Adriana Rocha



The paintings of Adriana Rocha

In Adriana Rocha’s paintings, the series called Paradises has occupied her for a number of years. In the face of this length of time, it is worth asking why she classifies her work under the realm of paradise. Adriana’s answer that gives a clue that shows an emotional reason. We were chatting in her studio when suddenly she went to a cupboard and took out a small well-thumbed book. It is called Jardins et Paradis (Gardens and Paradise) and is an illustrated collection featuring scenes from the Biblical Paradise to gardens created by Man, ranging from the hanging gardens of Babylon to public parks in the 19th century. It is the second volume of the collection entitled La Galerie Pittoresque (The Picturesque Gallery) published by Gallimard in 1959. It was in her mother´s company that Adriana discovered the familiar and mysterious world of gardens. From her childhood on a farm, she became familiar with nature but it was the images from the book that awoke the feeling of marvel in her. The girl’s fascination with the illustrations also led her to give less importance to her mother’s aim, which was for her to learn French. The strong impression which the plans and perspectives, allegories, botanical records and the use of ornaments as fountains, statues and trellises caused in her explained the origin of many of the signs that appear in her works today.

In notes she wrote recently, Adriana mentions the labyrinth – a microcosm that is open and closed at the same time – as a metaphor to understand her work. She wrote that the idea of the labyrinth which, in essence, symbolizes a search led her to think about the writer Jorge Luis Borges as this was a subject that was very dear to him. She quickly remembered one of his poems, which begins with the question of whether there really was a Garden or whether the Garden was a dream. He keeps asking whether that fleeting memory was only the search for solace and the story of Adam, his happiness and fall, just a magical piece of trickery by God. By wandering between fantasy and reality, the poet takes an uncertain path that will lead to the myth of Eden from which we would be exiled. This garden is vague in the memory but he knows that it exists and lasts although not for him. This recollection triggers in him simultaneously the belief in a Paradise-like place and the nostalgia of knowing it is inaccessible. The memory is associated with loss – the lost Paradise that the Bible tells us about – as well as the imagination replaces absence. This swing from the imagined (daydream or dream) and perceivable world (with its empirical experience) suggests the instability of the real world, a theme that is found in all of Borges´ poetry.
Like the poetry of Borges, Adriana’s paintings contain a touch of nostalgia. The images in her works emerge as fragments of an imaginary world and are recurring signs. As Barthes said, a sign is that which repeats itself. Without repetition, there is no sign as we could not recognize it and it is the recognition that establishes the sign. However, there is nothing that clashes so much with contemporary art as taking the signs as a simple reflection of things. Not even the photo subjects itself to this. It is this ambiguity of the permanent tension between the representation and the world, the eternal and the transitory that nurtures Adriana’s paintings. Her paintings are empty fields where figures that seem ready to disappear loom up. In the quietness of these works, there is something like a rumor appearing from the silent movement of the images. This virtual movement conveys the transitory nature of the signs caught by surprise within the illustrative space, as if caught in the memory.

Everything begins with a black background to which she adds some texture, using plaster and pigment. She continues to place fine layers of white. She sometimes sprinkles water on the wet paint, which she then removes with a cloth or lets drain off in successive operations. The color enters in diluted form, creating nuances, without, however, disturb the ghostly condition, the timeless atmosphere where the figure appears and floats. There is no limitation in this space and the impression is that it extends beyond the edge of the painting. When two or more images coexist, nothing points to any formal link or narrative between them. They are there as though they could disappear at any moment and submerge or slip away outside our reach. Without making any fuss, Adriana subverts the support of the painting and destabilizes the traditional figure/background relationship. As there is no staging or compositional organization, the idea of the painting as a “window” also loses any validity. These procedures express the particular way she incorporates the advances achieved by modern art over traditional illustrative representation and place her work in the problematic field of contemporary painting.
Despite the apparent rejection of sense in her works, the images continue to exercise an indisputable seduction. The presence of figures in no context – ghostly apparitions – and the haphazard combination of elements stemming from different repertoires, leads to a feeling of strangeness. Photos, delicate geometrical constructions, sketches, bits of fabric, printing presses used for mass communication exist alongside each other without touching, like planets crossing the universe. Some images persist from the iconography of the gardens – the rose, the bouquet, the exotic plant, the plan of the labyrinth, the branch – from the newspapers, faces of unknown people and expanded details from the drawings. These “cuttings” suggest the appeal of the collage on one hand and deny it on the other as the whole is not constructed by the joining of the parts. Painting for Adriana is a diffuse and airy means, made of mist or silver, transversed by images. The space that she engenders does not impose any limits or box anything in. What arises from it is the image in the memory, which is not subjective in itself but cultural. The return from the images exorcizes the feeling of loss associated with the passage of time.

Text for catalogue of 2001

From the original in Portuguese by Maria Alice Milliet, September 2001