Daniel Senise

Daniel Senise

Adriano Pedrosa


Published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition at the Thomas Cohn Arte Contemporânea, São Paulo, Brazil, in 1994 

Daniel Senise’s painting tells us it is impossible to be certain.

The practice of art writing is a deceptive one. Upon printing the written text, it is difficult to avoid an authoritarian character that it assumes over the artwork. This task becomes even more deceptive when the work in question invites interpretation and at the same time denies any chance of complete satisfaction with it. Such are Daniel’s paintings: suggesting and evading narratives, frustrating the hermeneutist. How does one walk through such uncertain territory? Art writing treads on schizophrenic grounds, but unlike its blind cousin, art criticism, it is well aware of that.

It is apparent that here is a particular kind of author. An author that recognizes the death of the sign, of the subject, of history itself. It was as if the artist was saying: “What should I do with these leftovers, with this world of trivia, these occurrences from daily life, so lacking in moral aesthetic value?” In this panorama, signifier and signified are no longer two sides of the same sheet of paper, instead, what we have are infinite chains of metaphors, a world of (im)possibilities. What then can the author do with his mighty modern heritage? Kill himself. He gives up the command, the possession in a word, the authorship of his own work. In the interpretive play that Daniel’s paintings invite, the death of the author (and of the critic/hermeneutist) announces the birth of the reader, of the spectator. Here we face incomplete paintings, text scriptibles, those that ask to be rewritten by their reader – Who wishes to complete them, to give signifies to signifiers which refuse to be fixed to one single signified?

An obsession with death – of the sign, of the author, of the subject, of history – reveals other symptoms: the election of painting, a medium whose death has been pronounced so many times, is one of them. Daniel does not ignore so many pronouncements: his paintings mourn their own medium. A painful state of spirit , an incapacity to adopt a new object of love, a detachment from any activity not related to thoughts about it. What does one paint? One paints the death of painting and of the author. Ela que não está (She that is not (there)) is a series of paintings made after a Giotto fresco from the Bardi chapel, in Florence, a work Daniel and I know only through reproductions: a religious scene, a dead saint surrounded by priests who mourn his death. What calls our attention is a flaw: perhaps some peeling of the fresco, perhaps some material that has been deposited onto it – it doesn’t matter.The fault is a figure, and Daniel’s gesture is to paint it; appropriating a non-painting by Giotto, rendering it with non-paints (iron filings, “cockroach wing” varnish). Unable to adopt a new object of love, the painter recalls and returns to the first painter of the modern history of painting. In a para-appropriation, he ignores the work of the one who announces the Renaissnace (here it is She that is not) , to suggest other figures: an architectural form, the house and shroud of Giotto.

Post-morten paintings have a vocation for archeology – an investigation of remains. The autopsy of images peels and scrapes the bottom of the fin de siècle picture. Their strong material nature is an image of things unstable, old and dirty. This is why the aged appearance of his paintings is not intended to simulate an age in years they do not have. A painter of figures, Daniel is an amateur of signs in its double meaning: he loves them and is a dilettante on the subject – is there such a thing as a professional of the signs? In this world of trivia, an amateur of signs does not lament their death, on the contrary: he makes the junkyard his playground. Though not without traumas. Mourning, with its disposition of suffering, contaminates his repertoire: bones, teeth, nails, skulls, thorns, votive offerings, shrouds, and gosthly figures. There is even a requiem, Tower of Song, eight paintings with an epigraph: “dedicado a Leo” (dedicated to Leo), a friend who died in 1993. And a swan, that in Beddangelina (literally, “Angelina’s tomb” in the Welsh language) was ironically painted upside down after a small plastic toy, a trinket devoid of all importance.

Beddandelina points to a fixation not only on death, but on the figure of the mother as well. Daniel now undertakes the ultimate portrait of the artist’s mother: Arrrengement in black and white no. 1, the artist’s mother, by James Whistler. In Daniel’s hands, she becomes a silhouette of nails, a vodoo doll, the image of Norman Bates’ mother in the window. A mummified figure against a background, an object of architecture, the artist’s mother may suffer formal operations: duplicated, transformed into negative. After all, appropriation in the junkyard is unfaithful to the original and knows no footnotes. This return and recollection would be moribund if the subject were not aware of the irreversibility of the death of its object of love – it’s gone and nothing is going to bring it back.

Although he tries. Like in some Paisagens (Landscapes), windows which recall and return to romanticism and symbolism, but know that they can never relive them. Caspar David Friedrich is revisited here with his solitary and melancholic spectators who, with their backs to us, the painting’s spectators, contemplate silence, nature, the unknown, the solemn. In Daniel, Caspar’s spectators are dead subjects. Transposed to Paisagens of the day after, they contemplate a white noise, a window to the world of culture, a world of trivia and uncertainties.

Death, it has been said, is life’s only certainty.