Contemporary Portuguese Artists:
MARIA JOAO FRANCO
During her 40 years of career, Maria João Franco has become an intransigent pursuer of interior truth and liberty, being an artist in constant changing yet managing to remain true to herself.Maria João Franco marks the contour, captures the movement, turns into reality an idea, within a pictorial imagery which gained her a noteworthy place in the Portuguese Fine Arts.Her art is deeply connected with the body, be it either the human body or the body of things.There is a warm and tender involvement in her paintings which figurates our condition, and which confers harmony and beauty to the triviality of the ordinary life.Her painting, in which rhythm is a stylistic element, declares the autonomy of colour, of utmost importance.It is a painting of immediate gesture, of capture of space, of the vanity of existing, by restoring the lost childhood and creating a new way in which we look at things.
Maria João Franco’s art is extremely sensitive to the fluidity of the languages of the forms, to the strong materiality of the colour, to the force and charm of its evasion and its ecstasy. It is a fascinating and wonderful journey, both spiritual as well as technical.
Therefore, her works are the materialization of feelings of longing, dreams, and became important notes in the Contemporary Portuguese Painting.
The devotion and commitment of Maria João Franco reveal to us the definite fact that we stand in the presence of a great painter, an excellent artist, recognised as such not only in Portugal, but also abroad.
Flowers of Mould
By Bianca Andreea Marin
And the will therein lieth, which dieth not.
Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.Joseph GlanvillCharles Baudelaire once said that art has the miraculous privilege to turn ugliness into beauty, and that pain, when rhythmic and cadenced, fills the spirit with a quiet joy.When verses turn into colours, ideas into textures, feelings into substances we enter an eerie world where poetry meets painting, birth meets death, love meets pain and flowers meet mould. It is the strange and delicate world of a painter, Maria João Franco, a poetess of the canvas. I would dare say that she does not paint, she writes verses using colours, forms and shades, light and darkness instead of words.What is a word? It is an instrument by means of which we send a message, convey a feeling. If this definition is accurate, then her paintings are letterless words, because they overwhelmingly transmit feelings and emotions.Her works are a confession of hopes, dreams, failures and sins expressed by plastic metaphors, chromatic epithets, where the immateriality of all the most important things (love, despair, sadness, tragedy) embraces the cloak of the flesh until they lie, exposed, strip naked on the canvas, bleeding like a baby first ripped out of her mother’s womb. They tremble, amazed at their own existence, at their own life. The painful, tragic, screaming moment of birth that also seals our doom. It is difficult to look at them, at human emotions and fears. How would we live if our feelings materialized in front of us? This seems to be the questions that Maria João Franco boldly asks. We would not be able to hide from them, nor to force them out of our mind. It would be our most terrible tragedy, as human beings, to be forced to look at our materialized, touchable emotions, at our utmost secrets and thoughts. Nobody would survive the screaming sincerity of facing ourselves and the world would turn into a desolated sanatorium with people trying to escape from themselves.Have you ever had a dream whose powerful image haunted you the day after? Imagine living each and every day under the constant assault, a material, colourful, loud siege of not one, but all of your desires, dreams, fears, anger. Even love would become a burden, as true love generally is so hard to bear.When we look at one of Maria João´s paintings, our faces unconsciously make a grin, and our eyes seem to want to turn away, but at the same time they are drawn to them as if hypnotised. It is because we all recognise parts of ourselves in them, and usually there are the parts that we mostly like to hide: fear of death, horror of putrefaction, lost of faith, the never-ending questions of the man seeking Immortality, unwilling to give in to the decay of the body and the claws of death.What if we should look of them in the eyes? What if the key to ending the pain is embracing it, facing it? What if the only way to conquer death is by accepting it? What if the only way to love is to let ourselves be consumed by it?I am drawn to these paintings in the same way as I am drawn to the poetry of Baudelaire, Arghezi or Blaga. Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal attempts to extract beauty from the malignant. Unlike traditional poetry that relied on the serene beauty of the natural world to convey emotions, Baudelaire thought that beauty could evolve on its own, irrespective of nature and even fuelled by sin. The result is a clear opposition between two worlds, "spleen" and the "ideal." Spleen signifies everything that is wrong with the world: death, despair, solitude, murder, and disease. In contrast, the ideal represents a transcendence over the harsh reality of spleen, where love is possible and the senses are united in ecstasy.Just as in Baudelaire’s verses, Maria Joõa Franco is endlessly confronted with the fear of death, the failure of her will, and the suffocation of her spirit.One of the most amazing similarities lie in the comparison of Baudelaire’s poems “The Cat” (inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination, where he saw Poe's use of fantasy as a way of emphasizing the mystery and tragedy of human existence) and Maria João Franco’s painting “The Dog”.
In two separate poems both entitled "The Cat," the poet is horrified to see the eyes of his lover in a black cat whose chilling stare, "profound and cold, cuts and cracks like a sword."( “Je vois avec étonnement/ Le feu de ses prunelles pâles,/ Clairs fanaux, vivantes opales/Qui me contemplent fixement).In “The Dog” the same terror is provoked by the big, stout dog with his face directed to a river of blood, and one can easily distinguished the form of a human face appearing in the place of the dog’s head. It is as if Baudelaire’s verses came to life in images, it is sheer Baudelaire poetry on canvas.Moreover in “The Laying woman”(Deitada) a feminine figure seems to be sleeping or laying dead, her body torn into hundreds of little atoms, reduced to small dispersed fragments, traces of paint flowing from her like drops of water. It is yet another example of how beauty can reside even in the most horrible moments. The image created by the irregularity of the forms and the play of the splashes of paint is so beautiful that it seems as if flowers were growing out of her decaying body, the fertilizing territory of human flesh. Flowers of putrefaction, flowers of mould, the Romanian poet Tudor Arghezi would say. Maria João Franco makes caresses out of open wounds, “out of furuncles moulds and mud” (Tudor Arghezi, Testament) she creates “new beauties and treasures” (Tudor Arghezi, Testament)Maria João Franco is not obsessed with the ugliness or the pain. She accepts all the aspects of humanity, even the most infamous, because, as I said before, this may be the only way to extinguish them. The objective of her paintings is not to shock, but to heal. Her love for the human being is such, that its physical decay hurts her to the extent of endlessly trying to conquer it. It is a painful, deep love for the transient human body in all its circumstances, even in death. We can hear Maria Jiao Franco’s voice speaking to us through the words of poet Lucian Blaga in his poetic statement “I will not crush the world’s corolla of Wonders”: “I enrich the darkening horizon with chills of the great secret. All that is hard to know becomes a greater riddle under my very eyes because I love alike flowers, lips, eyes, and graves”.In order to understand a painting we should look at it with eyes of a poet. It is easy to recognized fragments of Maria Jiao Franco’s paintings in the verses of a poem. I tried to present here her paintings as seen through the verses of three poets that explain them better than any critical essay. There are no boundaries in art, and it would be no wonder if some day a poet would inspire himself from one of Maria João Paintings to create his poetry.
“Un matin nous partons,
le cerveau plein de flamme,
Le coeur gros de rancune et de désirs amers,
Et nous allons, suivant le rythme de la lame,
Berçant notre infini sur le fini des mers.”