by Nelson Brissac

 

And then, ten years after, the process has come full circle: the exhibition of Arnaldo de Melo as resident artist at Phosphorus Gallery actually marks the restart of an artistic trajectory that comes since New York and Berlin. 


His contact with Neo-expressionism in New York – when large exhibits of Pollock, De Konning among others took place in the 1980's presenting a revolution on figurative representation, blowing up the framework edges – being the starting point of that path. When Arnaldo was trying to make his living by taking several jobs as well as using his time to see all exhibits he could, he set the key concepts and operating principles of his work: the expressiveness of paradigmatic forms, intensifying of the materials potential, questioning the spatial parameters of the table, for instance.


A program which Arnaldo would fully put into practice during his stay in Berlin (1987-1990). Hosted with a DAAD (acronym for Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst - German Academic Exchange Service) scholarship and a large atelier at his disposal, he could effectively operate his painting, which requires gestural freedom to hand the inks, materials and large scales. Walls on which painting could expand through. There he was also able to transcend the limits of his own studio, making interventions in city ruins before the German reunification.


And then a hiatus of ten years dedicated to the study of architecture and intense activism with social housing movements. Practices that certainly reverberate upon his artwork, enhancing his sense of space and the comprehension of urban situations complexity. 
Now in São Paulo, Arnaldo takes up artistic experimentation proposing things that look like circles at first glance. The postulation of this basic geometric form could hardly surprise, given the grounds of the artist's work. Circumference is the shorter perimeter enclosing a flat surface, as well as sphere is the lowest surface containing a volume. The circumference - and so the sphere - looms stable in situations where the form may expand boundlessly in all directions. These are forms that establish a boundary. Actually, the surface of a boundary that controls the flow between the inside and the outside. They are the most stable and symmetrical existing forms, reducing environmental turbulence.

   
However, here we find Victoria genus of water lilies, which Arnaldo had chosen as paradoxical representation by its resumption reconnection with the Brazilian landscape (the plant is named in honour of the Queen of England, Vitória-Régia in Portuguese). Nonetheless, they appear abstracted by any reference from the natural environment or even spatial parameters. They are just coloured circumferences, bottomless, sometimes unfinished, filling the entire coloured frame. Spots, generally in the same water-lilies's colours – yellow and brown, but also blue – partially take over the paintings surface.


The aesthetic operation reveals its full complexity when became evident that the artist does not look at his water lilies from above, but through the point of view of someone who is outside. The angle converts the circle into an elongated form. From the observer perspective, the water lily is an ellipse. The paint flows out, deforms itself. Everything gains great elasticity. The material moves on and affects the form. The circle sets up and dissolves itself. So we are on the actual question of the artist's work: the relationship between inside and outside and their limits.


The exhibition gathers two complementary approaches. In the first room, six big screens occupy the main area of the gallery. In a smaller room next door, slides are designed portraying the pictorial work of the artist, from his time abroad. Also in the exhibit space, circles on the ground, made of copper tapes, calendered in the workshop like the edge of the water lily, returning with hard industrial material the circular configuration.


In the second approach, Arnaldo undertakes a series of interventions in urban situations and landscapes, which are photographed and displayed at the space access corridor. These interventions consist of plotting outdoor circles, with the most different materials to introduce an ordering form and limits where the landscape, natural or urban, is complex, fuzzy and full of different elements and events. Circles are structures that configure the urban space and the crowd behaviour. The circle defines a cutout in a space that expands indefinitely. It allows a landscape reading.


These are the aesthetic issues of his work. How the forms are supported? What is the content of a material which permanently tends to expand itself, to cross boundaries, to leak from its container? Or on the contrary, how the unrestricted gesture and fluid materials make up forms?


That's the question Robert Smithson has asked: how could an island settles down amidst the ocean, without dissolving itself on water? What guarantees the stability of its contours, since their margins are not walled? What holds together the materials from which the island is made? It's the question of the border: the interaction space between the inside and the outside, as a Peano curve.


But the operation, the implementation of circular elements in the landscape, does not guarantee its permanence. These forms are not stable devices. They are circles traced on the sand at the sea-side. Circles made by twigs or dry leaves. Extremely fragile containment structures, they are soon erased, swept away by the wind or by the sea. In the city, they are made from materials gathered on the street and even with people sitting on the floor. As soon as the passersby cross over them, the crowd breaks the boundaries and dissolves the circle. 


The artist's strategy is to tense this containment device. In painting by twisting the shape, with leaking ink that drips off. In art interventions, by choosing elevated movement places, even in political demonstrations. Arnaldo de Melo, by intentionally installing so precarious forms, wants exactly to work on this instability, the non-resistance of the form, its emerging character. The circle appears in the landscape, reveals possibilities of meaning and transformation, and then disaggregates.


 

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by Tereza de Arruda

West-Berlin 1987-1990: Works on Paper


In 1987, West Berlin celebrated its 750th anniversary. This historic moment was celebrated accompanied by countless remnants vestiges of its somewhat troubled past. One of its greatest visible scars was the Berlin Wall, the ubiquitous heritage of World War II.

