AUTHOR: IVO MARTINS
EDITION: (Catalogue) Centro Cultural Vila Flor DATE: January 2017
José Almeida Pereira - Painting as deceleration
After revisiting some of José Almeida Pereira’s works the word crisis comes to mind. Recurrent in newspapers,
television or idle talk, this word took on a new meaning when considering its use in the past, being now more
focused in economic struggle, inflation problems, decline in demand, lack of liquidity, new taxes, cuts in
subsidies and public expenses, and so on. Crisis encompasses all contemporary life - naturally including art - and
with time it loses its original meaning. Crisis, in Greek - krisis -, had different meanings which varied between
authors. For Thucydides it was synonym with “contest” or “dispute”; in Plato it established a pattern and created
criteria from which one was able to judge. From crisis arose above all critical thinking, that is, a basis used to
make a judgment. Nowadays, in global media, any adverse, incomprehensible, weird or violent event is
considered as a symptom of a crisis. Representing an absolutely depersonalized attribution used to divert
responsibilities, crisis acquired a strange and elusive connotation. Unable to escape the clichés of a polished and
systematic thinking, it transformed into an abstract entity, vaguely uncanny, reigning over the world and the life
This deformity, somewhat fictitious, symbolizes the massive loneliness of the postmodern man. In this idea of
crisis there is no solution or conclusion. Therefore, it is not possible to make adjustments, clarify strategies, and
face the problems with the certainty that it will be possible to regain the security that was lost. The current crisis
is really different from previous ones because it requires radical changes in the system. Will it be possible to
reshape this way of life, sustained by an intensive consumption of goods? Previous crisis were fleeting and solved
by the State through policies based on the creation of jobs and economic stimulation.
In global capitalism, countries are too indebted and weakened economically to invest in public works as
happened in the past. In the end, economy is governed by the laws of the market, an obscure entity which
monopolizes and boosts growth at an unprecedented speed. Consumerism backs up an economic system that
uses all kinds of strategies so as to maintain its permanent acceleration. In that sense, the current crisis does not
trigger optimistic feelings when considering the future nor encourages the emergence of creative and dissident
models pursuing an increase in well-being.
Coming to the conclusion that it is impossible to escape the consequences of this crisis and that it is present in our
everyday life, it will also influence the artistic activities. Present day art lives in a society in permanent crisis and
it is difficult to go against the commodifying tendency embracing every human activity. The essence of any
artistic act should be focused on critical issues which could reveal the weaknesses and incoherences of the
political, social and economic system in which it is inserted. Without the dialectic contrast between art’s
negativity and the system’s positivity that transforms every single thing into a commodity it is impossible to
distinguish the works of art from other productive activities.
Without critical thinking, art will easily let itself entangle in a rhetoric of global crisis that spans, drives and
influences everything. Thus, a lot of today’s art is devoid of critical deepening and becomes part of the everyday
imagistic flux which promotes, encourages and glorifies consumption. Rarely its manifestations are strong on
negativity, pessimism, and do not undertake significant changes or rebirths after each schism. In short,
contemporary art does not presuppose a sense of maturing, deceleration of the creative experience, a thoughtful
and slow choice. The same applies to disagreement, divergence or opposition: art has let itself go in the great
consumerist wave that takes everything with it. If in the past crisis stood for a disparate element which
presupposed a will for change, now it is part of the entertainment promoted by the media, taking art as well.
Since there is no possible change, the omnipresence of the market becomes increasingly evident in the economic
impasse in which the society is plunged.
Despite capitalism’s “iron cage” - as Max Weber mentioned -, in which people are imprisoned, some artists resist
and insist on the old act of painting. In this insistence there is a belief in a certain type of knowledge. Therefore,
we could ask what kind of impulse makes such painters persist in a path opened by an archaic artistic practice.
Maybe this way of doing things contains a strange critical attitude because, being slow in its production as well
as in its demands for knowledge and technical control, stands for an explicit refusal of today’s speed.
Still, it looks as though a small group of individuals, minor and scarce, searches in painting for a way of
withdrawing from the stream of art as entertainment and carries out a kind of asceticism, concerning the past.
Refusing a reality saturated with imagistic stimuli, this small group of painters follows the footsteps of so many
crucial artists in the history of art. In this sense, it is also possible to understand painting as a manifestation of an
affirmative character in a difficult and insecure context, saturated with images and oratories, where highly
sophisticated technological devices control the audiovisual processes for an individual assimilation. The act of
painting can be understood as refusal, disagreement, negation, censorship, confrontation, detour. To paint
nowadays shall be an affirmation of an anonymous, intimate and personal territory. This territory is also located
in areas abandoned by the productive system: outskirts, borders or empty urban spaces represent the
obsolescence of productivist excesses.
