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Vera Novis

Itabira is just a picture on the wall
but how it hurts
Carlos Drummond de Andrade

At first, the figurative character of Lilian Camelli’s canvases drew my attention by the difference in relation to the art that is produced today. And I do not mean ready-made, body art, street art, performances or installations. The comparison considered the “well-behaved”, easel painting,  the “old” oil on its most used support, the canvas. This painting was therefore a suitable field for the analysis and evaluation of the permanence of the “old-fashioned” figuration, now alongside the supremacy of abstraction, in all its variations.
Lilian’s painting goes against his contemporaries, including her studio colleagues. In the United States, Hoper and Hockney follow, applauded, their ways. Among us today, figurative art is basically restricted to photography and popular art. In the photography two names can be cited, among many others: Claudia Andujar and Miguel Rio Branco. But one can not advance much in the parallel between figurative painting and “figurative photography” such is the difference of scope. As for the popular art, what is seen is that, in addition to this common feature, the figuration, the almost fifty works gathered in this exhibition in no way come close to popular art, either by the theme, or by the absence of narrative and discourse, cherished by it.
Unlike the popular art, where the sense of movement is from the inside to the outside and the artist looks outside of himself reproducing what he sees around in the scenario that includes man and nature, Lilian’s painting is subjective, introspective, facing itself. The artist Paulo Pasta, who closely follows the work of Lilian, says: “I like the expression and maintenance of subjectivity in her work. This is a very difficult terrain today. This fact would already put, from the outset, her work in a place far from the emblematic style of the time”.
The artist began painting as an adult in 2011, and it is significant that her first work in painting –a portrait of her grandmother – was already the result of an indirect approximation of reality, mediated, of second degree – the portrait of a photographic portrait. Then she painted portraits of other ancestors, grandfather, father, mother, until the whole family constellation set, took shape. It is, of course, a look back at the past in search of origin, the construction of a history, and, ultimately, a signification that gives meaning to its own history.
In addition to the family portraits, we have another set of works with people, all women, busy with their chores: the clothing presser, the embroiderer, the young woman who reads a letter, another who thinks in a bed, all heads down, concentrating on what they do. There is even a work entitled Las mujeyes sin rosto (Women without a face). There is a great silence in the intimate atmosphere of these spaces inhabited by women. There is no contestation, there is no claim. There is a lot of serenity, conformity. And also a poignant loneliness.
From the living room to the bedroom, to the bedrooms, to the numerous bedrooms. The path of entering the space from living-room to bedroom follows parallel to the path of retreat in time. There are two facades of the same house with a difference easily noticeable in the style of the architecture, but identical while inviolable for the look of the exterior. Only memory can cross the austere facade of this house, stroll a bit through the pictures on the walls of the living-rooms before reaching the intimacy of the bedrooms. The more retreat in time the more circumscription in space.
Would the small bedrooms, reduced to essentials in the furnishings, devoid of decorations, be one bedroom variations? What would be the archetype? Is the quest for this primordial model the attempt to reach the deeper or true “I”? Does the “deep self” maintain an unequivocal relationship with reality?
There is a point at which memory collides. An interdiction signal interrupts the inward travel in space and time. The artist then resorts to repetition as an attempt to circumvent this interdiction. And the bedrooms are repeated to exhaustion. Repetition itself is not a negative trait in language style. It is enough to remember the recurrent marines of Pancetti, or the recurrent flags of Volpi, or, still, the recurring mountains with white churches of Guignard. The obsessive repetition in Lilian is the affirmation of her quest, the non-acceptance of the limits imposed by the interdiction. Then, here and there, with all semantic charge, appear mirrors that duplicate the elements of the scene or bring to the scene elements that were outside of it. Also appear the corridors that let only glimpse, very veiled, other spaces, suggesting an infinite unfolding. The presence of the multiplier mirrors and the corridors that unfold emphasize the gesture that reveals the desire to go beyond, to the core, to the gist.
