Daniel Senise

Daniel Senise

Wilson Coutinho


Published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition at the Instituto de América, Centro Damian Bayón, in Santa Fé, Granada, Spain, in 1994 

When the work of Daniel Senise first appeared, its phantasmagorical aspect and use of metaphor attracted attention, prompting the viewer to discover a fragmentary universe. I called this phase of his work, started in the 80’s, the “Theater of the Mutilated Sensations”, due to the way the artist managed to inspire sensory awareness, drawing on the trivialities of everyday life which he exalted into almost epic importance. It was work that defined a new imagination within the Brazilian artistic environment. It was as if the artist was saying: What should I do with these leftovers, with the world of trivia, these occurrences from daily life, so lacking in moral or aesthetic value? One work from the period stands out: his swan. It was based on a minuscule model, expressionless, physically almost foolish, lying on the table in his workshop. This plastic swan, no more than two inches tall, was a trinket devoid of all importance. Its figure was far from conforming to the precepts of romantic proselytism, like some garden beauty from Bavaria. It was an object from the world of industrial workmanship, a useless gadget whose contempt of time would soon discard it from the kingdom of life and perception. It didn’t even work as a still life, since it had no suitably enjoyable composition, nor was it a visually neutral object, ready-made for being transferred representatively onto canvas. This tiny object, drawn from the triviality of things, was transforming itself and extending across the canvas with upsetting enormity, disturbing, almost tragic. It was reverse Phenomenalism. The artist was not searching for a reduction down “to the things themselves”, but was instead expanding the minimal object into a brutal, deformed appearance. On the large canvas his composition produced a landscape of insignificance. Rather than an idealism of essence, it was a materialism of appearance. With this, Brazilian painting achieved an unexpected Iconography, a perverse Expressionism and a negative Phenomenalism.

Brazilian art can be divided into three basic tendencies. The first, Expressionist, is not fed from the vast German background, but from the predominance of subjectivity, from the ego of the artist as imperious organizer of the imaginary, which is then painted. Also for the artist’s attitude, not necessarily romantic, in leaving his mark, his statement against time and death. The second tendency, the Constructivist, whose influence has been felt since the 50’s, does not follow the pattern of Russian or European Constructivism. Instead it involves a special subjectivity, with space once more becoming the subject of a special objectivity, so that these works appear contrary European models. In our case, it’s not strange that there are echoes of the memory, of an affection for objects or an existential solidness. Based on rational principals, it is still Constructive, although on a different course; like the sculptors who investigate light (Sergio Camargo) or the action of the weather on works of metal (Amilcar de Castro). What is more, three clear processes can be seen in the paintings: a geometrical style inspired by the play of colors – geometric Colorist; a need to move away from the surface, causing the artists to introduce certain elements on to the canvas in order to make it more substantial, such as collage, three-dimensional objects, etc; and, finally, a painting that offers a completely smooth surface, anti-illusionist. The third tendency, Phenomenalist, which is strongly Colorist, searches for identification of the subject with the object, the act of painting associated with the perception. This doesn’t necessarily result in an action painting, as the Americans knew it. Often it can be based on an intelligible Constructivist framework, but in such painting both subject and object melt into the color, which emerges as a synthesis in relation to the object. These three tendencies have dominated, and still dominate, contemporary Brazilian art, one usually being more prominent than the others, or simply interchanging, allowing either the Expressionist, Constructivist or phenomenalist aspects to stand out.

Daniel Senise was born in the Post-modern atmosphere. First, like many of his generation, he was determined to paint when, ten years before, the death of painting had already been declared. Later, he endured the suffocating influence of History and, even more oppressive, Historicism, the intense doctrine which had established itself in the world of art, along with its graveyard of isms. His work would have to play with this density, this risk, this nervous restlessness. It’s true that anxious mannerism wasn’t typical of his generation, as had occurred with Parmigianino in the 16th century when the Renaissance had appeared exhausted. This generation imagined a new cultural landscape, without preoccupations about Destiny, without being concerned about progress as the infallible judge, or needing to apply some destructive process to the artistic institutions. In Brazil there were no Utopians, and they were far from being Conservatives. Brazil is not a country where Modernism dominates, not even to the extent that it creates fashion. Brazilian Postmodernism is not derived from a tiredness of the ideas or forms of Modernism, but from the mockery of the excesses of Historicism, which is generally preached but not practiced.

Only in appearance did the work of Daniel Senise break with the patterns of Brazilian Modernism, although it’s true to say that it did break with an Iconography that had given way to geometrical art. There were in his paintings a twisted column, a suggestion of robes, hammers, bones, animals such as ducks and dolphins. In short, images that were ironic, ambiguous, almost undefined, fragments of things, hoax figures. His figurative art did not define the objects, leaving them incomplete, illusory, in the shadows; Without doubt, the painted objects took on a visual poetry, reversing the pattern of Constructivist models.

With his methods, Senise managed to alter the three basic tendencies of Brazilian painting, converting him into a link between those tendencies and the Post-modernist thinking that had arrived in Brazil in the middle of the 80’s. Expressionist, but to what point? Subjectivity was pushing him towards the canvas. Memory, narrative, biography – all are in his works. But what objectivity attracted him, apart from that of the ridiculous? Faced with Constructivism, Senise reversed the strategy and based the essence of his work on its appearance and not on a subjective interpretation of the object. Regarding the Phenomena-list tendency, Senise converted the canvas not into a combination of perception and object, but into an invasion of the object by perception. Thus Senise was not only a painter who painted (some had the slogan, the “ pleasure of painting”), but also an artist who had brought an intellectual problem to Brazilian painting, along with his ideas of the matter.

Brazilian art was engaged since the 50’s in a battle with the surface plane of the picture. With or without the influence of the luxurious Brazilian countryside on the painter’s perceptions – the landscape that “jumps into view” -, the surface became an aesthetic dilemma for the Contemporary Brazilian artist, whose task was to create ways of moving away from it, or making it more real. In other words, make it more like a non-illusionist object. Senise, once again, breaks the rules. He investigates closely into the surface in order to emphasize it better. This “old and dirty” background (in the words of Fernando Cocchiarale), fragmented, deceptive, sometimes suggesting a timeless shroud, is based upon the opposite of Constructivist methods. More than objectivity, there appears spirituality. We see the risks in his game. With the dense materialism of his surfaces there emerges an immaterial Iconography, a fusion of the phantasmal memory with indeterminate objects and figures. The art of appearance as well as time. In this manner Senise has undermined the contemporary process of Brazilian art without abandoning it. As an artist of the Post-modern era, he couldn’t retreat to a past of shapes, to the patterns of established Iconography. It’s only within the drama of Brazilian art, always in the present, that Senise can shape history, and advance in a step further. Like our Expressionism and our Constructivism, this form of Postmodernism appears so strange and so Brazilian.