Rodrigo Bivar: O próximo, o longe, o horizonte


The idea of intimacy seems to inspire not only the set of recent works by Rodrigo Bivar, but also other moments from his nearly two decades of research as a painter and visual artist.

When we look at his initial output and his experiments until the early 2010s, we notice his interest in topics involving the human body and how it relates to landscape. His images seem to come from some sort of a memory album of a vacation trip. Beaches, mountains, forests and people engaged in leisure and contemplation moments are some of the leitmotifs of these works. Sometimes the human body is not to be seen, and his attention is drawn to the many objects that could make up a certain intimate atmosphere for those activities.

A few years later, Bivar begins to experiment with that which in the History of Art is known as ‘abstraction’. As his paintings left aside its previous imitative, realistic character, color contrast became increasingly sharper and the artist was not afraid to experiment with more organic, more curvilinear, and linear shapes alike. I believe we could also think of the idea of intimacy here – yet not as the subject of the paintings anymore, but perhaps as a modus operandi. Only an artist who has already been intimately familiar with the pictorial language would be able to temporarily give up figurative painting and experiment with abstraction.

Experimentation is, therefore, what in my perspective seems to be an essential feature of Bivar's production, but at the same time it is performed discreetly. The exhibition "The Close, the Far-off, the Horizon" (in the original Portuguese title: “O próximo, o longe, o horizonte”) seems to be an example of how the artist has recently brought works to the public that originate from his different yet consecutive paths in painting. The title of the exhibition – extracted from the book "The Visible and the Invisible" (1964) by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty – offers us a bridge from which we can see the works gathered here.

The artist sees the figures shown together in these images as if they were his family – his two sons, his stepson and his partner. By choosing them as the main subject of his works, we have a contrast between the strange and the familiar, between the people whom he lives with daily and the desire to transform them into a painted image. Whether consciously or not, there is certainly a noteworthy existential aspect as we become aware of these identities and their biographical relation with the artist.

In the larger-scale portrait of his eldest son, Emerson, his facial expression seems to denote some curiosity in it. His face, positioned right in the center of the screen, faces the viewer with a child's typical vivacity. In contrast, in the portrait of his partner – the one that bears the same title as that of the exhibition – Bivar takes advantage of a compositional strategy explored by many artists celebrated by the History of Art: a human figure seen from behind. As we only see her hair and the contour of her shoulders, our imagination begins digressing: what would her face look like? What expression would be hidden from the public eye? Although a precise answer for those questions might not even be known, this woman seems to gaze at the landscape in front of her.

It is at this point that the idea of distance contained in the title of the exhibition plays a more explicit role, just like the idea of a horizon. In such a historical moment when the idea of social isolation still prevails and seems to offer a certain safeguard against pandemic infections, Bivar chose to bring references to nature and landscapes into all these new paintings. The colors here move away from any desire for realism and lead us to realize that the time artist spent experimenting with abstraction caused him to develop a more vivid palette, one that is not afraid of strong color contrasts.

These elements are most visible in the three paintings present in the exhibition, where we a series of birds. If we refer to the images where the human body is the protagonist as "portraits", then what is the problem about looking at this series in a similar way? Having the same sizes as the other paintings, these images - when it comes to their framing - are not intimidated by the fact that they depict bird watching scenes. It is as if these animals were as important as Bivar's family, thus also deserving to have their own space in this gallery of portraits as suggested by the artist in the exhibition.

The birds, standing with their legs on brushstrokes that resemble tree branches, drive our attention to their vibrant colors as we come closer to the surface of the pictures, and the colors activate our bodies. "Gaturamo", "Saíra amarela" and "Tangará" depict not only the attention that Bivar gives to the different anatomies of these animals – as one can notice on their beaks, body parts and eye shapes –, but also how thoughtfully he devises the background of those figures. If we cut the birds out of these images, we would have a set of abstract paintings. In contrast, to what extent (not considering these images only, but the artist's entire history) could we believe figurative painting to be just a catalyst for Bivar’s eyes and hands to experiment with shapes and colors which – as stated by René Magritte almost a century ago – will always be abstractions of what we conventionally refer to as reality?

As we stand in the center of the largest room at Galeria Athena, our body moves in circles and experiences the horizon proposed by the artist, which seems to be a solace, a counterpoint to the hectic time we now live. I recall a quote attributed to Simonides and written by Plutarch in his "Moralia" – a statement that was later celebrated and elaborated by Leonardo da Vinci. It says: "Painting is mute poetry and poetry is blind painting."

The images proposed by the painter-ornithologist-portraitist Rodrigo Bivar seem to address their alleged muteness, while simultaneously inviting us to close our own eyes, hear the imaginary sounds of the songs those birds sing, and recall some of our family memories. As Bivar educates us in this exhibition, the idea of "close" and "far" are temporary, as much as the ways a single artist would think painting throughout his life.

Raphael Fonseca

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