Paulo Arraiano - Born in 1977 in Cascais (Portugal), where he lives and works.
Uninhibited urban emotions
"Immaterial or tangible, the frontiers have been brought down to nothing. Their deliquescence unveiled a new reality, a world where considering "the whole" triumphs unconditionally. Here, nothings comes to life without a sharp awareness of the globality. Nothing is planned isolately and individually; an element deprived from all contextualization would not be able to blossom. We are at the heart of an art, which has known how to free itself from pictorial formalism to search for the echo that the feeling sends out, the resonance of what is real, the one that comes out when the aesthetics calls upon us, to vigorously strike the emotional. If the form catches our attention, the meaning only increases the impact, opening the door to an unexpected dimension, which holds a part of truth about the attraction that binds us to the energies of the universe.
#Inspiration | Urbanity / When you were ten, you started skateboarding, using the boards as a creation support, considering them as canvases in movement. Strongly influenced by the graffiti world and the principle of using the street as a free-access open-sky art gallery, you agreed then on with the values of the urban culture, which claims to be democratic, standing for free expression, and unpretentious. How important is that libertarian and limitless state of mind in your artistic propositions ?
Paulo Arraiano / "Visuals and music have always been present in my life. In my house, vinyl records and books surrounded me. My mother was a writer and my father an architect, so I started really early to interact with his drawings and sketches and with my mother’s books. Music was also always present as a constant soundtrack for daily life. So I think the first visuals that really influenced me were the vinyl covers, from classical and jazz to psychedelic graphics. Also, I started surfing and skateboarding at an early age, so all this lowbrow culture was really visually present in my youth. Most of my friends and myself played music, had bands, surfed or skateboarded. So, all this culture was a huge influence. Street graphics, tags, graffiti and urban culture were something that appeared a bit later and were an enormous influence on my generation. I got a degree in Communication and started working as a graphic designer so eventually all this visual material was present every day in my life and work. All these emerging subcultures started to appear in the urban landscape as a response to all the visual chaos present in the city. Billboards, posters, advertising, as all media and brands saturated the cityscape, graffiti and urban art started to emerge and re-appropriate the public space dominated by brands and advertising. Later, the changing paradigm in the art world with the influence of new media and the internet, where galleries, curators and art dealers lose power vs the new media platforms and social networks. Also, the big focus on conceptual art, photography, and new media art somehow saturated the art scene and like all cycles some artists needed to focus again on the basics of painting. Personally, I think this was a big influence on the art scene and gave strength to a big urban art and contemporary muralism movement. All this gave freedom to artists and everyone who feels the need to communicate visually, turning city spaces into open sky galleries, a ground for a more democratic form of expression."
You often mention Lisbon, your home-town, as a place presenting an obvious duality, offering both urban and natural areas. Concrete, chaos, artifice and abstraction on the one hand, ocean, peace, simplicity and harmony on the other. These are the words you used to characterise the constituent elements of your environment. Can you tell us about the way you exploit these dualities in your creating process ?
"I live in Cascais, a seaside town 30 km from Lisbon – essentially surrounded by the ocean and the Sintra hills, but quite near a cosmopolitan capital. This duality has always been present and has always interested me. In the morning you could be totally surrounded by nature and wilderness and in the afternoon surrounded by the city scape with traffic, billboards, tags and all the visual chaos present in the urban space. This duality had a pivotal influence on my life and work and the basics of my production. A mixture of influences that came from graphic design, studying shiatsu and Chinese medicine and also working with music and performance transformed the genetics of my work. Abstraction was the most intuitive way to work. Although I started working more focused on drawing, the lines evolved intuitively into shapes and colours and movement. A dialogue between the body and the landscape, the similarities, the connections that people tend to leave behind while living in a supposedly controlled environment like a city."
Contrast staging is particularly revealed through your latest productions (Emotional landscapes - Magma & Cold front), which seem to be referring to some philosophy of spiritual life, based on being aware of the environment and the energies from which they are issued. Whether they are urban interventions or classical art pieces, your creations are born from the acknowledgement of a context and the will of making the most out of immaterial factors: you speak of "emotional cartographies". May this approach be considered as the essence of your current approach, which would place aesthetics and the spatial implantation of the artwork at the service of a quest for what is emotional and sensitive ?
