Memories of Atlantis: The Painting of Victor Belem ◄ Back


"If you could utter the vital sound of the purest of clarities and offer the rare blue that lives in the centre of the wave the ocean did not dissipate". Gongalo Salvado, "Wave" Within the context of contemporary Portuguese art, Victor Belem has succeeded in affirming a very original personality, situated between painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, "slide show", installations and performance art. This diversity of expression reveals the modern quality of his style, at the same time that it is a manifestation of the unity of his aesthetics, which is sensitive to the dialogue between the real and the imagined inspired by the grand archetypes and by myths of origins. The myth of Atlantis referred to in one of Plato's dialogues is the driving force behind the present exhibition, woven from the images of a progressively enriched unconscious. The artist began his career in 1958, with figurative work approaching expressionism, as described by Graca Garcia: "(...) the use of the spatula and the preference for working on wood in a horizontal position denote a need and propitiate a certain gestural violence that gradually dismembers the figures lined up within empty backgrounds, leading them, first of all, to near material explosion and, finally, to a cosmic explosion influenced by Pollock and by dripping"(1). Interested in the cinematographic work of Resnais and in the theatre of the absurd, he moves slowly toward the dilution of the figure within a magma of eschatological and alchemical nature, suggested by residual materials, three-dimensional reliefs, plastics, pieces of objects washed up onto the ocean's shore. There is a dialogue between painting and sculpture, metaphors for the disintegration that threatens forms, resolving itself in the cycle of boxes, "return to the uterine grotto" (2), the locus for reencountering the sacred, returned to human nature, as the titles make clear: "box of live flesh" "box of eternal return", "box of flowers", "box of my poet siblings", "box of memories". There are sculpted boxes, containing mirrors, fragmentary images of the soul, between the Chaos and the Cosmos suggested by the backgrounds. With the 1970s, performance art and installations surge, completing the "poetic-surrealism" and the "socio-political" meaning of the "object-boxes" and of the objects, with recourse to collages, to photo mountings and to organic materials (Graca Garcia), as related to Dada's aesthetics and Rauschenberg's assemblages as possible, and as there is an increase in a surrealistic tendency, not exempt of humour, a characteristic which will continue to distinguish the work of Victor Belem. From 1976 on, his painting develops in a more autonomous mode, with landscapes characterized by a strong cosmic component framed within perfectly defined windows, accompanied by experiences in writing. The artist continues to be interested in cinema and in theatre and later, in the '80s, he moves to the geometric abstraction of his "meta-landscapes", which will be followed by the introduction of hyper-realist elements within surreal-like compositions. In '83 these become "recognizable objects, in decomposition, purely gestural elements, an accumulation of forms and textures." (3) Archaeology of the Imaginary "We are aligning symbols on the shelves of infinity." Cruzeiro Seixas, Text for the "Anamnesis" exhibit. Proceeding with his work in photography and "slide show", he inaugurates other cycles of his painting, "Escavations", where blacks and greys predominate, and "Archaeologies", landscapes of memory to scintillate the "spirit of things" (1988-1990), anamnesis resurrecting dreamlike scenarios where Cruzeiro Seixas saw "dense, secret forests and volcanoes presented as triangles poised upon the line of the horizon, able to be reached only by sail." (4) New scenarios for voyages of initiation, "Discoveries of the Ocean and the Soul" is the theme of a 1994 exhibit which reflects "instants from many voyages which, in the end, belong to but one voyage: that which the artist makes to the core of his creative instinct"(5). In this context, Victor Belem recognizes the importance that the ocean, "the water mother of our origin", has had within his creative trajectory, as the fountain of memories, of secrets that matter has forgotten, lost upon "islands that I knew existed within my ancestral memory" (6), mirages and unsuspected realities, apparitions, visions partaking of the search for identity, the fundamental mission of art and of his art. If in the mid '80s, and as he confesses, the gods emerge from his paint brushes in invitation to the grand voyage to the unknown (7), this painter answered this invitation wholeheartedly, contemplating us, in 2002, with visions nurtured by dialogues with fairies and elves, which are mere metaphors for the realm of the marvellous, which has slowly opened its doors to him and to us. Rui Mario Goncalves, who interprets his rituals of death and transfiguration, discerns within the "landscape paintings" of this phase "fragments of an imaginary world" made up of anxiety, an offering which helps us to "assume the incessant unfolding of human lucidity contemplating the Universe, the pain that passes and the joy that aspires to eternity." (8) In truth, Victor Belem has come to deepen his level of knowledge through a process that he himself summarizes as moving "from the reality as immediate mirror found in the first works, to the magical reality behind the mirror of his present works", an oceanic depth of knowledge that, according to Ehrenzweig (9), characterizes the development of the artistic process. It is only natural that in this voyage to the unconscious, that in this audacious transition from the conscious to the unconscious, from that which is visible to that which is invisible, the painter should be taken to the unfathomable territory, to the mythical, submerged continent of Atlantis. The luxurious green of the images, the tide brimming with stems and prodigious scintillations, the labyrinth guarding the humid memory of our steps, the forest of virginal dreams and impalpable delights. The border and threshold that we can surpass by diving within the pure ease of air and water, the first liquid of our fantasies. The mirror of thoughts that move with the agility of fish, lovers of the freshness and the free core of forms. The torrent of a pure dance of origins, when everything becomes intermingled and aspires to the gestation of life. The loving embrace of land and air, of trees sleeping within the hearts of rivers drinking the sweet elixir of the land. Mother land of languid apparitions, where the visage of man is slowly sculpted. The body of the land within the timid whiteness of a plentiful universe, as new as an aurora emerging from the astral virginity of the world. Within green mist, the body ascends to the altar of the universe, the body of the land and the body of man in joyful unison. The assumption of a pure form which is the image of man found, of the beginning, delineating in the end, totality. Body stretched upon the land, voluptuous, crystallized upon the stone, transparent crystal reflecting the Edenic greens of childhood. Sky of clear, happy instants, ship of the earth sailing along the ocean floor. Freer freedom, abyssal summit, supreme blue, a starry beyond tearing through all known barriers, firmament where all the names of a civilization are written that has recuperated its memory within the profound ocean of dreams. Also identity, the circle that the image reverberates, the live circle of words and of images restoring the voice of poetry, "that live sound of the purest clarity" of which the poet Goncalo Salvado speaks. Timeless calling to the other and to the other within ourselves, image lost "within the rare blue that lives in the centre of the wave the ocean did not dissipate", an amorous echo of completeness.

Maria Joao Fernandes

1. Garcia, Graca - "The History of the Trajectory or About the Three Lives of a Painter". Text from the catalogue of the exhibit " 30 years of Art -1958/1988" Painting and Objects.

2. Idem, Ibidem.

3. Idem, Ibidem.

4. Cruzeiro Seixas - Text from the catalogue of the exhibit "Anamnesis". Sao Mamede Gallery, 1992.

5. Letria, Jose Jorge - "Discoveries of the Sea, Discoveries of the Soul". Text from the catalogue of the exhibit "Islands and Other Discoveries". Our Lady of Light Fortress, 1994.

6. Belem, Victor- Idem, Ibidem.

7. Belem, Victor- Idem, Ibidem.

8. Goncalves, Rui Mario - "Place of Omens". Text from the catalogue for the exhibit "Fairies, Elves and Other Visions". Municipal Exhibit Gallery of Vila Franca de Xira, 2002.

9. Ehrenzweig, Anton - L'Ordre Cache de I'Art. Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1974.


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