With “PRIMAVERA” Marcela Florido presents, for her first solo show at Monti8 gallery, a new body of artworks which continue the artist’s reflection on gender, race, identity, through a pictorial representation of feminine figures in vivid colors. Having lived in different cities such as Rio de Janeiro, London, New Heaven, Lamu and New York, the artist has maturated a multi-layered concept of identity. Each culture and each country, in fact, have different prejudices and labels to address its people. The artistic practice of Florido (as a Latina woman), aims to point out and analyze those labels, and try to deconstruct them, to define a new way of perceiving one’s own identity.
The pictorial representation of a fictional female character typical in her paintings, set in flourishing and colorful landscapes creates a sense of joy and happiness associated with Brazilian culture. This is exactly the kind of stereotype Marcela Florido aims to criticize through the repetition of those elements. The constant re-definition of the concept of home through her life, in fact, did not cancel her homeland memories which still represent a crucial aspect for her practice.
The attention given to feminine bodies, reflects her research on the way the body perceives the world, and how it relates to it. The body, in fact, learns and reacts in a different way than our mind, and this non-filtered approach to “otherness” may be the cornerstone for a new way of relating to each other and to abolish labels in our culture.
Marcela Florido (b. 1988, Rio de Janeiro, BR) is a Brazilian visual artist, currently based in Brooklyn, NY. After her studies at the Foundation in Art and Design, Central Saint Martins (London, UK), she achieved in 2013 the BFA from Slade School of Art (London, UK), and completed her academic career in 2015, earning the MFA from Yale School of Art, in the Painting Department (New Heaven, US). She is represented in public collections such as Sharjah Art Foundation and IBEU.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
It is a cliché, but the creative process is a mystery, and I am still learning to trust it.
I take the mornings to myself and my rituals (coffee, run, meditation, and playing with my new kitten!). That gives me time to understand my emotions and thoughts, and when I arrive in the studio in the early afternoon, I already have a feeling of what I want to make.
I begin by drawing directly on the canvas. It can be freestyle or based on a previous drawing. In both cases, that usually takes a whole day as my canvases are primarily large-scale. Afterward, I spend a lot of time looking at it and imagining colors. My use of color is inventive; there is a lot of trial-and-error rather than a logical process.
Even though I begin with an idea, a lot happens in the process of painting that changes the direction I thought I was going. Because I share my studio with many friends I admire and respect, whenever I feel stuck or confused about work, there is always a great artist next to me who can look at my work and help me resolve it. I also usually work on a few paintings at a time, so that they learn from each other. This practice also allows me to be more playful, borrowing elements from one work to the other.
When a painting is done it is as ambiguous as its beginning. Lately, I have had a lot of deadlines. If I have an exhibition, the painting has to leave my studio on a particular date. Still, I usually will work on it until the very last minute – and sometimes radically change it the night before the pick-up happens (which is always frightening in case it does not work!).
How would you define your work in a few words?
Dreamlike, Brazil, History, Separation and Identity.
You recently collaborated with Monti gallery presenting your new exhibition in Rome, which seems to have a characteristic focus on female portraiture. What kind of new artworks are you showing there?
In general, my practice questions contemporary ideas of the body’s representation and its relationship to the Brazilian context. Historically, the colonial male gaze depicted and stereotyped the Brazilian female body and landscape, pigeonholing both as exotic. In defiance, modern painters such as Tarsila do Amaral and Anita Malfati took it upon themselves to represent their bodies and define their own identities. My new paintings explore why this practice of self-representation, with such a strong lineage amongst Latin American female painters, became obsolete during the last few decades in Brazilian art, to the point of almost becoming taboo.
Do these paintings depict personal experiences and memories, or are they closer to your imagination as an artist?
The group of works I presented at Monti 8 uses the convention of self-portraiture to explore notions of identity, homeland, memory, separation, and the compulsion to repeat. There are eight paintings; each painting depicts a similar female character, which has become more schematic, almost like a cartoon. From a dense field of plants and flowers, the figures frontally stare (or interrogate) the viewer. The two more significant works depict disembodied heads, one floating in a geometrical background of plants and the other with flora “emerging” from within it.
I don’t see them as straightforward depictions or autobiographical portraits; instead, my figures function like symbolic still life, telling fabricated stories that interweave the real and the imaginary; reveries of a migrant, I suppose. I painted them around one year after the Covid outbreak began, during which time, I have not been able to go home to Brazil or see my family. The feeling of isolation and separation made me long even more for my home. In this sense, the exhibited works convey more of the obsessiveness and the fantastical in their dreamlike imagery.
Where do you draw inspiration to build up your distinctive portraiture on canvas?
I see a lineage between these predecessors I mentioned and my work. (Beatriz Gonzales, Luchita Hurtado, Terezinha Soares, to name a few). I am motivated by how they transformed their bodies into a site of resistance, psychic power, and creative energy. I am fascinated by their imaginative imagery, so I constantly look at them, read their writings. They inspire me.
At the same time, I am in touch with my own time and reality, with the context of my speech. I think deeply about my immigrant condition while simultaneously being active within my country’s political and social context. Except for the past year of lockdown, I am constantly back and forth between the United States and Brazil. I have a large community of friends and family in Rio to discuss my art and ideas.
So, I trust in the process of painting, and I rely on the unconscious work of these things to express my vision. It’s not like I try to represent all my ideas in each piece, but when I sit down to paint, I have a lot to paint. Painting is the way I think; I discover my thoughts as I paint.
‘Primavera’ is your show’s title. How is this name related to your body of work in this show?
When Matteo (Director at Monti 8 Gallery) and I decided the opening date for the show, we hoped that the world would be in a better place than its previous lockdown. We envisioned a season where Italy was reopened, and people could be out and see each other again. This idea brought the feeling of spring (Primavera in Portuguese AND Italian), a reminder that life begins again even after the longest winter. The title immediately made sense because of the floral motifs within the painting.
Could you share with us some insights on your recent painting ‘Erva’ (2021)? Is there any particular story or meaning behind this new artwork?
In January 2021, my partner and I drove to Key West, a quaint tiny island in the southernmost point of the United States. For its remoteness, this town has always attracted artists, writers, and poets. After bathing in the sun and the ocean, we would explore the historic streets with their Victorian houses and tropical gardens and spend time at Audubon’s house, now a museum.
I had already spent a lot of time browsing his publications and portfolios, making drawings inspired by his birds and botanical drawings. But seeing the artworks in person and the proper context was completely different. When we returned to NY, I knew I wanted to make a painting inspired by this experience. The trickiest thing was the white background and how to make it work with the green leaves, but I think it worked – thanks to Audubon.
Which are your plans for the near future?
I am happy to have finished an intense period of exhibitions and take some time to re-gather my thoughts. During this time, my main goal is to find a way to go home. Due to the pandemic, there are still many closed borders and visa restrictions. But once I arrive in Brazil, I hope to travel, spend time with family and be in the ocean as much as I can. That’s when the real work happens. But yes, afterward, I have to get back to the studio as I have a few projects lined up for 2022, which include a solo show in Miami with KDR Gallery and at Ross + Kramer Gallery in NY.
All images courtesy of the Monti8 and the artist