The Reinvention of Painting

Fist Experiences
In 1932, at the age of four, Palatnik moved with his family from the city of his birth, Natal, to Palestine. There, he attended school and went on to study mechanics and physics, specializing in internal combustion engines. He attended an open art studio and began to take classes in general painting and the depiction of live models. He mainly painted landscapes, still lifes, and portraits of his colleagues, professors and family members. His first drawings, done in charcoal, are impressive for their consistent, lyrical lines. When he returned to Brazil, still a figurative painter, in the late 1940s, he was invited by artist and friend Almir Mavignier to visit the Pedro II Psychiatric Hospital, coordinated by Dr. Nise da Silveira.

This brought Palatnik into contact with artworks made by Dr. Nise’s schizophrenic patients, and he could not understand how those people, especially Raphael Domingues and Emygdio de Barros, could produce such artistically dense images even though they had not been trained in the visual arts and lacked an understanding of the term ‘art’: “I thought that I was a trained artist. I decided to start all over from scratch. The discipline from the school, the studio, was no longer of any use.”

It is phenomenal to perceive that the lines, gestures and expressiveness of those two artists bore a fertile and pertinent connection with the canonic painters of modern art, especially Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse. Their work opened another direction for the maturation and understanding of different practices that constituted Brazilian modern art. For Palatnik, it was the moment to temporarily put aside his brushes and delve into the principles and techniques of kinetic art.

Kinechromatic Devices
In 1951, the artist produced his first Aparelho cinecromático, a milestone of kinetic art worldwide. Using motors and lights in its structure (the first work of this series was still jury rigged with strings inside of it), the work enlarged the term “sculpture” in the history of art while it also produced a fruitful dialogue with painting. At the time, art critic Mário Pedrosa stated that Palatnik was producing a painting with light. That same year, the organizers of the 1st Bienal de São Paulo judged the work for its possible inclusion in the exhibition, and decided in the negative, “because it wasn’t painting, nor sculpture, there was no way to classify it.”

But some days later, due to the nonappearance of the delegation from Japan, the artist’s Cinecromático azul e roxo em primeiro movimento was accepted to participate in the Bienal, where it went on to win an honorable mention from the international jury.

If in his Aparelhos cinecromáticos and Objetos cinéticos the movement and participation take place autonomously in relation to the spectator, the same is not true of his paintings of a constructive bent, since the spectator’s mobility in relation to them causes a dynamic re-dimensioning of the idea of movement in direct opposition to the supposed rigidity of a painting.

Kinetic Objects
In 1964, Palatnik began to work on his Objetos cinéticos, constructed of metallic rods or wires bearing geometrically shaped wooden plaques at their ends that are moved slowly by motors and, in some cases, by electromagnets. While in the Aparelhos cinecromáticos the electromechanical part is not apparent to the spectator, in the Objetos cinéticos part of this structure is visible. This series established his work as one of the most important in the world — approximating it to that of artists such as Calder, -Moholy-Nagy, Miró and Soto, while it blazed a new path of research in regard to the practice of constructive art in Brazil.

His work gave rise to forms in space by way of movement and enlarged the borders, now fluid, between painting and sculpture. These movements possess a time distinct from that of day-to-day life, since they offer us the possibility for rest and delicateness; we are suspended in time and space by the enchantment that these seductive and hypnotic objects reveal to us.

Technology operates in Palatnik’s work in a very particular way. The artist engages in manual craftwork, as is evident in the use of materials such as glass, string, cardboard and metallic rods. In this series these inexpensive elements, readily available in the retail market, nevertheless carry out a procedure of high poetic value.

The Studio
As a place for the conception of cutting-edge artworks that profoundly marked the history of art, Abraham Palatnik’s studio reveals one of the hallmarks of his career: a taste for craftwork, in which two activities (artist and inventor) go hand in hand. The evident rigor in his work is underscored by a charming fantastic quality that enchants our gaze in a few instants. His studio clearly evinces an artist far ahead of his time, involved with technology as well as intuition. Science and subjectivity side-by-side. Screws and nails alongside electronic apparatuses created by the artist himself. In this light, we are also able to imagine the continuity of his research today, the artist’s constant search for ramifications of his pioneering investigations. It is a magic place that has played the dual role of an artist’s studio and workshop.

A place of invention, it has furthermore, and above all, been the stage of artistic operations that culminated in a fundamental legacy for kinetic art, as is the case of the artist’s celebrated Aparelhos cinecromáticos and Objetos cinéticos.

Abraham Palatnik’s work space is characterized by the use of industrial materials that are also closely linked with everyday life, used in a radical investigation into space and movement — the result of an amazingly creative mind and a nearly craftsmanlike approach in conceiving his works.

Palatnik dynamized concrete art beyond its usual scope and integrated it to daily life by way of furniture. In 1954, together with his brother, he created a furniture factory called Arte Viva, which operated until the middle of the following decade. Various types of tables were produced with glass tops painted by the artist, as well as easy chairs, chairs and sofas. The same experimentation that guided his work in the studio prevailed at the factory. In the 1970s, Palatnik and his brother opened Silon, a firm that produced designer objects on a large scale, for the most part with animals as a motif. In a certain way the work only acquired a full and complete meaning if it was incorporated into the daily life, routine and common use of the citizens.

The kinetic possibilities were pushed beyond the potentials of light, to also involve research into the qualities of movement and time. In 1959 he produced Mobilidade IV; in 1962 he created the board game Quadrado perfeito, and in 1965 he executed Objeto lúdico.

These are games that display the two interests of the artist at that moment: an increasingly diversified research into kinetic qualities, coupled with an exploration of multiplicity and the dissemination of this production within society. In the 1950s and ’60s he also developed a series of inventions linked to industry.

These include a machine for splitting the husks of babaçu coconuts, devices for feeding raw material into machines used in the production of fish meal, and a special kind of canvas at the request of friend and fellow artist Ivan Serpa, which allowed for better absorption of the paint, maintaining the colors in their original hue and preventing the painted surface from cracking.

The interest in mobility is also seen in Palatnik’s bidimensional work. In the Relevos progressivos, made from the 1960s onward, the sequencing of the cuts in the surface of the material — cardboard, metal or wood — creates waves that vary depending on the depth and location of the cut, constituting a unique dynamics. In the 1970s, Palatnik began to produce “paintings” called Progressões made with thin strips of jacarandá wood mounted sequentially side-by-side. He also began to make Progressões with polyester resin, where he explores primarily the material’s transparency. By way of a horizontal expansion, there is an increasing interest in exploring color as a way of enlarging the idea of space.

This series presents a reasonable proximity with the painting on glass he made during the 1950s and which was the initial step toward his involvement with the design and fabrication of furniture.

The Progressões entered a further phase in the 1990s in the series W, in which the jacarandá wood was replaced by acrylic paint. In these works, Palatnik paints abstract canvases that serve as “models” for later paintings made with laser-cut yardsticks assembled side by side with colors and forms resembling those models.

During the assembly process, the artist slides the strips of the “sliced painting” up and down in relation to one another to “draw” the final work, constructing a progressive rhythm of the form, combining expansion with visual dynamics. This inventive character is also found in the series of paintings with string and acrylic paint made in the 1980s.

The painting acquired a light volume which helped to produce an optical effect that balanced the “precarious technology” of the string with a rigorous and sensitive research into kinetic art and the possibilities for the expansion of both form and color through a double movement: of the lines and of the viewer.

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