• New Paintings from the Lake
  • New Paintings from the Lake

  • 26 JAN - 11 MAR 2023
  • Seilerstätte 16, 1010 Vienna | Austria
  • Opening: 26 JAN 2023 - 6pm
  • Schedules: TUE - FRI 12 - 6 PM, SAT 11 AM - 4 PM
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  • +43 1 5133006

lake, several lakes, all lakes
Victor dos Reis

Each lake is unique. But each lake always resembles other lakes to the extent that we may remember, evoke, or even confuse them. A lake is a limited portion of water which, unlike the sea, frequently ends before the horizon, reachable by our gaze and therefore generating the false confidence of knowing it. Waters trapped by plane margins or slopes, green or dry; turbid or simply dark waters; motionless or not very agitated waters; mysterious waters whose strangeness contaminates those who live nearby or simply come close to it.

We know what Rui Miguel Leitão Ferreira’s lake is, but knowing its name, size, location and surroundings is only important up to a certain point. And that point is beyond what we need to know to understand and love the paintings which resulted from it. More than being a specific lake, what matters is its condition as a lake – a kind of hortus conclusus, the enclosed, delimited garden evoked in the Song of Songs, a microcosm inseparable from the medieval utopia of the convent or monastery as a territory of perfection.

Therefore, in Rui Miguel Leitão Ferreira’s lake, other lakes, a forest and even an island coexist. The island is Andros, located in the Aegean Sea, in the extreme north of the Cyclades archipelago, where the Bacchanal painted by Titian between 1523-1526 is set, inspired by a passage from the book Imagines (I, 25) by Philostratus. An island, as we know, is the reverse of a lake: a portion of land bounded by water; a topographically irregular territory surrounded by a regular plane. Here, three characters are particularly important: the naked nymph asleep in the foreground on the right side of the canvas, the athletic boy standing naked, genitals displayed, serving more or less clothed guests, and the putto who lifts his clothes to urinate in front of us. All stripped of modesty, the same is to say of shame and guilt, but not necessarily of action and transgression.

The wood in which there is also a lake is the place where Édouard Manet painted his Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1862-1863), originally entitled The Bath. In this peculiar scene of a picnic in a park, Victorine Meurent, the famous Olympia, sitting naked on the grass, seems to look at us not only without embarrassment, but even with pride in the beauty and sexual attraction emanating from her body, aware of our presence and our voyeur gaze, while her two fully dressed companions, rich bourgeois or aristocrats, indulge in a conversation in which she has lost interest. Between her and us, in the foreground of the painting, a peculiar still-life, consisting only of a basket of fruit and an intact loaf of bread, provocatively placed over the blue dress and hat that she has stripped off. In the background, a second woman (or is it Victorine again?) lifts her robes to bathe her legs in a small pond as Titian’s putto lifts his long shirt to urinate. The painting, produced in studio, resorts as we know to various visual sources, evokes compositions which date back to the Renaissance and is certainly the result of a construction based on autonomous and diverse preparatory studies. Did the event as we see it occur? The answer is almost certainly no. Fruit of Manet’s invention, it has us as its only addressees and witnesses. It exists while we look at the canvas inside the museum.

Likewise, the Bacchanal painted by Titian never took place – not even in his studio – but it was the result of a mental creation made step by step by someone capable of intertwining, in an amazing way, bodies and actions, space and time, in a grandiose visual event which in its unreality convinces us of its occurrence somewhere at a given moment of time and at a given place of space which we are led to imagine as real. To such an extent that, even though it has not taken place, we believe it could perfectly well have happened or, who knows, might still take place.

This ability of the artist to construct a visual event is, after all, the fruit of the same ability to create a pattern of lines, patches and colours, which only exists through the combined use of will, imagination and talent. In his new lake paintings, Rui Miguel Leitão Ferreira does exactly this: he weaves visual events, in a determined space and in an indeterminate time. Without real existence, they are strange constructions and reconstructions of memory, amalgams of bodies, objects, clothes, and props which have never been together, in this place or anywhere else. Unless through his imagination, put at the service of the transformation of the mnemonic records obtained during his short life at that lake.

One thing seems certain, the irruption of his body in this space is the connecting thread of the different visual events. A body which almost always appears naked and which, in this way, offers itself to the gaze, that is, to the attention, curiosity and, above all, desire (or repulsion) of the observer. In this game of surprise, provocation and, of course, lust, Rui Miguel Leitão Ferreira creates in the observer (whoever may the observer be), like Manet through Victorine Meurent, the illusion that it is possible to access his body and thus satiate the need for beauty and sexual satisfaction that its presence arouses. Especially when he, before us and unequivocally, indulges in sexual pleasure.

Not being the only naked body in these paintings, it is always the most recurrent – l’agent provocateur – and, in this sense, the one that determines the thread of events, even of those that we do not fully understand. In some paintings, the artist appears more than once as if he were different characters who coexist in the same place: the lake. In this pictorial space without an organised system of lights and shadows, where the colour, the patches and the gesture that applies them is the constructor of the three-dimensionality of the bodies and of the depth, modern still lifes appear in the foreground. Plastic bottles and glasses, leftovers of food on tables and chairs typical of summer resorts, but also bodies or just details of these, placed in the tense border between the “there” side and the “here” side – thus contributing to the belief that we are there, at the lake. Where one dives, uses mobile phones, and goes boating.

By embodying the disruptive role of desire and sexual satisfaction, the artist makes their presence obvious in the life around the lake, where the various bodies, more or less clothed, indulge in feeling the sun, the water, the wind and the other bodies on their skin, in physical activity or inaction and, above all, in the game of onanism and exhibition, all as part of a ritual of communion with the natural world. In this sense, the gaze of desire and lust of the observer for the represented body amplifies and deepens Rui Miguel Leitão Ferreira’s desire for that body which is, at the same time, his body, and a body distinct from his own, in the sense that it is the body of the characters he is representing in this farce where there seems to be no distinction between the public, the private and the intimate.

 The new paintings from the lake by Rui Miguel Leitão Ferreira are, therefore, as much an exercise in remembrance and revisitation as, above all, one in deliberate Proustian reinvention. In that sense, they are an affirmation of the artist’s supreme freedom of creating visual events, of manipulating space and time for his (and our) pleasure, regardless of the specific laws which usually govern one and the other.