Nua e Crua, 2002, oil on canvas, 170 x 190 cm
In painting, as in the other arts—so theorists were already saying in the Renaissance—everything can be reduced to a question of “putting on and taking off”: the superposition and removal of material that controls the emergence of forms, according to an idea, upon the surface of the canvas. Fábio Cardoso restricts his work to oil paints, turpentine, and canvas, the essential repertoire of this age-old craft, in order to reaffirm the expressive capacity of painting. His is art that resists the attempt to reveal its tricks, to demystify its rituals, to show the back of the canvas.
“Nude and Crude”, says the ironic title that alludes to the frames of the canvases left exposed as an admonition to the careless spectator, who is asked not to maintain illusions about pictures held by such old and rudimentary support . . . pictures made of material so alien to the world of science and modern technology.
Acknowledging the precariousness of means at the disposition of his art, and awareness of the ephemeral nature of the craft itself, Fábio Cardoso doesn’t rebel against the flat surface in search of a concrete spatiality beyond the canvas, just as he doesn’t look for solutions by experimenting with other materials. He gets rid of the paintbrush--tool-symbol of the manual skill of the painter, still found in earlier works of his—and with it the intention to form the material according to a previous idea. He restricts himself to the absolute present of the studio, time that his canvases seem to want to freeze. He’s not concerned with the existential subjectivity of the image, but with the vitality of the artistic process, with the playful enjoyment of the actions involved.
The result is a work that is vigorous and of strong visual impact, infused with the creative tension of the dialectical play between opacity and transparency, of the subtle contrast between silhouettes and marks left by simple objects, not always identifiable. It is a universe ruled by the painter who controls the paints, their dilution, the constant making and unmaking of forms.
In the “Nude and Crude” series, inaugurated in 2001, the first large-format canvases—currently exhibited at the São Paulo Twenty-fifth Biennial—were done exclusively in black and white. In this current exhibition, colors reappear. But the pigments, like diagnostic filters, maintain the monochromatic character of the original work.
With vocabulary reduced to a minimum, Fábio Cardoso’s painting evokes other techniques of image transcription, to affirm the uniqueness and re-establish the primacy of painting and of the canvas as the unparalleled place for vision. His images suggest x-rays, reflectographs, thermographs, and other advanced techniques of recording forms of reality through light, shadows, heat--means meant to reveal invisible aspects of reality, capable of registering that which simple vision doesn’t see. Analogously, the painting--Cardoso seems to say--remains the paradoxical instrument for going beyond the banality of the images that invade the everyday.