Anthony Dias

Antonio Dias. Prisoner's Smoke, 1964, oil and latex on wood. 120,6 cm x 93,3 cm x 6,8 cm. Acquisition MAC USP 1965.12


Commentary on the trajectory and body of work of the painter

“Art must intervene where something is missing”.[I]

“My idea was to represent a state of being and non-being at the same time; which cannot be described by another communication system”.[ii]

A work that has no style, what unity will it have? What method or coherence unites diverse languages ​​such as figurative and analytical, heterogeneous works such as painting, cinema, installation, performance, book, record, newspaper, video, handicraft etc, and iconographic sources as disparate as pop, conceptual art, the paper crafts (learned in Nepal), suprematism, material art, neo-expressionism, etc?

Antonio Dias' body of work – gathered in the book-catalog of two retrospectives by the artist, at the Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt and at Paço das Artes (S. Paulo, December 1994) – poses such a challenge. Paulo Sérgio Duarte, author of the most comprehensive existing study, in Brazil and abroad, on the work of Dias,[iii] he faces the enigma of the variety of this work, highlighting the work process before the products, that is, the positive value of the objects themselves.

In summary, for Duarte, the synthetic unity of the work, the method, rather than the artifacts would be worth more. So we have art as mental thing, as Leonardo wanted, or an effectively reflective work, which Duarte examines via three axes of questions: “the mismatch between art and society, between the subject and his body in play with a process that fragments and tears him apart”, and also, the art criticism as a semantic and cognitive mode. But how are these points unified in the work?

Duarte points out the stages of the process. The Illustration of Art, a series of works from the early 70s, ironically appropriate models from conceptual art and minimalism, in order to subvert their orientation. Dias thus reduces the ontological question of space, and the minimalist program in general, to prioritize the critique of the institution or the social mode of art.

The rebelliousness and combativeness of Dias' work were noted in 1967 by Mario Pedrosa.[iv] Duarte points out, in a work from 1965, Note on Unexpected Death – already with “a cast of syntactic structures and lexical elements” typical of current work –, as pop data are questioned by the values ​​of Russian constructivism, in composition and in the chromatic reduction to white-red-black. And how the apologetic iconography of the world of consumption and/or spectacle, typical of pop, gives way to a mixture of religious icons and images of crime (criticism replaces reiteration).

Dias, for Duarte, also denies the authorial fetish and, rather, that of the priority of consciousness to the act or the metaphysical origin of the Self. The images of the body, in the work, “do not transfer dreamlike data to the screen, do not represent ghosts”, but reveal the body as a “psychological construction”. And, through the “archeology of the present”, the work proposes the autonomy of the gaze.

Dias' trip to Nepal, in 1977, to learn how to make paper does not mean, according to Duarte, neither adherence to oriental culture nor the reification of a new medium, but a dialogue at a new level (affective, including) with making; dialogue that renews the “cunning of the subject conscious of his object”. The “papers from Nepal” thus led to the current phase, marked by a “sober” reflection and the reverse of the trend of recent neo-expressionism that “fuses the image to a simulacrum of the scene of the pictorial act”, while the work of Dias, “separating the emotion of visibility” and “the knowledge of the affections of memory”, leads to “the rigor of a structure whose elements are not masked”. Because, in this process, summarizes Duarte, “separating, instead of merging, so as not to deceive (...) is the core of the critical potential”.

Questioned by the critic, the reader/spectator has something to judge, since the book – which is exquisite –, in addition to bringing the words of Dias, in dialogue with N. Tilinsky, from the Mathildenhöhe team, contains in the remaining almost 2/3 an excellent photographic overview of Dias' work from 1967 to 1994 – even of very recent pieces such as the series Brazilian Painting/ Bosnia's Jungle 1994 (after Duarte's text).

In the light of the work as a whole, its controversial genesis stands out. Thus, the evolution of changes in support and language in the work follows the logic of parody and antagonism; Dias opposes, step by step, the dominant codes in the world order of the arts. From the clashes with pop to the current phase [1995], the work appropriates models and reuses them (for example, it rarefies the dripping by Pollock), combining refined technical mastery and irony to produce distance.

Dias acts, therefore, stealing the opponent's weapons and intervening in the forum of art conditioning: the style in vogue, the symbolic market, socioeconomic power, whose global character has been highlighted since 1968 by the subtitles in English adopted by Dias. In the act of subtitling – in fact, constant throughout the work – one notes the Brecht-Benjaminian brand, in line with the idea of ​​resorting to subtitles as a way of limiting the immediacy value of the image.

