Daniel Senise

Daniel Senise: Traces

Dawn Ades


Published in the artist’s book “Daniel Senise: Ela que não está”, Cosac & Naify Edições,  São Paulo, Brazil, in 1998 

Because Daniel Senise’s paintings contain figures and objects, they are often interpreted primarily in terms of what they depict. Iconographic themes are isolated, images tracked through their art historical or other more mundane sources, symbolic associations and metamorphoses of the objects are discussed, and their production through language described. These interpretations are useful and inevitable, but while they do not overlook the fact that the works are not wholly accounted for in these terms, they do perhaps underplay other qualities: of construction, process and the meaning of materials themselves.

Critics have noted a dual character to his pictures, which is sometimes accounted for in terms of abstraction and representation. Ivo Mesquita, for instance, situates Senise in relation to a new romantic view of painting that is “generally manifested in a representative and figurative way, at times somewhat abstract and at others quite realistic, yet always expressing the power of painting and representation.”(1) Roberto Tejada, in an interesting discussion of Senise’s techniques, points to the fact that the technique of his art is “inseparable from the overall meaning of the compositions,” but also that the tension between background and image can create baffling ambiguities: “It is difficult to determine whether the work is about the principal image or the environment in which it hovers.”(2) Ivo Mesquita quotes a very significant comment by Senise about his hunger for objects that do not exist: “Bewildering images embedded in curiously constructed pictorial surfaces, they cross landscapes in which the visible world with its limitations is slowly replaced by objects produced by a ‘craving for non-existing objects’”(3).The implications of these observations about Senise’s work with their underlying ideas about a problematic relation to representation call to mind Meyer Shapiro’s seminal 1937 essay “Nature of abstract Art”, in which Shapiro argued that abstract art in its multiple forms was not simply opposed to representation, and is far from being a purely aesthetic and ahistorical activity.

The qualities of cryptic improvisation, the microscopic intimacy of textures, points and lines, the impulsively scribbled forms, the mechanical precision in constructing irreducible, incommensurable fields, the thousand and one ingenious formal devices of dissolution, penetration, immateriality and incompleteness… affrim the abstract artist’s sovereignity over objects.”(4) 

It is not necessarily thus the disappearance of the object in abstract art that is in question, but its presence on the painter’s own terms, its emergence as witness to the power of the imagination, of a psychological truth as opposed to a confirmation of external realities. The desire for the object is the other side of this expression of freedom from the constraints of the observation of nature; an object which may convey a better mood than the freest gestural subjectivity, and would not make any claims towards a transcendental or essential existence. The object works back into the painting from an initial absence, from a blank which symbolizes both the artist’s sovereignty and anxiety.

Many of the statements made about Senise’s work almost immediately seem to propose their opposite: he is regarded together with Kiefer or Kuitca as part of a “return to painting,” but on the other hand many of his recent works have eschewed the actual practice of painting altogether. Nonetheless, he holds fast to the pictorial mode, although subjecting it to increasing stresses. Dialectic between representation and material, between object and ground may be set up not as an opposition between abstraction and realism. Senise has said that every picture is its own resolution, and this can be understood in terms of qualities of balance and weight, the presence or absence of objects, of a spatial field, as well as of textures, which may also be intimately related to abstract expressive qualities such as sound or silence, or mood (nostalgia, say), or to more abstract ideas, basic human constructs like time, or natural history.

Take three paintings: O beijo do elo perdidoNa Estrada and Untitled. In each case there is a spatial field which could approximate to a landscape, which is by no means the case in all his paintings. The locked forms that create one single shape in O beijo do elo perdido are carefully modeled, and cast a shadow which alone gives the sense of being embedded in a real space: the otherwise black ground, and the close, slightly angled viewpoint, recall an archeologist’s photograph or drawing of a specimen, carefully positioned against a neutral surface – sand or cloth – to give the most informative perspective. The lightly scratched marks at the bottom resemble an identificatory tag on a photograph from an archeological dig. Even without the title,, these affiliations would probably be apparent. But the “kiss” itself is like an image from a dream: a condensation of the sign for infinity and bodiless birds’ heads of bone so smooth it resembles clay, a comic and poignant image which plays upon a literal evolutionary reading of the idea of “eternity in a single kiss.”

