Rigo 96

Galeria Graça Fonseca

The artist Ricardo Gouveia, who was born in 1966 on the island of Madeira, signed all the work he made last year “Rigo 96,” the diminutive “Rigo” recalling names adopted by graffiti artists. Rigo’s recent show staged the intersection of various elements in Portuguese society, which is experiencing powerful contradictions between still-vital traditions and cultural globalization.

Rigo’s work bears the traces of numerous peripheries and displacements, with all of their corresponding contradictions. First, there is the distance between Madeira and Portugal, which is only magnified by the distance between the latter and international artistic centers. Rigo’s move to San Francisco about a decade ago (part of a wave of heavy emigration from Portuguese islands to the US) also foregrounds the situation of the cultural emigrant. In San Francisco, he has worked on paintings and comic-strips, but during the past few years he has concentrated primarily on creating paintings and murals for public art projects, works that often have political content and involve the collaboration of the local Latino community. These projects have included a mural at the Liberty Ferry in Richmond; a collaborative comic strip that appeared in a newspaper called Filth; and a recent public art piece entitled One Tree, which was installed in downtown San Francisco.

In 1994 Rigo covered the floor of a gallery in Funchal, Madeira, with Portuguese mosaic tiles, arranging them in a wavelike design; he also painted the walls with a similar pattern, incorporating into the mural the names of dozens of sites on the island. Small black-and-white stone cubes are traditionally used to painstakingly resurface sidewalks and squares in strong, decorative patterns. In his recent show, Rigo again used these stones on the floor, then decorated the walls with a similar pattern. This time, however, he added to the mural verse fragments taken from the writings of a popular poet. These words, which refer to the poet’s journeys, suggested a popular, naive, and fantastic vision of life at sea. Only one half of the floor was covered; the other side of the room, between the tiles and the mural, resembled a highway, with traffic signals that barred passage to anyone not in a motorized vehicle. On the tiled side, Rigo placed a small, motorized tricycle constructed from bits and pieces of old vehicles—a product of economic necessity as much as individual creativity. On the walls, he also hung two canvases, which he embroidered along with his mother, that explicitly invoked childhood and traditional crafts.

The title of the show, “Enquanto os golfinhos não voltam ao Tejo” (As long as the dolphins don’t return to the Tagus), alluded to ecological problems that have caused dolphins to disappear from the river bordering Lisbon. While Rigo attempted to reproduce, inside a gallery, the kind of public space in which his work often appears, he also presented a vision of a country divided by economic progress, in the form of a highway bordered on either side by signs of abandonment and exclusion. On the back wall of the space, the fantastic image of popular verses floating on the surface of the sea, suggesting an imaginary flight, perhaps represented Rigo’s attempt to come to terms with his own feelings of displacement and nostalgia.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from the Portuguese by Sheila Glaser