Even though it is very well listed in art’s global market, painting presents empty zones of creative intervention.
The artist can take advantage of the system’s weaknesses, exploring fields of action abandoned by the selective
processes through which the market imposes its tendencies. As Byung-Chul Han states in The Scent of Time - a
philosophical essay on the art of lingering, without space for contemplation human action transforms into mere
activity and work. Painting can become one of the only ways of contemplation and deceleration in an increasingly
When painting the artist denies the speed of a universe controlled by scattered entities without equivalent
connections, mildly free and autonomous, even though they govern and control every produced image with their
acute and vigilant stare. The word painting is in itself a problematic concept: today, the painted image does not
possess the same symbolic load as in the past and its qualities seldom appear in the same body of work.
We wish to stand up for painting and for the artist’s gift, that is, the impulse that leads him to use ink as a means
of expression in order to materialize what is in the imagination. From the experience of vision it can be inferred
that any given person is submitted to the constraints of a loose ground, volatile and diffuse, in which any type of
explanations is legitimate and acceptable. From the simple observation in loco to the luminous projection in a
screen, its field of interaction with the real is immensely vast; currently, everything can be combined, in a tide of
superimposed images which endlessly repeat themselves. With the technological breakthroughs that created
capturing and reproduction devices, painting became image’s easy target, being difficult to escape trivializing:
digital cements in high resolution files; history of art’s masterpieces disseminate pixelated in powerful search
engines. Description, organization and structuring of the observers sensory experiences, contained in the great
art history books, is in decay in a world where everything atomizes without beginning or end.
In this context, in which images and art objects form a somewhat chaotic space and with an evident frailty, the
role of the critic is challenging. Contemporary art is saturated with discourses and explanations adding up to
nothing. Interpretative explanations can contain progresses as well as setbacks in relation to what was previously
perceived. In some situations they register a consistent critique while in others absurd narratives, generated by
the comparative analysis between different stages in the creation of a painting. That comes with advantages and
disadvantages in the understanding of the strength caused by images: if in some cases the reference point to
current painting is pushed beyond any attainable limit, where everything seems exhausted, in other cases that
burnout state discourages research, inviting people to give up on searching. Because of that, observations on
today’s painting tend to be similar and uniform, registered in redundant analysis and explanations.
What stands out in this exhibition is the humility of believing in what was done in the past and in the possibility
of doing it again. In that sense, the discouraging discourse inviting not to paint is denied. Through a persistent
and slow work the artist glimpses a horizon where he feels there are still spaces of creativity left to explore. Any
individual creating in the beginning of this century has to experience and survive in an atmosphere of burnout
where everything seems to repeat without ever being complete. The artist is defenseless in a reality pushing him
towards action and work, neglecting contemplation and thinking. The ability to create truly original or singular
pieces interrupts action because imagining involves stopping. In an accelerated world this need to slow down and
contemplate haunts every artist, a curse making him doubt the utility and relevance of his work. To set out a
liberating search by the means of painting indicates that action shall contain moments of interruption in order
not to be a mere consequence of labor. Action is foreign to doubt. In that way, the artist shall have doubts
because the one who does not hesitate becomes a laborer, that is, homo laborens.
José Almeida Pereira’s painting invokes contemplation, against a future understood as a continuous demand for
action. Given the fact that they refer to the past, these works interrupt the repetition of sameness, an activity
which is impoverishing, and they allow the observer to have a certain experience, letting himself be disturbed,
involved, committed, transformed. It is undeniable that the artist has a natural talent when it comes to painting
and the energies created by that talent are a problem only he can solve. The same applies to the writer, the
musician, the sculptor, the choreographer, the performer, who in order to escape from the rule of time and from
an active life have to pursuit a certain quietness. The exhibited works reconfigure moments of that contemplative
life when everything that exists in the exterior seems to be the enemy and stimulates the will to work. In his
works, José Almeida Pereira respects the legacy of painting and courageously embeds in a stream of artists that
have always developed this means of expression, exposing doubts, insecurities, creating attempts of personal
overcoming against the constraints of their time.
A well executed painting - even more when it is figurative - will always spark some kind of curiosity on whom or
what is behind it. However, it is reasonable to ask how individuals from different epochs reacted to masterpieces.
Did they have the same ability to judge and distinguish what was a thoughtful action from what was accidental?
