Jose de Almada Negreiros ( 1893- 1970)- ” A Way of being Modern”
Today I had the pleasure of visiting a beautiful exhibition called ” A Way of being Modern” by the Portuguese artist Jose de Almada Negreiros at the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation in Lisbon.
I was discovering this artist for the first time, but Almada is one of the most famous Portuguese artists and is considered the main catalyst for the artistic avantgarde of the 20 th Century here, so the exhibition was incredibly well visited!
This is the most well known painting by Almada- a portrait of the writer Fernando Pessoa. There are in fact two of the portraits, mirrored, as a copy was commissioned and Almada chose to paint the second one mirrored and slightly bigger.
The writer Fernando Pessoa was himself an icon of modernity. The name of the exhibition ties into the French poet Rimbauds motto from 1873- “one must be absolutely modern”. Almada followed this to the letter, stating that it is the artists responsability to make modernity happen. He was not only creating art, but a network of artists and architects, filmakers and writers, working across all disciplines. He was himself an autodidact working as a painter, writer, creating tapestries, glass windows, articles, movie scripts, scene decorations, tile designs and many of his public works are still to be seen all around Lisbon.
I realized that I was driving past one of his huge murals almost daily while here -on the building of the daily newspaper Diario das Noticias .
“Almada’s autodidactic research sought a universal and intemporal language common to all visual language and prior to words- with a focus on two-dimensional geometry, in particular the relationship between circle and square.” (exhibition panel)
The exhibition showed many of these abstract paintings, or research between the human figure and the abstract form like below. This was an interesting way of looking at the human figure.
Some of the drawings and paintings from the 1940’s made me think of Picasso, by this approach to the human form with geometrical shapes:
Of the incredible amount of art works on display here I found the vast series of self portraits the most interesting. Although most were in graphite on paper, there was an incredible and inspiring amount of different styles and approaches to the self portrait- all with the eyes as the exaggerated main focus.
This is a three dimensional version with the eyes and eyelashes in wire standing out from the canvas- a fun idea.This is a self portrait with Alamada’s wife in oil- an interesting difference in sizes, that reappeared in other whole figure paintings of the couple.
I particularly liked these two tender simple portraits in graphite with a beautiful range of tones of grey and soft expressions:
Almada, like Picasso and other artists of their time, had a period painting the Saltimbanco- street artists and acrobats, and being fascinated by the circus. I enjoyed looking at the expanded possibilities of seeing the human figures and picked up some ideas about varying the shape of the canvas, but in all this was a whole room of paintings that did not really appeal to me as much as the subtler graphite works.
I felt especially touched by this small ink drawing that looked a little lost among all the more expressive works:
I love how the figure is just hinted at and stands out from the flowers in the background. This is something I want to draw! Detailed vegetation or a pattern in the background and the transparent elusive figure .
Thinking of the dynamic figure drawing exercises coming up soon- i took a closer look at these ink drawings of couples- the fluid merging forms creating a single dynamic pose:
All in all this exhibition was a very rich and inspiring experience and I am so happy to learn some more about Portuguese artists, as I am spending more time in this beautiful country now. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how very popular and well visited an exhibition like this is, although it did make seeing some works a little difficult.