They hover in the atelier like beings, the long coloured paper streamers by Gustavo Dalinha. Attached to just two points in the room, they lightly move back and forth: between surface and space, between image and figure. Through their strong colours, limited to just a few tones, they prescribe their own rhythm, slow and strongly vibrant. Twenty years ago, Dalinha discovered Antaimoro paper, made by hand from tree bark, while on an extended trip to Madagascar. Since then, this material’s idiosyncratic presence and tension-filled corporeality has yet to relinquish its hold on him.
The paper can be formed. Objects leave impressions in it; reliefs run through the surface of the material, like mountains and valleys, sometimes gently sloping, sometimes in dramatic cliffs and climbs. The traces burrow their way into the work making it appear like old, chapped skin: skin that has a thousand stories to tell but seems so in the present all the same. Whole interior and exterior landscapes rise up right before our eyes, captured within a few strong colours. Often they are ordered around a centre. However, in the newer works the symbolic forms of the circle, bar and labyrinth have disappeared. The imagery has been refined, thus even more strongly revealing Dalinha´s confidence in the quirky power of the substance’s materiality.
In the cycle Light: Presence and Absence Dalinha has completely reduced the colour to black and white. He spreads out his painting materials before us: quartz sand, pigments, graphite and iron oxide are sprinkled into an acrylic emulsion and bound to the paper. The mass is worked with knives and rollers creating a dynamic surface peppered with furrows; thus has his artistic signature engraved itself into the paper skin. Dalinha works the material with his entire body. With great expressivity he swings and gestures, seeing himself simply as medium during the working process. You can almost feel the physical power of what is often an extended process of creation. Physical expression and sensual vehemence forge ahead and are yet restrained by a high degree of sensibility. It is this very fine line that da Liña walks which makes the paper seem almost like an alter ego: subtlety, malleability, and fragility are paired with expressivity, longevity, and resistance.
Dalinha takes the reduction in his expressive materials even further in a series of black paintings. Almost completely monochrome, they make tangible the complex and the subtle, providing a living abundance of coloured nuances right down into the darkest of blacks. A sensual shimmer issues from the total absence of light. The field of tension between the dissolution of form and creation of form is concentrated in just a few means that contain the processes of the unconscious. The colour now seems almost autonomous, so much so that allusions to everything outside the image are no longer recognisable. The formal reduction of this series of images makes the passion in the creative process even more tangible, makes it one with the material in the act of creation. A soupçon of eroticism resonates.
The series Collages in their cheerful, lyric poetry can almost be understood as the antithesis to the existential series Blackness. Here again Dalinha exploits the character of the paper. It soaks up the paint, draws it through its fibres so that two images are created: front and back, inside and outside. The two sides of this membrane each have their very own character and are very different in their expression. They impose parallels to human skin: skin bearing the imprints of life but which can hardly be deciphered. They hint at the questions of what is real, what we can perceive, and how we, with our limited possibilities, construct our individual and societal reality. Plato’s allegory of the cave comes to mind.
Tellingly, Dalinha usually uses the back sides for his collages – only the indirectly worked inner side is turned outward. In doing so, the artist takes himself out of the process of creation for the most part and steps behind the material and its idiosyncrasies. The process of image creation is left, to the greatest extent, to the paper. The artist places what becomes visible through this process onto a large sheet of white paper and, with quick gestures, almost randomly places coloured figures over it. Born of the unconscious, the various images join and, reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy, contain a symbolic power that is difficult to interpret. Simultaneously, they also seem suspended in time. The process of creation is inscribed upon them, but not as a frozen gesture. To a greater degree it seems to continue to have an effect in the material.
In another series of collages entitled De-construction and Re-construction, Dalinha subjects the Antaimoro paper to a much more rigorous, regulated form of expression. He constructs colourful structures of nearly rectangular strips – that for the most part are horizontally aligned – on a white background, vaguely reminiscent of Minimal Art. Here and there, smaller and larger oblongs rise up like architectural structures into the vertical and function as a boundary to the outsides. These directionalities are a motif that was also important for Dalinha in his earlier series of works. The themes of borders and separation, but also transition, all played a large role for the artist, both in regards to the physical and metaphysical. The starting point for his thoughts on these is his personal biography. Dalinha grew up very on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, making him sensitive to the relativity and arbitrariness of these man-made settings from a relatively early age. He has, in the meantime, claimed this in-between space as his home, both geographically between Europe and South America, as well as artistically. As a visual artist, he flows with the pathos of grand gestures combined with a perfectly balanced sensibility for the quiet tones, moving between the extremes of cheery lightness paired with existential seriousness.
Dalinha deals almost playfully with these classic grand narratives in his Penduricalhos series. Here, the artist places a number of paper streamers of varying sizes and colours over one another and attaches them only on one side. Often these are remains from other works that come together in that never-ending circle of becoming and decaying. The coloured streamers move freely and easily start swaying with every draught of air. The power of symbols enters the space and becomes physically present; a light trace of melancholy seems to sway with them in their serenity, as if they were aware of their own transience.