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Pantonio - A Fluid Life

Words:

Edd Norval
November 6, 2018

Portuguese street-artist Pantonio brings elements of the natural world into the urban landscape with his rich flowing works that sweep through the angular architecture of the built environment and carries us with it on its wave to freedom. It moves in the way that we've forgotten.

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As kids, we haven't learned yet not to be animals - we behave first and foremost 'naturally'. We're constantly testing our bodies as we learn to use them. Everything is an adventure in movement. Decades away from being brittle, the bones have yet to harden. They're flexible and malleable, yet to set. This looseness and relative relaxation frees us from what later traps us. One day we will want to move a certain way and one day we'll find that's no longer possible.


Our bodies, modelled on nature, move like the water Bruce Lee once talked about - willing to physically and mentally be calm, powerful and flexible - yet able to adapt to any situation life throws at us. The writhy forms of Pantonio's pieces move like this. Entirely at odds with the walls they're on, they somehow make us wish for their world, not ours. It looks free and fantastical. Ours traps us - through contracts, walls and eventually our own bodies. It's the freedom of movement that is the true freedom of life.


An old Chinese proverb amount to roughly - 'you're only as young as your spine'. This is true, yet you're also as young as your mind. When it ceases to wonder what is possible and where it can go, then everything else will seize up. There will be no movement. No freedom.

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Pantonio's depictions of swarms of interlocked animals gracefully adorn whole facades, creating a juxtaposition of individual images and one whole. Similarly to M. C. Escher, the creatures seem to change and evolve and often times actually do. In one piece, the top half is largely composed of birds that subtly morphs into a rabbit at the foot.


The dynamic nature of the animal kingdom is acutely reflected in the string-like strokes that the artist utilises. On the aforementioned birds, it appears as dramatic feathers, but as part of a leaping rabbit, the lines appear more like the components of lean musculature. Either way, it's an organic shape that explodes with life.


Blues tend to be Pantonio's first choice of colours, perhaps for the anonymity it offers the surroundings. It could be the sky or the sea. It's also one of the rarest naturally occuring colours, embuing the figures with a dreamlike sense of fantasy.

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This strong use of blue adds an ethereal effect that is developed further by the inclusion of mythological creatures. In amongst the animals there are rare manifestations of fairy-like people, often playing some sort of instrument as if it's the pied piper of their vaguely surrealistic world - a siren song for creatures of all ilks.


The anthropomorphic features of the animals gives his murals an emotional dimension whereby the unfolding of events appears as an allegorical musing on life in our contemporary society. The literal aspect of animalistic movement is a powerful surface reading, but beyond that, there is an entirely different life.


As much an activist as an artist, the Portuguese painter's benign and beautiful landscapes often reflect something a lot scarier. Fear, paranoia and danger are ever-present. We might see the animals as moving freely, yet they too are trapped by their own feelings - their movement is more of an escape mechanism than a process of growth. Pantonio has developed a unique visual language, through both his incorporation of a painterly stroke and adoption of a consistent palette.


Originally from the island of the Azores, a place graced with a wealth of natural beauty - he has developed in Lisbon, a very cosmopolitan environment, and in many ways, at odds with his home. If we care to think of his artworks in a similar way, existing away from home, they can seem like they're fleeing something or someone, hoping to make it out alive. Maybe above all, these animals are an autobiographical examinaton of self. A physical manifestation of the deepest chambers of our complex psyche. Movement is life, but movement can also be death.

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