current exhibition   

formal / less formal

DENNIS LEDER

january 23 - february 29 2020

FORMAL / LESS FORMAL

Words are our common mode of communication. But other factors are always present: Cultures form perceptions, a tone of voice can insinuate approval or criticism, body language transmits messages. In short, communication is more than simple dialogue. In the visual arts, the principal misunderstanding is that painting, and sculpture should communicate something “real”. We tend to leave that interpretation to the use of reason, which dismisses as meaningless what it cannot understand. What the mind overlooks is that art deals with a different language and has its own syntax, built more on the senses than on the mind.

My paintings and constructions don’t communicate a specific message. But that doesn’t mean that they are arbitrary or meaningless. They come from a personal and historical context, using a vocabulary of geometric forms. Together they are the equivalent of my self-portrait. I cannot extract myself from my works; but I am not the only source of their meaning. Just like a conversation that has its own dynamic and is enriched by the interchange of various points of view, the meaning of my works is found in the associations and perceptions that harmonize or differ from mine. Although I make the images, others see them with different eyes.

It occurs to me that the understanding of a contemporary work of art should begin with paying attention to what one is looking at. The Buddhists have a saying that “It is better to see the face than hear the name”. Paying attention generates an experience prior to the formation of an idea. Putting a name on the experience has its value, but the name is often of secondary importance. I seem to possess a certain ability with spaces and their relations. While I admire color, I use it as an instrument to create contrasts. This preoccupation with spaces and their relations is what links my work to architecture and choreography.

If I were to summarize my work in a few words I would say that it is an architectural structure with suggestions of dance. The two constructions, “Formal” and “Less Formal”, illustrate something of my way of working. Both have the height of a person. This was intentional, the wish to face a work of my own size. The first cardboard model was a straight and formal image. The idea then came to make a less ordered figure, something like a precarious house of cards. This visual contrast has interested me over time, leading me to wonder if our inspirations are relatively few, and we spend our lives refining them.

The two constructions have a certain grace and they complement each other, but the less formal construction has a definite energy. I tend to link this preference for unconventional beauty to a personal source. In the sixteenth century the Baroque style of architecture drew strong criticism because It broke the norms established by the Renaissance. The critics labeled the new style “an unfinished or deformed pearl” (“barocco” in Portuguese) because of its visual dramatics that contrasted with renaissance gravitas. But the novelty of the Baroque style fit well with the originality of
the new Society of Jesus, and the Jesuits embraced it.

Some centuries later we face another challenge to perception. Many artists have recognized the potential of painting and sculpture beyond the exact representation of images or scenes. Certainly, advances in science and technology have provided stimulus for exploring color and form as independent elements in the visual arts. I am an heir to this formal exploration that balances reason with sensation. If my works somehow touch other people’s experience, causing an emotion or an association, it’s possible that these paintings and sculptures serve the purpose of true communication, a dialogue that attempts to understand what is real.
 
Dennis Leder