To the gist of herself. Since Lilian’s work is strongly autobiographical, self-referential, what is inferred from the portraits of family members, it is her melancholy that permeates all scenarios, different from what happens in the American figurative painting, which, so objective, does not allow the artist to leave his mark. There, the solitude of the figures represented is in them and not in the artist. There is denunciation of the situation of physical and mental shortage, but not emotion nor compassion. At the opposite extreme, Lilian is Latin American, and even if there are no figures, there is much emotion when we contemplate solitude in small, simple bedrooms without props. Lilian wants to give voice to the Paraguayan soul, wants to hear the voice of people who, one day, were present in those bedrooms. In addition to solitude, melancholy and sadness predominate, an immense sadness that is unknown of what, nor of whom, as is the sadness sung in Portuguese fados. In this sense the Latin soul of Spanish America is also Iberian and, for this bias, also Brazilian.
This feeling of loneliness, of sadness, of melancholy, not blunt but diffuse and permanent, runs through all of Lilian's work. It is in Julio Cortázar, in Juan Rulfo, in Lezama Lima, in Pablo Neruda and even in the least latin of them, Jorge Luis Borges. Much more than often, this feeling is the very expression of the man in Spanish-speaking America, captured with extreme mastery and expounded by Gabriel García Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The treatment given to the material that encompasses the themes of loneliness, sadness and nostalgia, classified as magical realism, which more clearly typifies Latin American literature, also occurs in other arts, painting, sculpture and music. Decades ago, the Paraguayan guaranias, that invoke this atmosphere of nostalgia, were well known in Brazil. One of them, “Recuerdos de Ypacaraí”, was an obligatory hit in the serestas of north to south of Brazil. Lilian brought Ypacaraí. It is no accident that Lilian was born and lived in Ypacaraí. Coming to live in Brazil, she brought Ypacaraí inside the heart. The word Ypacaraí, for the Brazilians, perhaps, for me, certainly, metaphorizes the states of soul that we feel present in Lilian’s painting. Take note of the title of the guarania: Recuerdos de... Already in the title, the guarania makes explicit the motto of the memories.
We have already pointed out, in the works considered here, the obsession with repetition. We now indicate another characteristic in Lilian’s painting: compulsion. These are very close but not identical syntagmas. A subtle difference is inferred by the fact that obsession can be somehow directed, tamed, while the compulsion does not accept reins, it is the drive in the terminology of psychoanalysis, it is the first force, the force majeure. The combination of these two energies results in enormous freedom in approaching the real, aptly named magical realism. One must distinguish figurative language from realistic style. Inevitably come to mind the couples of Chagall flying over the roofs of the houses of a small village, he, in coat, hat, carrying a violin, she, bridal, white dress and bouquet in hand. All so normal, so accurate, so real, but you can not forget that they are... flying over the rooftops!
In Lilian the objects that define the bedroom are there: the bed, the wardrobe, the mirror, the armchair, but there is no concern with the correction of perspective, nor with the property of colors, nor with the drawings, often rough. It is a figurative style because the objects are there represented and recognizable, but the language is not realistic. It is a gentle form of magical realism, feminine, natural form. It has nothing to do with “reality”. It’s all about truth. Are Modigliani women real? Are Giacometti's figures real? No, but they are true.
The language of an artist crystallizes a personal style when it is recognizable in any circumstance. This statement comes to light when we think of the small canvases with the theme of playground. This series does not present many of the traits we postulate as characteristic of Lilian’s personal style: this time we have open spaces, outdoors, green lawn, trees, but there are no children and nothing leaves the place, nothing moves, there is no life. Impossible to control the feeling of discouragement, and this is how one can perceive the imprint of Lilian’s writing, her signature.
Finally, the painting entitled El violinista at first would crumble all the critical reading developed so far; for it is an exterior scene, outside the sacred space of the house; for having a masculine character, infringing with its presence the reign of the feminine; for having two characters when the rule is to have only one character; and especially because it is the only work to suggest a narrative or to allow the readers of the scene to create diverse narratives: is it the end of a love affair and the boy left the girl, or the girl expelled the boy from her house? Or it is a scene, less dramatic, of a farewell between lovers who will meet again the next day; or separation between teacher and student after a music lesson? In either alternative, the scene describes a farewell situation, sad as all farewells. On the other hand, there is in this scene an absolutely unprecedented element in all the works: the sound that interrupts the heavy, distressing silence of the other canvases. To whom to inquire where the sound is, the answer is: this violin has been played or will be played, somewhere, at some point.