Julião Sarmento

Galería Marga Paz

The vision of the world that Julião Sarmento shows us in his paintings is shaped by the plurality of causes and contexts of the particular moment in which this Portuguese artist works and lives. Sarmento adopts an openness that allows many different kinds of images to coexist in his work, from his own day-to-day reality to recent and ancient history and prehistory. Reality and fantasy, rational and illusory elements, abstract fields and figurative forms all come together in the same work.

His most recent paintings are multi-panel “collages” that consist of different-size rectangular and square canvases joined together to form larger rectangles, some more than ten feet long. Through this method, Sarmento presents his ambiguously related images simultaneously, in a manner that emphasizes unexpected juxtapositions. The absence of a single coherent order challenges the limited interpretative system with which we have generally been taught to respond. In this sense, Sarmento acts as a provocateur, a subvener of syntactical hierarchies that normally facilitate the reading of a painting. The synchronic use of different expressive means, of different codes and techniques, gives us an insight into the complexity that the painter wishes to project.

Sarmento seems to select images according to the tensions that they might bring to each work, tensions that are intensified by the different textures obtained and the variety of modules chosen. The discourse involved here includes memory and all of human life, through the use of a wide range of images and styles, from the simplest and most rudimentary to sophisticated references to contemporary design and communications media, without sacrificing the artist’s particular subjective vision.

Through a combination of pure line and broader, more painterly techniques, Sarmento manages to unify abstract and figurative traditions in painting. A technique used in one modular section derives a certain meaning (and impact) through its juxtaposition with another, contrasting process. This deliberate cultivation of complexity becomes a means to express the complexity of human psychology (including his own) and the heterogeneity of our universe. That is why this artist’s works often create small universes in themselves, visions of the world that oscillate between subjective feeling and an observed, concrete reality.

Certain paintings include motifs taken from traditional or contemporary Portuguese culture, such as the ornaments on fishing boats, popular legends written or narrated from generation to generation, or even an encounter with an ex-mercenary whose tattoos attracted the artist’s attention. Sarmento is also stimulated by the richness of the colorful history of Portugal, its contrasts and anachronisms. None of these elements are presented topically or simplistically, but are treated with a poetic austerity that propels them into the universal.

Such a synthesis invites us, through its authenticity, to cross over the obvious formal boundaries and to come to terms with a deeper knowledge of the world and of ourselves. We know that it is not a simple task to transmit something complex and profound through painting, which so often reveals its impotence as object. Sarmento’s intent is to go further, to show that it is still possible, with paint and a brush, to say things that will create unease and perhaps confront us with our own ghosts.

Aurora Garcia

Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah