It was August when, visiting Luiz Zerbini‘s studio, Leda Catunda – fellow artist and PIPA Prize Nominating Committee member in 2018 –recognized a canvas she had first seen six months before, in February. When she congratulated Zerbini for the results he achieved, though, she discovered the painter considered the work far from complete. The anecdote serves as a starting point for a reflection on painting and dreams proposed by Catunda in 2013. While on the subject, it’s worth noting that the canvas in question (titled “Serrote”) can be seen at the South London Gallery, London, until August 19th, as part of Zerbini’s solo show “Intuitive Ratio.”
“The good dream”
When we have a good dream, the plot seems perfect to us in every aspect. The details of a good dream are therefore appropriate to the main plot and reveal a wealth of colors, contrasts, temperatures and sometimes even taste and smell. On the other hand, the main theme of the dream invariably deals with the fantasy of our deepest desires, including those of which we are not aware. Waves of emotion as well as gratification sweep from mind to body, compensation mechanisms are activated and all is well until the end comes, inevitably – sometimes brought about by a simple interruption, a termination that arrives with the morning sun.
We feel a strange sense of loss as soon as we awaken and realize that the pictures, so realistic up to that point, begin to fade away and disappear. The feeling of pleasure that may last to day’s end, but as awareness takes over, the entire scenario tends to fall apart. This process is much worse when we try not to let it go when we try to tell someone about the dream. Then what appeared to be the perfect image of true happiness becomes an uninteresting, disjointed tale of complete frustration. As a final resort, refusing to admit the possibility of total oblivion, the true end of all dreams, we fall back on detail. Perhaps if we could just remember details of structure, lighting, clothing, objects, and surroundings we would be able to hold onto the wonderful sensation of comfort and well-being for a bit longer. Psychology tells us that our attempt to recall a good dream to perfection may help us understand hidden desires and to perceive what we truly crave, since often in life we use an enormous amount of effort to try to obtain things that do not really correspond to our initial expectations.
We went to Luiz´s studio and found the same painting on the wall that I had seen a month earlier. It was August and he told me that the canvas had been there since February. It was a large painting, a landscape scene, full of detail just like some of Zerbini’s other large “figurative” works. It appeared to be finished, but as soon as we began commenting on and praising the final result, he interrupted us by saying that it was not yet ready. Whatever our opinion was of the painting, entitled “Serrote”, it would have to wait, because for him it was not finished. In other words, it was not ready to be “read”, diagnosed or appraised. From this moment on, Luiz spent some 20 minutes talking about problems and vacancies that had to be solved.
Pacing back and forth in front of the painting, he examined it minutely, pointing a finger, moving back and forth in a strange dance, showing intimacy with his creation. He spoke slowly as if to not forget a thing. He made a note of all that was missing — as if something could be missing in a painting that was clearly done … as if this fact were capable of creating some type of commotion or impact. As if the absence of these elements, in the midst of hundreds of others that had already found a place in the composition, would cause onlookers to point at the picture and denounce the fact that something was missing.
The picture was not done and Zerbini worked hard to make sure it would be finished on time. An old saying is: sculpture is hard to begin and easy to finish while paintings are easy to begin and hard to finish. As regards sculpture, we must first gather together all the material, calculate the weight, scale, and structure, and only when these steps are taken is it possible to start the project and then wrap it up without too much trouble. For a painting, we need only canvas and ink. Whether based on a project or not, we begin with a clear, white background. Then come many layers and overlays involving transparency and opacity, through which it is possible to change the image. The infinite possibilities of change hold back the decision process. It is quite common in art classes to see students in anguish saying: And now? Is it finally finished?
Perplexed by the artist’s enthusiasm in commenting on all that had yet to be done, we were rather embarrassed to comment on something so obvious: “… the screen is already so full …?” A month ago, the sky was a salmon color, now it was a reflective metallic blue, more like silver. The river was smooth and of a color hard to remember, because so much had changed from one month to the next. Now there were fine wavy lines painted a bright yellow. Besides overcrowding of elements and details, buoys, a yellow sponge, a fork impaled in fruit, leaves and multicolored moss, a stalk of sugarcane, a jet of water, a blue nylon rope, an anchor, a small Sanyo radio and other things, the choice of the image as a whole caught our attention. It seems to be a fishing scene with a water pump attached to a round, gray plastic tank. It could be someone’s backyard with a riverside view. A precarious workplace with tangles of wires in improbable places and a pump spewing water.
It is a whole made up of many small parts, and the result is a nihilistic landscape. This precarious scenario, a piece of nowhere, seems to reveal a certain mood created intentionally by the artist. It is made up of simple, scattered elements that belong there, providing a natural disorder, a kind of poetic chaos. Here, Zerbini clearly favors the sublime over the beautiful, giving this scenario a melancholy air. The choice of subject for the painting gives rise to the process. A sense of wetness also contributes to this feeling, not only due to the water but also from the rather pale greenish yellow color. Another factor is the representation of space on the canvas, rather oppressive, compressed, occupying the foreground, and then expanding abruptly to the raging river, a powerful figure that races across the image from one side to the other. Then on the opposite bank of the river, a huge pile of rocks, lit by streaks of light from the sky. The sublime rules, beauty combined with the unknown. Beauty reflected in too much detail and the obvious love that the artist has for details and the unknown — nobody’s place with nobody in it.
There was someone, but he went away, leaving the radio on and the pump working, leaving traces, footprints… All of the details can now be seen, five or six small birds that had not been there before and lots of moss on the wooden boards, plus a fish net on the rocks, giving a new texture where before it had been smooth, thus making the image complete. The surface is now read like a “trama”, lace made up of memories, desires, and feelings mixed with collected images. They were grouped together to fill space, to compose and add up, and then multiply and expand a sensible view of a place where, usually, nothing could be seen. In a practical world, geared to an ever-faster pace, make more to earn more, spend, do it again, almost like an ant’s life. A demanding world that becomes invisible due to so much hustle and bustle, this is only good if we stop and look, and then make others see also.
I replied to the e-mail saying that I did not find any saw in the scene; perhaps the object in the title lies behind the broom or something? And he replied that, in fact, there was no saw and that this word refers to the name of the place where he had seen the “water tower with the pump on top”. He spoke without thinking, without realizing how unusual it was, that we are always running into the commonplace, confusion, disarray and that this scenario is the antithesis of what is beautiful and poetic to most people. For him, it would be a revelation. A quiet place, full of tranquility, with nothing missing, no excess nor needs, where all minutia of the good dream will remain, now and forever, organized in the sublime task of promoting good feelings.
About the Author
Leda Catunda is a visual artist and an academic. In 2017, she participated in the PIPA Prize Award Jury, and in 2018 she was a member of the edition’s Nominating Committee.
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