In occasion of The Realm of Objects and Ideas, an ARTUNER online only exhibition dedicated exclusively to works on paper, we sat down with London-based Portuguese artist Diogo Pimentão to discover more about his practice and his relationship with medium of choice: paper. We also did a video interview with him: you can find it at the end of this article.
Alisei Apollonio: Graphite and paper constitute the very basis of creation – for most people at least. They are the tools with which many artists build the premise to their ‘main work’. How did you decide to use these media as your primary tools of artistic creation?
Diogo Pimentão: This specific choice of materials was only a vehicle to keep me closer to something as neutral as possible, or essential if you want. That was my line of thought in the beginning of my practice. Far from mixing colors, from aesthetic considerations, from something technical like changing lenses, or stone cutting, or lifting heavy sculptures with pallet trucks…
Almost any pencil would do, and there was always a variety of paper ready to be scrawled. Those materials were just there – always there.
These materials represent a leap from thought to something else. Pencil and paper are used in other “genres” mostly as preliminary gestures. But, at some point, I understood there was more to this preliminary “pre-occupation”, and the thought processes involved in it.
My choice of these tools was never about a pondered construct or even a decision though. It was mainly an inclination towards practicality, reduced means. The nature of a real action. From simplicity to alterity. Paper and graphite provided a scale 1/1 reflecting actions and movements rather than representations.
There is a very interesting balance between fragility and strength, flat and three-dimensional, drawing and sculpture in your works. Where do you find the right balance between these seemingly opposing qualities?
How weak and/or strong can an idea be? One can break a simple wooden pencil or write a revolutionary treaty with it.
At work, I always try to remember that a child could tear a piece of paper apart but that same piece of paper can be elevated to a 9 meter object. The passage from flatness to 3D is a process of transmutation. The duality of folding is very important, we close two parts together but when we do so we also open up to all possibilities.
These opposite qualities interact when they communicate and negotiate their intrinsic strengths and weaknesses. How many times did I try to force an idea into a drawing/object and had to change my plans to find that balance? Numerous times if not always. There is a correlation between the flexibility of an idea and the flexibility of the expression of that idea, otherwise there would be no exchange, or change. Going a little off topic (but not that much): we have to accept that an inoffensive simple pencil written letter can break one’s heart.
There seems to be a certain degree of irony in your paper and graphite sculptures as well: the way they look like metal, even reflecting light thanks to the mineral quality of graphite, but they are in fact purely paper. Do you feel that the sense of humour of the trompe l’oeil effect is an important part of your practice?
The “trompe l’oeil” on the graphite sculptures is never intended to work like a chiaroscuro, a sfumato, a virtuoso simulacrum, such as it is still expected from drawing. The public is quickly confronted with a duality. That conceptual interaction can be established with the viewer when elements of strength and fragility are there for him to see. No one has ever come out of one of my shows thinking they saw metal sculptures. More than sense of humour, a certain unexpected irony is found in the questioning of representation. By non-representational means the work becomes something else, but by the same token the more you draw and add graphite the less there is the possibility of representing anything else other than the work itself! The mineral quality or the flexibility, strength of the paper reveal themselves. In that creative movement it relates accidentally to something else: that’s where the irony resides. Fernando Pessoa wrote “the path of Ph(ilosophy) is not from the Known to the Unknown, but from the Unknown in the Known to the Unknown itself.”
Of course looking at your work one of the first art historical references that comes to mind is Minimalism. But we also know that sometimes appearances can be deceiving… for instance, the Minimalist Frank Stella famously said about his work “what you see is what you see”, whereas with your works often what you see (iron) is not what you see (graphite on paper). How do you feel your practice is building upon (or against) the tenets of Minimalism?
I always believed the viewer had the space to think beyond what he sees… To the Frank Stella tautology I would add “what you see is what you see, what do you see?”. The works never wanted to be metal sculptures, one always comes back to the material they are really made of. I was never questioned about my “iron sculptures” 🙂 Nevertheless I do believe that what you see is less important than what you constitute as knowledge.
The technical description of my works is “paper and graphite” and never “pencil on paper”. It’s never about a mere surface/ simulacrum conveying the intentions of an exterior medium. The paper is the drawing (is it a drawing?) In its physical attributes and it’s as important as the graphite (is it a sculpture?).
Minimalism was and is an important reference nevertheless I was more influenced by Minimal music than by Minimal art, Morton Feldman is on my weekly playlist. I’m interested by more hybrid artists like Bruce Nauman, Lewitt, Before knowing about Agnes Martin I was doing similar work… Sound, repetition and time are important. In some of my works that is quite visible/ audible. It was never about an assemblage of materials but what could spring from them. The spectator takes into account the process, he or she feels it or perceives it if you want, with no expressionist indicator. That projection is important to me. Sharing trough alterity. Just like when you go to a dance show and your body dances along in it’s stillness. Accident and external cooperation, I believe in the concept as a generator of concepts.
My approach to performance really helps to understand the connections between them all.
My work is neither about sculpting, drawing or performance per se. Performing occurred the other way around – it did not emanate from me but from the work itself. On some occasions I felt something was missing – the physical element. The process was apparent, however, I needed more. This feeling manifested itself during a conversation with a great friend of mine, the artist Pierre Leguillon. We were looking at a drawing of mine during an exhibition. That’s when performing became relevant. I never considered myself a performer but the work was asking to be presented in those terms. I must say I was not completely surprised. Some drawings already had those intrinsic elements: time, sound, gravity, space, movement.