The painting of Dario Alves
a misleading tranquillity
The picture of a bench belongs to a Bank;
In the picture of the girl with black stockings what is seen is a strawberry;
In the girl on crumpled paper, there is nothing more to see;
The picture of lilies has a stamp;
The still life is still to die;
The girl with the label would be better as a label with girl.
The painting of Dario Alves is a game of coincidences and contradictions, of affirmations and paradoxes, of inconsistencies and absurdities. The literalness with which it is all presented is misleading and its quietness too. We must cross this barrier of serenity to identify the game, inverting a famous literary proposition: "Over the truth of fantasy, the diaphanous cloak of reality."
Realism in painting is commonly understood as the use of a virtuoso technique that would result in a flat, dry painting, with no signs of individuality, free from trends and idiosyncrasies in its desired adherence to reality. Realism is a way of painting that would not allow any style. But this painting is not possible - because it always comes from thought and human hand; nor is that reality in view, because even everyday objects and the most trivial situations are invested with meaning, interest and sensitivity. The choice of motives and strategies of presentation negates any possibility of such a neutral realism stripped of personality.
The painting of Dario Alves is, however, of a realism that is not.
He says that he is fascinated by objects and, in his careful observation and critical sense, expresses the quality of the designer. The objects exist on a human scale, they are things we can handle, and when this does not happen, he manipulates them to bring them closer to the hand and the eye. Architectural objects, such as the Clérigos Tower, for example, thus appear in his work with that familiarity of something tactile, framed to put on the table. A taste for the miniature joins the dominant themes and the sense of closeness that they require - the painting is to see up close. A set of procedures required of the viewer is therefore established - approach, observation, detail – accomplished in a ritual of silence that has nothing dramatic, but rather calls for a calmness that our smile never breaks.
In these circumstances, the painter also introduces: the weighing of the format, the support, the "packaging" that the painting shows; attention to the centre and the margins, the space and the boundaries, the corners, the bottom and the top; a careful integration of text and even the date and signature; intuition of a specific space, on which, and within which, he acts. As someone who understands well the media of visual composition and the mental and perceptual biases of the observer, Dario Alves delights in thwarting instilled habits. Hence, sometimes what seemed more important becomes secondary; what appeared to be central becomes subordinate; what would be accessory assumes the key role (Bottle with pill, Picture with stamp) and missing data becomes present (Disconnected picture).
The 1960s and ‘70s brought to the field of painting the devices and exterior looks outside the work and emphatically addressed frames, labels, captions, stamps, a whole series of elements seen until then as additions to artistic creation by the art system, with the aim of making it circulate and be more widely known, and which now began to be part of the artist’s work. He was thus forestalling critique, the market and those instances in which the work would have to legitimise itself as such. The consequence of this attitude was to undo the illusion (it was not, in fact, the first time this had occurred). Reflecting openly on the painting and exposing the mechanics of its presentation would throw light on a double contradiction: on the one hand, the painting as an illusion that makes us believe in what is represented as something real; on the other hand, the painting as artifice which leads us to recognise the montage that is inherent in it and discredit the reality of the representation.
Indications, references and allusions to the codes and devices of painting are systematic in the work of Dario Alves, less as a pompous and erudite affirmation than as "the blink of an eye" (his phrase) at the world around. A blink of an eye that lasts only as long as it takes to detect the expressiveness of minor inconsistencies, chance products and unexpected encounters.
Interestingly, as in his professorship examination painting presented at the School of Fine Arts in Porto in 1982, we realise how the test was used by the artist to prove (and here redundancy is required) the function of painting, to make a synthesis of how much he had done and how much he would accomplish. Here there are the props and instruments of his work, the motives and techniques, the objects and the female model, the scale interplay. As early as that, the woman appears as the creature that moves more freely in these areas, rests where she pleases, sits in a frame, moves away to the side or questions the painter (who we do not see).
The mention of the techniques used - Backlit; Painted drawing, Well painted coffee; the constant allusion to frames and framing, in the form of lines, ropes, curtains and blinds, lace cloths, ribbons and threads, the lower zone marked as a wainscot; the evocation of models from long ago in the placement of a still life (so as to acquire the air of a really still life); the triptych format and the imitation of Renaissance portraits (Portrait of a lady from the Talbot family without hat, necklace or dress) exemplify the most common strategies in his work. The insistent use of the nomenclature of criticism is also relevant. Titles are sometimes Onion, Spectacles, A foot, Shirt or Picture with ... girl taking off her blouse. This word picture, in the simplicity of what it means, is enough to break the fantasy of appearance and recall the deception of the painting inscribed on the surface of the framed canvass. The word puns are as important as the play on images and remind us that the two registers are inseparable (A bit of all right and About the Supper). The way the female presence appears also points to the fun the artist has with references to references and pictures within pictures. The figure on card reappears on the bottle label, inside the bottle, then on a label. We can talk about the female figure, other times a woman, a stripper, yet others a model, and finally of advertising and icons of the woman as an object.
The mixture of codes – among them painting, advertising, posters, photographs and all kinds of visual communication - is also constant. It is assumed in the false collage Memory of the 70s, arises in a metaphorical sense in the humorous L. da Vinci & Dario Alves Ltd. where it becomes an artistic lineage linked by business; it reappears in 1973 Model for sale in specialty houses that assimilates the female model as a commercial product or in Academy and photograph.
The perfect finish, the unsurpassed composition, the impeccable balance and clarity of the organisation serve the simulacrum, forcing us to oscillate between the painting, what precedes and what follows.
Dario Alves lives surrounded by objects and images; he sees the world as an image because his gaze is directed both at this world and its representation, aware that it is a cultural consensus of conventions and rules. His realism is at the same time, a realism of admiration and loyalty to the objects and a realism of celebration of and loyalty to the painting, its material and its media. So it is a studio and bell-jar realism - as he himself defined.
Sometimes, he seems to be part of this universe and present peacefully his painting; and sometimes he prefers to distance himself from it and disassemble it, enjoy it critically and give it, full of traps, to an unaware observer. In both situations, the world only exists as a painted world, and however ambiguous and provocative, quiet conversations are established between reality, the artist and the viewer. Conversations of someone who is at peace with himself and the world.
To act in an identical register to Dario Alves and his meta-painting, I wonder, by way of meta-text, what is missing from these lines to ensure an effective reading of the work concerned. Perhaps to make much more of the pretexts that originated each of the pieces or the series presented. The thing is that this painting is rooted in countless episodes and narratives that allow it to be close to life and, at the same time, not to exhaust itself in the analysis and criticism of its assumptions. I asked the artist about two pictures and immediately they proved to be two stories, one about friendship and a birthday, the other of trains and travel. To record them here would be far less interesting than discovering them in conversation. Once again, a conversation of someone who is at peace with himself and the world.
School of Arts – Portuguese Catholic University