol, Caravaggio, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Iran do Espírito Santo and Mira Schendel, among a few others, have also made me nervous).

I believe that many have had experiences similar to those I have described; many, for sure, have already felt bodies and minds mobilized in a type of experience impossible to describe in words – remembering Julio Plaza himself, in the catalog of the 1977 exhibition: “Art is too important to leave it in the hands of the… verb ”. But what I'd like to add here is that such strong experiences don't happen, or don't just happen, when you suddenly come across a finished work of art. Another experience that can also make us nervous – and for renewed periods – is when we follow the production of a work that, from its beginning, shows signs of its transforming power.

For years I have followed the professional path of Alfredo Nicolaiewsky, an artist from Porto Alegre, who, in addition to his teaching activities at the UFRGS Institute of Arts, develops paintings, drawings and image appropriation. What has always interested me in his works is his technical/formal mastery, combined with a peculiar humor that sets the tone for most of his production. This humor, however, does not mean that his productions are funny. The humor in his production is demonstrated in how the artist manages to introduce in the articulations of the chromatic fields that he invents, certain unexpected notes or conjunctions, full of irony, which take our gaze from the sameness, although the artist deals precisely with it.

Well: in these months of pandemic, Alfredo invited some friends (me, among them) to accompany the production of some of his paintings. Did he promote meetings in your Porto Alegre studio? Of course not. Even though some of the guests reside in that city, most (like Alfredo) belong to the risk group and, therefore, respect the “new normal”, which is social distancing. That is why the monitoring of its production process has been carried out via WhatsApp, in the “Alfredo in process” room.

We are from Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo and we are divided between critics, artists and historians who have been virtually in this room since April. Alfredo presents a photograph of a painting that has just begun, says what he intends or what he does not intend to do from now on, and his friends are issuing their opinions or mere guesses, it doesn't matter. Sometimes I wonder when, in a “normal” situation, and without the help of technology, it would be possible to develop a work of almost daily meetings, bringing together professionals from various cities.

One of the interests of this room is that not always (or almost never) all participants are online at the same time. Sometimes it happens that, in addition to Alfredo, there are only one or two friends there, engaged in a conversation that tends to be quick, with the observations always answered promptly by Alfredo. It is on these occasions that one realizes that humor is not an element present only in his production, but a structural element of his personality, demonstrating how difficult it is, many times, to separate the creator from the creature. However, these opinions issued and discussed in the heat of the moment are not lost at the end of more or less heated discussions. On the contrary, they are recorded there and are therefore likely to be answered/developed later by other participants, giving rise to another stage of discussion.

If we reread the records of those messages – always alongside the images that gave rise to them –, we will see that the opinions of the various members on Nicolaiewisky's production (alongside the artist's responses) are being deposited and, in some cases, duly buried by the lack of interest or importance; in other cases, however, they are removed from the interior of the records, recovered and reworked from the new meanings that are given to them.

***

Since the beginning I have been an enthusiastic participant in “Alfredo in process”. I am mobilized to discuss the comings and goings of the production of these paintings by Alfredo because I am again surprised by his ability to articulate the visual fields he creates and structures beyond, both the traditional sense of painting as “composition”, and even as “filling of field". Alfredo, at least in part of his most recent production, seems to reinvent the modular dimension of painting and it is exactly this ability of his that excites me, that makes me want to follow his process in order to understand him better and better understand myself in the face of his various realization steps.

***

I always leave these meetings with a smile on my face (because the class has a lot of fun when exchanging messages). And I keep thinking how this horror that we are experiencing with the pandemic - aggravated by this government that is a shame - has provided gratifying situations that would never have occurred if we were living in the old "normality". Or does anyone believe that before the pandemic we would have had time to get together so many times to discuss the production of an artist, exchange impressions about art, think not about the “act of creation” – a romantic fiction, let’s say – but the process of creation ?

This experience with Alfredo Nicolaiewsky and other colleagues from Rio Grande do Sul and Rio de Janeiro made me pay attention to some questions. To begin with, it taught me that the nervousness that real art causes can also be experienced while it is being processed (when it is really good, when it says what it came from the first elements that will constitute it). On the other hand, as in the case of Berti, Julio and Carmela, artistic production is good when, above all, it concerns itself. The rest is literature – a fundamental question not to be forgotten in these times when rhetoric rules over form.


[1] – As I do not know the whereabouts of the aforementioned work, I chose to present here the image of a painting by Leonello Berti belonging to the collection of the Museu de Arte de Ribeirão Preto, provided by its director Nilton Campos, whom I thank.
[2] – The diagram of the Julio Plaza installation belongs to the Inês Raphaelian Archive, São Paulo.

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