LENS - RéSIDENCE D'ARTISTES
 
 
Lucas Arruda
 
For its third season, the Pinault Collection’s artist residency in Lens welcomed Brazilian artist Lucas Arruda (b. 1983 in São Paulo). Here he describes the work he created there, inspired BY his first experience of a real winter, far away from his homeland, in the distinctive light of northern France.
 
<div class="col m-7" style="text-align:left"><u>Text</u><br> <b>Céline Doussard</b></div> <div class="col m-7" style="text-align:right; float:right;"><u>Photography</u><br> <b>Maxime Tétard</b></div>
 
<span class="alinea"></span>On September 4, 2017, Lucas Arruda arrived at the Gare de Lille Europe from London, where his first exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery had just opened a few days prior. He didn’t know what exactly to expect: he had done very little research about Lens. He hoped, for a start, that this residency would allow him to take a step back and help him process two years of intense work in São Paulo, his native city, where he lives and works. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Arruda grew up in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of the Pinheiros district. His parents met through the socialist Workers’ Party, founded in 1980. He spent his childhood in a fertile political and cultural context. From an early age, he was sent to an arts-based nursery school; art would remain an important part of his education. As a child, he drew profusely, “strangely violent’” sketches that were never fully resolved. He aligned page after page to create a fictional epic, in which armies clashed with one another. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Around age sixteen, he began painting, seeking a way to channel his attention and find a kind of focus. He tried to create intimate paintings, but found the results too illustrative or narrative. He tried his hand at portraiture. Were these self-portraits? He doesn’t remember. But he came to understand that painting could be an escape from daily life, “cathartic, even when it is not figurative.” The human figure soon disappeared from his work. From there, he progressed quickly. Exhibited in Brazil by the Mendes Wood gallery, he soon found an audience interested in his bright, spellbinding paintings. “I thought that the grey light of northern France, such as it had been described to me, might have an influence on my work, that it might inspire a more mental, emotional dimension to my work.” A posteriori, he explains: “the colors and the light that I found here were actually a reflection of my state of mind. You can feel it in the works I created in Lens. There is less color in this body of work.” <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>In Lens, Arruda lost track of time. Each day resembled the previous, and the next, in the light and the rhythm of the city. For the artist, it was an almost transcendental experience. “The solitude and the atmosphere here expanded certain ideas, certain feelings, in me. It was a very rich, introspective time.” Seasons succeeded one another, and he experienced the first real winter of his life: “I saw snow for the first time. It was wonderful. I went out into the garden, to soak in this atmosphere. Everything was silent, padded, sounds seemed slowed, carried in a bubble. That feeling brought me back to my work: I wanted to capture that.” <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Arruda didn’t seek inspiration in the landscapes of the mining basin. But the relationship of the local population to the earth affected him. “My work is strongly, symbolically tied to the earth. Even in the way I begin to work. I arrange paint on a palette. I remove some. I work with it. I add more. As though I were digging, excavating.” In Lens, as a mental exercise, he tried to imagine he was working with his feet buried in the ground, “to stay connected to reality, to not become completely untethered.” <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>When he paints, standing upright, he begins by establishing a horizon line, the only structural element of his paintings, which he then “diffuses, to create a passage.” “Light is at the core of my work, creating movement. It’s light that guides my painting, that gives it its intensity, and that ends up creating neither abstract nor figurative spaces.” The modest Arruda expresses in his painting what animates him, in a new, poetic, “romantic” language, he adds with a smile. “I want my work to speak for itself,” he says. A unique silence, a unique sky, the humility and innocence of his works are evocative and soothing. Their small, intimate formats allow him to control the light, to maintain an equilibrium. “Landscapes want to extend beyond the limits.” He brings them back to a human scale. