Almada, Portugal

Pedro Calapez

Casa da Cerca - Centro de Arte Contemporânea

Branca e neutra claridade” (White and Neutral Clarity), the latest exhibition of the work of Lisbon-based artist Pedro Calapez, focuses on the artist’s production since 1999. The show centers on drawings, such as the series “Desenhos contínuos” (Continuous Drawings), 1999: Holding two white pastel sticks in the same hand, Calapez sketched freehand, on dark paper, an immense forest evoking the legacy of Romanticism. But the exhibition also includes works in other media, above all painting, demonstrating the affinity of the two disciplines in his practice. The video Transparências (Transparencies), 2005, demonstrates how Calapez uses both media, following the interests and problems that have defined his output since the early 1980s. The work is a double projection of still images of landscapes and cities, among other motifs, that constitute the sources from which Calapez develops his paintings and drawings. From this initially photographic basis, his works’ graphic nature and chromatic diversity emerge.

Mistérios (Mysteries), 2007, on view in the chapel of the majestic house that serves as the setting for Calapez’s exhibition, exemplifies this combinatory approach. A panel of twenty drawings evokes the facade of the new Catholic church of the sanctuary of Fatima, in Portugal, for which he was commissioned to design panels for the front and main portal. The religious imagery is derived from Renaissance paintings that the artist has stylized through digital manipulation, selecting details of various scenes. Resembling freehand sketches in which lines and stains wander, these works possess an abstract quality also present in the hybrid object-paintings known as “Contentores” (Containers), made between 2002 and 2004. With titles like Dentro (Within), 2002; Contentor de Paisagem (Landscape Container), 2004; and Terra Firme (Solid Ground), 2004, and taking the form of open aluminum cubes with their interior faces and bases painted, these works allude to the history of architecture. Nevertheless, as exemplified by Unidade Habitacional (Housing Unit), 2004 (the only “Container” included in this show), Calapez uses color in these works to create intense visual fields that recall his watercolors, such as Abstract Landscape (Sylt Series 28 a 71), 2003, and Planos sobre planos (Planes on Planes), 2006. Juxtaposing pale tones in the former and variations of gray in the latter, these works create a sense of movement that destabilizes the viewer’s perception within and among media.

Such stunning optical effects are also deployed in other recent series by Calapez, as in his signature rectangular aluminum panels covered in acrylic paint and marked by gestural brushstrokes and a dynamic interplay of colors. The underlying geometric rigor of these works creates a counterpoint to the formlessness of Ground 02, 2005: This is a group of forty-three aluminum sheets asymmetrically cut and coated in acrylic paint, resting on metal supports and placed horizontally inside an old cistern, accessed by descending a stone staircase. Inspired by sun-scorched earth, the work recalls not only the Western pictorial legacy but also the post-9/11 condition, in which war and ecological catastrophe dominate the collective unconscious. Calapez thus links the specific properties of painting, sculpture, and drawing to pressing contemporary questions. He points to impressions as sinister as they are lyrical, whether a sunbeam through a window or the gigantic mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion, a conflict emerging through the interplay of form.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.