Irony, calculation and distancing are central to the work's strategy – reflective and combative; reflection on doing and reflection on reception (often, from the “papers”, designated by the use of gold evocative of halos in Christian iconography) imply each other – instead of the current dissociation between production and consumption in the commodity regime . The subtitles (or signs: dollar signs, bones, tools, flags, the gallery plan… represented on the canvases, since 1981) delimit the meaning of the works, setting up a theater of operations and guiding reflection towards precise targets: the production and consumption of the art; or themes of greater semantic reach, extracted from the media as indexes of the global order (Lin Piao-68, Nixon victory-72, Watergate-73, Bosnia and Brazil-94).

The endogenous conflicts of making art, however, attest to the radical nature of his reflection. Thus, there is no part of the work that presents a homogeneous surface or technique. Whether in the most abstract or the most “pictorial” works, reception is urged to take leaps and bounds, that is, to gain degrees of reflection or different points of view.

What has happened in his work since 1980 is exemplary. Faced with the vogue for organic symbols and similar materials, linked to neo-expressionism, – and with the restoration of individualist subjectivity, in terms of the neoliberal era – Dias reacts by making paintings that bring a face to the first unlimited sight and which endlessly excites the fantasy (gold, here, has the double value of exciting and ironizing), only soon cooled by the perception of the use of industrial pigments, and stranged by the impersonal refinement of the technique and other signs. It is a face intercepted, suddenly, by other forms. Which highlights the idea of ​​incompleteness or the immanent root of the look.

In this anti-expressionist or materialist way, the idea of ​​pictorial craftsmanship appears to be denied, and color does not symbolize anything; it is just a residue of the material used (see the papers impregnated with elements such as tea, earth, ashes, etc. and, in the canvases of Agora [1995], the black of graphite, the yellow of gold and copper, etc.). Such images are polarized between an appeal to unlimited daydreaming and an inverse appeal to abstraction; the condition of reception by the observer is evident there: refusing or accepting to take part in the dialectical game of reflection.

An example is the series Brazilian Painting/ Bosnia's Jungle, from whose set, moreover, the cover of the book is significantly extracted. The rule of the series is to bring – in the manner of a geometric reflection – a symmetry in the drawings of the spots on the two rectangular canvases, which always make up the works in the series. The stains are gold compounded with copper, and the background is sometimes green malachite, sometimes red acrylic. The image can evoke a jaguar skin, a camouflage of military clothing, gold and blood, gold and jungle – to the taste of the customer. As the structure is the same in both fields and highlights the symmetry of the projections to the detriment of the color differences between the rectangles, what stands out is something outside the canvases, that is, the common order or the same structure that generated the repercussions as the two sides of the same coin – in Bosnia and in “Brazil” (in order, according to Dias, “…to show this totality, which exists outside the frame, and which invades it from there”, p. 54).

* Luiz Renato Martins he is a professor of the graduate programs in Economic History (FFLCH-USP) and Visual Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of The Long Roots of Formalism in Brazil(Chicago, Haymarket/ HMBS, 2019).

*Originally published on Journal of Reviews no. 01, on 03.04.1995.



Vv. Ah, Antonio Dias: Works 1967-1994. Trilingual edition: Portuguese, German, English. Stuttgart, Cantz Verlag, 1994, 176 pages.



[I] Cf. Bertolt Brecht, “Writings on Literature and Art – I”, in Gesammelte Werke, 18, Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967, p. 124.

[ii] Cf. Antonio Dias, “In conversation”, in Anthony Dias…, op. cit., p. 54.

[iii] See Paulo Sérgio Duarte, “A Trilha da Trama” in Anthony Dias, RJ, Funarte, 1979. [25 years after the original publication of this review, the bibliography on the work of Antonio Dias has expanded considerably. By the way, the reader can consult, in addition to numerous catalogs of exhibitions, among other works about the author, the great compilation of 2015 – supervised by Dias himself –, possibly the most comprehensive summary of his works before his death, which occurred on 01.08.2018. XNUMX: Antonio Dias, Anthony Dias, texts by Achille Bonito Oliva and Paulo Sergio Duarte, São Paulo, Cosac Naify/ APC, 2015].

[iv] “This (Dias) … on the international front line has its combat post”. Cf. Mario Pedrosa, “From American Pop to Sertanejo Dias”, Correio da Manhã, 29.10.1967; republished in ditto, From Portinari's Murals to Brasília's Spaces, org. Aracy Amaral, São Paulo, Perspectiva, 1981, pp. 217-21.

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