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Small wonders: Lucas Arruda

Thirty-one-year-old Brazilian painter Lucas Arruda is about to make it big – by making it small. Check out his tiny creations before the exhibition at Veneklasen/Werner ends on Sat, Jan 10.

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Photo courtesy of Veneklasen/Werner

Thirty-one-year-old Brazilian painter LUCAS ARRUDA is about to make it big – by making it small.

His diminutive, classically styled paintings of desert-like landscapes (a little bit Whistler, a little bit Rothko) are slowly making their way around the art world. After generating buzz in New York, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Paris and London, he has finally made his way to Berlin with a show at Veneklasen/Werner.

Your paintings are small, but still so powerful…

It’s about the relation – because the paintings can fit in my hand, I can see all the parts together, sort of move everything around. With smaller sizes, there’s more of a relation, more intimacy. I try to put complexity in the small scale, making the painting bigger than the viewer’s physicality – I like the distinction. It’s important for me to paint fresh. It’s good for me when I have the connection to the work I need to finish. With these small ones, I only need one or two days.

Do you ever work big?

No. I tried many times, but it wasn’t good for me. I was never happy with the big ones. There’s more attention in the small ones. This year I found a way to make things a bit bigger, but they need to be sort of enclosed – only using two or three colours or something like that, not a lot of detail like in the small ones. When I have a lot of stuff happening, a lot of details, it’s better for me to work small.

Where does the ‘Deserto-Modelo’ concept come from? You’ve been using this title again and again for your exhibitions.

‘Deserto-Modelo’ comes from a Brazilian poet I really love, João Cabral de Melo Neto. It’s the final line of one of his poems: “We chose to build an enormous model.” This word, translated as ‘model’, could be understood as a pattern, or a new system, or an idealistic desert. It makes sense for me, because it brings attention to the civilisation, the repetition and development… The works all deal with the same issue, and there’s a kind of a pattern of which things show.

Why are you so fascinated with the concept of desert?

In a desert you don’t know if it’s the start or the end of the world. It’s a place man can’t survive, an empty place, not anything, a metaphysical place, because you have no presence of time, but an existential quality. For me, it’s the only place where you could have freedom, an experience of death as an experience of freedom, and then return home safely.

Let’s talk about the slide paintings…

The slides are very small paintings – I used a magnifying glass and painted directly on them. I thought for many months about what order I should put the slides in. The heart of the work is how the projector light goes on and off when changing each slide. The light ‘opens’ when each slide is introduced, and then it closes as the slide fades away.

For me, this work is important, because it sort of examines the saturation of the landscapes: when you see one, it dilutes and you forget the painting that came before it. The importance of one is replaced by the following one. More specifically, it’s more about the moment, like when nighttime approaches, the way the day moves into the night. The night has a connotation of drama to it – it’s dark and mysterious. But what I am really interested in is the energy you feel just before night happens, expecting that moment to arrive – as the night comes, the day sort of opens up again. This passage is important to me, the passage of the Earth in this way, this energy of passage from one into the other.

How do you identify with the tradition of classical painting?

I’m very aware of this moment of our history, of gender painting and landscapes, and there is no pretension to say that what I’m doing is unrelated to it. And I have no problem of paying homage to classical painting. I don’t have a problem being associated with it, or a problem that someone might think the work is from that period of time. It’s an honour to be counted among those artists.

LUCAS ARRUDA – DESERTO-MODELO Through Jan 10 | Veneklasen/Werner, Rudi-Dutschke-Str. 26, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Kochstr., Tue-Sat 11-18