António Palolo, Drawings/Lines, 1971, Super 8 film transferred to DVD, color, silent, 10 minutes 8 seconds.

António Palolo, Drawings/Lines, 1971, Super 8 film transferred to DVD, color, silent, 10 minutes 8 seconds.

António Palolo

António Palolo, Drawings/Lines, 1971, Super 8 film transferred to DVD, color, silent, 10 minutes 8 seconds.

António Palolo is mostly known as a self-taught painter whose work veered between Pop and abstraction. His recent exhibition at Culturgest focused instead on his films, revealing a side of his practice that, with a few exceptions (notably his inclusion in the 2000–2003 “Slow Motion” survey of Portuguese artists’ explorations of film and video), has remained hidden. While Palolo explored the limits of painting in his work, this exhibition acknowledges that he also occasionally transcended them, using film as a medium to explore possibilities unavailable to painting.

Palolo, who was born in Évora in 1946 and died in Lisbon in 2000, worked with film only between 1968 and 1978. He did not talk about his films, left no writings about them, and never exhibited them. They are therefore works surrounded by mystery: What did he hope they would achieve? How were they made? And why did he stop making them?

Palolo’s earliest efforts in film—three 8-mm black-and-white animations from around 1968–69 (two untitled and another called metamorphosis)—are most closely connected to his painting in their juxtaposition of figurative and geometric elements, a recurrent characteristic of his canvases. Made with cutouts from magazines and newspapers coupled with geometric forms, these films at times recall Constructivist photomontage and Dada collage as well as Pop iconography. There is a constant play of elements that change places like a collage being composed in time, which is underscored by a sharp sense of humor.

In 1969, Palolo’s adoption of a Super 8 camera marked a significant shift in his language and a clearer separation from his style as a painter. Camera and film were no longer simple recording tools, but elements with which to experiment. After this point, his films centered on light and color and on a play between a micro and macro view of the world, with images that evoke both minute details and a cosmic panorama. In Drawings/Lines, 1971, on top of previously printed film—was he just recycling material or was he deliberately experimenting with a new technique?—Palolo scratched lines directly on the celluloid, imprinting on it a choreography of rhythms and lights. The background images, unified by an overall tone of blue and purple, fluctuate from barely visible to perfectly recognizable, producing a fascinating layered effect with material as diverse as Marlene Dietrich, the Beatles’ yellow submarine, Adolf Hitler, Botticelli’s Venus, and a painting by Magritte. The title Lights, 1972–76, clearly indicates the theme of Palolo’s most radically experimental film up to that point. By manipulating the camera and via such experiments as filming through a candle flame, he traversed the entire chromatic spectrum, creating a series of abstract images that explore the range and diversity of light.

Palolo’s last film, OM, 1977–78, is the most ambitious and fully realized of them, shot almost entirely in the artist’s bathtub, where he used a constant, slowly circular motion to combine paint, foam, and water with other unrecognizable dissolved ingredients. The title refers to the famous sacred incantation of Hinduism and Buddhism, the breath of life. The film incorporates in all the previous experiments Palolo had undertaken—the play with the camera, the domestic trials, the exploration of light and color—to produce a concentrated, introspective, hypnotic, and cosmological essay about the universe and the origin of things.

Filipa Oliveira