What makes a great painter? Some notes about Alexandre Madureira’s paintings

Capa do Catálogo da exposição individual Alexandre Madureira: Voice-off to “There’s no place like home”», München, 2017. Fotografia: Jorge Muchagato

Knowing how to elaborate a question in truly consequential terms, is a valid way of resistance, and so much valid that it is necessary to resist absolute, complete or imperative answers that behead the creative volition of change, which is today one of the principles of democracy: the well informed capacity of option. (None of this relates to any ideal concern to the democracy of art. Because the truly consequential question removes from mystification the untrue density which qualifies it, and allows us to remove to insignificance what is served under the constraint of a “lesser evil” leading us to accept as an answer the arbitrary benevolence of the accidental, and therefore to recognize , with or without conscience, that we live by an incessant, exhausting and insane manipulation  secured by a concept too overarched to mean any king of thing: “information”.

The manipulation ascended to the category of an accepted reality and, therefore, determining the general state of mental health, thus, os social inclusion, of the gregarious inclusion. Contemporary societies are, to some extent, what some people are interested in or tend to interested in. Most people are satisfied with the fragile revelations of the evidence decipher little more than immediately and accidentally. The various powers are well acquainted with this physic reality, wich is the object of “studies” that they order without ordering it, and so they do not need to think or work beyond this elusive and easy satisfaction, that doens not seek the essence of things and thus does not distinguish, neither the reason of things nor their substanciated importance, nullity or pernicousness. Contemporary societies have accepted as a gauging of the true this institutionalised manipulation of the means of access to the truth of facts or intentions. Asking is a willingness to choose and to act. To ask is to transform. To ask is to resist the bliding light of evidence.

It is then the moment to ask: what is a great artist today, and, in this case, what is a great painter? A great painter is one who ask questions and is neither afraid nor tamed by his time or circumstances; is one who rises to exist outside the reason of the others (1) without questioning the price os his existence. But is the question “what is a great artist today?” different from the question “what is a great contemporary artist?” What leads us to the neuralgic question “is there a time for a great artist?”

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There’s no place, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 100×75 cm. Fotografia: Jorge Muchagato, reprodução a partir do catálogo da exposição, fotografia de Björn Tros / Galerie Leu

For a great painter, time – his time, the time of contemporary others, the time of the past – is not a true problem, it is a question. A great artist is a problem to the critics because it is not possible to democratise him. What makes a great painter is what he does not say, what he does not even think to translate. In this sense, all great art needs, first of all, a philosophical approach, a philosophical way of seeing, of thinking.

An artist does not want to be saved from himself, is not interested in the “understanding” of his art, unless he is a servant of power and, even in that condition, he does not have absolute control over the translatable and unconscious “mechanisms” that his art occults. The problem of being understood by other is completely external to a great artist.

As the Portuguese philosopher Sousa Dias writes, art is an «excess of being over being», «a work of art never tells us,it never “communicates” what it means» and thus «there doesn’t exist such thing as a democratic art or a democratizable art, art as always been and always will be “aristocratic”, in a non-social or socially transverse sense, destined to a higher spiritual sensibility, to an aristocracy of the spirit» (2).

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Like home!, 2016, Acrylic on canvas, 100×75 cm. Fotografia : Jorge Muchgato, reproduzida a partir do catálogo da exposição, fotografia de Björn Tros / Galerie Leu

Alexandre Madureira asks questions and is neither afraid nor tamed by his time. In his paintings, the problem of the poetics of the fragment is not an essential issue. It is the evidence that finds those who do not know how to ask questions and who are satisfied with the benevolent arbitrariness of the accidental. It is not a problem, and above all, of subversion, of exchanging or of putting together implausible fragments, that is easy. It is not just the appropriation os iconic images. Alexandre Madureira asks questions prior to this evidence ans that is why his paintings need a philosophical approach, because his questions are located before the iconic evidence and challenge the narrative of history, the narrative of art history, the narrative of the myths, the language of idols. The importance of this paintings is to elaborate questions directed at all this narratives that death legitimised (3) and, in this sense, his questions – his paitings – are destructive; but that is not a problem for those who approaching these paintings, know how to elaborate questions, because thought is an endless reconstruction, destroyed and rebuilt.

In questioning all the narratives – language and image – that death legitimised, Alexandre Madureira paintings also question his nervous centre: yhe religious perspective of history, in this case, the Christian perspective, that is, a concept of history that has a singular meaning. But if history has a meaning, that meaning can only be a providential one and therefore an anti-human one. And we know, at least since the XVIII century, that history does not detent a meaning. Alexandre Madureira does not only question myths or iconic images of distinct origin (from religion to pop-art and photography), he also questions idols. People accept idols, forgetting, with or without awareness, how much idols complain.

Thank you for the music, 2016, acrylic and oilon canvas, 150 x 150 cm. Fotografia: Björn Tros / Galerie Leu

I think this is close to what Alexandre Madureira himself wrote about his own work: paintings that question «the distance and the meeting point between movements, thoughts, cultural constructions that repel and attract each other, forming an energy: time; the time that has educated us, the history written by the victors in all areas of our past and our present, popular culture, television, music, the speed of the click on the internet, the uncontrollable world of ideas, good or bad ideas; of the various moments  where several creators tried to capture the visibility of their truth , their ego, their present […] frames of a chronological line that does not stop and continues killing their geniuses by the way, transforming them into clichés».

The questions, after the questions, is to know if there will be some kind of a quiet place after Alexandre Madureira’s paintings. It is not very likely, I think, and this is one of the strongest realities (and qualities) of his paintings; it depends on the quality of the questions put to Alexandre Madureira’s paintings. Nevertheless, technique is indeed important, but that is not a problem or a simulacra of a problem, for Alexandre Madureira. This is what makes a great painter: de density of the questions he elaborates before arriving to the image or to the object he produces (his amazing You talkin’ to me?, fiberglass, wood, iron and gramophone, Lost in Translation, Barcelona, 2014) without fear or being misread ot the quality of the approach. Alexandre Madureira’s paintings  are a problem for the critic, that is what makes a great painter. Always did.

Make America Great Again, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm. Fotografia: Björn Tros / Galerie Leu


(1). «I always felt out of the reason of other»: Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), the most important Portuguese singer of the XXth century, about herself.

(2). Sousa DIAS, Pré-Apocalypse Now: diálogo com Maria João Cantinho sobre política, estética e filosofia, [Pré-Apocalypse Now; dialogue with Maria João Cantinho about politics, asthetics and philosophy], Lisboa, Sistema Solar (Documenta), 2016, pp. 40-42.

(3). «Death legitimates all that is reported by the narrator, conferring authority on him»: Walter Benjamin, Sobre arte, técnica, linguagem e política [About art, technique, language and politics], Lisboa, Relógio d’Água, 1992, p. 40. [Translated from the eportuguese edition.]


Texto publicado no catálogo Alexandre Madureira: Voice-off to “There’s no place like home”, München, Galerie Leu, 2017.


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