Katarina asked me what my paintings are about

Katarina asked me what my paintings are about

I am spending three weeks in Katarina Janeckova Walshe's ranch in Texas, creating what she calls a "Painting Like a Mother Residency." An artist residency with very young children is a slow and hard working residency. Katarina and I had one very good conversation during my first week here, which prompted the writing of this text. 

An image of my daughter Helena paintings under the trees.

My paintings are about being alive. Then, they are about keeping myself alive, hopefully forever, through the memories of my children and their children or even through the work of a writer or an art historian. Someone who, like I used to be, thinks that writing and learning history is more important than making money or being with friends. Someone who does it all wrong like I used to do and carries forward history by digging back, asking too many questions that no one wants to answer.

My paintings are about my life, which always goes right in a million ways. They are also about fixing many things that went wrong when it felt like I didn’t have options. When I started, I called my paintings “The Spiritual in Disguise.” Those paintings were about creating images that looked like “good paintings” without having to paint too much and using minimal materials. I was looking for something similar to when you have very simple experiences uplifted by spiritual awareness. And those paintings were a reaction against all the artists and intellectuals of the 20th century who didn’t discuss their spiritual views because it wasn’t cool to do so. Still, they let their beliefs and biases mark everything they did because it is inevitable. Yet, they were materialists. And I get them. I’m one, too, but one who remembers that Marx wrote about the Spirit, explicitly using this word and that Steiner wrote about science in the same 19th century. I don’t have to explain myself further because this is a blog post, not a thesis. 

After that, I called my paintings “Dharma Libertas.” That felt like a long time in my life, but it was just a couple of years when I dug into my body doing Yiengar yoga and tracking my period with the moon. I sought to transform and recycle old memories like cards, letters, books, museum flyers, exhibition catalogs, and all the paraphernalia I brought from the Getty when I returned from LA to NY. I continued to call everything paintings, although they could be drawings or small sculptures, things sometimes tridimensional… I called them paintings because they were always made in a flow and thinking about layers. I had this title, “Dharma Libertas,” from a failed blog project that I once tried to put together with my best friend from Brazil, and the words kept resonating with me. I got Dharma first from Kerouak's book, which I read when I went to San Francisco for the first time to get married to the wrong person. I felt like everyone was always talking about karma, but the dharma can feel so much more challenging because I want to be able to change my path, and it is so hard to take wild turns when we have a way that is expected from us. And Libertas came from the words in Minas Gerais’s flag, my state home in Brazil. Somehow, painting was the way to take wild turns and change my life completely. 

Looking back, perhaps I was in a pendulum between the spiritual and the material, and I had a lot of pressure to finish my Ph.D., which was in a department with strong ties to Marxism. So, I looked at my work through the historical lenses that I was studying, inevitably identifying myself in the lineage of Brazilian artists as part of my research (Antonio Dias, Helio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Celeida Tostes). I had just become a mother, and my spiritual pursuits with my body and resignifying my past were radically reshaped, as motherhood does. At this point, I didn’t want to deal with spiritual and material as a paradox anymore but integrate them in a constant search for those pleasurable moments that I kept finding while changing the configuration of my life. So I wrote the text “The Theory of the Mo-Om Object” to integrate my art historical research and my art-making and to undo the polarities that kept my life so divided. 

As I started to work with the Mo-Om Objects, I began to look at the images I had in my head, which I wanted to translate into paintings and artworks. I learned with Anne Truit the notion of the inner eye and noticed that I, too, had the artworks already in my vision before making them. At that point, it became clear that my work as a painter is about pleasure, sustaining pleasurable moments and joy. I noticed how much harder it is (perhaps for everyone) to live through joy and speak about pleasure instead of our difficulties. I also started to be more explicit about the truth of how my sexual awakening is linked to my spiritual practices and respect towards my body. So, I relied again on the fact that paintings create images and that those images I was building in my paintings had a point of origin in orgasmic states. This direction in my work clarified the more significant background of my intellectual pursuits, which has always been, since my Masters in Communication in Brazil, on creativity.     

Now, creativity is a vast concept and a confusing area of research. It has been intentionally neglected in the discipline of art history, and most of the research being done nowadays comes from psychology and neuroscience. I always looked at it through the perspective of language and the humanities, a particular line of research called Semiotics, trusting that we start to make sense of the world when we move beyond our senses to identify and sustain our perception – through language – that which we notice that is meaningful to us. I created a model in my Ph.D. dissertation for thinking about it, starting with the chaos of existence, how, from our own standpoint, before we start organizing and sorting through all that is available to us, we experience total chaos. To experience the chaos is a metaphysical idea. It is, perhaps, what one learns to navigate when meditating and letting our thoughts and feelings move through us, noticing only the present moment. Chaos doesn’t exist in the past or the future because the past is all that we already made meaning of, and the future is all the meaning we are projecting. Out of the chaos, we start to name things, experiences, and feelings, and with those names (the making of language), we can create theories, hierarchies, and systems – in short, the complexity of human culture. 

I then arrive at the point where I am right now. I’m carrying with me all that I built with my Ph.D. dissertation and opening myself to what I can sustain in cultural complexity as I build upon this knowledge. I started to search for new terms. The orgasmic images remain clear and to the point of what I’m searching for regarding the creative beginnings. At the same time, I want to incorporate in my paintings what we (as human beings) create after that starting point. My question now is: How, after we identify an experience, can we bend and shape it in our own ways through our subsequent feelings and rationalization of life? So, I came up this year with the idea of Flower Constellations, which I then learned are an actual thing that exists in Astronomy. In my pursuit, the flower constellation is a combination of a natural element – the flower – that carries complex cultural meaning for its beauty, variety, and biological significance as the reproductive structure of a plant and a cultural aspect – the constellation – which is an organization of elements following specific criteria identified by humans. In Astronomy, the flower constellation is a set of satellites that move in similar (but not orbital) patterns that form images similar to flowers when traced together. Humans create astronomical flower constellations to make possible different local or global areas of satellite services, like communications, security, etc. The connection I create between the astronomical flower constellations and my Flower Constellations in paintings is the making of alternative paths for achieving new and different possibilities. Through painting, like through the making of satellite sets called flower constellations, one creates layers of similar gestures that form a specific/unique trajectory. My paintings today are about the building of new trajectories in my life. One of these unimaginable new trajectories brought me to this ranch in Texas, where I’m meeting new friends, a new love for life, and a completely new (to me) nature.