The painting is dated 2017, oil on canvas, a tight, abstract mass of grey and brown tones. Up close you can appreciate the small, sharp brushstrokes meticulously applied in all directions. The result is a gaseous, cloudy kind of abstraction. Spots of light emerge down the middle of the painting, radiating out so that the canvas's top half is markedly lighter than its lower half. That said, there's little in the way of a single resting point for the eye. At the very bottom – just a centimetre from the edge of this 26 x 30 cm work – the most dramatic distinction in the composition is found: the nature of the brushstrokes changes, becoming longer, perhaps more gestural, and running horizontally from left to right, and back. This section could be identified as representing a landmass above which sits a hazy mist; though just as likely, given the nature of the brushwork, the painting could depict the ocean itself, the vast sky hanging over the water.
São Paulo-based Lucas Arruda, who is in his mid-thirties, has been making paintings like this since the early 2010s. This one, like those before it and those likely to come for the foreseeable future, is untitled, but belongs to a series monikered Deserto-Modelo (Desert-Model, a title inspired by a poem by João Cabral de Melo Neto, in which the idea of the 'model' is best understood as a 'prototype' or 'concept'). The other works are roughly the same diminutive size. This one is on canvas, though some are on wood. For most, including this painting, the artist uses a process of sanding to archive some of the tonal variation. 'Landscape' or 'seascape' could just as easily describe these works, though Arruda also produces simpler monochromes: plain canvases of brooding colour, uniform bar a sanded-down edge.
Arruda's union of light and dark – those almost luminous pockets of near white, around which the gloomier brushstrokes dance – are reminiscent of the glowing sunsets and sunrises in the seventeenth-century landscapes of Claude Lorrain; the vast skies (relative to the painting's modest scale, of course) meanwhile allude to the Romantic Sublime. One could produce a decent comparative study between the brooding greys of two untitled works by Arruda, shows at a solo exhibition at Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, in 2016, and J.M.W. Turner's Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth (1842). There's a similar turbulence to the brushwork, a similar invocation of the apparently infinite power of nature, a similar feeling of impotence provoked in the viewer by that thought. Yet Arruda's scenes are lonelier than those of the historical artists. Claude utilizes people in his mythical landscapes to convey scale and narrative. Turner and Constable gradually remove the figure in their work. Turner's A Disaster at Sea (1835) depicts a ship and its crew all but engulfed by stormy waters, with later works by the artist increasingly depopulated, as are Constable's swirling cloud studies, 1821–22. Arruda goes a step further. Apparently no one lives in or ventures to the places he paints (except, in a way, us): in fact, the materiality of Arruda's landscape is all but disregarded in favour of atmosphere.
His subjects are entirely imaginary, though they play on old colonial fantasies of an untouched, uninhabited land. This is not Brazil, or anywhere else for that matter, but that's not to say we can't bring our own histories and memories to bear on the work. What draws me to the grey, gloomy painting described above is, more than anything, a familiarity with the palette from the weather in Britain (a favourite subject, incidentally, of Constable and Turner). When I saw some of these works on a visit to Arruda's studio in São Paulo earlier this year, it was winter in Brazil, the darkness falling in early evening even though an intense light characteristic of the southern hemisphere remained during the day. At the time he was preparing for an exhibition in London, at David Zwirner in September; Arruda asked me what I thought the weather would be like in the dying days of the British summer, what the light conditions might be. He'd painted a section of the studio wall a slight off-white, a palette that would eventually be replicated on the London gallery's walls. When the grey painting was hung against this slightly dulled background, it was striking how much the small, subtle change made the canvas bloom, compared to those works on normal white walls everywhere in the workspace. Something similar occurred in 2015 when Arruda decided to shroud his hometown solo exhibition at Pivô in darkness, each painting spotlit. The paintings began to act as little portals for light, or perhaps even receptacles for it. And in that sense, the best description of them might be one more commonly associated with the work of James Turrell: lightscapes.
Light is a preoccupation – perhaps the preoccupation – for Arruda, as for so many painters before him. He takes his interest to extremes, however, searching for a purity of light, an absolute light, in that it is not just a mode of representation, but is utilised by the artist to investigate themes of perception and optics. At his 2016 Mendes Wood DM exhibition, which was titled Deserto-Modelo as above so below, he painted a series of rectangles, in almost indistinguishably pale colours, directly onto the white walls. Above each was a rectangle of light emitted by a ceiling-mounted empty slide projector. Both were hard to see with the gallery lights on, but a timer intermittently shut them down, at which point the painted rectangle disappeared from sight and the projected rectangle came into clear focus. After a few minutes, the projected light was cut too, leaving the gallery in darkness. Yet for the viewer, for a few moments at least, the squares of light seemingly remained, an afterimage temporarily burned onto the retina. These were then dispelled as the gallery lights flicked back on and the whole nine-minute cycle started afresh.