A similar but more stripped and ambivalent “bird head” appears in Na Estrada and Untilted, almost like one of those Purist objects chosen for its maximal resemblance to a purely geometric from, but defying any such reduction by its oniric specificity. In the former, a more complete landscape with gallows and the dim form of a tree gives an unexpectedly massive scale to the bird-object, balanced on a wire, haloed in light like an apparition, a cross between the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a retableu.

The space in the third painting, Untitled, is far more allusively constructed, but the hint of a low horizon line near the base of the object sets its rearing up, not unlikely the strange “trees” set in deep landscape spaces in max Ernst’s frottages. It is unreal, collage-like space, a connection enhanced by the small dark rectangles like little tombs opening in a graveyard. The central object seems also to derive from a heavily beaked vertical bird’s head, but so contoured as to resemble an ear, from which wavy lines like smoke or fumes escape. This too is connected with thoughts about death, and in the very immediate physical sense of the decay of bodies. The artist was thinking about the phenomenon of the “will o’ the wisp” fire (fogo fatuo, or ignis fatuus), caused by the combustion of gases from emtombed bodies in cemeteries, which produces an unearthly and mysterious phosphorescent light. The idea of music was secondary, but nonetheless picks up several points of connection: the bones, fine as bird’s, that could be flutes, the way the tip of the ear/bird touches the bone suggests musical notes, and together with the delicate tonality of the whole picture surface this sets off a series of visual metaphors for the aural – or perhaps for “air” with its double sense of a piece of music, with un undertone of healthy and unhealthy airs. It is not a question of creating a new visual language, but of a dialectic between the intangible and the material, the random and the given.

Untitled was the first work by Daniel Senise that I saw in the flesh; there is an immediate physical impact of scale and texture which reproduction lessens and which affects the ways one responds to the image. Take, for instance, the object in the centre: this is depicted with a precise sense of the way that paint can peculiarly capture the qualities of light and reflection on a metal surface, to denote its shape, volume and weight. But what thing is it? Its scale in this large painting suggested a bell, a reading apparently confirmed by its image. Taken in conjunction with the flaking and pitted surface of the rest of the picture, which seemed to assert itself as the unkempt wall of an old building, the atmosphere it conveyed was of a monastery, perhaps in Italy, perhaps of the colonial era in Catholic America. The isolation of the bell-like shape against the fatally dark ground is like a knell ringing in a silent world.

This overly literal reading probably has its roots somewhere in a wish to account for the apparent homogeneity of a painting, whose surface is anything but homogeneous, but which has a remarkable tonal unity. But the painting left me with a more lasting sense of different types of pictorial ambiguity, and of a complex relationship with representation: the illusion of the three-dimensional object in no-space, the multilayered surface, the elusive identity of the object itself. Could it be invented, like the surrealist painter Yves Tanguy’s strange creatures, though not, like them, organic? The ridged conical form – evidently man-made – could in fact be huge or tiny. There is nothing to fix or measure its scale, and it takes an oddly abstract quality despite its thing-ness. It turns out to belong to that strange genus of tools whose function one can only guess at: in this case, a duck feeder, a water-bowl, that Senise came across lying in the grass in his father’s garden. This metal object is in fact quite small; it was fixed to the centre of another work of 1988, and ringed with three leaping sharks, against a rough and peeling surface, which resembles a Pompeian wall painting. The mysterious appearance of this metal object must have attracted the artist both for its ambiguity and its suggestiveness in a pictorial context. It could thus be incorporated in images, which cut across categories like abstract and figurative. Indeed the marvelous instability of this and many other works by Senise finds its material and metaphorical counterpart in the crumbling, contused surfaces of paintings.

