São Paulo

Daniel Senise

Galeria Brito Cimino

It’s tough to be a painter these days, let alone one who has reached midcareer having emerged and won acclaim in the days when painting was the privileged medium—the ’80s. Now, with the emphasis on video, photography, and interactive work, more than one young curator has bluntly told me, “I’m not interested in painting.” A bit out of fashion, the medium seems not so much dead as ignored, which poses a serious challenge to its contemporary practitioners. While some have moved on to more up-to-the-minute technologies, others, committed to the oldest art, are attempting to push their work toward a more radical questioning of painting’s ancient and enduring subject matter—painting itself.

Rio de Janeiro-born Daniel Senise was the main figure of the Brazilian geração oitenta, the ’80s generation that, much like its German, Italian, and American counterparts, posited a return to painting through neo-expressionism. The works that brought him notoriety back then were somber and intriguing, with a combination of figurative and abstract elements. His work process typically involved laying a thin piece of fabric on the floor of his studio, spreading glue and pigment over it, and then using the dried and enriched surface as a starting point. Thanks to his fine brushwork and skillful play with the formal elements of the medium, Senise’s layered paintings were irresistibly seductive. However, this very seductiveness was the target of some of his severest critics.

In the recent works presented here, Senise has radicalized his working method in a new, more rigorous and conceptual way. All the paintings depict interior views of empty spaces (museums, galleries), starkly calling attention to architectural perspective. This is done without the use of brushes: Senise cuts and glues pieces of the impregnated fabric, which he has lifted from the floor, and in a careful collage of geometric figures of different tones, he represents architecture through blunt lines and chiaroscuro. Senise uses this procedure with particular success in Irwing, 2000, which depicts a detail of a tight passageway between museum galleries, to a somewhat labyrinthine effect. Often the many pieces of fabric carry the marks of the wooden floors on which they were prepared and are imprinted with a gridlike pattern, playing off the harsh perspective and bringing our attention to the painting’s surface. What is striking here is not just the artist’s revision of his former method, now become more concentrated and emphatic, but also his return to or quotation of some of the medium’s classical and modernist elements and motifs perspective, chiaroscuro, collage, the grid. The empty spaces depicted in the paintings are consistent with the bareness of the artist’s methods. The result is, once again, a melancholic quality, this time brought about by the play between spatial vacancy and the grid’s inherent conceptual muteness, not to mention the fact that the paintings are all rendered in sepia tones. This new series of works opens up a number of possibilities to be explored, reminding us that the old medium, with its familiar elements, themes, and motifs, can still be refreshed. In the end, Senise has probably still not pleased his old critics, for, however conceptual, and stripped-down his work has become, the new paintings remain beautiful.

Adriano Pedrosa