"Emotional Landscapes is a body of work that started during an artist residency in the Azores islands for an exhibition in London. Working in a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by nature and volcano energy was very powerful. The exhibition was in England, another island but in a city like London – this was the perfect setting for this dialogue between urbanity and nature. The process evolved into a video performance with the actress/performer Diana Coelho where the paint was directly dripped onto her body and with slow body movements and breathing it began creating abstract forms similar to cartographic maps. This entire dialogue made complete sense to my work and research, exploring the dychotomies body/landscape, human/nature, inside/outside. Also, the fractal approach that depends on the perspective, the images that seem to be caught between this body/paint dialogue, could almost have been taken from "Google Maps" or satellite photographs. All of these speak of the simple things we have forgotten in our daily lives while living in urban environments. We have become increasingly removed from nature as we tend to live in a controlled, media-oriented environment with a great deal of focus on simulation. We replace painting or drawing with Photoshop or 3D techniques, sports with computer games (simulating sports), organic architecture with geometry, oceans with swimming pools, outdoor gymnastics with indoor gymnasiums… and so on. In terms of public art, the idea behind these site-specific installations is that they are part of the Emotional Landscapes series. Like a body, a city has points and meridians. When you use an acupuncture needle on the human body, this strange organism provokes a small inflammation that attracts the attention of the white blood cells which converge to this specific point to cure it. The same happens in the city when you interact with derelict places or spaces that need care and attention, in a process of "urban acupuncture"."
#Artworks | The series "Cold front" and "Magma" are playing with a composition of colours that seem to be matching, while offering an evident chromatic paradox. You work on the floor to be able to control the dripping and its movement. In this elaborating process of an artwork, are there any controlled choices or is it more of a purely spontaneous plastic work ?
"The "Magma" and "Cold Front" series, like the new "Fragile" or "Sediment" series, speak of the similarities between the human body and the landscape, in a physical and emotional aspect. Between magmatic energy that can happen inside a human body directly affecting the outside or inside a volcano directly affecting the landscape that surrounds it. The same can happen with a cold front or even a sedimentation process. All of these speak of the inside/outside dialogue directly connected to movement. My process is based on action painting where movement is always present. Controlled movement vs spontaneous movement, where part of the process has a specific intention and another where intuition, the uncontrolled, takes place. It is a constant dialogue between these two forces, the in-between, the space where there is no space. Also, in the drying process a lot comes to life so it is always beautiful and interesting to learn from what comes after."
Several of your works offer a reflection on the canvas or the paint as objects. The series "Tension" (2014) and "(In)tension" (2014), are acrylic canvases, deprived from their frames and presented as compressed. "Fragile I" (2014) is a slit canvas, hanged askew. We may also see experiments on colours being treated as material, laid directly onto the floor. In each of these proposals, the canvas or the colour become sculptures or installations themselves. In that, could there be seen a relation with the 1960’s French movement "support-surfaces", which is characterised by a reflection on the very structure of the canvas and its frame, by the reduction of the artwork to its very essence, its matter and what it is made of ?
"The canvas is and always has been an "institution", and it is always a window, an altar of contemplation. Galleries and museums have somehow a strong religious energy. So, similar to other movements in the past like the "support-surfaces" you mentioned, the idea behind some of these works is to question that relation between the support and the work. Emotional Landscapes uses multi-dialogue platforms such as the human body, video, photography, canvas, installation and public art to communicate; all these are bodies as well as landscapes. By creating installations where the canvas is broken, like in "Fragile I" for example, the grey bar representing the cement that weighs on the landscape breaking the canvas, this becomes similar to the pressure and unbalanced situation of a contemporary megalopolis taking over the natural landscape and resources. This also takes place in the "(In)Tension" series where the canvas is released from its natural structure/spine and wrapped around itself creating a new three-dimensional landscape. All of these series speak of movement, transformation and transition."
You often describe yourself as follows: "One who lives on the edge". You also said: "I like opposites, they create energy." Your work is well at the border between urban, contemporary art and graphic design, with sometimes abstract and sometimes figurative subjects. The supports you use vary from canvases and walls to textiles and skateboards. How did being multidisciplinary nourish your artistic evolution ? With time, do you tend to pursue this multiple approach or to focus back onto a more condensed practice ?