The processes by which such surfaces are created can never be wholly reconstructed by the viewer, nor can the materials be easily defined. They remain as magical as the work of the natural decay on both organic and man-made things, unpredictable forms of dissolution and transformation. The process is in fact more a form of accretion, and involves the taking of an impression from extraneous materials. The thin canvas or cotton fabric would be prepared and covered with pigment, then laid wet-face -down on the floor of the studio. When peeled away from the floor it would retain the impress of that surface on its own, like the shroud which is so often a literal or metaphorical reference in Senise’s work. When the fabric was lifted erect, it retained not only the dust, splinters and stains of the ground, but empty patches of lost surfaces and the marks of earlier paintings which had undergone the same procedure. The canvas would be hung on the wall, and then possibly the process might be repeated. This process, like decalcomania or frottage, owes much to chance, the surfaces imprinted with heterogeneous matter at random streaks. Senise would then either paint onto this surface, or add objects. The studio itself was part of the palette Senise used: its floor, the detritus or discards, shards, nails, glue, paint, canvas. It is also interesting that it involves movement from the horizontal to the vertical, and in some works the resultant surfaces and incipient spaces have an ambivalent orientation, which may be related to this. Senise largely ceased to make surfaces in this way in 1989, and though occasionally still used this technique in the early 1990s, he had by and large replaced it with other procedures, such as the iron nails, which leave a rusty trace.

Just before the work described above, Untitled whose black, white and silvery tonality is almost like a photograph, Senise produced paintings such as Untitled using a brilliant red pigment. The three objects disposed on the complex patchy surface relate to it in quite different ways, and each belongs to a different representational technique. There is a female figure in outline, the folds of her dress crudely drawn in; on the left a red Miró-like blob (the egg), pure color with no modeling through the rough texture shows through; and in the centre a carefully painted bird with metallic-blue plumage. This exquisite, faintly heraldic bird, borrowed from an Etruscan fresco, together with the rich patches of red momentarily gives the whole the impression of a medieval tapestry, a connection enhanced by the brick wall visible through the flaking or tattered surface, and echoed by the floating rectangle of the fabric of the painting itself. But the bird stands out as a discrete object – an object admittedly more “painted bird” than real bird, and as such, relates to a persistent and increasingly complex idea: the desire for a presence in the painting that is not of this world (like the missing body from the shroud).

There are several ways in which objects “come into being” in Senise’s painting. There seem, to begin with, to be those that emerge from the surface, those that arrive ready-made from another source, and those that undergo extensive metaphorical and material transformations. These are not hard-and-fast categories, for there is a constant process of interaction. With respect to the first, Senise spoke of peeling the canvas from the floor, hanging it on the wall and then working “with fragmented images.” How far this resembles the surrealist practice of “seeing in” to a given configuration. Like Ernst with his rubbings, frottages, from heaviliy grained floorboards and visibly articulating the images that “arose to his eyes” is hard to say. certainly Senise did not rework the surfaces to construct a whole image; it is possible, though, that in Untitled the red “egg” emerged first and suggested the bird and the girl, arranged like a strange annunciation scene. In the works that followed, between the late 80s and the early 90s, there is considerable variation in the way that the objects painted on the surface relate to that surface. Sometimes a painted form, such as the white shroud, is brushed so loosely that it merges with the randomly created ground, sometimes it is sharply detached. The very idea of the shroud is central to these works, as well as an image painted upon them, because it received the impression of the dead body, and the thin white sheets Senise used, like the voile he has used in more recent works, is like the imprinted shroud itself.