Although, again, light in general is Arruda's subject, it is specifically a change of light, or cycles of light, that he's documenting. In the grey painting, the sun seems to be at the point of breaking through the gloom. The dark brown hues of another recent work are suggestive of the very first moments of sunrise, when just the faintest orange glow on the horizon breaks the night. This is not a new development in his painting: one can imagine the turbulent grey-blue skies in a 25 x 31 cm painting from 2014, for example, are about to burse, and we, the viewers, are catching sigh of the heavy sky just moments before the downpour. Time is an explicit component of a 2017 multimedia work, a series of paintings made directly on slides – the brushwork more gestural than those on canvas – presented on a rotary projector over several minutes. The subject of time in Arruda's work was also highlighted, via curatorial intervention at an exhibition at Mendes Wood DM, New York, in May this year. In each of Arruda's paintings was paired with one of On Kawara's, from the late New York series (1966-2013), in which he painted in white against a red, blue, grey, or black background. For example, a golden vista by Arruda – as glowing as the grey painting is muted – hung next to a Kawara that simply states '28Dec.1981' against a navy blue background; the exhibition brought to the fore the diaristic, as well as meditative, qualities of Arruda's painting.
As in Kawara's seminal series, Arruda paints the passing of days, months and years; the Brazilian's daybreaks and sunsets, spring light and winter blues a reminder that time is essentially measured through shifts in light. We know another day has gone because the sun dips in the west, that autumn is upon us because the amount of light lessens (whichever hemisphere we find ourselves in). As the work itself is a documentation of change, Arruda can keep painting roughly the same subject. The grey painting, as winter falls, marks another year passing.
Lucas Arruda: ‘The only reason to call my works landscapes is cultural’
On the occasion of his first London exhibition, at David Zwirner, Lucas Arruda discusses his almost pathological pursuit of a particular theme, revealing the macro within the micro, and how his imaginary landscapes are states of mind suspended in paint.
The quietly charged paintings of Lucas Arruda (b1983, São Paulo) are testament to the force of working ritualistically on a recurring theme, in this case the idea of landscape as constructed in the mind’s eye. Most of the continuing Deserto-Modelo series alludes to a horizon line suggesting natural scenery, ineffable seascapes and more particularised jungle scenes. Others are pure monochromes, surface accumulations of paint bordered by raw canvas, with no discernible features. Suspended between reverie and the tactile assertion of paint, the sheer craft of these small paintings is remarkable and should be seen in person if possible.
Behind a velvet curtain is a haunting slide projection of Arruda’s images, fluctuating between total darkness and light, with particular attention to the elusive threshold, entre chien et loup, between day and night.
Angeria Rigamonti di Cutò: Can we start with your artistic beginnings and how you came to painting? I’d imagine that painting would have been an unconventional choice at the time you studied?
Lucas Arruda: It was a time when painting was not welcome. By the time I got to art school, I had already been painting daily since childhood. I was quite a hyperactive child, so my parents enrolled me in an art school for children where I experimented with different media. By the time I got to college, I was already on a path towards painting, which was unusual in that context. I was part of a generation in Brazil that reclaimed painting in around 2005, almost as a statement, as if to say: why not painting? Read more
First, darkness sets in. Then, white rectangles of light slowly emerge on the walls, like windows looking out on a blank landscape. As the lights come back on, these luminous intervals start to blend in with the color of the walls until they disappear altogether. At the entrance to Lucas Arruda’s show is a new installation anchored on a cyclical experience of dawn and dusk, harking back to the ancestral idea of painting as a framed mirror of the world.
Arruda’s world is devoid of human presence and architecture—empty like his spectral landscapes. His is a deep study of atmosphere, of nothingness. His latest paintings, in tune with the budding oeuvre that has made him one of the most intriguing and coherent painters of the up-and-coming Brazilian scene, depict daybreaks and sunsets, while clinging to a dense palette of whites and yellows, grays and blacks.
