Cyríaco Lopes Interview - The Hopper Prize

Cyríaco Lopes

The artist discusses a practice that involves frequent collaboration, making art as a means of gaining independence, & creating a propitious environment for the work to happen.

How did you get into making art?

As every kid, I liked to draw. but differently of most, I always said I wanted to be an artist. it is on my pre-school report, from when I was 3 (ok, I said I wanted to be a painter). I began doing art classes outside school when I was 10, and never stopped. I would go to school in the morning and would always find an art school for the afternoon. growing up I moved often, from city to city, to other states, and to different houses (of my parents, of my grandparents, of my father, of my mother). I moved almost every year. Growing up I studied in 11 different schools, and almost as many art schools. I also always attended art classes with people older than me. in high school, for example, I convinced professors in the university to let me seat in their classes. I attended painting, art history. when I finally started my undergrad in painting, in Rio (I moved back there specially to attend that school), I also started attending a non-degree art school, which at the time was the most prestigious in the country. I did both at the same time. all my life landmarks were connected to art. At 10 I learned to take the subway by myself in Rio, so that I could visit the museum of fine arts whenever I wanted. My first lovers were people I shared a studio with, classmates, other artists. Art was also a struggle, as all men in my family have been in the military for many generations (from my father’s and mother’s side). Thanks to art I had to learn to be quite independent in life.

What are you currently working on?

There are 3 things I do these days: 1) S&M (saints & martyrs), which consists of photographs of sculptures and paintings that I make for the lens; 2) (vessels), a work I started in 2014, where I post photos of vessels taken in museums, each named for a friend on their birthday. It was created specifically for Facebook, and it is made of more than 1500 images so far; 3) and my collaborations with poet Terri Witek, which are text-based and interdisciplinary. We have been collaborating, performaing and exhibiting as a duo since 2005.

Thanks to art I had to learn to be quite independent in life.

Cyríaco Lopes

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

Many, many things inspired me to start S&M (saints & martyrs) but a small predella piece by Domenico Veneziano at the National Gallery in D.C. was the tipping point. He depicts Saint John undressing in the wilderness. (https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.12146.html) It is a perfect example of the transition into the Renascence. The gorgeous background is stylized, medieval, but the naked body refers somewhat to ancient sculpture. It is a seldom depicted scene (undressing saint francis, for example, is much more common). I understand, of course, that he probably did not choose his subject. But still, I spent a long time there thinking about the sensuality of that naked body. Or better, about the sensual, loving gaze of the artist on this man’s body. I was very interested in the way art smuggles content. A religious context, which would repress homoerotism, (or any eroticism, really), is also the sponsor of this experience. And I also kept imagining all the people who looked at that naked body as they prayed. Or who found that little fire in a situation in which they are completely safe to lust. The very depiction of the saint is a sensual act, as all saints, and Christ, must be beautiful. Since the Greeks there has been this (noxious) equation between beauty, truth, and goodness. It is still true today, as we can see in any Marvel, D.C. movie. They would never cast actors that are not conventionally attractive as super heroes. The same goes to most paintings and sculptures of Jesus, for example. So, each artist – and most of the ones who were allowed to be professional artists were male, for many centuries – has to produce a declaration of what a beautiful man looks like. It is a proposition that is inherently queer. Suddenly, the whole history of Western Art becomes this Queer stage. I Can see how gay artists would use that opportunity to express themselves (like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Cellini), and how straight ones would be able to queer themselves in those spaces. That tiny painting by Veneziano was the catalyst for making those things I have been thinking for a while into artworks. I remember that after eating some halal I began sculpting the aluminum foil wrap unconsciously, thinking about those issues, thinking about that little predella – and the first of the S&M (saints & martyrs) ‘materialized’ in front of my eyes. As if making was thinking. A better way of thinking.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

Absolutely! Last January Terri Witek and I closed a solo show with the gallery that represents our collaborations, The Liminal, in Valencia, Spain. We have been collaborating for so long (17 years!), that we are now this entity. It is very easy to work with her. No, it is better than that. It is stimulating, unpredictable. We allow our ideas to lead us. At the same time, of course, I was preparing the solo show that opens this week at Satchel Projects, here in NYC, in Chelsea. Those were shows that were being thought in parallel tracks, at around the same time. They do not complement each other, but they do communicate with each other, through subterranean tunnels. Or maybe like the fountain in Syracuse, Sicily, from where Arethusa escaped underwater, all the way to Olympia, in Greece, as Terri mentions in a beautiful poem.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

I don’t like to work little bits. If I teach, or if I have to go out, I rather not work that day. But if I can work, then it is like that: wake up, work, go to sleep. I normally eat while the paint is drying, or the computer is rendering something. I also rather work until sunrise and then wake up at about noon. If the university is on recess I will spend days and days like that, like a hermit, in silence. I think since I’m a child that is what I wanted most. To be able to have a propitious environment for the work to happen.

Who are your favorite artists?

The Neoconcretos have been my heroes since I was in high school, particularly Hélio Oiticica. But then I had the privilege of being a student of Lygia Pape, who became my mentor. She still is one of the most interesting people I ever encountered. I love many artists, from all time periods. I am crazy about Guercino and Antonello, for example. I madly love Ife sculpture. Or the tombstones of Palmira. I am particularly interested in the Greek severe style, which to me relates to Ife (their suspended, supra-natural expressions.) Nancy Spero’s connection between literature, ancient art! Leonilson, Goeldi, Morandi, Sherman, Guirri. I could not live without Indian miniature (Mughal painting!). I love the ones outside movements, like Luigi Ontani, Rosemarie Trockel, Paula Rego. The space in Max Beckman. The Manneirists. Aleijadinho is probably the biggest influence in my work. Kiki Smith. Ecstasis in Francesco Cairo…And Fassbinder, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady!), and San Juan de La Cruz…My students and my friends say I like everything, every artist. They may be right. I am just as excited by the current show on Pompeiian painting at NYU, as I was for the most recent Robert Gober show.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

I visit galleries and museums every week and look at Instagram almost every day.

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