The identity of the objects in this group of paintings is interesting, because it flows between the sacred and the everyday. A hammer and nails are the most workaday of tools, but also central to Catholic symbology as the instruments of the crucifixion. Senise follows through the inherent ambiguity of the object, its presence as daily tool and as symbol. Nails, from painted objects come to be themselves affixed to the canvas to leave their rusted trace. The title may ignore the religious association, or stretch it. So São Sebastião turns the bell rope – painted with the same precision as Untitled – studded with nails into a symbol of the saint pierced with arrows. The hammer, on the other hand, is abruptly given a different fate in Untitled (1992), which depicts a heavy iron weapon of a by gone era – an actual archaeological specimen, perhaps, which the instruments of the crucifixion can never be.

Abstraction and figuration have long ceased to be regarded as antithetic, nowhere more than in Brazil, where there is a long and diverse history of “abstract art,” from constructivism to the “neo-concrete,” and where work like that of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica brought the human body back into close relation with objects and materials. Senise’s work seems to have broken completely with this tradition, but the sophistication of his movement at the edges of abstraction,of minimal and ironic traces of gestures may have something in common with it. However, his work also recalls the first real “breach in representation” in modern art, which occurred not with cubism but with the introduction of collage in cubism. Cubist collage potentially destroyed the fictive unity of the pictorial field: it broke the gridlock of the perspectively controlled image, allowed a heterogeneous juxtaposition of diverse elements, the presence of real materials standing for themselves or substituting for others, chains of metaphors, the independent presence of pure planes of color and the building up of overlapping leaves of paper to trouble or supplement the picture’s surface. Without any superficial resemblance to cubist collage Senise’s paintings touch again the moment of tension between surface and object, representation and reality within the field of the picture.

If Senise draws upon the images of the past, it is with a sense of freedom and detachment from history, which is not devoid of its poignancy. The frailty and instability of images is a recurring theme. Ela que não está is based upon a shape created by an absence. It is the form that was left by the removal of multiple interferences on the surface of Giotto’s fresco of the Death of St. Francis in the Bardi chapel of Santa Croce in Florence. The chapel was whitewashed in the 17th century as protection against the plague; funeral monuments were then erected against the fresco walls, and when they were removed and the frescoes restored in the 19th century, the damaged parts of the frescoes were repainted. In the 1950s a new policy of restoration removed all the earlier retouching, leaving strange blanks on the painted walls. In the Death of St. Francis a frame-like shape was left around the central scene created unwittingly by the construction of the tomb. This frame became the subject of a series of paintings by Senise; they are the records of a loss in a double sense, and the shape, broken but dimly retaining the dignified symmetry, the echo of the classical pediment which once topped the tomb, begins to dissolve into faintly anthropomorphic shapes and hieroglyphs. Senise has in fact chosen the only one of the absent shapes left by the restorers on the bardi chapel frescoes whose symmetry has a visual satisfaction of its own. Yet it is at the same time a clearly predetermined design, with some raison d’etre that one could barely guess at. 

The series Ela que não está retain the initial shape more or less intact, unlike the numerous variations on “Whistler’s mother,” which undergo a series of metamorphoses. From the paired image of the draped seated figure in Despacho emerges a vase-like shape created from the profiles of the figures Untitled; the negative shape of this picture in turn becomes a positive image in Untitled  – the negative form now a massive classical vase. This in turn breeds an image, Casamento, where the “urn-vase” takes on massive dimensions as the pedestal support of birdlike figures dizzyingly silhouetted on its edge.

Another object that undergoes a series of metaphorical transformations is the brain, or rather the painted sign that stands for it: a bisected oval with squiggly hieroglyphs divided by a heavy black line. Undisciplined is one of the few works where a phrase may conceivably give birth to an image; however, it is more likely that the three elements in this picture found their final form as a balance of visual contrasts – the hindquarters of the horse elegant and ritualized as an Indian miniature, the heavy outlines of the brain, and the square in the corner. The irony here plays upon the relation between bisection, dissection and the two-dimensional. In Dumbo, Senise has noted the resemblance between a leaf and the brain-section, which he has linked to a photograph of an elephant’s trunk reaching up, almost like a dancer, to a distant branch. This reading can also be reversed, so that the thick dark oily paint seems to pour out of rather than support the brain. This makes even more disquieting the clash between the slightly clinical depiction of the brain and the dark liquid gash across the canvas.

