São Paulo

Alex Cerveny, Tela Novela (Soap Opera Canvas), 2019, oil on canvas, 11 × 17 3⁄8".

Alex Cerveny, Tela Novela (Soap Opera Canvas), 2019, oil on canvas, 11 × 17 3⁄8".

Alex Cerveny

Artworks by the dozens, in varying sizes and mediums, lined the walls of Casa Triângulo for “Todos os lugares” (All the Places), a retrospective covering twenty years of Alex Cerveny’s production since 1999. The artist’s incomparable style and readily recognizable visual lexicon blends text and images, while his aesthetic draws from popular (especially ex-voto) and Surrealist traditions. An avid printmaker, draftsperson, and painter who also makes collages and illustrates books, Cerveny displayed samples of the full range of his practice in the gallery’s two rooms. His images often show naked male figures in expressive poses, standing with their arms outstretched above their heads as if beseeching heaven. Sometimes their hands are clasped in prayer or with palms facing forward at hip height; in other cases, they emit flames or rays. Cerveny’s paintings feel very personal and dramatic; his landscapes are frequently reminiscent of those of Giorgio de Chirico and Salvador Dalí, and the work in general seems to question dualities such as life/death, heaven/earth, God/man, material/ethereal, body/mind, and conscious/unconscious. In Blasfemar é um dever (Blasphemy Is a Duty), 2013, a small drawing in gold and red calligraphic ink, a naked man stood looking up, one arm raised, the other behind his back, framed by two arabesque columns and a loosely drawn border; a bearded and long-haired head hung upside down from its top edge, under a Portuguese text reading, “Give up, there’s no point, God does not exist!”

Cerveny spent six years working on the biblically themed oil painting José interpretando os sonhos do faraó (Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of the Pharaoh), 2019. The pharaoh, who resembles Cerveny himself, appears draped in a white cloth and red beads (possibly referencing Afro-Brazilian religious traditions), surrounded by irregular spheres containing miniature land- or seascapes, and a constellation of stars against a black backdrop. This figure is encircled by inscriptions that indicate the artist’s plethora of cultural references and his weakness for puns. At the top are the words AMOR (love)TEATRO (theater), CINEMA, and SCHEINHEILIG (German for hypocritical)—and its parenthetical translation into the Brazilian Portuguese idiom STO DO PAU ÓCO, literally “saint of hollow wood”—and on the far right, T.V. The figure labeled JOSÉ, who is less than one-fifth the size of the pharaoh, is wearing leopard-print shorts and holds a ladder in a landscape of burning shrubs.

Cerveny’s works often take the form of moral commentaries, rife with references to popular culture. The title of the painting Tela Novela (Soap Opera Canvas), 2019, is a play on words, referring to Latin American soap operas, telenovelas, but in using the word tela (“canvas” in Portuguese) Cerveny draws a parallel between the television genre and painting, both of which, he seems to imply, have the potential to convey dramatic narratives. The painting conjures the dramatic story of two Andean singers, Alicia Delgado and Abencia Meza. It is said that the singers kept an apartment together but never publicly acknowledged that they had an intimate relationship. In 2009, Delgado was found stabbed to death and Meza was convicted of murder. Four columns of text list the names of Brazilian soap operas and gyms, while in the middle, below Delgado’s painted head and phrases in Spanish that allude to heartbreak, a fifth column lists, among other things, Portuguese words that end in “-ina,” bringing together hormones (ADRENALINA, DOPAMINA) and drinks (CAJUINA, TUBAINA), a typical example of the artist’s free association of images, words, and themes.

In a smaller room, Cerveny exhibited 26 capitulares (26 Capitals), 2019, an alphabet in watercolors, in which each black letter on a white background holds one or more male human figures (aside from the x, which has a dog). The twenty-six works shown here were published this year in a book titled (like the exhibition) Todos os lugares, an illustrated anecdotal glossary of places the artist has visited. The illuminated capitals serve to condense the spirit of Cerveny’s work, in which image and text are equally important in relaying ultrapersonal interpretations of the dramatic narrative of life.