Masterpieces are reliable traces of talent, containing questions that stand the test of time. At the same time, the
painter is a man amongst many who tries to stand out, lifted by his personal vision. The individual that now takes
up images from the great works of the past is different because he places in them much more information and
uses technical knowledge deviating him from the role of the artisan. Therefore, the produced work must be
different given reasons both endogenous and exogenous to art. What can be perceived in the pieces goes far
beyond the standard set by the original painting. The artist must face himself as well as all the others who made
the same actions in the past. In this sense, in the activity of any given author there is always a blend of defiance
and humility: in defiance the artist wishes to distinguish himself from the other human beings, intensifying his
egocentric dimension; in humility the author lets that selfishness go, risking everything in his work because he
ignores if he is going to succeed.
The painter, like every man, feels that he does not possess the means to describe what he does, being unable to
explain his work. Words betray and are always insufficient. Accordingly, the artist takes shelter in the frailty of
images, submitting them to a visual game which he himself comes up with as a way to come into contact with the
observer. José Almeida Pereira’s painting develops that game and proposes different approaches and ways of
looking at important western art works. We could consider that these paintings assume themselves as archetypes,
a groundwork from which the artist intervenes. In some cases removing their recognizable details, in others
emphasizing the kinetic elements inscribed in them. Thus, in some works there are specters that refer to a famous
painting by an author from a previous epoch and tradition. Some elements in those works stand out from the
original painting, engaging in a dance captured by an imaginary slow motion decomposing the images in
consecutive superimposed and transparent frames. In other situations the artist wishes to disarrange what is seen
in an effort to expose the optical effects given by the tridimensionality of the images. The space is divided in
succeeding movements that make the human shape and the surrounding space fade in a captivating liquefaction.
The pieces produced in this manner are approximate syntheses to the masterpieces which the painter
reassembles in a free and playful fashion. It is interesting to realize that despite the differences and implemented
distortions the pieces maintain their identity, showing how the observer’s memory also triggers identical
mechanisms of simplification and syntheses. It can be said that the artist simply reconfigures old paintings
largely absorbed by the collective unconscious. The works of the painter reinvent those shapes giving them a new
life without major losses in their symbolic identity, proving that visual memory is very selective. It does also
establish chromatic and formal patterns without the necessity to define a great level of detailing and the
exhibited work explores that recognition mechanism.
By making these quotations on old images from important works of art from the past, José Almeida Pereira’s
work enters in a new realm of symbolic references, approaching a communicative dissonance. Each exchange of
messages happens in an imagistic surface that is in constant mutation, defined by the interpretation’s
randomness and unruliness. These days, stares are accustomed to focus only for short spans of time over the
audiovisual snaps that invaded the observer’s life, submitting him to the event’s fragmentation and dispersal. The
look cannot calm down or stand still anymore. Stimuli appear and disappear in serial climatic marks endlessly
replacing each other.
Inversely, José Almeida Pereira’s painting imposes an observation zone going against velocity so that the slowness
of his creative process stands out. It pierces through an unstructured and somewhat chaotic territory, vastly
explored by mediatic devices of communication, destroyed in many of its elements by the technologic image that
trivializes and standardizes the real. Only a spirit devoid of interests will be able to overcome the circumstantial
constraints making current art hostage of the permanent crisis inscribed in the market’s logic. Because of that,
how many times is the artist driven to speak about his craft, as if he was a public relations professional. Even
though he feels he has nothing to say he is forced to do it under penalty of disappearing. Communication
demands for narratives which rarely are the best way to justify the relevance of a body of work. The necessity to
be pleasant with the audience makes the artist’s statements moments of dramatization or performance and the
discourse’s artificiality is evident because in fact there is nothing to be said.
Yet, in an era saturated with messages, the lack of explanations creates major voids. Images today do not need to
be captioned in order to have a life of their own. They enter the global circuit of dissemination and diffusion,
scattering, fragmenting, transmuting in commonplaces, clichés and vulgarities that, consecutively repeated,
make one believe in their utility. Nothing can be consistent when what is seen is sentenced to disappear.
Existence is much more than a simple play with mirrors where everything is liquefied after each repetition.
Trivial images are like lightings, ephemeral bursts of an illuminated reality manipulated by quick effects of
mediatic light in a sequence of situations and novelties. What appears are series of rushed images that enlighten
and extinguish themselves immediately one after the other.