Oddly, the strength of Arruda’s compositions seems to lie in that lack of structure and substance that make up our vision of the sky and the horizon. Nothing seems to delineate the insignificance of humanity on this planet better than sublime, unimpeded views of an open field or of the sea, sprawling under infinite skies. The artist here subverts that notion of openness with luminous, airy pictures confined to the smallest possible surface. The timid scale of his worldview has the inverse effect of denouncing the heaviness of existence; it lays bare the diffuse design of our environments, and, perhaps, of all that shapes every breath we take. Read more
At only 31, painter Lucas Arruda has the Brazilian art world under a spell. His small landscapes and seascapes are refreshingly existential, effortlessly exploring the dialogue between paint and canvas. The artist is at the forefront of a group of young Saõ Paolo painters who are bringing painting back into the focus of an art scene that has long been dominated by conceptual and video art. In Arruda’s native Brazil demand for his work is so high that his last exhibition, Deserto-Modelo at Mendes Wood DM, sold out and a long list of collectors are now hoping to get their hands on one of his paintings.
Shortly after the opening of his first European solo show: Deserto-Modelo at VeneKlasen/Werner in Berlin, the artist sat down with artnet News to talk about his art.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Since I was young, art was the only thing that could hold my concentration. I knew I wanted to be an artist since I started to have existential concerns.
What inspires you?
Tell us about your creative process.
My studio practice is central to the creative process. I work surrounded by my references to art, my experiences with the world, and the way I relate to life. I don’t have a plan, fixed project, or perceived idea before the start of a new work, each painting shows me how to continue. Painting for me is like having a candle in the dark that allows you to see only what is close to you. Read more
Big on the conceptual, light on the furnishings, the bright and minimal contemporary art gallery Mendes Wood is one of São Paulo's rising stars. But it is painter Lucas Arruda who seems to be grabbing the attention, with his eerie, imagined, and impressionistic landscapes selling out whenever the gallery puts them on show. All ten of the Arruda works on show in the current exhibition sold on preview night, October 30. And there are 100 buyers on Arruda's waiting list.
"Lucas is a special case," says co-owner Pedro Mendes, sitting on a rock in the gallery garden as the shadows cool what is left of a sweltering Spring afternoon. Arruda's work strikes a nerve. "It's pleasing yet it's existential. It has a universal quality that doesn't need to be understood, it just needs to be felt. That's an important component of art.
" At just 28, Arruda is one of group of young São Paulo artists - Mendes also cites Bruno Dunley, Marina Rheingantz and Rodrigo Bivar - bringing painting back to a city that for years was dominated by conceptual art and video. "Now painting is coming back in strength," says Mendes. This year's São Paulo Bienal (Sept 7 - 9 Dec) also features both new Latin American artists and painting prominently, whereas at its last outing video and conceptual art dominated.
But Arruda is not the only rising star at Mendes Wood, which was founded in 2010 by a young team of Brazilians Pedro Mendes and Felipe Dmab and American Matthew Wood. Rio de Janeiro-based Brazilian Matheus Rocha Pitta works in video, installation, photography, and works that juxtapose materials such as concrete and paper. One such was installed on a rented bus, and Pitta featured in the 2010 Bienal. He shares the current Mendes Wood exhibition with Arruda. Read more
Lucas Arruda, of São Paulo, Brazil, is only 28, but his small, beguiling land and seascape paintings look as if they were made 150 years ago by a follower of Whistler. Working along the border between abstraction and representation on laptop and smaller-size canvases Mr. Arruda paints pictures of flat land, water and expansive, glowing skies minimally interrupted by low rocks and forested islands. He mostly uses severely muted colors and applies paint in a variety of ways: thick, thin and brushy, sometimes scratching in with the wrong end of the brush. At the same time as he asserts the matter-of-fact physicality of the medium, he creates luminous space. Many pictures suggest views of beaches at low tide on foggy mornings; others evoke twilight. You see through the eyes of the lonesome Romantic wanderer who haunts the paintings of artists like Caspar David Friedrich and Edward Hopper.
Mr. Arruda is not naïve, and neither is he a conservative revivalist of Modernist tradition. Nor is he a Postmodernist playing clever games with picturesque clichés. He is, it seems, genuinely compelled by the idea of capturing lived experience in paint. Part of that is being metaphorically on the outer fringe of civilization and peering into the unknown and perhaps unknowable cosmos. It is the thrill of the sublime. The other part is the strange and fascinating fact that mere colored paste smeared on fabric in the right way can evoke infinity without surrendering its own immediately sensual finitude.