Conversation with Henrique Oliveira
What has been your approach for this exhibition? All the works that you have chosen to exhibit are recent, are they not ?
Yes, they are all recent works. As it was my first solo exhibition in France, I wanted to show the diversity of my work. There is a combination of paintings, sculptures and installations.
What are the links between your works ?
I do not think there should necessarily be a link between my works, but they do have a lot in common. You find the same sense of movement in each group of works. In my paintings it is all about liquid movements, the colours and the materiality of painting, and how these masses merge into one and other. When I work on the sculptures, in some ways, I manipulate this viscosity, this liquid matter, and I solidify it into sculpture. It is the same investigation which seeks to create an image that combines two states of different materials: the solid and the liquid. So, although the sculptures are made out of wood, they move in the same way as the paintings. I feel that painting helps me to find a meaning in my sculptures and installations. On the other hand, working on the constructions in wood helps me to clarify the way in which my paintings are made, from the accumulation of layers of paint to the surface, which recalls the technique of collage.
To what extent are your installations linked to architecture ?
In building construction sites, a lot of plywood is used. In Brazil, it is even part of the landscape, it is an area which most people do not pay much attention to. This interested me when I was thinking about the idea of surfaces and textures from a pictorial point of view.
At the start of my work, the installations were conceived as a direct response to architecture and my research into collage and assemblage. At that time, this practise was breaking away from the more organic elements of my paintings. Gradually I was developing a technique that allowed me to embark on more complicated projects, my installations therefore come closer to an organic feeling.
My first installations constructed in salvaged wood are, from a pictorial point of view, different to my recent work. Their surfaces were flat, the wood, more thick, playing the role of painting instead of taking on the form of the installation itself. My work has evolved towards architecture which was the only area still left to investigate. I draw inspiration from hollow walls, the fixtures between doors, and the grooves in pillars. The folds in the wood allowed me to create more circular forms. I thus started to exploit these qualities more and more, peeling the pieces of wood and working them with tubes of PVC and curved planks.
My installations started to move away from architecture, and more towards living walls, flesh, damaged skin or even large “impasto” paintings. It is this evolution that has made the creation of the mobile sculptures possible.
Xilempastro 3, this scultpure hung on the wall seems to differ from the other pieces, does that suggest a new direction in your work ?
No, not really. My installations develop according to at least two main principals: one that I would call “organic” represented by the Boxoplasmose and Desnatureza pieces; and the other, to differentiate from these installations, called “pictorial”. It is the “pictorial” works that are most directly linked to the idea of painting and the “impasto”. It would be like looking closely at the thickness of the paint and seeing a landscape.
My works entitled Xilempastro speak more of painting, they are hybrid bodies between two kinds. They result from a particular process I developed by superimposing layers of wood, overlying a shapeless and viscid structure. I like this contradictory idea of giving form to something from what is, in fact, a shapeless form. The “impasto” is an amorphous material, a very abstract dimension of painting which I take as my model.
What does it mean to you to be a Brizilian artist working today?
It does not mean a lot to me, but the market is very attached to labels. I simply try to get on with my work. Things are evolving though; more and more Brazilian artists exhibit their work abroad, whereas up to now we were relatively isolated.
We are based on all the experiences we have been through and where we come from. I cannot deny the fact that my personal experiences filter into my work. For example, few people have the opportunity to see huge trees grow in the wild environment of the rainforest, in which I grew up. Inevitably my creations come from this environment. The materials that I employ in my three dimensional pieces maintain, of course, some links with the slums which obviously form part of the urban landscape in Brazil. Lots of my works’ titles also come from these origins. For example, at the start I had titled most of my pieces Tapumes, which comes from a Portuguese word which refers to the wooden fences you find at construction sites in Brazil. The wood is often plywood because it is inexpensive but fragile. These fences disintegrate in a matter of months, then taking on a particular colour from the attrition.
In the Xilempastos, I work from the same idea to realise the monumental oeuvres employing humble and fragile materials. In a country that does not really have a pictorial tradition, this contradiction poses the question of the place of painting in Brazilian society.
In Desnatureza, I work more around the nature of the material itself: industrial wood, used then thrown away. Going back to its original state, it refers to the image of a more powerful nature than our civilization. Like Frankenstein, given life by the help of dead parts of human bodies, I imagine a tree recreated from pieces of dead wood. We relentlessly try to control nature, all the while knowing that it is impossible. We are also conscious of entropic forces and of black holes that surround us and of which we cannot escape.