While in Untitled part of the image was painted, in more recent works paint has been entirely substituted by other materials. Grand Salon is one of a series of recent works whose surfaces are stranger and even richer than before. They are encrusted or veiled with matter extraneous to that of usual picture-making. In these new works the metaphor of a wall is subsumed into a complex experience of surface and space, in which the idea of a gap, of a separation between surfaces, between surface and object, and objects and their potential meanings operates in different ways. In Grand Salon the surface elements are scattered, hard, fragmented, and broken. There is the suggestion of a space that is simultaneously empty and littered, echoing like a deserted salon after a feast, with remnants of mysterious decorative fragments and silvers of china or glass: as Senise says of this work “there is a sensation of physical space like a room.”(5) But it is not a vague evocation of a “grand salon”: rather, an alternation of spaces, constructed through a metaphorical interplay of surface elements that simultaneously play with an idea of a ground, and of a cavernous space. Although it is no longer his practice here to lay the canvas on the ground to receive imprints from it, the surface of Grand Salon is like a floor, but at the same time is the room itself.

Framing the canvas at the right is a darker shape drawn back like a looped drapery, the tonal difference reinforcing the sense of architectural enclosure. The alternation between a vertical and a horizontal orientation is also articulated through the ants, ambiguous creatures who seem to defy the laws of gravity and mock man’s tottering erectness, living on leftovers, symbols of decay and pertinacity.

The ants also increase the sense of vastness through their relatively large scale. They are cast using a mixture of rusted iron filing and resin in moulds made by the artist, and reappear whole or in broken bits in several works. The strong silhouettes of the ants in the centre of Grand Salon play against the fragment of decorative moulding at the top, which is like a talisman of human ingenuity, a curious hybrid of abstract and organic shapes, scrolls and foliage, a filigree divider of spaces. Both are absorbed back into the surface together with the other broken fragments; at first we seem to follow among this detritus the dismemberment of ant forms, but soon it becomes impossible to determine identities between these and other nameless broken fragments: what had at first seemed a clear distinction between animate and inanimate, the nameable and the anonymous, increasingly breaks down.

The prevalence of fragments, of remnants of the monuments of the civilized world, from columns to mouldings, of shards and scraps, of rust and dust, and the iconography of death and its imprints in earlier paintings, has led many critics to speak of a fascination with death in Senise’s work. dead societies are most commonly revealed to us by their means of disposing of the dead, these deliberate deposits supplemented by those more randomly accumulated from domestic or industrial waste and lovingly unpacked from the earth by archaeologists. The desire for perpetuity that has raised so many monuments, sunk so many tombs, embalmed bodies and filled urns with bones and ashes speaks of nothing so much as the pathos of that desire. But the pleasure of ruins, of course, was no mystery to the post-Enlightenment romantics. There was the excuse for extended meditations on mortality, the passing of ages and the decline of civilizations, and there was another side: the fixation on the purely visual appeal of the broken and fragmented, rough textures, disorder. However, there is something other than a postmodernist picturesque in Senise’s work: a kind of unsentimental speculation on remains and appreciation of their precise material qualities that is reminiscent of an earlier moment in European Thought – the skeptical 17th century and such texts as Sir Thomas Browne’s famous essay “Urn Burial”. This essay is a strange conjunction of metaphysical speculation on the plurality of burial practices and uncomfortably gripping, crisp descriptions of their uncovered remains. there are parallels with Senise’s complex mingling of archaeological or sacred rituals having to do with burial and exhumation. of the contents of the urns, Browne writes:

“…some containing two pounds of bones, distinguishable in skulls, ribs, jaws, thigh-bones, and teeth, with fresh impressions of their combustion. Besides, with extraneous substances, like pieces of small boxes, or combes handsomely wrought, handles of small brasse instruments…”(6) 

