Fragments of an epic

Amplifies and develops the ideas contained in Ut pictura poesis

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti

Cabelo (book) | 2010

Ut pictura poesis: more than the eternal comparison immortalized by Horace in his work Ars Poetica, Cabelo´s drawings suggest a fusion between pictorial and poetic elements; an explosive mixture in which letters and words overlap merely outlined images, clues, traces of stories never fully developed. As a cultivated artist, not hiding his sources but still adverse to any sort of cataloguing, Cabelo, is polyhedral and volcanic. Figures come and go, fragments of sentences emerge in the canvas with no ambition of constituting complete or coherent meaning. As in his performances, the artist does not give the spectator all the clues for reading – he keeps the viewer on hold and a step away from comprehension. His narratives are a series of overlapping oracular and fragmented motives and ideas. As with any oracle, the drawings need to be interpreted, but are open to a thousand and one readings, each different and equally valid. But what really justifies the analogy is not the existence of a hidden meaning but that they are destined primarily for initiates.

Initiation into Cabelo´s art requires no mystical ceremony or traumatic experience; it needs only the desire to take over the narration from where the artist has consciously suspended it. It is a desire to tell the story, to take on the role of creator and not merely that of an observer. It is not by chance that this artist mostly uses simple and light fabrics for his drawings. Colourful and kinetic, Cabelo´s draperies only fully exist as works through the fertile and direct participation of the viewer, who, in the end, is tasked with putting them into action. This intervention is given both intellectually, with the development of narrative sketches made by the artist, as well as physically, where the airy, almost transparent fabrics move in the wind from the passage of the viewers. It is highly significant that the artist titled one of his most representative series of these drawings on fabric Suite Volatil1, not only a pun involving Picasso’s famous Suite Vollard series, but primarily a playful way to emphasize the lightness of the media employed.

In the installation Mi casa su casa, exhibited at the 26th Bienal de São Paulo (2004), among others, the artist’s imaginary universe achieved an almost architectonic dimension: in drifting in between walls, activated by the artist, the viewer is absorbed by the images and, in an attempt to decipher them, becomes more and more entangled in this hypnotic web, sucked into an unfinished world until he forgets his own existence. Half Hélio Oiticica’s Penetrável, half Lygia Clark’s Casa/Corpo, to quote two of the most frequent and significant references in Cabelo´s universe, the labyrinth in Mi casa su casa has no way out. Borges used to say he knew of un laberinto griego que es una línea única, recta2 [a Greek labyrinth that is a single, straight line], and, in fact, when set up to create a kind of corridor, similar to the suggestively titled piece Aventuras do poeta Edi Simons, or even when unarranged, with no architectural aspect, the drawings possess an almost hypnotic enchantment that invite the viewer inside, to the other side. Or maybe to another time: Cabelo´s strokes contain something of the immemorial, primordial, something from Lascaux and Altamira; his characters are strangely familiar despite being unknown.

In another series by the artist, and almost in confirmation of this timeless quality, drawing, which also emphasizes its ever present physicality, becomes a true graffito; that is, in the etymological sense: a stroke or excoriation. For example, in the works presented at the exhibition Escrito pelo raio,3 the artist chose soap stone from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais – the same used by the artist Alejadinho and other baroque sculptors – for his medium. Before they were decorated with drawings, some of the stones were sculpted in the shape of turtles or buddhas, which, in Cabelo’s own words, invoke, “elements of different times and places, gathering the pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Zeno and his paradoxes, Heraclitus and his fragments’”.4 The change in the material employed for his drawings, which in other cases seems to be almost drawn in the air, such is their mobility and ephemerality, and that acquires in this series, because of the stone, an almost eternal solidity, is fundamental and ontological. However, the abundance of references demonstrates how his modus operandi remains largely unchanged: from the choice of the material to the iconographic and philosophical references, the artist constantly adds further layers of possible meaning and interpretation.

In some of the works from the series Mianmar Miroir, the overlapping of layers became, in addition to a conceptual strategy, the technique used for the artist’s work born of the fusion between his characteristic drawings and photographic reproductions, some of them distorted, of the famous images of twins Johnny and Luther Htoo and that was only possible due to the transparency of the “veil”. The Htoo twins became leaders, at the age of 10, of The Army of God: a Christian guerrilla army engaged in the struggle against the dictatorship in Burma (now Myanmar) at the end of the 1990s. From the supernatural powers attributed to them, through the visionary mysticism of their statements and the constant shifting of the edges of madness, to the speed with which their feverish trajectory came to an end, which is suspended and awaits closure, Johnny and Luther are natural choices for one of Cabelo’s stories. And, the constant reference to the theme of the mirror reinforces the feeling that they are, more than a news article, just one of the fragments in the epic that Cabelo has been working on, through his drawings, for over twenty years.

*This text amplifies and develops the ideas contained in the text Ut pictura poesis, published in the catalogue of the 26th Bienal de São Paulo (2004).

  1. Exhibited in the exhibition of the same name, at the gallery Paulo Fernandes, in Rio de Janeiro, 2002.
  2. BORGES, Jorge Luis, “La Muerte y la Brújula”, in Artificios, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1995, pg. 49.
  3. Galeria Marília Razuk, São Paulo, 2006.
  4. Quote from the exhibition press release.