The Case for Rhythm and Emptiness

“Untitled” (detail), 2022, from Alexandre’s new show at the Shed, in latex, liquid shoe polish, graphite and acrylic on brown kraft paper. Credit… Maxwell Alexandre.

Brazilian artist Maxwell Alexandre speaks of how exposure to Kerry James Marshall’s painting made him aware of “an absence of representation. You would ask a Black kid to draw a person and he would draw a white person… Just by looking at [Marshall’s] body of work, where every character is Black, it shattered something.”

It’s intriguing to speculate what form children’s drawn depictions of persons of different race would take.

This well-spoken painter’s kitchen-sink approach to media is beguiling. His figures, brushy and flat, jump off their kraft paper with something of a fashion flair. A barefoot, disquietingly faceless male in dangling bib overalls sports a septum ring and assorted bling, along with blonde hair, as his sole discernible features.

“If I were you I’d look at me again” (2018), from “Pardo é Papel: The Glorious Victory and New Power.” The artist uses materials found in a favela, including latex, bitumen, hair relaxer, acrylic and charcoal on brown kraft paper, and borrows patterns from “Capri” [inflatable] pools found on rooftops in Rocinha. Credit… Maxwell Alexandre; via Instituto Inclusartiz and Museo de Arte de Rio.

Alexandre identifies with the “Black figuration” movement in Brazilian painting. It fills a vital gap, he says.

“… You are much likelier to be successful if you deal with this [movement] than if you want to discuss rhythm and emptiness. But you flatten the possibility of expression for young Black artists. You don’t have white figuration. Because white people have been representing the white figure for so long, they can move on to the sublime.”

“Move on to the sublime”! The lofty phrase sticks a landing. Regarding the direction his own work may take, Alexandre speculates: “It becomes abstract, which I would like to do more of.”

As would I. The way he paints his becoming mindset with words, not just shoe polish, Alexandre incites me to think of abstraction as the endpoint, a destination hard to reach, but out there.

(Arthur Lubow, “How Rollerblading Propelled Maxwell Alexandre’s Art Career,” New York Times, 10-25-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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