The odd conjunction proposed by Browne of the antiquarian and the Christian physician in “Urn Burial” seemed to echo in the ideas and practice of a painter who grounds his art in traces, residual imprints, leftovers, and sees the ruins of art and its monuments in which he freely rummages as evidence of both decay and continuity. The antiquarian’s fascination with the accumulated graveyards of history, packed with crumbling signs and half-remembered meanings, the rift between intention and result, has its parallel with the artist. Browne felt he lived at the end of history:

“We whose generations are ordained in this setting part of time… are naturally constituted unto thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration, which maketh Pyramids pillars of snow, and all that’s past a moment.”(7) 

We may no longer think in terms of eternity, but may well share Browne’s sense of the poignancy of monuments, the vanity of hierarchies and the ephemerality of civilizations as of the body itself.

The rusty traces of iron that appeared in earlier paintings are strangely liberated in a series of works entitled Boomerang. Lines apparently of pure movement, like the boomerang which has no target but its own origin, they swoop and curl in space, creating various enclosed circuits, patterns taken from an entry on boomerangs in an encyclopedia which, Senise says, was full of “useless knowledge.”(8) As Paulo Herkenhoff says(9), they have more of Zeno’s paradox about them than of futurist dynamism: like Zeno’s arrow, at every moment they are graphically suspended in time, forever finite, in the minute separate rusted marks of tiny nails. These lines are the very opposite of the gestural line of the painter; they represent both movement and stasis. Like a boomerang, the lines represent a movement in the air in three dimensions; while the iron nails rest on the surface to rust slowly. Both, nevertheless, are ways of counting time.

One of the most striking features of Senise’s recent works is the use of a silhouette. This may seem to operate as the equivalent of draughtmanship in works which the traditional relationship between drawing and painting is no longer operative. The moulds of the cast forms that create these silhouettes are indeed made by the artist. But the idea of the silhouette, so popular in the 19th century, has in a sense its own technology and its own aims and rationale. By comparison with even the most rigorous outline drawing, where the modulations of the pencil on a curve to suggest volume are kept to a minimum, the silhouette is without depth. There is nothing beyond the outline itself, no features can be added. Yet, like the monkey in Untitled (1996a), silhouettes can quite irrationally convince us that they are a real trace of the thing. In the 19th century a technique using shadows was developed, and shadows exist, like moulds, in a curious relation to practices of representation. Moulds, apparently mere replicas, have in this century – in the work of Duchamp, for instance – become much more than simple means of technical reproduction. As the old barriers between what could and what could not be used as materials by artists broke down, so these humble forms of reproducing any object whatsoever took on new significance. In Senise’s work, the cast silhouettes are simultaneously in the surface (as outline) and on it (as object). There is thus here a new tension between the real (the surface is constructed of real things) and the representation.

In a recently completed work, La Villete, the form of a french curve, used in furniture making or architectural moulding, is constructed out of broken casts, like the shards of an archaeological dig. Senise frequently uses this ambiguous decorative shape in different contexts; here it rears up like a giant horn or even a bird of prey over a silhouette of cow’s legs. In Untitled (1996b) paired curves become the creature’s horns. Giving this work the title La Villete, Daniel Senise referred to the park of Sciences and Industry at La Villete in Paris. For Senise the cow’s leg and the french curve stand in relation to each other as nature does to culture, a rather comic, hybrid centaur. Although he was unaware that this park, a mammoth celebration of technology and culture, was the sight of a famous slaughterhouse, Senise’ s choice of the cow’s legs by coincidence recalls with unnerving accuracy photographs taken at the slaughterhouse by Eli Lotar, which were then used by Bataille to accompany his short text in Documents, “Abattoir.”(10) Here, Bataille accuses modern man of clearing away out of sight evidence of his past sacrificial practices, for the modern slaughterhouse, shunned and concealed, is a distant descendent of ritual places which once served the double function of sacrifice and slaughterhouse. The hygienic grandeur of the modern park at La Villete is an ironic end for what Bataille described as “the lugubrious grandeur of places where blood flows.” Even if we seem far now from the slightly acid tone of the work in question, La Villete, with its deadpan but aggressive quality, the unplanned intrusion of this history points to the criss-crossed trails of association that adhere to the imagery Senise uses, and from which he may wittingly or unwittingly prise it loose and leave it floating, like the girl in Levitação.

