Gonçalo Ivo, Installation View, (center) Campo Santo, 2009, oil & mixed media on linen 260 x 580cm
The only commercial gallery space in Rio de Janeiro that rivals the expanse and grandeur of the "art temples" of Chelsea is Galeria Anita Schwartz, where Gonçalo Ivo has just opened a magnificent exhibition titled Campo Santo (Holy Ground), through September 4. This show is a culmination of, or maybe a first glimpse at a shift in Gonçalo's work that has been developing over the past few years. The first and most obvious new development is in the scale of the paintings. In the gallery's ground floor space, a cavernous white cube that makes a 6 ft painting look like a small spot on the wall, the artist has installed three massive works, each about 8.5 x 22ft, that radically alter the space of the gallery, activating its expanse with color and surface resonances that hold the viewer's primary and peripheral vision in a constantly shifting scenario. Along with the dramatic scale of these paintings, the surface of each piece is built of many layers of oil, color over color, to create a thick amalgamated physicality. In the central "white" painting (above), the huge field is made of gravel-like grit impregnated with gooey pigment that forms pools of sludge creating gorgeous subtle color nuances. To the right (below), the artist presents an elaboration of an ongoing motif related to rivers -- long horizontal color arrays. The muted earth colors of this painting, inspired by a visit to a medieval chapel in Spain, evoke a sense of embedded history. The surface is made of thousands of small brush strokes, piled layer upon layer, embodying a long meditative process of accumulation that reveals a history of its own.
Installation View, (left) Santa maria de Taull, 2009, oil on linen 260 x 650 cm, (right) Campo Santo, 2010, 230 x 160 cm, tempera, calcination, silver leaf on wood
On the left hand wall (below) we see another tour de force painting. The deep undulating blues of its central field are created in many thick and thin layers, contrasting cobalt and black blues overpainted with a luminous ultramarine. The thick accumulation of fat oil brushstrokes recalls the late paintings of Milton Resnick, but with a distinctive chromatic assertiveness. The blues of this painting, set off by the purples and greens of the upper and lower color bands, create a physical and psychological space of their own -- pulling us into the field, engulfing our vision and our senses.
Installation View, (left) Oratorio da Noite, 2010, 260 x 650 cm, oil on linen
On the two short walls are paintings in the shape of crosses -- weathered wood objects with sensuous surfaces made of tempera with gold and silver leaf. These objects, and others in the upstairs space, create a complex and charged juxtaposition with the large paintings -- connecting assertions of the opulence and vitality of contemporary abstract painting with ancient cultural impulses and iconography. The crosses expand and clarify the context of the work, exploring painting's historic existential connection with human sensibility.
In a small alcove, is a group of watercolors (below), exquisite in their delicacy. In stark contrast to the sheer physicality of the big paintings, the watercolors reveal the genesis of Gonçalo's process, rooted in the intuitive poetics of color.
Gonçalo Ivo, Oratorios, 2010, 5 watercolors, 45 x 38 cm
Continuing up the stairs, we encounter more painted wood objects, including a transcendent Giotto-blue cross that fuses with the Brazilian sky.
Now we enter the upstairs gallery, a sort of penthouse space with a sliding glass wall leading to a terrace overlooking the granite peaks of Rio's shoreline. On the facing long walls, the artist presents two large (200 x 400 cm) powerful black paintings -- one a metallic green black, the other a deep purple black -- with thick chunky oil surfaces. Their presence is imposing and ominous, yet the subtlety of their color resonances eventually invites us up close. Placed around the concrete floor of the interior space is a group of small marble objects that each have embedded in their upper surface a cross and a stone. Outside on the wooden deck of the terrace, is a group of larger concrete slabs with embedded wooden crosses and stones. The glass doors form an interesting transparent barrier between the smooth formality of the marbles inside, and the rugged "poorness" of the concrete objects outside.
(left) Campo Santo, 2010, 54 x 34 x 12 cm, gesso, tempera, stone on marble, (right) Campo Santo, 2010, 50 x 32 x 16 cm, gesso, tempera, stone on marble
Installation View, (indoors left) Campo Santo, 2010, 50 x 50 x 16 cm, concrete, tempera, stone on marble, (indoors right) Oratorio da Lua Nova, 2010, 200 x 400 cm, oil on canvas, (outdoors left) Campo Santo, 2010, 125 x 80 x 10 cm, gesso, tempera, stone on concrete, (outdoors right) Campo Santo, 2010, 125 x 80 x 10 cm, gesso, tempera, stone on concrete
Installation View, (outdoors left) Campo Santo, 2010, 220 x 80 x 10 cm, gesso, tempera, silver leaf, stone on concrete, (indoors left to right) Oratorio para Sexta-feira, 2010, 200 x 400 cm, oil on canvas; Campo Santo, 2010, 50 x 32 x 16 cm, gesso, tempera, stone on marble; Campo Santo, 2010, 54 x 34 x 12 cm, gesso, tempera, stone on marble; Campo Santo, 2010, 54 x 30 x 10 cm, gesso, tempera, stone on marble; Oratorios, 2010, two watercolors, 45 x 38 cm each
In this upstairs space, Gonçalo has created a deeply poetic environment that is charged with emotion and layered cultural implications. It's meaning is not explicit, but its presence is unequivocal.
Gonçalo Ivo, Installation view with (right) Oratorio para Sexta-feira, 2010, oil on canvas, 200 x 400 cm
The scale and scope of this exhibition really deserves a museum setting, even though the installation is specific to this particular gallery space. The implications of the work transcend any local setting, not to mention any notions of commerce. This show is a potent testament to the ability of abstract painting to embody and evoke feeling -- to stand as proof of the potential richness of existence. Gonçalo has created more than just a group of new paintings -- he has made a momentous act of devotion, at once heroic and humble, ambiguous and true.
Gonçalo Ivo with Oratorio da Noite, 2010, 260 x 660 cm, oil on linen