Ricardo Alves

Written on the occasion of the artist's participation in the group exhibition Fine Art Universiade U-35, at the Tsukuba Art Museum, Japan, between November and December 2017

In his recent pieces, Brazilian artist Ricardo Alves has shown interest in painting explosions, ever since they caught his attention while he searched for odd and mysterious pictures of outer space – a motif usually found in his works for the past years. Using photographs as a starting point, the artist builds his own vision on canvas by manipulating color, light and shapes and trying to distance himself from a photographic spatiality and a naturalistic treatment, thus entering the realm of the unpredictable.

Ricardo Alves' artistic process itself is directly related to the motif of explosions, leaving room for frustration, mishaps and mistakes. At this point, the tension between photographic image and pictorial construction becomes quite evident due to the brush strokes, stains and layers of paint, thus reminding us that this is an artistic and aesthetic representation of our visible reality.

In addition, 'frustration' seems to be one of the central themes of these pieces. On the one hand, each of us has to deal with our own failures and frustrations in solitude. This necessity is enhanced by the prominence of certain elements in the paintings, which often take up all of its space. On the other hand, we have the personal need for explosion, as in a moment of catharsis and liberation. Perhaps this is what appeals the most to us in these images. The possibility of bursting ourselves beyond our own body. The following day we might wake up a bit tired, but certainly refreshed.

por Rodrigo Andrade

Written for the catalogue Um Desassossego - 20 pintores, a collective exhibition at Estação Gallery in São Paulo, Brazil, in November, 2016

Ricardo Alves’ pictures insert themselves in the recent tradition of photography-based paintings that, however, distance themselves from their starting point during the making. In such process, doubts and reorientations weave a pictorial surface through subtle tonal and chromatic relations, building wide spaces that tend to emptiness, usually punctuated by geometric structures such as lampposts, wires and platforms. The desire for figuration – that eventually acquires an almost illustrative character – and for pure painting are always in a slight conflict, fertile in plastic possibilities which are explored with curiosity and variation. His poetics of solitude (space probes, clearings, swamps) is never sentimental because his paintings are guided by strictly aesthetical intentions.

About this pale dot

by Thais Rivitti

*Curator of the artist’s exhibition at Sancovksy Gallery in São Paulo/SP, in October, 2016.

Exactly 19 years ago, in October 15, 1997, spacecraft Cassini was launched into space, aiming at collecting data on Saturn, as well as on its satellites and rings. The journey had taken almost seven years when it finally entered the orbit of the destination planet. Cassini is also the painting that opens Ricardo Alves’ exhibition “About this pale dot”, an allusion to the book written by astrophysicist Carl Sagan which refers to Earth as a pale blue dot, based on a picture shot from the vicinity of Saturn. The large canvas depicts a frontal image of the floating spaceship, and it indicates that we are about to go on a long journey.

Distance, by the way, is one of the concepts problematized in this new set of pieces. The constant variation in the size of the exhibits – the largest one measuring 106.3 x 74.8 inches and the smallest 11.8 x 15.7 inches – highlights the impossibility of putting things into scale. Even though they belong to the same thematic set – the exploration of space – there is no common, fixed point between the images that serve as reference to the paintings. There are imagens produced from Earth; others that, although produced from Earth, only constitute themselves with the help of devices such as telescopes; and, lastly, those produced from space.

However, the distance that interests us the most for this reflection is maybe that which historically separates painting from photography. Two distinct artistic languages that, nonetheless, establish a strong reciprocity relationship. In Art History, it has become commonplace to say that painting came first or that it was the first to depict “reality” (and that, after photography, it had to invent itself a new raison d’être). Yet, Ricardo Alves’ works invert this trajectory, going in the opposite direction.

His paintings reference artifacts and landscapes rarely seen by humans: the surface of Mars, space beyond Earth’s orbit, aircrafts under construction, rocket launch sites or large-scale explosions. The artist is interested in these images, from which emerge a series of tensions that animate his paintings. At the same time in which they stem from photographic and scientific records, they deal with a constituent precariousness: suffice it to say, the vast majority of pictures of space are black and white, only afterwards being artificially colored by a team of specialists.

