Daniel Senise

Daniel Senise (Galllery 32)

Daniela Name

Published in the artist’s exhibition at Gallery 32, London, 2010

An associate of André Breton in the periodical Minotaure, Albert Skira (1904-1972), a French publisher, revolutionised the printing of art books by introducing an innovation at the moment each title was sent to print: the illustrations were sent to the machine one by one, thus ensuring excellence of the colour scales. Next, they were separately affixed on the pages, above the respective captions. Skira (2009-2010), a series of works by Daniel Senise, uses pages from those books, most of which were published in the first half of the 20th century, in order to construct the surface of architectural façades reminiscent of ‘brise-soleils’. Another French invention, these slanting windows, which Le Corbusier (1887-1965) disseminated worldwide, are an important feature of the urban landscape of the Modernist Rio de Janeiro of Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and Affonso Eduardo Reidy.

The Carioca* artist uses those Skira pages after having removed the original prints, which leave behind a memory of the body that was once affixed there. Their marks generate a difference in colour, highlighting the nuances of the architectural construction and become the composition of the painting itself. A member of the Brazilian ‘Geração 80′ [1980s Generation], Senise gained notoriety at a time of euphoric nostalgia surrounding painting throughout the world. The maturing of Senise’s work and that of his contemporaries’ has not meant a ‘return’ to pictorial issues from other periods, as the preaching of some critics claimed at the time. The survival strategy of these painters has had nothing to do with the tearful yearning for times past, but relates to the creation of foundations for ‘another’ sort of painting, ofter executed without either brush or paint – painting generated at the crossroads of ideas and deeply contaminated by the conceptual experience of the preceding decades.

The absent body seen on the pages of Skira’s books has always been the dynamo of Senise’s poetics towards a broadened painting. The captions on the paper create a kind of lever for memory, which tries to recover from its files the images which were once placed above each caption. It is precisely here that the work touches upon another essential point of the oeuvre of the Brazilian artist: his relationship with Art History. Skira creates the Modernist architectural window from the ‘window’ left behind by the work of art on the page, in turn referencing a third one, the Renaissance window, the matrix of all of Western painting.

These relationships have appeared in Senise’s work since the beginning of his career. In Ela Que Não Está [She, who is not] (1994), Senise reproduced the void left by a tombstone in a fresco by Giotto (Death of St. Francis, c. 1325), merging this shadow present throughout Senise’s body of work with the heritage of that seminal painter, one of the roots of Western art. Another series of paintings, through an interplay of positive/negative silhouettes (presence/absence), leads us to Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, by James Whistler (Senise made Retrato da Mãe do Artista and Retrato da Mãe do Artista II, both in 1992, Despacho, in 1993, and a group of untitled paintings based of Whistler’s portrait), and to the mountains of the German romantic artist Caspar Friedrich (Cliffs and Mountain, of 1994, allude to Friedrich). Skira‘s zero-image, so potent in its absence, is the ghost of painting itself in its centuries and centuries of history.

Hallway and R. Silvio Romero, 34 DEZ/09 constitute another important set in this London exhibition. In 1986, Senise began to investigate a technique that belongs to the art of painting itself, which consists of the creation of a sort of Holy Shroud on the floor. The artist presses the fabric that will make up the canvas with glue, detaching part of the memory of the floor: dust, varnish and other residue. In the early 2000s, while living in New York, the artist enhanced the relationship of the shroud with the architectural scale, which is ever present in his works: he began to virtually reconstruct the spaces whose floors he had traced. Museums, galleries and other places that are not promptly recognisable were, thus, recreated on canvas from his private memory, through the vestiges imported from the flooring. Senise would cut out ‘strips of floor’ of various shades of colour and would then stick them on the canvas, creating every such environment from a jigsaw puzzle.

Hallway (2009) broadens this research through a curious inversion. In order to create this panel of huge dimensions, Senise painted small watercolours which reproduce, piece by piece, the wooden parquet floor of the hallway of his house in the district of Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro. In this process the floor does not generate the painting, but rather the painting recreates the floor. The artist, by the same token, begins an investigation of his own circulation spaces: his house and his studio.

R. Silvio Romero, 34 DEZ/09 (2009-2010) is named precisely after the address of Senise’s studio in the Rio district of Lapa. Not only does this work further explore the depth of his relationship with architecture, but also with this absent body. Both of these identical photos show the main room in the house, on whose floor they were place during a given period of time. Senise and his assistants went on working normally, going to and fro stepping on the images and leaving footprints on them as one would, without having deliberately planned to do so. The frames of these photos were made with the aluminium rulers used by the artist in the making of the works. They also retain the marks of their use along the years and reinforce the dialogue established by the photographs between the real and the virtual studio space.

In 1994 the artist made the Bumerangue [Booomerang] series, in which he reproduced the trajectories of boomerangs in space by using the rust that came off nails as ‘paint’. The absence was not reduced to the theme (the invisible trace of the promenade of the boomerang in space), it also reached out to the matter that constituted the artwork. If the nail lent some symbolic weight to the shroud technique, along with all possible allusions to the Passion of Christ, it also transformed itself into an absent body, into a brush that needed to deliquesce a bit in order to paint the canvas.

In R. Silvio Romero, 34 DEZ/09, the image of the studio is impressed by way of its memory, without any nails, tracing or shroud. The brush accumulates histories upon this surface – which is painting, and architecture, as well as a mirror – it is the artist in his perambulations towards his own oeuvre.


*a native inhabitant of Rio de Janeiro.