RECENT DRAWINGS BY JOÃO DE ALMEIDA
Emeritus Professor of Art History at Boston University
In the early 15th century Cennino Cennini wrote in Il libro dell’arte, a manual of the materials, methods and techniques of painting and drawing:
If you wish to acquire a good manner of depicting mountains and make them look natural, get some large stones, which should be rough, and not cleaned, and portray them from nature, applying the lights and darks according as reason permit you.
Cennini’s advice was followed not only by painters in the 15th century but in the 17th century by Poussin and in the 19th century of Gainsborough. In a similar vein, Degas said that if he wanted to paint a cloud he only had to crumple his handkerchief and hold it up to the light.
João de Almeida does not make drawings of cliffs by holding rocks in his hand. The precise, carefully delineated patterns of his cliffs, at the distance from which they are represented, hardly correspond to how they are optically seen. The artist represents them, whether they are near or far away, as if he were running his hand over them and as if we too were able to touch them and feel their protuberances and indentations.
Ortega y Gasset called this mode of representing things, proximate vision. It is to the point of João de Almeida’s drawings to quote Ortega at some length:
Proximate vision has a tactile quality. What mysterious resonance of touch is preserved by sight when it converges on a nearby object? We shall not attempt to violate this mystery. It is enough that we recognize this quasi-tactile density possessed by the ocular ray… As the object is withdrawn, sight loses its tactile power and gradually becomes pure vision. In the same way, things, as they recede, cease to be filled volumes, hard and compact, and become mere chromatic entities, without resistance, mass or convexity. An age-old habit, founded in vital necessity, causes men to consider as “things”, in the strictest sense, only such objects solid enough to offer resistance to their hands.
The drawings of João de Almeida correspond to and are faithful to what Ortega characterizes as the “age-old habit” of thinking of things, or, we might interpolate, the world around us as “solid enough to offer resistance to our hands”. In this way they offer a subjective visual experience of intimacy and immediacy of the cliffs that the artist traverses with what Ortega calls the “mysterious resonance of touch preserved by sight”.