"My surname, Arraiano, means in-between, one who lives on the border, and this is always present in my life, my work and painting process. Minimal vs maximal, space vs non-space, human gesture vs elements you can’t control. All this is part of life. All of these dualities and the energy that flows between them are my playground, where I feel comfortable. So eventually this appears naturally in my paintings. It is natural for me to be surprised by something that comes from one of my own paintings or installations, and this is what makes me keep on painting and exploring. In this sense, my studio is my internal laboratory. If somehow I had everything designed or fully planned in my mind to reproduce it on canvas, then why do it ? It was already there, in my mind, somewhere in a different layer of reality. I have always felt it very hard to pinpoint exactly where I fit in terms of ideas and perspectives. There are so many interesting things out there so why focus on only one ? My work is a stamp of all these worlds that I connect with. I grew up with this mixture of surfing and urban culture, connected to the ocean and nature as well as to the city. I studied communication and marketing, worked as a graphic designer and art director. Music was always present, and later I also studied shiatsu and Chinese medicine. Performance and dance were also present. I was always curious about how to integrate all these experiences present in my daily life and work, and painting came naturally enough, it was always there. It is like a cooking process of all these influences and ideas. I work with abstraction, connected to all these elements that have been and still are present in my life."
#Projects | You have shot some video performances, such as "Emotional Landscapes" (2013) or "Kairos" (2014). The bodies are a support for the paint, which helps fixing the audience’s attention on the observation, and being aware of the breathing and the movements. The notion of time seems to play an important part, using slow movements, images where time seems to be reverse, to accelerate or slow down, rhythmic or erratic sounds. These images call on to something primitive, something essential with bodies breathing and dancing, leaving marks which are revealed or fading. Bodies which are in relation with the present time. How to interpret these performances that seem to reflect a metaphor of life ? Can we consider these video directions as a physical transposition of the essence of your approach ?
"There is a sentence by Milan Kundera that has an important reference to this body of work: "The speed grade is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting". Contemporary society tends to live a need for speed, where competition and velocity are present elements in people's lives and work. Time is something we no longer respect and value. We tend to live like a scroll generation. With the influence of emails, new media, blogs, social networks, swipe-oriented apps, we have somehow forgotten the ritual of non-acting, the contemplation process. We used to listen to vinyl records where side A and side B told a story, then with CDs we got a "next" button that enabled us to move forward in the story, but with MP3 you simply download the entire discography of a band knowing you'll never have the quality time to listen to everything. This has also happened to images. In the past, people would go to a gallery, contemplate, interact with the painting, they had conversations and discussions in the foyer of a theatre. The internet has given us the "next" button and the 72dpi images, making us lose the reference space or time for contemplation. Nowadays with social media platforms people scroll for new stories, swiping images at high speed. This affects everything in contemporary society: music, art, literature, relationships… Everything. These performances are time/space laboratories as they speak about this, about a relationship between the body, movement and time, creating a space where there is no space or no time."
You were part of the artists invited to participate in the "Tour Paris 13" project, organised in 2013 by the gallery Itinerrance, in which many artists were able to occupy the apartments of a building before its demolition. You chose to paint a room from floor to ceiling, thus offering a total immersion to the visitors. Visually, this intervention seems to be the reflection of an ongoing transition between your previous productions and the series that would follow. One year later, still with Itinerrance and in the context of the "Djerbahood" project, in Tunisia, you get into a traditional apartment with its uncluttered lines and its immaculate frontage. Can you draw a parallel between those two events in terms of evolution of your plastic work as well as the way you make a given site yours (outside vs inside) ?
"Well, I tend to approach public art the same way as I approach all media: creating spaces and experiences that interact with the viewer in a way that they can have time to stop and think about this dialogue between the relationship between the human body and the territory. In Paris, I created an "altar" – a place were you could simply sit and be there, removed from the city's urban reference. I was undergoing a transition period between different bodies of work, still focusing a bit on the image, on a more figurative approach, but somehow in transition. A year later, in Tunisia, it was different. I was using the building as an outside installation already included in the Emotional Landscapes series. To me this was yet another time where somehow a work connected to this notion of "urban acupuncture" emerged in my work."
