Daniel Senise

The Enlightening Gaze

Ivo Mesquita 

Published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition La mirada iluminante at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, México, in 1994 


In recent years a large number of pictorial productions have remarkably revitalized the intenational artistic milieu, arousing the attention of critics, the art market and institutions. The diversity of styles and expressions embraced by these painters vary from a vigorous and sometimes wild primitivism to the most refined and genuinely elegant mannerism. This healthy mixture of forms and manipulation of visual language exposed some of the most interesting and outstanding artists of the last decade: Anselm Kieferg, Julian Schnabel, Susan Rothenberg, Sandro Chia, Juan María Sicilia, Mimmo Paladino, Guillermo Kuitca, Julio Galán and Daniel Senise, among others. 

To specify their work is not easy, for they encompass a stylistic and philosophical plurality that makes it impossible to designate or define a “school” or “movement” capable of uniting their different sensibilities. 

Nonetheless, despite the divergency of styles and the differences in repertoires and themes, what unites these artists is the impulse they share for defining the present (personal, artistic and ethical) as an ongoing flow with the past and attempting to reconcile with it. Their works hint at a wave of vigorous neo-romantic sensibility identifying with the desire for spiritual and imaginative ascent through art. In fact these artists as painters, are sometimes defined as “poets” or ‘visionaries” reflecting the grand idealism of their conception of art and envisaging as their mission the restoration of the great themes through their commitment to the language (painting). They consider a painting to be a contribution to culture: a painting is a painting and it exists with a tradition that defines its nature (Art as nature). They assume their craft as a means to build an ethical meaning for their work and in this way these artists share a vision regarding the purpose of art. 

Such a peculiar and challenging romantic view, a distillation of modem cultural history, 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. As a group these artists produce work, often employing their own distinct properties, that uses Western iconography as a deliberate and personal action which reaches beyond reality and representation of ideas. They have chosen to assume a transcendental role in the treatment of art’s eternal themes, experiencing in their work a reality far beyond present times and present places. As the aesthetic of an ethos, this new romantic sensibility is characterized by the principle that privileges intuition rather than reason. Typically the works of these artists evoke dreams, ecstasy, nostalgia and memory, all states of mind wishing to transport one to other realms and places. Their work exists as a conscious expression of their desire to reinvent art and history. Nonetheless, as Craig Owens observed in an article about revisionist tendencies in the 1980s, these artists are:  

engaged not (as is frequently claimed by critics who find mirrored in this art their own frustration with the radical art of the present) only in the recovery and reinvestment of tradition, but rather in declaring its bankruptcy – specifically the bankruptcy of the modernist tradition. What we are witnessing, then, is the wholesale liquida­tion of the entire modernist legacy.  

The strategy of these artists is to evoke physical, imaginative and emotional qualities through allegory and symbolism. They (the works) reveal that the truth they (the artists) seek does not lay in the literal meaning of thing or in the events they depict. Rather, it (the truth) lies in solely granting to one’s imagination the ability to create, to name and derive artistic truth. 


From the beginning of his career, the work of Daniel Senise (b. 1955, Rio de janeiro) has been marked by a commitment to painting as a Ianguage and by an orchestrated constellation of significants: painting as a means of expression, the effort of constructing surface, the history of art and his own imagination. However, far from being just a pictorial expression (such as the hedonistic celebration of the act of painting which largely characterized the “neo” tendencies of the 1980s) Senise’s works return to painting as a conceptual and positive effort. His canvases, composed of dense pictorial concepts, defy the modernity that ruled over the former generation’s productions in the 1970s and have positioned him as one of the most articulate, contemplative and subtle artists in Brazil’s contemporary art scene. 

His work seeks a redefinition of the role of painting under postmodernity, not just the act of painting a discreet object prone to be experienced simply for its aesthetic qualities, but a philosophical and conceptual statement that drifts between the worldly affairs of daily life (including art itself). Senise’s art ethos is a vision of man. From his work rise questions that suspend time. His images are virtually impenetrable to a literal reading, eluding fixed interpretations or formal iconography. 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.” 

The exhibition of this series of canvases is organized in such a manner so as to reveal the artist’s process of creating a territory for painting as contemporary practice. It is not a chronological presentation of his works, since this might undermine Senise’s meaning of confronting tradition (history of art) through a personal approach to painting. Such an ordering would mean that he conceives of museums as places for only institutional and tamed creations. 

The visitor is obliged to closely follow Senise’s continual search for expressive materials, language and composition, bringing them all to a visible realm. Even if the artist is aware of the uselessness of his gesture, he and his imagination – an anguished universe, haunted by vague childhood memories, féeries and quasi-images and a repertoire of heavily burdened symbolism (the swan, the heart, the Cross, the column, nails, thorns) and art historical references such as Giotto, Friedrich and Whistler as seen in his more recent paintings to the Baroque, Cubism and Guston found in the artist’s previous works — place themselves in an endless confrontation: the struggle to build up surfaces, restore language and ordinate significants. lf the techniques frequently employed by the artist (as described by Roberto Tejada in this catalogue) produce fascinating and seductive images, which sometimes hinder or reduce an understanding of the work as only a desire for beauty, the images as a whole seem to express the density and soberness of a carefully worked out equation. The eloquent appeal of Senise s paintings such as Todo Io que existe (1989) or the series Tower of Song (1993) articulate themselves with the conceptual refinement found in paintings like Sin título (1993) and Despacho (1994) or the series Ela que não está (1994). These are not parallel productions. On the contrary, they mark the boundaries of space wherein the artist journeys in his attempt to turn his work into a metaphor of the world. 

Perhaps what is most interesting about Daniel Senise’s work is his creation of a pictorial universe that is built upon a fatally fragmented world, split from nature, in which a painting is an object in itself, conveying drifting signs, pointlessly illuminating a chain of causeless effects, explaining and defining nothing. Subtlely appearing on paper and canvas, the images of Daniel Senise seduce and bring the viewer to another realm; an airy, open, porous space, an “otherworldly” experience. It is there, in this space /setting inhabited by quasi-objects (restrained visual elements that seem blind, deaf and mute and which fight to be physically substantiated in defiance of being condemned to the inexpressable) where the artist casts his enlightening gaze unveiling the meaning of his acts: to the spirit reveal. 

Translation by Heloísa Prieto