Already in 1990 Berlin presented itself as a new city––freer, more incognito and with challenges ahead, full of expectations with the recent fall of the Berlin Wall and the supposed end of the Cold War. It was the beginning of a new world era and perhaps the beginning of globalization.

It was precisely in this context and period of three years of great effervescence and socio-political and cultural turbulence that the works on paper by Arnaldo de Melo, central theme of this text, publication and exhibition at Sé gallery, were conceived. It was no mere fluke that the artist was inserted in this context. The Berlin years of Arnaldo de Melo were decisive not only in his artistic production, but in his existence.

His arrival in Berlin in 1987 was provided by a German government scholarship, the DAAD, [1] to attend courses at the major Germanic academy of arts, the Hochschule der Künste Berlin, known as the HdK (today Universität der Künste). The scholarship was obtained by presenting a portfolio of 30 artworks made in New York between 1984 and 1985, as well as reference letters by Leon Kossovitch, José Resende and Mira Schendel, who supported and stimulated the talented young artist in view of the potential to be expanded in new territory and context. As a DAAD fellow, Arnaldo de Melo was registered at the Berlin academy with the special status of maintaining the only “requirement” of being assisted by a tutor within the Painting Department. That’s when K. H. Hödicke, [2] artist who became his advisor, and who enjoyed in the academy the fame of “star” professor, far from the academic bureaucracy, which allowed him to be closer to his student/artists he orientated, came into his life.

 

His request for guidance to Hödicke came from an indication made by the sculptor Shinkichi Tajiri, professor at HdK who, after observing slides from Arnaldo de Melo’s works produced in New York, promptly suggested that he would be guided by Hödicke, and immediately telephoned him saying he was referring “a Brazilian DAAD Fellow”.

The next day was the first meeting at Hödicke’s house, who readily approved the orientation, with the condition that he could obtain an external studio, since the academy’s workshops were already occupied. Among the Klasse Hödicke students, many maintained studios outside of the HdK building, as Arnaldo, who shared a studio with some of his advisor former students in a vast floor of an industrial building in the Moabit neighborhood.

Being guided by Hödicke did not mean to be in his shadow or to follow his precepts, but to recognize and expand his own potential. It is in this artistic immersion in Berlin that Arnaldo de Melo produced approximately 200 works on paper, in addition to many large canvases. For the West-Berlin 1987-1990 show, 27 works on paper were selected that highlight the diversity, complexity and intensity of this production, simultaneous to the large format painting that the artist undertook in his Berlin-Moabit studio.

Berlin was not an accidental happening in the artistic career of Arnaldo de Melo, but rather an essential platform for its evolution. It was the counterpoint of his artistic experience held in New York, where he resided between 1984 and 1985.[3] There it prevailed an artistic effervescence influenced by the beginning of street art and the splendor of fast-moving careers through immediate and superficial languages and narratives such as pop art. In Berlin the production was visceral, since on the Eastern side of the city there was a war declared against socialist realism (a tendency imposed by local government as an instrument of political propaganda), while on the Western side there was a full disregard for mass trends such as pop art, minimalism and conceptual art. The artists on both sides of the Berlin Wall consciously positioned themselves as full beings and responsible for their actions and therefore they presented themselves as central figure in their artistic productions. Neo-Expressionism reigned by lavishing spontaneity, emotion, humor, irony, aggression and provocation in striking gestures, strokes, and colors. For the artists, the I and their singular Personalities became protagonists of their artistic interests interconnected to their realities. Trivial scenes, the everyday in this European metropolis divided into two realities in the twentieth century, the ambitions, the niche of survival of the artistic scene, its intense performance between two systems imposed by the postwar period are central themes of Berlin’s contemporary art at the time.

The first works made by Arnaldo de Melo in Berlin sometimes have abstraction dominating the representation formed by a wide overlap of layers of sparse materials and colors. These unusual compositions emanate a unique dynamic like in a game of veiling and revealing to flake itself in a process of metamorphosis. Would this be an allusion to the artist’s mutation?

As in a symbiosis, Arnaldo de Melo quickly becomes part of this great laboratory called Berlin, to be reflected in his artworks. A visible example of this process is the work Figur mit zwei Zungen [Figure with two tongues] (oil on paper, 49.5 x 59 cm, Berlin 1989)––a profile portrait of a pastel-colored being with the gaze directed to the heights. His somewhat unusual profile made up of two open mouths simultaneously emanating two tongues of similar tone to that of the look. Would this be a self-portrait? The artist emphasizes this precept with his account:

The two tongues that come out of the figure mean the divided Berliner, bearer of two identities or two different languages, although both of the same root (Germanic). It is, in my view, a portrait of Berlin experienced in the Cold War and how I felt it in those years. We could (and why not?) treat this figure also as a self-portrait, understanding my experience in distant lands and in another cultural dimension.

