São Paulo

Christian Rosa, Damien or Natas, 2015, oil and charcoal on canvas, 70 7/8 × 102 3/8".

Christian Rosa, Damien or Natas, 2015, oil and charcoal on canvas, 70 7/8 × 102 3/8".

Christian Rosa

White Cube | São Paulo

Christian Rosa, Damien or Natas, 2015, oil and charcoal on canvas, 70 7/8 × 102 3/8".

The sensation of continuous space and an underlying feeling of déjà vu resonated from the whimsical paintings of Brazilian-born Christian Rosa at White Cube São Paulo—the gallery’s final show in the warehouse it has used since 2012. “Mais que nada” (More Than Nothing), a solo outing by an artist little known in the country of his birth—he was raised in Austria, where he now lives—was a timely choice to end the gallery’s local exhibition calendar. The eye-catching quality of the seemingly unassuming squiggles, swirls, scribbles, and patches of color on the nine large, sparsely painted, unprimed canvases on display might have had more to do with a sense of familiarity than with a sense of awe. Commentators have seen in Rosa’s work a formal dialogue with Joan Miró and Cy Twombly; I would add Alexander Calder. One thinks too of Surrealist automatism and the formal fluidity of Arabic calligraphy. Although Rosa’s works are generally understood as paintings, they could just as easily be thought of as drawings on canvas. He mainly uses charcoal, oil paint, resin, and pencil to produce large-scale doodles that beguile and delight.

The works shown were produced locally for the exhibition. No CPF No Glory (all works 2015) hung on the back wall of a room with three other paintings in tones of black and white on the beige of raw canvas. The CPF in the title refers to the Brazilian social-security number, which is requested as additional proof of identity even when one is entering an office building, signing up for a rewards program, or joining a gym, in keeping with the love of bureaucracy Brazil has inherited from Portugal. The title, as always with Rosa, suggests a possible narrative point of departure, one whose implicit tone of mockery remains, of course, unconfirmed by the abstract nature of his markings—a large circular black smudge on the bottom left below an almost rectangular outline that ends with a squiggle, a similar gray smudge farther to the right, and a body of furious scribbling in the top-right-hand corner.

In the main exhibition room, Vai Vadiar, the largest canvas in the show at about ten by sixteen feet, built on the double meaning of its Portuguese title, which translates as either “go loaf around” or “go fuck around.” Unsurprisingly, it was the least decorous of the works. A large red blob amid a furious tangle of black and blue scribbles dotted by considerably smaller blue, yellow, black, and pink spheres stands in opposition to the left side of the canvas, which holds two large, anamorphic shapes in muddy tones of brown and gray, connected to each other by a white U shape. Two vertical canvases hanging side by side, Gravity Ain’t Shit and It Is What It Is, formed an elegant couple in tones of beige, white, and black. Each has no more than five or six prominent markings inside firmly painted black borders that both reiterate the flatness that is characteristic of Rosa’s work and endow the two paintings with a geometric sense of organization. What stands out in Rosa’s work is not so much its spontaneity as its refinement and its balance of playfulness and presence.

Camila Belchior