Daniel Senise

The Piano Factory

Agnaldo Farias 

Published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition Daniel Senise at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo, in 2002.


These images are steeped in silence and emptiness. From afar, as visitors cross the threshold and proceed along the narrow room of bare, white walls toward the back wall almost entirely covered by a single nine-by-nine-foot painting — a gray painting the scale of the room — they will sense a subtle vertigo, as if the gallery had been distended to stretch through to the end, as an effect of the image in this painting. It is a partial view of a room leading to an open door, leading to another room with another open door, and so on to yet others in an intriguing succession – rather like those wooden Russian Matrushka nesting dolls, the successively smaller ones that fit one inside the other until at last there is a small solid doll, not hollow this time, so that one understood that this was finally the core, end of story. But here we have a different case. The rooms are vacant; there is nothing at their end, nothing on the walls, or in the doorways, before or beyond them, to break the monotonous succession of interconnected rooms. Silence must be the subject of this canvas, one supposes, as our eyes wander through the spaces slipping into one another. But we gradually realize that what most draws us in this image, besides its arresting perspective that coincides with and encompasses the actual gallery is that, from close up, its gray color is decomposed into a hatched texture, and there noisily [emerges] a surface composed of parallel strips, separated by a thin straight line of stains, spots, cuts, grooves, lines and lacerations, like a random work produced by various accidents. Examining this texture, we notice the recurrent organic pattern of wood grain. Then we find that the surface of this painting, and all the others in Daniel Senise’s three-room exhibit, was taken from the floor, pulled off the floor. Not from this gallery floor on which we stand, of course, but from another flooring, of wood planks, that is now lifted up before us, forcing us to tread with our eyes its concrete and tangible nature. 

From the late 1980s, that is to say, almost since the early days of his career, Senise has used this procedure of taking a still-wet work-in-progress and pressing it facedown against the floor. The result is an interchange between the two surfaces; in technical terms, this is monotype. As the floor passively imbibes leftovers from the painting process, the more or less viscous blobs that fell off the work, it is turned into a live territory that imprints its mark on the painting, and even leaves small debris stuck to it. (This way of bringing in chance has always served as an interjection in painting, a space for fancy.) Thus, the grime from the floor now transferred onto the canvas surface, now converted into an element of this surface, was combined with the picture rendered by Senise. Although an image in itself endowed with interest, further scrutiny reveals the presence of other equally interesting but spurious elements that, in principle, are not ordinarily associated with painting. 

This new series of paintings called “The Piano Factory” was mostly done at his former-piano-factory studio in Queens, the New York neighborhood where Senise has been living in recent years. In these paintings, the artist inaugurates a new process that replaces superimposed coincidence and calculation. Once the monotype is executed, once the floor texture is transferred onto the fabrics pressed against it, the next step is to cut them into precise pieces following the geometric perspective of an architectural environment. The fabrics are cut up in a series of regular planes to be reassembled and glued so a to alter the direction of the original texture. From these differences brought out by the lines uniting the different planes, there emerges the perspectival representation of an architectural interior. 

Whereas painting, with its additions and subtractions, its calculations, and its clash with all kinds of limitations, will always be a statement, the transfer from the artist’s studio floor evokes steps taken, scars inflicted by him and by people now visiting, as well as by people who have come and gone away; all leaving imprints of their actions on it. Once taken off the floor, having laid its face on it and melded into it, Senise’s pictorial work probes the present and allows itself to be imbued with its density, the better to examine painting’s past and present. 

Whereas every painting is an assertive act, as reiterated in the artist’s stereotyped posture of applying the paintbrush against the canvas, painting is also a product of nostalgia. Hung on a wall, its existence ends up sublimating the presence of this wall, providing an image instead of opacity. The idea of painting as window, as a representation of something, as the sign for an absent body — for such is the project taken to extreme in trompe l’oeil painting —, seems to find its raison d‘être in compensating for the loss of landscape the moment walls are erected. 

Nevertheless, although they may be figurative, these paintings refute any notion of compensation, if only because, at this point, they cannot take any representation for a base, no matter how realistic. Hence, they decide on materiality borrowed from the flooring — a highly emphatic reference the awareness of which immediately bends the viewers’ gaze, imparting gravity and slowness to it. In other words, when standing before these paintings with raised eyes, viewers gradually become aware of the floor that provides them support. 

Back in the exhibition, in a second gallery reached through a passage at the end of the right wall of the first and narrow room the spectator finds a set of canvases representing architectural environments. All are equally empty and feature the same low chromatic temperature, ranging from dirty gray to dirty yellow, and all bear patterns and marks transferred from different floorings. A closer look at the picture labels reveals that they represent the interiors of museums and galleries in different countries. “Galicia Art Center,” “Huntington Hartford Museum.” All of a sudden, the object of melancholy appears as the art system itself, with the exponential growth of exhibition galleries over the last twenty years as temples of worship for fetishized objects, promising the contemplation of artworks as potential parentheses in opaque everyday life. The floors of the studios in which these paintings were designed and built provide the raw materials and sources for Senise to create and execute sparing rooms in which artworks and their worshippers either are yet to arrive, or have already departed. But we can imagine them there; we can reconstruct the murmur of groups of visitors and the respectful choreography of the lone viewers who approach a work to check its details, or see the artist’s name and the work title. Everything here is kept in standby, like our eyes that anxiously anticipate shock and surprise. 

The gallery environments are monumental, its architecture proudly exhibits an implacably logic structure; the regularity of its ribbed floors; the hieratic verticality of its pillars; the vast sweep of its clean, blind walls. There are no windows in these architectures, no openings through which to contemplate the outside world. This artifice is definitively unnecessary since the world of art is self-centered; artworks suffice in themselves and must be viewed without interference. Odd that following the endeavor of so many artists who have struggled to get closer to life, art is being placed in a separate niche, as if it were detached from life altogether. 

Finally, there is the third room in which Senise’s paintings exchange the real architectural spaces of museums and galleries for representations in paintings. From spaces devoted to art to spaces in art. Just as this strategy designs supposedly neutral spaces to house and exhibit artworks, the internal spaces of Edward Hopper paintings — the subject of a canvases shown here — are protagonists in the construction of dismal scenes bathed in crepuscular light that cast men and women in shadow. But this does not mean that Daniel Senise is interested in devising novel narratives. In his work, painting in its classic parameters is critically visited and stripped off of atmosphere, people, and furniture to become the basis for a new painting. From image to the most abstract sign, representation is reduced to its strictest terms, reverted to an outline. The only substance capable of revitalizing it is precisely what the artist injects into it: clotted blood from the floor where he stands and works.