London Paint Club

Rômulo Avi

Brazilian artist Romulo Avi creates intense, colourful, abstract paintings by building up and removing layers of gesso and paint. Avi works with potentiality, an abstract idea which allows him to draw up intuitive structures outside the frameworks of representation. Using unconscious mark making, the surface of Avi’s works is loaded with a vibrational energy charged by opposing colours. His works are a reminder to acknowledge temporary moments and the fleeting nature of life.

Wayward (Rouge), 2021, Mixed media on board, 30 x 40 cm © The Artist

Romulo Avi: Painting is a format that is very anthropomorphic. I’m trying to get rid of those structures, which is ultimately a contradiction. 

LPC: What do you mean by anthropomorphic structures?

Things that are made and built in the image of people. Every language is a type of anthropomorphic structure, especially sign image. There has been a lot of discussion about the use of imagery in the past few years, and I thought that it would be interesting to try to work outside of that. I wanted to open the space of pure potentiality and leave room for other things to operate. It’s difficult because you can’t have complete potentiality in a fixed object such as painting.

What do you mean by complete potentiality?

Something that has the ability to develop and has not yet found a fixed, final form. Potentiality can also be seen as the negation of the ability to do something. I could draw a house, but by not drawing a house that would exercise the potentiality of drawing the house.

It can get tricky because you might as well just leave the canvas blank. It’s interesting when the marks are more unconscious, and things start to appear organically on the surface of the work. I start to see things which come through and negate themselves. I continue this process until the surface is loaded with potential energy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it’s too much and I have to start over.

Wayward (Green), 2021, Mixed media on board, 30 x 40 cm © The Artist

How do you know when something works? 

It’s an aesthetically oriented judgement, and I think about the colour and composition a lot. The process of reworking the surface can continue indefinitely, but there are moments throughout the painting process when the work feels right. Acknowledging it intuitively and distancing myself physically or mentally from the process can give it a convenient death, so to speak. 

Do you define convenience through aesthetics? 

There needs to be an experience of the painting, it has to be felt. It can’t just be a couple of layers for me; it wouldn’t be enough. There is definitely a visual, aesthetic component to my decision to finish a painting. But it needs to remain open with room to grow in the viewer’s eyes.

Does the painting come to life through this intuitive layering process? Ultimately, you’re the one in control of when the painting is finished and all of the other choices like colour composition and layers. Your work is really playing in between the objective and non objective process.

Yes, I agree. I can’t get rid of the control unless I delegate the process to the environment or let other external factors dictate the results. I’m working in a subjective way, but there is an interplay with control. It is a state of controlled jeopardy, and a particular state is picked for control to be exerted on. But when I start the work, there’s no finish line or clear goal. 

Caravan, 2022, Mixed media on board, 60 x0 80 cm © The Artist

It feels like there is an intentionality to the colour choice and mark making. 

I’ve always enjoyed very intense things and saturated colours, although my background is very naturalistic. To me, it’s a very natural and instinctual colour decision. My approach to colour is very contrast oriented. I try to create vibrations through colours that have very different feelings, opposing colours and the contrast between opaqueness and transparency. It creates a sense of depth and brings a lot to the painting. 

You’re pushing the colour theory, yet there is a certain harmony throughout the works. 

The one thing that comes through is the fact that I used to enjoy doing a lot of landscape painting in my free time. Landscape painting has a very specific limited palette and compositional rules. I limit my palette and try to keep it cohesive. 

The choice of limiting your colour palette is a form of control and a specific parameter. Are there other parameters that you set up? Are you looking at specific images? 

I don’t usually draw on specific imagery or look directly at an image when I’m working. We’re bombarded by images every day, so images will naturally influence the work. For me, the images that appear organically in the work symbolise an experience, which becomes an imprint of my life on the painting. I also listen to different music while I paint which creates various moods. I’ll listen to the duration of an album for each painting session. I’ve done paintings with jazz, Samba, psychedelic, and progressive rock. I find it very stimulating and helps me visually while I paint. 

Is the imprint another word for your subconscious?

It definitely stems from an unconscious act, like daydreaming. The imprint is a trace of myself on the work through my actions on it, even if I am absent on the object itself. While I’m painting, suddenly there is something that I bring up to the surface, and then I bury it again. It’s how I operate and how we all operate. There is constant change, digging up and layering of experiences and memories. I am attracted to this parallel between the process and the experience of being alive.

It reminds me of the ego and how we go about life with thoughts, judgments, memories, societal norms and culture. We have all of these ideas that build our ego and our sense of identity, or as you would say, our imprint. Is your painting a meditation to lower these thoughts or to be in the present moment while you’re creating? 

It’s about the importance of recognizing temporary moments and the fleeting nature of things, which is contrasted by the controlling part of my process.

Your process is unconventional and has a strong physicality due to the layering and sanding of paint. Is there a connection between the physical and meditative aspects of the painting process? 

I create texture and use a squeegee to apply colours that I have chosen intuitively. I drag the paint across the surface, push it around and cover it up again depending on whether I find an image or not. The act of finding a subject inside the painting happens unconsciously. Once I recognize an image, I control whether I want to acknowledge it consciously and bring it forth. If I find the image alluring, I will bring it into focus and try to make it into a proper image, but I tend to always get rid of it in the end. At least for now.

It’s interesting to hear about the technique more because when you’re using the squeegee, I automatically reference Gerhard Richter. Where does your work fit in terms of the history of Contemporary Painting and using the mechanical approach versus painting by hand? 

It started from a dissatisfaction with the representation of reality as an answer to what painting should be. I enjoy reading philosophy and art theory, but I’m not following a specific line of thought. I’m working outside of the frameworks of representation because I find them reductive. The dynamic of acknowledging and refusing something is interesting to me because it charges the space with relatable human experience without compromising on a specific signifying shape.

There are a lot of human elements to your work even though you incorporate a depersonalised approach through the application of the paint. You’re referencing your psyche and consciousness in the process which creates a mood through the choice of music and colour. Is it important that the viewer draws their own conclusions when experiencing the work? 

I would like the viewer to have their own interpretations. I hope that the space is emotionally charged enough for people to do that. 

How do you connect a painting to a specific experience? 

The really nice thing about this process of painting is that a realisation can happen out of the blue. For example, when I was making the painting Feast of Friends. After putting down the last mark and letting the paint rest, I realized it suddenly reflected a very specific experience. It can be difficult at times, because I don’t know if a painting will ever reach past this threshold. But when it does reveal itself and falls together… That is my favourite feeling in painting.

The Space Between

Issue no. 1

Work Enquiry