[open the box] Fernando Calhau

X MARKS THE SPOT by Delfim Sardo

By Culturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

Untitled, Fernando Calhau, 1973, From the collection of: Culturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos
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Untitled, Fernando Calhau, 1973, From the collection of: Culturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos
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FERNANDO CALHAU, Untitled, 1973, acrylic on canvas, 55 x 55 cm (each), inventory 439328/439329, ©DMF, Lisboa

X MARKS THE SPOT, I
Very few artists have followed such a coherent and determined path in their choices as Fernando Calhau, whether in Portugal or internationally. Throughout his career his option for monochrome painting guided him from his time as a student in the late sixties and early seventies at the Escola Superior de Belas-Artes de Lisboa.

His first pictorial production, to which these works belong, was carried out between 1972 and 1975, and was followed by a period of mourning over painting, in line with the wind of the time, during which Fernando Calhau did photographic works and Super 8 films, as well as some experiments in video (which today are unfortunately lost because the technical support he used is now obsolete and discontinued). The series of green paintings which Calhau made in three different sizes, coming from the landscape works he did when he was still a student, always follow the same structure and the same process of production: they are square canvases painted in compressor-projected acrylic and reveal a cross set in the centre. In some (few) cases the side edges of the paintings are marked by bars made – like the crosses – by modulations of green tones.

Untitled (1973) by Fernando CalhauCulturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

They are, therefore, very simple paintings, carried out with enormous technical mastery, and show Fernando Calhau’s passion for the minimal, wilfully erasing any trace of the hand in favour of a satin, uniform appearance.

Untitled (1973) by Fernando CalhauCulturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

Calhau’s interest in reduction in expression, his attention to the detail of the finish – often almost obsessively – is derived from the enormous care with which he looked at things.

There are people who have a well-trained ear, who hear things that we do not. Calhau had a trained and aware eye: he saw more than most of us, not out of acuity of sight, but through sophistication and attention. So for him the dryness and rigour of the work was enough, and he even abandoned the green of his work in the early seventies in favour of the black that occupied all his later work.

However, at the beginning of his career the vigour of this youthful, open green covered the surface of his canvas, opening up an era.

Untitled (1973) by Fernando CalhauCulturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

The cross would gradually fade away until the surface was just covered by one colour. Calhau had reached the bone of his painting.

Untitled (1973) by Fernando CalhauCulturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

All that would be left for him was to stop in order to start again, more sombre and radical.

X MARKS THE SPOT, 2
THE MAP OF THE NIGHT

From 1998 onwards Fernando Calhau started to paint canvases that had modulations of black, at first painted by brush and then going back to using the compressor, as he had done in the early seventies.

Untitled #241 (2001) by Fernando CalhauCulturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

Fernando Calhau

Untitled #241, 2001
Acrylic on canvas
190 x 190 cm
Inventory 533757
© Laura Castro Caldas / Paulo Cintra

Now, however, what appeared in his canvases were nocturnal skies, inevitably seen as romantic. He used to say that he enjoyed painting as if a dome of night surrounded the spectator. These are very demanding paintings, both for the painter and the spectator. For the painter because they are the result of the development of a somewhat patient technique using very narrow and well-defined presuppositions: the square format, the subtlety of tones of black and grey, the marking of the creases in a trompe-l’oeil; for the spectator because they are paintings in which one sees very little, which makes one force one’s gaze and sharpen one’s sight. They do not give themselves; they have to be conquered.

Untitled #241 (2001) by Fernando CalhauCulturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

For that reason they are seductive.

But also because they call up an imaginary about night, orientation; there is a chamber epic in them, to use an obvious paradox. This is what happened in 1976 with his works about the sea. In these last years of his life Calhau’s choice fell upon that deep field which is seen by us as a surface, and which is the night sky.

Calhau set out creases in those skies, divisions of the canvas, superimposings of planes that marked out his own particular view of that depth as a Nietzschean wrinkle of surface. He pointed out places in that pitch darkness into which his monochrome, tragic and intimate paintings were turned.

Untitled #241 (2001) by Fernando CalhauCulturgest - Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos

They are paintings to be seen alone.

Biography
Fernando Calhau (Lisbon, 1948-2002) attended the Engraving course at the Sociedade Cooperativa de Gravadores Portugueses (1966). He graduated in Painting in 1973 at the Escola Superior de Belas-Artes de Lisboa. In the same year, on a grant from the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, he studied engraving at the Slade School of Art in London. There he prepared the Super 8 films that he directed in 1974 in Portugal. Later on he entered the Secretaria de Estado da Cultura, where he worked for twenty-five years, directing the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea between 1997 and 2000. In 2001 he held a solo exhibition of his works in the anthological exhibition Work in progress, at the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Lisbon). In 2002 he presented the exhibition Um passo no escuro, at the Pavilhão Branco do Museu da Cidade (Lisbon) with Rui Chafes, which was his last exhibition while he was alive.

Bibliography
Work in progress (cat.), Lisboa, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2001.
Convocação I e II (modo menor e modo maior).Obras no acervo do Centro de Arte Moderna José Azeredo Perdigão (cat.), Lisboa, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2007.

Credits: Story

Text
© Delfim Sardo, 2009
Biography / Bibliography
© Mariana Viterbo Brandão, 2009
Translation
© David Alan Prescott, 2009

Story production (Collection Caixa Geral de Depósitos)
Lúcia Marques (coordinator)
Hugo Dinis (production assistant)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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