Sensations of gravity and of weightlessness are often simulated through the tension between objects themselves and between objects and the surfaces of the works. These opposing forces are graphically presented in Untitled, where the figure of the woman is anchored to and spins with a column, a kind of Caryatid in reverse, hilariously unstable, her 19th-century grace forever unbalanced by the heavy pillar. The figure is taken from an illustration in max Ernst’s collage-novel Une semaine de bonté ou les sept éléments capitaux of 1934, which itself used the 19th century engravings cut up and recombined to create fantastic narratives deeply subversive of received attitudes to religion and sexuality. In Ernst’s novel the woman, prised from her original context, in which she must have been fainting or falling, perhaps the protagonist in some flaccid Victorian morality tale, is oddly arched over a stone pier containing a huge metal ship chain. Senise is thus recycling already recycled imagery, in a pictorial economy which also values the left over.

The surface of these works is created with layers of voile, which are almost transparent. The effect is, as Senise describes it, relatively soft compared with the harder and messier surfaces of Grand Salon or Untitled (1996a) (above). The layers of thin material build up a moiré effect, whose significance can best be approached via Duchamp’s notion of the “infra-thin,” in which “moiré” itself is a key material. The “infra-thin” is an elusive notion formulated by Duchamp in a series of notes which explore examples of “infra-thin,” without ever defining it. It is not indexical, that is, the trace of an object in a receptive medium, but rather a liminal difference, between, for example, one dimension and another, or between two identical objects. One instance he gives is when “the tobacco smoke smell as also of the mouth which exhales it.”(11) Transparency and iridescence, together with reflections, shadows and moulds, can constitute the infra-thin: “piece of iridescent cloth bought in Grenoble / shot silk – (support for the visible / infra-thin) as opposed to corduroy which when brushing against / itself / gives an auditory infra-thin” and again: “The pearlescent, the moiré / the iridescent in general: / relationships to / the infra-thin.”

Senise, like Duchamp, is interested in the idea of separation of the most minimal kind as productive of difference. There is a new challenge to representation in these works, with surfaces that are no longer imprints or traces. As far as moiré is concerned, what is at stake is the fact that the surface of the fabric shifts and changes to create a sense of something between two and three dimensions. That is, a surface which apparently escapes being either flat or in relief, but which partakes of the effects of both. In the case of Untitled, it is the successive veils of fabric that create the moiré effect, but this is an illusion, for there are actual separations between the layers. The insertion of a small white tile rimmed like an eye underlines the optical effect of the overall surface.


Ivo Mesquita “Daniel Senise: La Mirada Iluminante”, in Daniel Senise: The Enlightening Gaze, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, México, 1994, p.16.
Roberto Tejada, “Canvases, 1988-1994”, ibid., p.25.
Ivo Mesquita, ibid., p. 18
Meyer Schapiro, “Nature of Abstract Art (1937)”, Modern Art, 19th and 20th Centuries: Selected Papers, Nova York, 1982, p.198.
Conversation with Daniel Senise, December 1996.
Sir Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia: Urn-Burial, or A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchral Urnes Lately Found in Norfolk:, 1658
Sir Thomas Brown, ibid.
Conversation with the author, November, 1997.
Paulo Herkenhoff, essay in Daniel Senise, Charles Cowles Gallery. New York, 1995, p.10
Georges Bataillle. “Abattoir”, Documents, n.6, Paris, 1929
Paul Matisse (trans. and editor), “Marcel Duchamp”, in Documents of 20th Century Art, Boston, 1983, “infra-thin”, n.11 (recto and verso) and n.25