Maybe the most powerful fuel of the artist’s paintings is the blurriness in these images from which he starts working. Science’s ambition to achieve precision and fantasies that pertain to imagination live side by side in them. On the larger canvases, we observe drawings that intend to be schematic illustrations, alongside zones of profound indetermination. Here, I refer to the portions in which the background color leaks to the surface, brush strokes become visible, the accumulation of paint layers creates an opaque mass on the pictorial surface or paint runs down, staining the picture and reminding us of its artisanal condition. On the smaller canvases, it seems as if we are facing sketches. A quick draw, a rushed painting, unfinished, like a note that would still need to be retouched.

In this set presented by Ricardo Alves, paintings come after photographs. It is another act in this dance between two languages that constantly alternate positions. The Cassini spacecraft mission is scheduled to end in 2017, when it will dive into Saturn’s atmosphere and be destroyed. For many, many years, the images produced by this machine will be the only reality of this distant world; but that does not prevent it from continuing to be invented through painting and other artistic forms.

The Sidereal Messenger

by Douglas de Freitas

Written on the occasion of the artist’s exhibition at the Art Museum of Ribeirão Preto/SP, in June, 2016.

"Accordingly, on the seventh day of January of the present year 1610, at the first hour of the night, when I inspected the celestial constellations through a spyglass, Jupiter presented himself. And since I had prepared for myself a superlative instrument, I saw (which earlier had not happened because of the weakness of the other instruments) that three little stars were positioned near him – small but yet very bright. Although I believed them to be among the number of fixed stars, they nevertheless intrigued me because they appeared to be arranged exactly along a straight line and parallel to the ecliptic, and to be brighter than others of equal size." [1]

Published in 1610, Sidereus Nuncius, or “The Sidereal Messenger” [2], is a short treatise written in Latin, in which Galileo Galilei reports his recent discoveries on the universe, such as observations about the Milky Way, the lunar surface and Jupiter’s moons. Galileo achieved huge progress after he adapted an optical device in order to obtain a thirtyfold increase in its capacity to visually enlarge an object, inaugurating a brand-new stage in the study of celestial bodies.

From 1610 to current days a lot has changed. The Hubble Telescope, launched into space in 1990, started to provide stellar mapping images. Hubble gave human civilization a new vision of the universe and enabled scientific advances that are equivalent to those derived from Galileo’s spyglass in the 17th century.

It is no longer about simply taking photographs or pictures in space; Hubble also employs other devices to map farther territories, using gamma rays, infrared and X-rays. In order to approach the visual reality of these stars, those images undergo a series of software processes that systematize the information, producing speculative pictures based on the captured data and transforming them into what we know about the spaces which are the furthest from us.

Ricardo Alves creates his paintings borrowing from these images, originated by spatial mapping processes, satellites and other machines conceived by humans, aiming at achieving the unachievable: space and the domain of the universe. Extracted from the internet, these landscapes built by devices, often more fictional than real, are reconfigured by the artist, addressed in his compositions and then used to originate his pieces.

Just as Earth’s landscapes around spatial launch bases, the canvases are painted as if they are extraterrestrial territories, lacking human life; telescopes and other artifacts for space observation are depicted with the strangeness they convey. It is about portraying the universe with the oddity carried by these machines and images. It is about questioning them, even though our sight is already tamed by the banality these pictures have gained.

While these space images are composed by scientific speculation, the paintings employ other solutions, formal simplifications and schemes that reside between being diagrams and records of these devices – such as in Drawing of supersonic waves, in which painting is the medium that allows us to see the tracing of a space shuttle’s movement, or perhaps in Dwarf star in false color or False color, in which a formal simplification of images produced by satellites, and therefore artificially colored, structure themselves into new colors and plans, converted into abstractions that refer to these starry pictures.

To look at Ricardo Alves’ paintings is to see this falsely built image and to attribute new values of color, depth and sense to it; a new, more human construction, that admits its failures, suppositions and incompletions, such as in Failed Ultra Deep Field. It is to propose a new, less scientific methodology for observation. It is to return to the universe its mystery, which is extracted by satellites when they photograph it. It is to resume the enchantment of facing the unknown in a less direct way, maybe closer to that of Galileo’s studies and observations, which carry within themselves poetic reports of the encounter with these stars.

[1] Galileo Galilei in Sidereus Nuncius, published in Venice, in 1610.