All this environment is incorporated in the artistic production of Arnaldo de Melo, whether in the concept, aesthetic content or even in the materiality of his work. In his works on paper, everyday materials such as sandpaper, invitations, posters, and newspapers are integrated into works generated simultaneously to create a closed group of works or other autonomous and individual. Intentionally the artist masks or exalts the content of the medium used––this is his autonomy of decision and creation. Newspaper articles are camouflaged by precise geometric forms painted there or by rigid gestures that forms bodily traces, indescribable beings or impenetrable spaces. Einsamkeit [Solitude] appears as of chance scrawled and rewritten in an assumed form in one of the works. Is this intentional inscription an alert? At his side, once more the profile of a male figure with a half-open mouth to chant something inaudible, as if the still existing Berlin Wall was an acoustic or visual barrier. This wall, however, did not necessarily delimit Arnaldo de Melo’s space for research and artistic experience. This geographical border was often disrupted, opening a precedent for immersion in other cities such as Frankfurt, Cologne, Hannover, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Venice, Basel and other cultural centers of the time that had their own autonomy and tendencies. This mapping made part of the artist immense process of immersion during his stay in Germany.

Arnaldo de Melo presented part of his Berlin production in an individual exhibition at the Roepke Gallery from May 3 to June 3, 1990, in the context of the Art Brasil Berlin project organized by the Teuto-Brasileira Association, in which 16 Brazilian artists had simultaneous shows in Berliner galleries.[4] This initiative demonstrated the efficacy and interest in the Brazil / Germany exchange, mainly with the creation of the São Paulo Biennial in 1951, extending itself to the present time in a tireless intercultural process.

Upon returning to Brazil in April, 1990, the artist took in his luggage the works done here, as well as the immaterial conquest of the experience accumulated. The cultural legacy he produced in Berlin was presented in solo and group shows in Brazil shortly after his return: in 1992, about ten large format paintings integrated his solo exhibition in MAC/USP and, one year before, a diptych on canvas depicting two immense Kebaps was part of the Selecionados do Centro Cultural São Paulo exhibition, held in the MASP. In 2014 his iconic works Berlin Television Tower (1989) and Kebap (1988) belonging to the collection of Francisco Chagas Freitas [5] were part of the exhibition A arte que permanence [The Art that Remains] under my curatorship at the Centro Cultural dos Correios in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, when I came across more deeply with his production.

The realization of the exhibition West-Berlin 1987-1990, with unpublished works almost three decades after its production, is not a late presentation, but rather synchronized with its historical recognition. Behold, in November 2016, an individual exhibition of K. H. Hödicke was inaugurated at the Galerie Gerrit Friese in Berlin with works from 1974 to 1999. At the same time, the exhibition Die Wilden 80er Jahre in der deutsch-deutschen Malerei [The Wild Eighties of German-German Painting] takes place in the Potsdam Museum creating a dialogue or confrontation with paintings produced in the 1980s simultaneously in West and East Berlin––an essential scenario in the production of Arnaldo de Melo and present in the pictorial discourse until the present time.

 

Berlin, November 2016

Notes

[1] Acronym for German Academic Exchange Service.

[2] Karl-Horst Hödicke is a German painter born in 1938, in Nuremberg; lives in Berlin. He is considered one of the forerunners of Neo-Expressionism or New German Figuration along with the painters Baselitz, Immendorf, Lüpertz and Penck. K. H. Hödicke is also regarded as one of the stimulators of the movement called Neuen Wilden [New Savages] composed by painters of the early 80’s, whose work was full of informality and subjective character as a result of performances and action painting. The main representatives of this movement in Berlin were Luciano Castelli, Salomé and Rainer Fetting.

[3] In this context the European painting was already well inserted. There were numerous exhibitions with the German artists Hödicke, Baselitz, Lupertz, Salomé, Immendorf, Fetting, among others; in addition to the Italians Chia, Clemente, Paladino and Cucci, in dialogue with the Americans Schnabel, Fischl, Salle and Basquiat. Especially the exhibition An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, organized by the MoMA in 1984, on the occasion of the reopening of the museum after the renovation of the premises, aroused great interest of Arnaldo de Melo.

 

[4] Participating artists were José Roberto Aguilar (Galerie Rudolf Schoen), Cristina Barroso (Edition Schoen), Hilton Berredo (Galerie Horst Dietrich), João Câmara Filho (Galerie Eva Poll), Mário Cravo Neto (Galerie Springer), Anísio Dantas (Goethe-Institut Berlin), Antonio Dias (Galerie Nothelfer), Adriane Guimarães (Galerie Messer-Ladwig), Sérgio Lucena (Ladengalerie), Roberto Lúcio de Oliveira (Galerie Noé), Emmanuel Nassar (Galerie Nalepa), Rubens Oestroem  (Edition Schoen), Cristina Pape (Galerie Messer-Ladwig), Osmar Pinheiro (Galerie Michael Schultz), Flávio Tavares (Ladengalerie) and Arnaldo de Melo (Galerie Roepke).

[5] The collection of Francisco Chagas Freitas is the result of his personal involvement with the history of contemporary art in the German Democratic Republic and its surroundings, which he experienced between 1985 and 1991, when he worked in the cultural sector of the Brazilian Embassy in East Berlin.

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