The works of Germana Monte-Mór began to gain definition in the late 1980s, beginning of the 1990s. In addition to paintings and drawings made with asphalt, she also made photographs of great interest and tantalizing sculptures – for they were looking awkwardly for a relationship with her drawings and paintings – as well as various experiments with materials such as paraffin, lead, Dammar gum, marble, etc.
However, in attempting to recall the many works she has done, I find it difficult to escape from a kind of dark sediment made of a somewhat clear asphalt deposited on paper or canvas, which configures geological or organic aspects, both elements opposed to each other.1
The title chosen to name her book (Of the goat), such unusual name for an art book was not accidental. The strangeness only dissolves when by browsing the publication we find the verses of João Cabral de Melo Neto:
Black is the hard on the bottom
of the goat. Of its own natural.
In the bottom of the earth there is a stone,
At the bottom of the stone, metal.
Black is the hard on the bottom
of nature without dew
which is that of the goat, that animal
without leaves, only root and stem.
which is that of the goat, that animal
of soul-core, of horny soul,
without gizzards, damp, lips,
bread without crumbs, just crust.
João Cabral’s verses offer a metaphorical passage – it could not be different, since it deals with words – between living and organic beings (the goat) and mineral and inorganic beings (the stone), present in different ways, both in the works of Germana and in the poem of João Cabral. The rustic nature of goats, their ability to survive in extreme conditions of heat and cold, seems to give them the solidity and unity of the rocks.
Asphalt is a derivative of petroleum, not a mineral itself. It is a combination of hydrocarbons. Symptomatically, the ancient Romans, more connected to the empirical origin of this material than to their by-products – gasoline, grease, plastics – called it “stone oil”, that is, petroleum. Thus much of Germana’s work also transits between different states of matter, less metaphorically making the passage between the kingdom of the liquid things (the origin of living things) and the mineral.
Both the poet and the artist have a feeling close to the material world. João Cabral does not name an adjective (“negro”) for nothing. It is the uniqueness of the means they employ – words and materials – that distinguishes them in a remarkable way, beyond any value judgment. And here we stop the comparisons so that the understanding of the works of Germana advances a little more.
In order for this most material experience of the world to become possible for the observer, it is decisive that the ambiguities between the various appearances of organic and inorganic matter present themselves to him. We know that cobblestones used in the pavement were made from blocks of granite. However, their geometrization – even if it is a bit rough (in Brazil they are made by hand) –, conspires that we perceive more its regular limits than its mineral rudeness. They ceased to be rock. In the same way, what remains of the leather of a shoe in an elegant shoe?
Germana’s uncolored works oscillate non-stop. Their boundaries are irregular and refer to organic forms.2 Meanwhile the asphalt surfaces have strong mineral appearance. The black areas are physically flat, although optically they suggest an enigmatic depth. As with the coffee grounds, one might read a person’s fate in these pellicles.
Also some of her photographic series maintain a strong bond with her asphalt works. The large rocks and the piles of salt showed at Galeria Carminha Macedo in 2010 (Pedra mole [Soft stone]) insist on this formal paradox; on the one hand, excessive stones, as seen from a low point of view that makes them about to roll or to overflow their physical limits. The large mounds of salt, however, suggest the shape of large white cones… composed of minute and unstable grains.
In the exhibition named Luz negra [Black light] (2009, Galeria Anita Schwarcz), another series of photos points in the same direction. The pebbles that rest on the bed of a stream of crystalline waters are softened when seen through the water. It is a phenomenon known as refraction of light, which occurs when the light passes from one transparent medium to another, with different densities, and changes the direction. When placed inside a container with water, a stick is seen in a discontinuous shape. A swimmer in a swimming pool with the waters in motion will look like a rubber man. Until that moment, Germana only took advantage of a physical phenomenon that almost all of us know. The presence of her artistic intuition will occur only when she matches brightness (reflected light) and refraction of light. At that moment, the pebbles deform and lose their wholeness. Once again, we observe the artist pursuing her demons, wanting to prove with different techniques and materials the existence of a resistant background in all experience of reality.
