There are many ways to be human. Meaning, there are many ways to explore the essence of a human being. These can range from romantic studies of language to biology, ranging from the epitome of the human imagination, to the very foundations of our being. Between those two is Daniela Guerreiro.
She's not alone there though. There are many people that inhibit a similar space - painters of the body. Historically we have Goya and William Blake. In more recent years there's been Lucian Freud, Jenny Saville and Adam Miller. Although the styles and themes vary greatly between these painters, they all exist on a particular spectrum. Their subjects are human, so human that it can be hard to look them in the eye.
William Blake and Goya's work is often described as dark. That can mean all manner of things, but it's predominantly two aspects of their work. The palette is of course, dark. Earthy hues dominate the canvases, overpower sometimes even the subject with their engulfing crimson backdrops. At the centre though is always a body - contorted, writhing figures, their tight skin highlights the rippling musculature underneath.
Something else that rings true, paradoxically with their raw humanity, is that there is an element of the fantastical. They're exaggerated figures that are deeply indebted to ancient mythology. Their bodies become a vehicle for stories that can only be told in this way. Their agony and ecstasy now belongs to you - there's no looking away.
Guerreiro, fresh from art school, is channeling the same feelings that these figures have conveyed over the last two decades. Upon entering her studies she was agasp at the ephemeral and transcendent beauty of the paintings and sculptures from this era. Their enduring power is truly insurmountable and although this style has largely subsided for more experimental and contemporary forms - her path had already been chosen.
The idea of working on the body was always subconsciously there, but required tuition to provoke it to manifest. The teachers at her school were mainly traditional in their methods, something that most people were quick to rebel against. She wasn't though, it fascinated her. From Leonardo da Vinci's old anatomical sketches, her passion ignited and her desire to study, explore and learn came and has never left.
But why? Well, the body to Guerreiro is a medium on which expression is unadulterated. It's nigh impossible to disguise how you feel through your body. Be it unconscious gestures or body language or the scars that the skin bears - the story is all there on display. She just has to communicate that effectively. Easier said than done.
It's imperfections that set her favoured subjects apart. We all have a body, yet not all are equal, through both design and decision. To discern properly, it's important to find aspects of a person that differentiates them and explore this. It's here that her art takes influence from more contemporary (by time) artists - Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud namely. Their portraits are psychological explorations of her subjects. Their sittings are long, laborious and the artists are demanding. They break the subjects down and paint their weaknesses and strengths as they rise to the fore.
The distinguishing features of the people that Daniela sees, for example a man with three fingers, becomes a well of beauty. Conformity and blandness are often pedalled in a deceptive way - 'Wear this to stand out.' Yet if enough people wear it, then no one stands out. Marks left on the skin, limbs lost and faces bearing unimaginable pain - those all make someone seem somehow more real.
Reality is the name of the game in figurative arts, regardless of how you choose to depict it. It must come with a feeling. Despite coming from history, far and near, Guerreiro's influences are brought into the contemporary realm through the subjects depiction as very modern people. It's the clothes they wear and the tattoos they bear, small details, yet quintessentially of the present.
Her paintings are like cinematic stills, a moment of action frozen in time. Her deep interest in the physicality of life is evident in her body of work and the continual exploration of such is what keeps her moving forward. With her first solo show looming at the end of the year, she has her own chance to make an impact on an audience with her artwork in the same way as her biggest influence's once had on her.
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