This review is written for the person who steps into Filipe Rocha da Silva’s exhibition in the SACI gallery (1995) and wants to know why someone would spend so many hours painting tiny running pin men.

Filipe Rocha da Silva has returned to exhibit at the gallery of the art school where he studied with Jules Maidoff in 1981-1982. Here he began that long endurance race if visual research that gave him the tools and criteria to paint what, and how he wants to, in his own unique style. After SACI he studied for an MFA in New York at the Pratt Institute and returned to Portugal. For twenty years he has worked to obtain the language and means of expression that he has chosen.

The superficial simplicity of these pictures is ot casual but a modest and successful attempt to simplify complex ideas and make them understandable to an international public.

To exhibit La Gioconda in Italy is to show an icon of Renaissance art, the epitome of portraiture – revised and questioned by Duchamp – a symbol of Western art. Filipe is a profoundly rational artist. He knows that one cannot paint reality because painted reality does not exist. He is painting the enigma, the invisible, the idea. We still do not know who the Mona Lisa was – Do we know who women are? Indeed, do we know who anyone is? We are living in a dehumanized, demographic explosion. We think we control our own lives and recognize our own ideology and our cultural symbols, bur perhaps, like ants, we are moved by structures and forces quite beyond our vision. The lonely - ironic stance of Filipe’s La Gioconda that reaches back to another inscrutable Gioconda in the Louvre, is surrounded by forms of thousands of post-impressionist coloured dot people. Filipe’s Mona Lisa is cold, alone and severe. She has become the mother, uncomprehending and horribly patient. Her placid hands remind me a submissive Annunciation. All the green has gone and yet we read the memory of green through all those contrasted colours. Our whole world is really a network of culture passed on by other people. What our eyes see and the cultural signals we recognize are transmitted from one person to another. A long chain of historical cultural exchange, person to person of which we may have only a partial understanding – images, events, contortions of history which we perform, comfortably, believing we recognize the motivation and the symbols. Perhaps we are really awful pawns in a game with rules beyond our comprehension.

Filipe is an intellectual, well versed in Art History, the visual heritage of art to which je often refers and plays with ideas belonging to it. He acknowledges his debt to the graffiti artist Keith Haring with his shadow bourgeoisie men that sprang up all over the walls of the New York City when Filipe was a student there. Filipe’s frantic moving tiny active humans from Painting on the Wall. When Filipe paints a painting about a painting he is trying to catch a small framed part of that non-sense, to question if we can ever see beyond the things that we know.  Filipe´s work is like a Borges short story. He takes a traditional form and reviews it so that we both have the enjoyable elegance of its content with the problematic of the form. I remember reading a Borges English detective story that was both enjoyable, like an enthralling Agatha Christie mystery, but which left one seeing through foreign eyes the strange language, behaviour, mannerisms and cultural contortions of my own peculiar English culture that masquerades as normal. Filipe shocks us in the same way. He repaints the Gioconda and both sees it and reinterprets it. He does the same for Painting on the wall – or that strange picture, Four colours, that is like an art historian’s text on plastic values and drapery.

Another theme of Filipe is non -communication, Overlapped Film or Gargoyles have metamorphosed personages or forms that never do meet. A frightening loneliness is contained in a remarkable aesthetic representation that recalls the multiplicity of noises and voices of our society. As the critic Bernardo Pinto de Almeida insightfully points out, they are the paintings of deconstruction. Filipe has painted in other styles before and probably there will be other styles in the future. This period of his painting is about being a world citizen – part of world culture – and finding that it doesn’t make much sense or leave us with the certainties we need to hang concepts on.

Architecture Figures is a detail of the same realization that our experience is  also broken. Even the most intimate of human contacts is broken into moments of touch – smell – taste; a series of memory stills contained inside de mind of a single person, each one of whom is almost unreadable. Symposium tells us that all that activity, that running around of busy men may be accomplishing nothing and is an endless exercise of futility.

So with all this negativity how is it possible to enjoy or buy one of these pictures? Because like Symposium the colours, paint and textures reach through beyond the logic of the words and move the senses to know the invisible, to trust man the philosopher-explorer-painter-rhetorician, that there is good and to hope for something. Through the selfishness of the untouching little humanoids there comes a greater collective shadow, appearing through the blue night revealing ideal forms to us, as in White Lady.

The flat surface of his paintings confronts the viewer with the subject – depth is used to remind the viewer of an ambiguity that we do not understand, the reality we see. Often Filipe’s colours are Portuguese – that combination of brown, red and yellow and black and blue – a statement that is then contradicted by a painting like Decolages. Perhaps his sense of questioning in all his pictures and the lack of dogmatic answers is also Portuguese. All his technical skill, knowledge, training and process is only as good as the idea. For Filipe painting is the revealing of the idea – the posing of the question. The phenomena we are ling do not cohere into an interpretation that makes sense. By questioning those illusions of certainty we may begin to find other patterns and directions. So the subject of art is to make the invisible visible and of reminding us that what we thought was visible we can’t fully comprehend.

One of Filipe’s shows was called “Human Patterns”. As in this show, it was full of pattens of humans. Humans are the only animals that make art, perhaps there is some reason for doing so in the anarchic ant hill or on what another critic has described as Becket’s “roads to nowhere”. We who can see the patterns in the animal world seem unable to understand patterns in our own. These works powerfully portray the problems of a world without answers – just many questions. Filipe Rocha da Silva’s selection of questions can be of immense importance to the discerning viewer. As we confront the year 2000 this is a pertinent and dynamic body of work, reflecting the enigma of our times.


Mary Beckinsale


Photograhs by:
Cintra&Castro Caldas, Abílio Leitão, Megaestúdio, Bill Orcut, Valter Vinagre, Francisco Vidinha, Rui Salta, Jorge Coelho and others.

For all contents: © Rocha da Silva