In only four exhibitions – Centro Universitário Maria Antonia (2002), Paço Imperial (2002-3), Mercosur Biennial (2005) and Estação Pinacoteca (2005) – the artist experimented with color. Still it was a shy job, since they had something of the light colors of the watercolor.
The more luminous presence of the colors in this show at Galeria Estação is a significant milestone in the trajectory of this important contemporary artist. Without giving up the difficult experience of a world that refuses to transform itself into a narrative, Germana adds to it a lightness, for by suppressing with colors a little of its weight and its impenetrability, she makes it more generous in its contact with the surrounding reality.
That said, the works also gain a new dynamic different from that suggested by the organic vitalism of previous works. The drawings are shown with a richer variation of planes, although only one or two colors at a time are brought to the coexistence with the asphalt. In turn, the figures, suggested by colors and asphalt maintain a less harmonious relationship among themselves.
They suggest depths, provoke each other, and weigh without elegance, until for a fleeting moment a configuration prevails, shows itself more firmly and submerges to start all over again. Somehow this description might serve to retrace part of Germana Monte-Mór’s own trajectory. The attraction of the roughness of the world can suggest an existence conducted with difficulty and deprivation, although, as in the work of Van Gogh, leads to extraordinary and exemplary results.
I am by no means raising the possible “compensation” for a life of denial by means of a redemptive art. Many bastards were great artists. But there are artists – and Germana Monte-Mór is among them – for whom imagination plays a secondary role.
What is the “imagination” in visual arts? It may be the clear and bright world invented by Monet, when painting outdoors, “sur le motif” or the visionarism of Odilon Redon or Gustave Moreau. Because it is not an impression of the world – such as the Veronicas, the Holy Shroud, or the Roman mortuary masks – a work of art necessarily goes through the sieve of techniques (or artistic means) and a scheme (the imagination) that seeks to lead to realization from the always-nebulous intuitions of artists. There are moments, however – I think of Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon, Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, among many others – in which painters, sculptors, etc. believe they find the absolute freedom of the imagination to suspend any and all obstacles to reality. They proceed as the dove mentioned by Kant in the Critique of pure reason, which believed to fly more freely in a vacuum, when it is precisely the clash of its wings with the air that makes flight possible. Curiously, some of the greatest modern abstract painters – we take Mondrian and Pollock as exemplary opposites – incorporated the force of reality in a remarkable way. And to a large extent this was a condition for the greatness and pertinence of their works.
Germana does not have the diversity of works of, say, Mira Schendel or Paul Klee. Barely comparing, Richard Serra and Amílcar de Castro also seem to have pursued the limits that a material (the steel) enabled them. And this may give the impression of little diversity to their works of art. Needless to say, the means at the disposal of the American were not even within reach of the Brazilian. Once in Rio de Janeiro Richard Serra said that had Amílcar had different working conditions he would have been an artist of international projection.
I suspect (but I’m not sure, it would be necessary to think more deeply about this) that artists moved by this rough feeling in the world also have a smaller margin of maneuver, which makes it difficult for their works to have a great diversity.
The group formed by Van Gogh, Amílcar de Castro, Eva Hesse, Richard Serra and the Brazilian Germana Monte-Mór, who is totally unknown outside the country and little known even among us – a situation that should make gallerists ashamed –, pursues a similar trait not necessarily indicating higher or lower quality.
What I see in common in their poetics is perhaps the impossible task of making a lyrical poem or an epic almost without resorting to the ordinary notion of representation, by presenting these materials so little distant from the reality by the technique as by representing them.
1 For Tiago Mesquita, “Germana’s motives have something geological […] indeterminate terrain […] sand of the desert” (p. 18). Paulo Sergio Duarte refers to her work as “amoeboid” figures (p. 125). The two passages are found in Da Cabra: Germana Monte-Mór. São Paulo: WMF editores, 2013.
2 In this aspect, I tend to agree more with Paulo Sergio Duarte than with Tiago Mesquita, although I do not rule out the possibility that these qualifications are mere projections of the observer given the lack of definition of the artist’s forms.