Several of your monumental frescos, whether on walls, like in "Walk & Talk", (Açores, 2013), or on the floor like in "Circles of hope" (Sweden, 2011), show creatures and rounded shapes interlacing, often broached vertically. Many see in them dark troubling faces, evil masks or mystical totems. What cultural background has inspired this pictorial universe, which may be related to the signs and iconography of primitive civilisations ?
"My grandmother was Argentinian, so I grew up with all these ritualistic references. I have always been interested in the sacred and the profane and the relationship between them. In the "Circles Of Hope" series I worked for quite a while in connection with these references. I used these ritualistic elements and references to create totemic-like installations and paintings in places like Sweden, Azores, London, Lisbon, taking to the urban environment these ancient references with the objective of reminding people what was there before the reference city or man. The scale was an important part of the entire process, as I focused on large-scale paintings, bigger than all the advertisements or contemporary visual references you find in the cityscape and using all these sacred and ritual references, even in the drawing process such as Zen circle drawing techniques."
"Working with commercial brands in art projects is always a challenge. Before I started my career as a visual artist I worked for a few years as a graphic designer and art director in several studios, always in connection with the music industry, fashion and urban culture. So when I quit this area my contacts and friends were mostly from these industries so I ended up working on a lot of commissions for commercial brands. Personally, I never had any problems regarding my freedom as an artist because the people who commissioned these projects were aware of what I was doing at the time, so their objective was to associate their products to artists and to their public. This somehow opens the art world to a wider audience, creating art that in a way could appear more democratic and reaches more people. The other side of the coin is that it can be a bit confusing because all these approaches to the more commercial and brand-oriented art happenings and art festivals, in connection with the emerge of the street art movement and urban culture phenomenon, create a new DNA of curators, gallerists and art dealers as well as artists, most of whom are not connected to art directly and have an entirely different concept of art – more oriented towards consumerism, branding, new media phenomena, aesthetics for aesthetics, which can sometimes be very shallow, lacking a conceptual paradigm, focusing on the self, creating new false idols worldwide. So, if on the one hand it empowers and questions the art world and institutions, creating opportunities for younger artist to emerge, with social media and blogs having more public than galleries or museums; on the other, this new brandalising art has created art events similar to music festivals or uses public art events to decorate and hide urban planning and urbanism mistakes."
You currently own an art studio at the "Cidadela Art District" of Lisbon. This is part of the "Pousada de Cascais" hotel project, including 6 artists’ studios open to the public, 5 art galleries, 6 rooms dedicated to site specific projects, multiple spaces to be occupied by the artists, and a scheduling of cultural events. How did you take your marks within such a multidisciplinary environment, which favours interactions with the audience, and is quite often a channel to collective artistic emulation ?
"It has been very interesting and challenging as the entire space works as an artistic hub, connecting artists, gallerists, collectors and the public at large. The idea behind the project is to (re)use the Citadel's many unique spaces – from the Pousada itself to the fortress' walls. The historical buildings were recovered and refurbished in a project co-designed by architects Gonçalo Byrne and David Sinclair. They were fully restored, preserving their heritage while also being brought back to life with a modern and light-filled architectural project that made them regain their former cultural splendour. The space now features regular art exhibitions and site-specific creations by the residing and guest artists in a constant dynamics between guests, visitors and artists. The Cidadela Art District comprises six exhibition spaces, including the first and only Raw Art gallery in Portugal and six artist studios. Another major attraction is the hotel's artist rooms, which have been decorated by the residing and guest artists. Guests can also find site-specific interventions and artwork by these artists around the hotel. An Art Concierge is also available to guide guests and visitors through the hotel, the open studios, exhibitions and events. The project's curator is Sandro Resende, one of the founders of P28, well known for "Contentores", "Outdoors" or the latest art project "Janela". Besides myself, the first group of residing artists to occupy the place are Duarte Amaral Netto, Paulo Brighenti, Susana Anágua, Pedro Matos and Bruno Pereira."