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>When asked how he decides a work is completed, he replies: “when I am able to see myself in it, then I can’t see any more.” A painting is finished once it reflects his state of mind. And again, it has to do with light: “Sometimes I begin with a lot of light and the work darkens progressively. Sometimes it’s the opposite.” Despite this introspective bent, he wants his work to find a place in a collective consciousness: “When I paint, I feel that I’m part of a moment, of a story. I carefully consider every gesture and try at all times to respect the past, the artists who preceded me. What I do is only possible because modernism took place.” <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>In Lens, he created large-format paintings for the first time, all monochromatic. “These works are more physical, since I can’t hold everything in front of me.” The horizon line vanished, and light filled the entire canvas. During his residency, he also completed his first video work, whose production he had initiated years prior. The very melancholic result bears witness to his experience during his residency. <i>Neutral Corner</i> is a montage of TV segments from the 1962 world boxing championship fight between Benny Paret and Emile Griffith. Its title refers to the two corners of the ring, where the fighters rest, surrounded by their trainers. “Benny the Kid was a unique boxer, who would rise again and again from his ashes. Each time the audience thought he was KO, on the ropes, he would come back with more power.” But this time, Benny Paret collapsed, fell into a coma, and died ten days later. This tragic event led to court cases that changed the rules of boxing. In <i>Neutral Corner</i>, the trembling ropes that surround the ring crisscross the screen, making it a minimalist abstraction. Music by Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir accompanies Paret’s fall. This dramatic video is immediately destabilizing. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>The jungle is another important facet of Arruda’s work. “I thought that I would paint many jungles while I was far away from home, but that didn’t happen. The jungle is a very special moment in my work.” It is the place where he feels most comfortable, and that he respects above all others. “Like the ocean, [jungles] are stronger than we are.” In each of his exhibitions, the artist includes at least one jungle, “to interrupt the line.” <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Since his childhood, Arruda has listened to stories about the jungle. Over the past few years, he became fascinated by Curupira, a mythological figure very popular in Brazilian folklore. “Curupira is often depicted as a nine-year-old child. Either bald, or with hair the color of fire. His teeth are purple or green diamonds. He is very strange, his feet are backwards, which makes him untraceable. He is unpredictable, clever like Loki [the shape-shifting god of discord, in Nordic mythology]. He must be respected, as he can be good or evil.” In his exhibition at Indipendenza gallery in Rome (October 2016–January 2017), Curupira was depicted on the walls of the space itself. The artist warned visitors that they may be at his mercy. “If you are lost in the jungle, you have to make three crosses with six sticks and arrange them on the ground, in a triangle. Then you’ll find your way.” To Arruda, the Brazilian jungle is something very intimate. “All other landscapes are generic in comparison; this one is impossible to describe.” Jungles lie beyond the world, beyond human communities. In his paintings, Arruda tames the unnamable. In the forest, the inanimate becomes animated, gods become beasts, outlaws become vigilantes. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>After returning to Brazil, Arruda wants to open an independent exhibition space that would show the work of artists without gallery representation. “In Lens, I strongly felt the need to give back. While I was there, ‘in the <i>Neutral Corner</i>,’ Brazil was imploding. I felt powerless. When I went home to Brazil during my residency, I protested in defense of democracy, of justice.” In June 2018, as Arruda was preparing to leave Lens, an exhibition of his work opened at the Mendes Woods gallery in Brussels. At the same time, the Beyeler Foundation in Basel dedicated a room to his work, in particular to his jungles. This summer, he was also included in “Debout!,” an exhibition of the Pinault Collection at the Couvent des Jacobins in Rennes, curated by Caroline Bourgeois. These could be signs that the experience of the residency, bathed in the unique light of the north, broadened his horizons. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Lucas Arruda, “turning his back to the world and facing his painting,” reminds us of what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about destiny: “This is destiny: to be opposites, always, and nothing else but opposites.”<sup>1</sup> As he returns to São Paulo, we can look forward to being able to admire his jungles, in September 2018, at the gallery Cahiers d’Art, in Paris. <br><br> <div class="notes"> 1 — In the "Eighth Elegy," <i>Duino Elegies</i>, 1923. </div>
 
Views of the workshop, April 2018<br>
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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