Marcela Florido is a Brazilian artist who has lived in Rio de Janeiro, London, New Haven, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. She invited fellow painter Gaby Collins-Fernandez to come to her studio on the occasion of her upcoming show at Galeria IBEU in Rio de Janeiro to talk about geography, abstraction, and learning to have fun in painting.
Marcela Florido in her studio, (all photos courtesy Cristobal Sánchez)
Gaby Collins-Fernandez: Let’s start out by talking about how you’re thinking about representation or realism in relation to a plastic sense of painting?
Marcela Florido: Since early on, I have been interested in confronting painting clichés or stereotypes of different vocabularies. My work has been really wrapped up in narratives of where these vocabularies came from and what histories they communicate.
GCF: It sounds like you had an awareness that there is be a gap in between, let’s say, a political ideology or a certain kind of rhetoric and its necessary manifestation in painting and in using different languages formally, abstractly, you’d be able to make that clear—is that correct?
MF: Yes. I was very skeptical of visual vocabularies at that point. For me, they were all linguistics, all power. It was only through eventually finding pleasure in painting that these thoughts began to be undermined. Like: actually there is something here that is beyond the verbal. The more I tried to prove that these visual languages were discursive, the more I encountered their non-discursive power, and this allowed me to keep painting.
GCF: It’s interesting that it was when you left Brazil and the aesthetic predominance of Neo-Concretism there for art school in London that the sensual immediacy of painting became more important than its rhetorical aspects.
MF: In London, I experienced ugliness, roughness, and the cartoonish in art as a positive trait for the first time. I was looking at painters like Paula Rego, Victor Willing, Stanley Spencer. It really made me question my relationship with certain art trends in Brazil that started to feel reductive despite my deep connection with them: all of a sudden, they seemed to be all monochromatic, sharp angles and elegance. I wanted to have more fun.
Artist Studio, “Adrift II”
GCF: Let’s talk about fun, then, and its relationship to narrative.
MF: In Adrift 3, I thought, there’s going to be a woman and she’s going to have a huge ass and she’s going to be having fun—that was the only thing I wanted when I started the painting. And then it didn’t work at all formally in its logic, space, gestures, color, scale. Narratively, I could check the boxes, but formally it was doing nothing. All of a sudden, formal decisions led the way, which felt very new.
GCF: So in these new paintings it’s not just a further liberation in a sense of what can be, but also liberation from justification as well. In your work with Grupo<>, a collaborative project about Latin American women, immigration and aesthetics with Alva Mooses, Aurora De Armendi, Constanza Alarcón and Mariana Garibay Raeke, you mentioned an interest in talking about authority. In your studio works, politics aren’t immediately clear, so if you’re having a conversation about authority in the work, it could be in terms of genre.
Details: “Signs of Love” & “Seascape, Variation I”
MF: Yes, when the conversation around painting is not defensive. But in other circumstances, that’s not necessarily the case. I feel that anyone who is truly after a kind of openness and freedom will inevitably encounter a lot of resistance.
Because of Brazil’s distinct relationship with painting and the history of painting, this conversation raises a lot more questions there than it does here. I don’t think that my paintings talk about authority in themselves, but because they are kind of tacky, made with bright colors, and are big, I don’t think they are going to be received politely or perform a polite role. And that is fine with me, that’s not the intention of the work anyway. In any case, I’m looking forward to finding out in the show. I don’t have a title yet, but I was thinking of Signs of Love and Recent Paintings. It opens June 14th, at Galeria IBEU in Rio de Janeiro, and I definitely want to try to organize a conversation amongst other young artists and curators while the show is up.
GCF: It’s not like the paintings aren’t in their own way tied to associations. In the new paintings, there are female bodies which are almost caricaturedly sexy, and your palette, too, is “girly”—it’s not like you come to the studio and just make really free curlicues. There are substantial issues that you are painting out.
MF: Yes. Although I have never painted political scenes or events, I hope to be using color and form in ways that talk about politics and politics of gender as well, partly by removing them from the picture.
GCF: But what about this relationship between girls having fun, or representations of hot chicks, and a kind of attitude of sexiness in your work—how are you thinking about that? In Adrift 3, there’s a similar idea of strategic prettiness and women’s bodies. It’s also aesthetic, sculptural in the sense of picking exercise routines targeted towards developing or enhancing certain parts of the body.
MF: I do want more females to come into the paintings. What I felt as an over-concern with the body is something that is so present in my life in Brazil. It is a narrative that I grew up in and that literally shapes the bodies of females around me. It is interesting but it is also scary.
Being “ugly” in the work happens to be distasteful. Being “pretty” (and tasteful) also feels like a choice. Often, the kind of beauty people demand from painting is very self-aware. Looking at paintings that are clearly undercooked and having a conversation about how good they are just because they look nice is like running in circles. But this is also a very strategic way to engage the audience. So, it’s also smart, and it’s a decision: it is a version of beauty which is strategic and performative.