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Clouds of Melancholy
After canvases depicting fragments of statues and disembowelled flowers, Teresa Dias Coelho is painting clouds - suspended ethereal skies where death is received in silence and nostalgia is unresolved.
For the poet, art permits the individual to "shield himself from the destructive power of the whole". The artistic experience serves as a refuge in the struggle against chaos. And for the Romantics, nothing is free of conflict.
Clouds: "Mass of vapour suspended in the atmosphere that darkens the blue of the sky. Obscurity: shadow. Darkening of the vista; Patch of dust or smoke rising in the atmosphere. Fig: Sadness. That which prevents comprehension.
Large mass of things moving together". ("Grande Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa", Cândido de Figueiredo). In the case of Teresa Dias Coelho's clouds (exhibited recently in the Galeria PedroSem), which may be taken together as a single work, the eye follows a trajectory connected to formless bodies, metamorphic and transitory, a projection the artist sees as that of a human conscience in the sense of an experience, a projection of presence/absence that takes on a cosmic dimension through the use of colour.
In these canvases, inseparable from a historical reality, there is a nostalgia that differs from "spleen", "angst" or tedium, an indefinable something that obfuscates affective regions of the affective portrayal of space (to quote Gaston Bachelard) or conceals a certain Deleusian logic - that of the schizo-analysis where the basic concepts of modern culture are dismembered - to which we are transported by the artist. After all, is not nostalgia a human melancholy made possible by the awareness of some other reality between clouds of fire or sapphire?
There is a restlessness about these paintings which, although composed along classical lines, have nonetheless a certain sense of the fragmentation and historicity of church heavens. There is thus a feeling or art "in time", which confronts fear - "death is in the beginning; eternity in every moment" - and solitude. Like a kind of vigil over a primitive dream, the nebulous root and the clarity together demand a frenzied inebriation in the face of a daily existence outside reason.
The partial disquiet comes from somewhere that might be dialogue or romantic conflict, from places of the unknown or of darkness, from voids opened by the opacity of the world, an illusion of the definite. Hence the brown fog that envelops the late afternoon, the yellowish luminosity of the dying rays of the sun, or the impossible bluish hues of sweet laments for what was alive but now is gone.
It was certainly no coincidence that the painter began photographing cemeteries - a project abandoned on the death of the poet Al Berto - , "staged" fragments of statues, illustrated the "angst" of Maria Velho da Costa, or disembowelled flowers. Teresa Dias Coelho's turbulent clouds embrace the silence of the mountains, sterile, rainless claps of thunder, and crystalline streams now dried up. They make us imagine hostile faces at the doors of empty houses, or the (im)patience of those who wait.
In these skies nostalgia is unresolved, taking the form of a contemplative side of the conscious being. In a minimum of meanings and a maximum of suggestions. And in this series of paintings Teresa Dias Coelho captures, through contemplation of the volatile, a premonition inside nothing, as well as the "truth" of Arnold Böcklin, a kind of prophet of the idealist and symbolist milieux, and of "The Island of the Dead" - Rachmaninov's inspiration for his eponymous symphonic poem - or the essence of the Romantics, followers of Goethe.
The emotions are thus transformed into meteorological phenomena moving to their own rhythm. For the poet, art allows the individual to "shield himself from the destructive power of the whole", with the artistic experience serving as a refuge in the struggle against chaos. And, for the Romantics, nothing is free of conflict. Life and intellect, nature and culture, history and eternity, solitude and society, revolution and tradition are, when all is said and done, possibilities desirous of fulfilment at one and the same time.
In this misty panorama of pallid or frenzied suns, suggested in the possibility of their existence, painting operates as a kind of orchestration that depends on acquiescence to a certain existential melancholy, lucid and analytical, profound and even happy, albeit conscious of the irreversibility of time.
In the work of Teresa Dias Coelho, the human being is precisely what Kierkegaard called a "spirit", captured here in the dualism of life/death, nature/non-nature, body/non-body. And the other "I" is omnipresent, like in the Romantics, whose concept of "angst" seems inseparable from the notion of threat. From the tragic, literary Friedrich, who erected a kind of megalithic monument to the fall of man, to the clouds of Delacroix or Géricault or the ethereal visions painted in coloured vapour by Turner.
There is a dull, though classical desire in these paintings to break with the world of convention. Despite their decorative quality, they also reveal a bitter awareness of damnation under the sign of Saturn. "In anguish there is no Other", says Maria Zambrano, "for it would be destroyed by the full existence of the Other, which would be the whole".
In these skies, clear or obfuscated, death is received in silence. The confrontation with the possibility of dying, irreducible and privileged, is born again, emotion imbued with a comforting luminosity, as if each cloud represented one last being, before any departure, either of lovers or of life.
Reconciled likewise to the possibility of communicating with the world, Teresa Dias Coelho's clouds are paradoxically linked with an irresistible desire to go and to stay. Therein lies their charm - the suspension of the real in the ideal, or the ability to live with melancholy. Or to triumph over it.
Ana Marques Gastão
Diário de Noticias
19 August 2000