Rodrigo Martins’ Contemporary Tortured Dualism

On an impressionist meadow, under a gray cobblestone sky, a bear wrestles with a faceless man. Is it violently trying to shove him into the pink matrix-like three-dimensional grid of the foreground, or did he just drag him out of there and thus save his life?

A Chinese panda holds three cubs in its arms. Is it just about to cannibalistically devour them or are we observing the last blood-stained breath of an endangered species; the last mother-panda holding her offspring as close as she can in the face of death and extermination?

The large scale paintings and drawings by Brazilian graphic design student and painter Rodrigo Martins are mysteries in themselves. Of course, pinpointing the narrative of any painting is a hopeless endeavour, but in Martins’ case the implications of every possible interpretation can form a radical counterpoint to the others. Which is to say: There is something of the good and the bad in his work, the coexistence of the divine and the bestial. He is obviously concerned with duality.

“I didn’t realize this completely while I was doing them, but afterwards I saw that this is what I was speaking to. It’s no coincidence that most religions will have a black side and a white side, a heaven and a hell. I think this is because it reflects the way we think.”

We speak of the duality in David Lynch’s work: Of the terrifying Bob inside of Twin Peaks’ Leland Palmer, of the insect-ridden underworld beneath the well kept picket-fenced lawns of Blue Velvet. Werewolves. “I really liked [Gaspar Noé’s] Irréversible, because in the beginning, when he smashes that guy’s head in, you are appalled by the aggression, but you keep watching and by the end you’re thinking ‘I would do the same.’ There is something bad inside of us. Everyone has their evil side.”

Initially, the animals in Martins’ work may seem anthropomorphized but a closer inspection reveals that they are not human-like at all, and actually quite bestial. Rather, what the viewer detects is a trace of the animal in herself. These tortured figures are zoomorphed reflections of the viewer.

But Martins also paints the human form, often disfigured. A very Baconesque self portrait shows a bandaged head trying to split itself in two. It is as if the artist is trying to tear himself away from himself. Separate the good from the bad, perhaps; put an end to his tortured duality. Another bandaged face shows us the bleeding underside of its upper lip. When it comes down to the flesh, there is not much that divorces us from the animals, our bestiality is contained in it, it is – literally – our dark underside.

Duality, or multiplicity, rather, is an inherent trait of time itself. The world and its inhabitants cannot escape the constant flow of time – it is the single most influential aspect of our existence. How do we know an object will remain the same from moment to moment? What guarantees I’ll be the same when I wake up and when I go to sleep (especially if I compare myself at 11 am on a Monday and at 3 am on Saturday morning)? Am I the same at three and at eighty-three?

Martins’ work often samples intriguing figures at multiple points in time and overlays them. A gorilla is perhaps angry or begrudged, humble or touched, and screaming from the top of its lungs in a fit of madness, all on the same canvas. He has captured the gorilla as it was on various points of a timeline, in motion, but it is impossible to gauge how long a time passes between the snapshots or in what order they occurred. “There is no linear narrative. In my work, temporality gains materiality,” Martins says. The overlaying is not done in a blurry manner as to indicate a hurried movement, we can even think of the drawing depicting the layers of a single mental state, or the quantum possibilities inherent in every moment. There is a psychological dynamic at work, a flux. And there’s no escaping it.

In other words, this is serious, yet beautiful, stuff. To cleanse his palette – and ours – Martins paints and draws colourful and childlike pictures that seem to be in contradistinction to his other work. But are they, really? We see a child’s fascination with animals, their similarities, their differences. There is the child’s joy in exploration. “It is difficult for me to paint like a child. When you learn something, it is very difficult to unlearn it. So I’m not thinking. I just let go. I want to see what the material can offer me. Charcoal, for example, has a strong character and I like to be surprised by what it can do. Suddenly I realize I can mix charcoal with water and use it almost like watercolour. It is curiosity. It’s just doing. And for me, real art is when an artist surprises himself. When I encounter something inside of me that I didn’t know was there.” I guess not.

FB Gallery is hosting Rodrigo Martins’ first solo exhibit in New York on Friday, February 17, 6/9pm.

Tribeca 368 Broadway #209, New York, NY 10013. – – 917-495-2475.


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