Against time’s fleetingness, José Almeida Pereira incites the observer’s imagination and invites him to linger in
the sensitive space of his subjectivity in order to escape image’s stroboscopic light. The themes in these pieces are
an acknowledgement of the human values imprinted in painting, distancing from the present and recognizing
that step back. The paintings stand in layers of time, in the contrast between the black and the white, the
negative and the positive, as if it was a photographic image. Each piece transmits the idea of overlap,
sedimentation, path, of time carved in space. What’s in front of us are mere specters, small remnants, traces of a
series of images that insist on staying forever in the memory. In a time when image is communication, its
permanence in the retina is not enough to form knowledge. Therefore, the masterpiece quoted in each painting
persists because it hides in the look as a secret. The exhibition suggests the struggles and problems of a
postindustrial and lonely man who, submitted to intensive blitzes of manipulated images, doesn’t have time to
differentiate the false ones from the authentic. In rushed apprehensions of a diffused and divided reality, anyone
is easily deceived. What is seen and heard is the work of complex technologic devices broadcasting without end,
creating such a strong and continuous stream that the impression is one of a congruent narrative. The bait is
recognized only when the apparatus is turned off.
The layers of time and space arrange themselves in the exhibited works as evolutions in the perception. The
artist, conscious of the level of technologic action to which everything is submitted, produces sectioned and
fractioned images connected in apparent motions. With this way of observing what surrounds him he suggests
provocatively slow manners of working, revealing the cuts of continuity provoked by the fragmented visions that
come from sophisticated equipments which capture, deal with, store and spread them. In the face of this reality,
he has necessarily to choose difficult ways of expression that distort the current aesthetics. Today, image’s
passivity and silence is a way of intervention that the artist uses to deny and undermine the speed of the
contemporary creative processes. Passivity and silence often symbolize a more intense and full will to confront.
Through a system of comparative dialogue with the past, these painting’s content exposes the weaknesses of the
current image that, mediated by strong technologic devices, lost a lot of its ontological density, making flourish in
an ostensible fashion what is superficial, frivolous, light. In comparison to what is being made, José Almeida
Pereira’s paintings subvert artistic procedures by not saying or not doing what the others expect and, without
regrets, his painting praises that refusal. He places himself against a strange craving for words, even though in
most cases nothing is deepened.
Every day the productivist society generates countless disposable and useless facts forming surges of situations
and news. It is also in that sense that Zygmunt Bauman speaks about a liquid society in which what is easily
replaceable dominates over what is characterized by duration and resistance. Anything that is not ready to create
immediate pleasure, satisfaction and entertainment is of no interest. The haste of the communicational world
dragged image into creative acceleration and figurative painting, given its natural slowness, has been losing
space. Therefore, its practice is increasingly marginal and peripheral, becoming an outdated and almost extinct
form of creation. Obviously there is still a market for that artistic activity. Nonetheless, it is felt that after the
second half of the 20th century painting has been disregarded and overlooked because it is believed that it can be
replaced by lighter, more flexible and spectacular construction methods. As if it was possible to exchange certain
black holes which language cannot suppress for hedonistic amusements. Uninterrupted communication invaded
the subjective space exposing the intimate realm in real time and in obscene fashion. Anything goes when it
comes to create a show and to please the crowds.
The simple detour into the past, into the cultural heritage of any society, can be viewed as a nostalgic attitude.
Yet, what is perceived in José Almeida Pereira’s works are not wistful expressions. They are not retroactive
digressions or speculations in search of paradise lost. Marx stated that the historic repetition of an important
event leads to a farce and that happens with some attempts at hypothetical returns to art’s past. It is not through
simulated restoration or repairing simulacra that lost time is restored or the problems of contemporary art are
solved. Something else is necessary, an experimental dimension widening the reach of the mind and distancing
from retinal art. Only this can raise awareness and make one understand that things, while unrepeatable, can in
any case create new bridges between past, present and future.
In the past, violence and brutality were much more present in everyday life and works of art absorbed that
reality. The predatory environment of those societies created fears and insecurities. The audience always
appreciated displays of skill and needs to be confronted with strange and bizarre things. Cultural memory
pacifies societies past, making the memories of its bloody origins fade. In the past, art echoed a violent setting
and was filled with signs of depravity and aggression.
In ancient societies the violent atmosphere coexisted with ancestral knowledge and made artists risk their lives
over the addressed topics, showing audacity, boldness, hubris, courage. Right now, by guiding their behavior
through mechanisms of serial mimicry, people assemble realities made of vulgar facts, useless moments and
commonplaces, based on incoherent narratives intertwining through different devices used to disseminate
messages. However, in this context, someone who can step away from these moments emerges, withdrawing
himself and painting everyday life scenes carved in the images of the past and who rescues them with his eyes set
on the future.
TRANSLATION: VASCO VASCONCELOS