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Beneath the surfaces of paintings

A series on artists who use painting as a form of expression

Background

CANAL 180

presents

EMPIRE

OF LIGHT

Painting has always been a source of expression and communication since the dawn of humanity. Today, the art pieces that shaped a certain period of history are the very ones that influence today's artists in their most diverse creations.


The premise for this series is simple: we invite artists who use painting as a form of expression and challenge them to choose a painting that influences them and explain why they chose it. After the analysis of a painting of their choice, each episode follows the journey through their artistic processes.


What made the artists choose this path? Did they study painting or are they self-taught? How is the process of painting? Where do they find inspiration? The first season of Empire of light gathers a series of artists from Canal180’s local area, Porto Portugal, featuring the artists Vera Matias, Matías Romano Alemán, João Puig, and Teresa Arega.

TERESA AREGA

Edrita Fried by Joan Mitchell

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Edrita Fried by Joan Mitchell

Edrita Fried is an Abstract Expressionist oil on canvas painting created by the American Joan Mitchell in 1981. Mitchell began drawing loosely and impulsively with a brush around 1951 and she “was never a follower”. Joan Mitchell’s primary medium was oil paint on canvas, although she also created drawings and prints. Over the course of nearly five decades, she established a singular visual vocabulary rooted in gestural abstraction. At university, Teresa Arega was going through a complex time, questioning the real impact of painting on people compared to other art forms... until she found Joan’s work, which made her believe in the power of painting again.

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photo by José Guilherme Marques

When Teresa was little she wanted to be everything. Growing up, she found her way to the brushes and paints in a very natural way, until she decided to study painting in Porto’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Her artistic process starts with a question, and it is in the search for answers, the thinking behind that and the freedom she has to do it, that Teresa finds the path to build her projects. Teresa Arega’s artistic work goes beyond painting, and besides the canvas; she also works with graphic diaries, archives, poetry and writing — or whatever she has at hand, as she says. To complete her body of work, Teresa created Varicela, a podcast (in Portuguese) about creativity, focused on sharing 

the reality behind creating and the highs and lows of living as an artist.

I like to formulate a project from the beginning. Usually, it starts with an intention, with a question, and I look for the answer. I don’t always find it and it doesn’t matter much to me, because what matters is the process that makes me think about the question.

— Teresa Arega

JOÃO PUIG

Soir Bleu by Edward Hopper

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Soir Bleu  by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper painted Soir Bleu in his third trip to Paris, in 1914, still in the early stage of his career, when Hopper had only painted small format nudes and self-portraits. Soir Bleu is one of the artist's most acclaimed and peculiar paintings, due to the portrait of characters perceived as outsiders. Puig chose this painting because he perceives it to be a phase of tension for the painter Edward Hopper, in which the artist brings in references and manifestations according to what he felt at that moment. In Soir Bleu, this tension is felt through the context and the characters portrayed in the painting: on the far left, a working-class man smoking a cigarette; in the centre, another smoker, with a painter’s looks, a military officer, a rather sinister clown, and a prostitute standing up; and on the far right, a bourgeois couple.

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Shot by Bauti Godoy

João Puig is a 26-year-old painter born in Viana do Castelo and based in Porto. Puig introduced himself to painting at the age of 16 while in school, but it was later that he developed his technique, in a self-taught way, until he entered the Master of Fine Arts at the University of Porto. His artistic work is based on the figurative aspect, although with a certain realism and a focus on biographical narratives and storytelling, where he can reflect on his own reality and the connection it brings when you open up a dialogue. 

When we study arts, we always try to draw the best piece, the most realistic piece, and I think I’ve followed that path innocently for quite a long time during my self-taught phase.

 — João Puig

MATÍAS ROMANO ALEMÁN

Children's Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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Children's Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Children's Games is an oil-on-panel by the artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Painted in 1560, the painting portrays children who range in age, from toddlers to adolescents looking like miniature adults playing games. Matías chose this painting because of the similarity with his artistic approaches, such as the presence of games and the combination of several different scenes in one single moment through an invisible perspective. At the same time, Matías points out the almost utopian scenario where children take over a city for the sole purpose of playing.

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photo by José Guilherme Marques

Matías Romano Aleman was born in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentina and is now based in Porto. Matías moved to Portugal a month before the pandemic hit and like many started working mostly at home, composing works that were mainly "digital paintings", created in Photoshop. The artist became interested in particularly small sculptural pieces using materials he found in the street, such as trainers. He believes his work is always related to some game, even the most obscure piece.

I can never say that I am a painter, because I have not studied painting. I have never been interested in studying the technique, and therefore, I feel free to disregard the technique. If painters see me working, they die of anguish.

— Matías Romano Alemán

VERA MATIAS

Double Masked Heads by Susan Rothenberg

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Double Masked Heads by Susan Rothenberg

Double Masked Heads is part of a vast series of paintings of horses in real scale by Susan Rotherberg, which popularized the artist. Vera chose this painting because it reminded her of her own work. As Susan portrays horses, Vera has been repeating the cow element in her work. At the height of minimalism in the 1970’s, Rothenberg became well known for painting the outlines of horses. Vera considers it disruptive, once she reflects on the limbo between the figurative and the abstract through the use of repetition, scale and the isolation of the figure, in a plastic way, by painting the horses with no scenario as if they were icons.

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photo by José Guilherme Marques

Vera Matias started in a self-taught way. It was during her masters that she spent more time painting. Her creative process doesn’t settle in the concept or idea she wants to transmit, it evolves from the combination of visual elements. Her way of making art, unprovided of a significant meaning in the beginning, can acquire it in the end, by the title, for example, which Vera believes can help the painting to say something. 

I don't have a well-defined idea from the start.

I don't have a project or something to transmit.

I have graphic and visual elements

that catch my attention for some reason

that I combine and rework

to get the final product.

We're taught to match certain standards, so when you see a figure, unconsciously, you want to draw it exactly the way it is. So, reaching that point of totally destroying that concept yet preserving the figure, is a very complex process.

— Vera Matias

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VERA MATIAS

Born in Amarante, Portugal, Vera now lives and works in Porto. With a degree in Set Design at Music, Art and Theater College and a master degree in Art Theory and Critics, her main interests are artistic practices and research around tradition and the queer scene. In painting, she's signing with her alter ego Santa-Lúcia. She explores her artistic interests through several media such as painting, collage, photography or performance.

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MATÍAS ROMANO ALEMÁN

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1990. Studied design and photography in UBA college and started his artistic disciplines at an early age. Matías is a self-taught painter. He travelled through Europe and North Africa working through murals, paintings, drawings and cultural investigations.

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JOÃO PUIG

A painter and designer, Puig was born in Viana do Castelo and is now living in Porto. Through his practice, he has come to foster a relationship with storytelling that is in many ways a form to reflect on his own reality and the connection it brings when you open up a dialogue. Puig has a Master in Painting. He has exhibited since 2014 and works between design and painting.

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TERESA AREGA

A painter and author, Teresa grew up in Madeira Island and is now based in Porto, Portugal. She enjoys telling stories with truth in them through traditional painting, creative writing and illustration. Teresa finished a BA in Visual Arts - Painting at Porto's Fine-Art Faculty in 2019 and has been working as a freelance visual artist and art director. Teresa created Varicela, a podcast (in portuguese) about creativity, focused on sharing 

the reality behind creating and the highs and lows of living as an artist.

This article was written by Nicole Gonçalves and Carolina Ribeiro,

featuring the episodes of Empire of Light directed by Bauti Godoy, with graphics by João Parra.

Proofreading and translation of the video and this article by Eva Magro.

First published on July and updated on August 2021.

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