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2023 Hohenberg Travel Award: Paula Querido (MFA 2023)

Paolo Uccelo, Creation and the Fall, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Thanks to the Hohenberg Travel Award, I have had the great pleasure and privilege of traveling to three different countries in Europe over the Summer of 2023, with the sole purpose of looking at images. The immensity that this experience suscitated in me has left me dreaming for the succeeding months, something that I know will continue to open itself up to me for the remainder of my life. I visited the Museo del Prado in Spain, the Musée de L’Orangerie, the Musée D’Orsay, and the Louvre in Paris, and a wide range of frescoes all throughout Italy, from ancient Etruscan tombs, to iconic pieces of the Renaissance.

Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padova

In my painting, I have always been interested in finding “misplaced” iterations of signifiers, like pieces of a puzzle that are replicated into different contexts but still serve a shapely function, even if, or most importantly when, that function has come to change in its new context. Mostly, I’ve been interested in the way shapes, color, and rhythm tell stories beyond lucid grammatical narratives. I am interested in it because it holds the precious candor of misreadings, and it is in these deviations that a parallel, invisible form begins to take shape. Much like prayer, it is a space that holds something outside of language, which is also to say, outside of representation.

Piero Della Francesca, Legend of the True Cross, Basilica of San Francesco, Arezzo

In Piero Della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross, the Basilica felt immense. Piero’s take on the “cloak” that hugs the negative space that exists between representations is incorporeal. It creates a narrative that runs parallel to the Biblical tale. And in this one, he is the author, coordinating the notes to be read from the visual partiture.

The repetition of prayer creates form. Like a cloak, it encircles the shapeless weight of longing, hope, fears, and materializes it into a solid, novel shape. Prayer is a challenge to objective description, in that it creates something out of allusion rather than identifiers. It works as a descriptive movement around the thing it is referencing, which, through placement and manifestations, or rather, through rhythm, generates a cadence that outlines another real outside of the sphere of signifiers. Chants, repetitive motions, sounds that coordinate the direction of your will and dread, have all been incredible participants of human life, and, in my biased opinion, there is no place in which this becomes more pronounced than in images.

Tomb of the Diver, National Museum of Paestum

In Naples, people’s homes bleed into the narrow streets and the public realm is properly occupied, something I had only ever experienced in my home country, Brazil. The structures of a thousands of years old city stand intact, and are being used, appropriated, bastardized, and revered, all at once. The city itself embodied the shapeless words I am most excited about. It was the most fitting place to precede my contact with the mysteries of Pompeii and Paestum.

In Pompeii, the Villa of the Mysteries has the explanatory thread of a story that is missing, but also the pictorial narrative that delivers the same understanding as Piero’s negative spaces. How surreal to experience the time of these images. The way rituals and rhythms have always existed, and communicated a different, third thing. The way small visual “coincidences” reverberate throughout the narrative, solidifying a subscript. How shapes, poses, and colors stagger a sequence of reading, a way of entering the image and of accepting what is being proposed: belief. Images are not like grammar, because the rules and functions change each time. Within each image we encounter, we have to surrender to a new intrinsic logic.

After this trip, and seeing images from ancient Rome, I could not believe how far these figures dated, these poses, these affects. Seeing works from anonymous artists in Pompeii, as well as in Etruscan tombs in Tarquinia, I understood that there has never been an origin. These images have been created and recreated over time, repeated, replaced, misplaced, torn out, effaced, severed, returned, modified. The Mythological shapes that I was seeing all closed in on the same mystery that would come to circulate later in the Renaissance’s Christian figurations as well as with the Spanish romanticists and French post-impressionists. It is like there was something being pronounced in repeat, over centuries. A prayer of sorts.

Paula Querido, The Flute Players, 2023, oil on canvas, 14 x 18 inches

I take this realization with me in my work. The unending repetitions in the iterations of human figures and landscapes, across religions, eras, and geological locations, are a treasure. Figures dancing, fighting, eating, dying, loving. These shapeless prayers that contour an invisible longing. Testaments of repetition creating form, rituals that concretize not only faith and belief, but the mundane existence of the shape of bodies within the world and among one another.

 

 

Snapshots From NYSS

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