You often mentioned the need for music in your life and the way it inspires your art, particularly in terms of composition, colours and shapes. Could you elaborate on how your musical background influences the rhythm you chose to give to your work ?
"I have always lived around music and musicians. I believe everyone’s life has a soundtrack. With regard to my work and production I couldn’t imagine working without music, from classical to jazz, bebop, singer-songwriters and folk, music is a constant presence in the studio and my daily life."
You also teach at the "Instituto de criatividade artes e novas tecnologias" of Lisbon. As an artist, how do you conceive the mediation, the educational method and the handing over of your artistic knowledge, may it be technical, symbolical or spiritual ?
"Everything is fully connected, one couldn’t live without the other in my work. I give a two-month period of classes at the Institute and for me this time represents a passage, something I have to share with others. It continues, grows and transforms with the influence of others. Technical, symbolical or spiritual elements become part of the process, since there is no syllabus or rules in my teaching methods; we all create in an osmosis-oriented environment, growing and producing together in a shared laboratory and cultural experience."
From your communication studies to your exhibitions and dwellings throughout the world today, your artistic skills have become more assertive along the projects and technical experiments on different supports. If you take a retrospective look on your productions and experiences, how would you define this evolution ?
"Personally, I think nowadays I’m more focused on my own production and my career as an artist and as I've been experimenting for so long in so many different areas, all of these are totally connected with this process. From communication and marketing studies, graphic design and new media, and later movement, dance, shiatsu and Chinese medicine, all of these disciplines have become my work. They helped me, both technically and personally, and are always present in my body of work, texts or thoughts. My paintings, videos, installations or site-specific works are in a way a sedimentation of all these different inputs and processes. I see my work as a dialect, a parallel and abstract language that uses different media to communicate in a wider approach than a regular form of language. There are many things and layers that are difficult to explain or communicate using just common words."
Exhibitions & projects
"At Home", group exhibition, Quartier General - Centre d'art Contemporain, La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland).
ArtRio Artfair, represented by TAL Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, (Brazil).
"1/81" (30 years/CPS: Portuguese printmaking centre), group exhibition, Côa Museum, Vila Nova de Foz Côa, (Portugal).
"Magma", solo exhibition, Cidadela Art District, Cascais, (Portugal).
"Emotional Landscapes", solo exhibition, Arte Institute, New York, (USA).
"Spaces Within", solo exhibition, Pure Evil Gallery, London, (UK).
(In)Transition, solo exhibition, 2.35:1 Gallery, Stockholm, (Sweden).
"Vertigo", solo exhibition curated by Sandro Resende/P28, Lisbon, (Portugal).
ArtBasel, Miami, (US).
"Inked Souls", Art.Whino Gallery, Washington DC, (US).
"LaGa", exposition personnelle, Kruvkurva, Lisbon, (Portugal).
"MusaTour", Fábrica Features, Lisbon, (Portugal).
"Like a body, a city has points and meridians. When you use an acupuncture needle on the human body, this strange organism provokes a small inflammation that attracts the attention of the white blood cells which converge to this specific point to cure it. The same happens in the city when you interact with derelict places or spaces that need care and attention, in a process of "urban acupuncture"." Paulo Arraiano
"Arraiano [adj. One who lives on the frontier or border. One who is the natural from the border]. Paulo Arraiano’s visual universe lies in a duality that merges the natural and the artificial, nature and urbanity, emergence and creation. In the intersection between these two seemingly opposite and excluding worlds, he has managed to set a new-found balance which emerges from the primitive energy that flows between one and the other and lies at the root of his visual dialectics. Seeking society even before the reference "man". A territory, a body, a drift through flows of energy. Paulo Arraiano’s visual work has been focusing on the immaterial territory and its connection with the physical territory: emotional cartographies where the body acts as an extension of nature through a medium based on the motion and fluidity of the connection to the root, trying to bring to the city the energy it tends to forget. In the visual artist’s work, the detachment for the original work sets off the emotional wandering in a new dialoguing body/space, a convergence between urban cartography and the meridians of the human body, in an alignment of premisses for a work of "urban acupuncture". Searching for points of conflict, blockage emotional and energetic flows to be returned to the geographical space." (Text from the artist's website).
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