Memories from the Future: Gil Heitor Cortesão | Solo Exhibition

19 October - 26 November 2009

I think it would be a good way to start if you could explain your highly individual painting technique, because first its effects cannot be fully reproduced in the catalogue, second I see the rare case of a “personal” style that has a synergetic effect on both the medium and the subject.


In fact, when you reproduce photographically one of my paintings, you are making a choice, because you have to decide whether you want to show only the painting, executed on the “back” side of the plexiglass or whether you want to show also the reflections in the glass surface, which has a mirrorlike quality. Of course, for a catalogue you normally choose to focus on the painting and not on the object with all the ephemeral reflections that “happen” on its surface. But they are also important for the reception of the work.


I believe that a painting must be seen directly, not in reproductions. In my particular case, if you’re looking at a reproduction, you have to imagine it painted on the back side of a plexiglass or glass surface, and not on a canvas!


Using this technique also means that all the working process is reversed. I mean that in contrast to what is the common practice, I have to start with the details and the background comes in the end, even if I can also use more or less transparent layers of paint. When all the plexiglass surface is covered, the painting is finished.


...Because any other layer you could add would be invisible anyway, right? This reverse process has some very astonishing effects,on the medium itself and you as the artist working with it.


The difference between what is painted and what is seen through the glass surface is very important for me. It introduces an alterity and creates also a distance and turning the glass over has something that makes me think of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice through the Looking Glass”. It is similar to a dreaming experience.


The glass with its immaterial qualities, also adds to this oneiric dimension because it removes the weight. The material density of the oil painting; the same way dreams seem to challenge gravity. I also agree with you when you mention the very close relationship between medium and subject in my work. Glass was widely employed in modern architecture, becoming one of its main distinguishing traits and it was associated with an ideal of transparency and clarity. I can’t forget that for many modern architects, thinkers and even artists, painting was something old fashioned that would tend to disappear or to loose autonomy as a discipline, becoming instead subsidiary of architecture. So when I choose to depict mostly modern buildings and interiors upon a surface with such a charged recent history. I’m not taking an innocent decision there’s even some irony in it.


The series of paintings shown at Carbon 12 almost entirely consistent of abandoned buildings and interiors. Your focus on architectural structures suggest an affinity to the idea of modernity, your paintings seem like a comment on an utopian vision. Where does this interest stem from?


I feel a certain ambivalence towards the idea of modernity and perhaps it is in part due to the contradictions that were already present in the modern project. On one hand, modernism had a very strong utopian dimension and it was a matter of creating an ideal society, on which art assumed a decisive role or even become useless, as the boundaries between life and art disappeared. On the other hand, all of the practical attempts to realize these utopias failed or were perverted by totalitarian regimes. In architecture these contradictions are particularly evident because architecture was always linked with utopia but also to power, money and ideology. It is quite frightening when you apply the idea of Tabula Rasa; so much present in modernism; to society in general or to the urban environment in particular.


Like for example Le Corbusier’s unrealized Voisin’s project to rebuild the centre of Paris according to modern rules.Destroying all traces of previous history. But naturally there must be a kind of positive influence coming from architecture as well.


Of course, I greatly admire many modernist architects and artists like Malevich or Mondrian. In architecture, I feel that most of what was done after pales, in comparison to the ”International Style” achievements and I don’t take seriously most of the so called Post- modernist architecture. So, to finally answer your question, my interest in modern architecture is linked to contradictory feelings. On one hand, to a certain sense of nostalgia for an epoch of deep aesthetical and ethical commitment and also for the buildings that embodied that commitment. Nostalgia for something from the past. For something that I didn’t know directly and therefore tend to idealize. On the other hand, I don’t trust the idea of Tabula Rasa and I also don’t believe that the boundaries between art and life can or shall be totally overcome.


Sometimes the only visual traces of human life in your paintings are your own gestural brush strokes scattered across the surface, yet with your realist style there seems to be a multi layered mode of reception, almost diametrical opposite to the work process you mentioned before. Therefore I would be interested in your own perception of a finished piece, in comparison to the act of painting it.


For me a painting is the result of a process and it implies passing through very different moments. Moments which always leave traces on the final result. It’s a sum of decisions but also of indecisions, accidents and destructions. I normally use; as source material, photos found in books or in the internet. As the work progresses and accidents start to happen, the painting takes an unforeseen direction and often it is then that it starts to be truly interesting and vital. I think that for a painter to know how to live with these accidents and to know how to use them is essential. I absolutely agree with what Francis Bacon tells about that matter. A painting is, in a certain measure, a construction, but to make it live, you have to constantly instill chaos in it. The gestural brush strokes that you mention, as well as the drippings, splashes, stains, etc are all traces of that chaotic element. I love paintings that are not just images, but also “fields” where something is happening. So I guess you’re right talking of a multi layered mode, not only of reception but also of construction because there is a certain realism that comes from the photographic sources I used as a starting point for the painting, but there’s also something that perhaps is almost the opposite of realism and where the traces of the body are present. There’s a tension that comes from the mixing of these two different modes. Tension and restlessness are things that I also find in the works of the artists I admire.


So in the final result these gestural marks are sometimes more evident, other times they are more discrete, which make your paintings very vivid at the same time, one can feel the chaotic elements and the unpredictable results they add to the quality of the painting. So every painting is also some kind of experiment, a venture?


Exactly! Sometimes the painting retains a more photographic look, but nonetheless it still can result from the mixing of heterogeneous elements. In practical terms, I could say that a painting is finished when the glass’s surface is completely covered and opaque, but in fact the application of that final layer depends already of a conscious decision to put an end to the pictorial process. I could say more subjectively that I abandon a painting when I recognize that there’s something happening inside it, when there’s something like an “opening” in it and there’s nothing more that I can add or take away.


You also appear to be very careful about the locations where your works are shown, almost a bit reclusive. What attracted you to do a show here in Dubai? With all the utopian construction projects in the region getting worldwide media attention, there seems to be a thematical correlation with your work, which makes this project quite exciting.


I think that Dubai can be a very interesting context to show my work because of what is happening in architecture and urbanism. There seems to prevail an idea of futurism, something that, seen from the outside, looks like “The Future is Now”, and also something that would be absolutely impossible in Europe. It makes me think of Brasilia which in fact could be seen as the quintessential modernistic city, but with the huge difference that in Brasilia there was an unitary vision. I also remember I received some Dubai’s night photos sent by the gallerist Kourosh Nouri and we both agreed that it seemed like a still from Blade Runner! I haven’t visited Dubai yet, so I’m very curious about it and I believe it can be a very dialectical context to show my work.


- Interview by Albert Allgaier