Sunday, 30 August 2009

Adriana Varejão

O Sedutor 2004
Oil on Canvas 230 x 530 cm
Victoria Miro Gallery, London
10 October 2004

The show contained four of these immense, almost life size, paintings of tiled saunas and a number of smaller studies on paper that were framed behind glass. Each had a different monochrome theme and I have chosen the one painted in a variety of blues from tinged white to almost black. The blues themselves range from aqua with a lot of green, right through to almost lavender.

Although she has used a fairly heavy canvas, the weave on the surface isn’t prominent indicating that the surface must be heavily primed to get it flat. The process of painting is fundamental to the reading of meaning behind the work and I would say she has started with a dark red ground, perhaps burnt umber and then painted each tile individually. In light areas colours are not just tonally lighter, but slightly warmer. The paint is uniformly applied, but you can see brush marks when looking closely. There is definitely a glaze with the paint and some of the tiles look like two coats with the paler one underneath. This is left to show at the “tile” edges and helps the 3d illusion as do the edges of shadows’ which are subtlety blended over a small area. The other curious point is that all four of the large canvases had rounded corners; this isn’t easy to do and contradicts the rectangular tiles but I cannot guess the significance.

Whilst the use of the grids that constitute these works could hint at modernist aesthetics, her earlier work depicted fragments of tiled wall with rubble made of flesh bulging and bursting through the painted surface. This use of the tile as a recurrent motif refers to the azulejo, a square terracotta tile used continuously throughout Portugal’s history since the middle ages. Influenced over the years by Moors, Spanish, Oriental and Dutch artisans it was used for decoration in such far distant corners of Portugal’s empire as Brazil. So Varejão is invoking the colonial history of Brazil though the use of tiles albeit in a more subtle way in these Sauna paintings.

In these large scale trompe l’oeil paintings, the tiles have become simple, unadorned, abstract and minimalist, but the space the paintings describe is one of empty luxury, hard and cold. Whilst I find this non-space deeply melancholic on account of the implied solitude, that reading may be at variance with her conceptual impulse. In other words what I am reading as an impersonal modern skin of a contemporary “temple” for the body, she may be referencing the opulence of Portugal’s past fuelled by resources flowing from Brazil. Who is “The Seducer” of the title?

©blackdog 2009


  1. Surely, a painting for Tiles-Chad!
    Blue is 'my' colour, and the painting with such a range of blues (your description is wonderful and your analysis excellent!), some doors, bright and dark ones, and the tiles- walls is fascinating, indeed, completed by a refined 3-D effect- and my own beautiful remembrances of the azulejo's I saw in Portugal wherever -blue was one of the most favourite colours as I remember. The artist painted mysterious empty, totally empty, only filled with the colour blue and 'naked' (without any ornament as usual) tiles which were able to spread around a refreshing 'air' and flair of comfortable coolness, but here I have more a feel of loneliness and being abandoned, I have also a slightly seductive (title!) feeling I could discover some secrets while strolling through the rooms and the doors, or -perhaps- is it a kind of a kafkaesque, a bit surreal labyrinth (Piranesi?) I cannot leave? - but there I see an open bright Edward Hopper-like door in the centre I could go through! It is a painting where your eyes and your mind/soul can wander, lose, or finally disappear? No Sauna painting, rather a fairy tale painting! Interesing and extraordinary is the second modern tile- I recognize blood-traces! The blue and the "empty luxury" is "O Sedutor" and we could get inspired to fill the blue rooms with our imaginations and stories! I very like this painting, it could even be a painting I would like to hang on the wall of my apartement! (oh sorry, no argument for art!)

  2. Kafka again - I have just read The Penal Colony!
    Her work is interesting and she has stuck with the theme of tiled interiors for 6 years now. You can see more of her work here...