João Gabriel at The Ryder

Artist: João Gabriel

Exhibition title: Don’t you remember what we came here for?

Venue: The Ryder, London, UK

Date: November 15 – December 21, 2019

Photography: All images copyright and courtesy of the artist and The Ryder, Madrid/London

A soft music accompanies the beach scene, despite not belonging to reality it sounds ok, it creates an atmosphere, a prelude for the ceremony that is about to come. Don’t you remember why we came here for? Says one of the guys while unzipping his neoprene swimsuit. The other guy smiles, he knows what he means, he wants it, he desires it. They caress each other and promptly start masturbating. Close ups of their erect penises follow the rhythm of that music that we stopped hearing a while ago. There are no restrictions, the naturalism of the landscape melts with the naturalism of their torsos in an erotic sublimation that transcends pornography… this is desire.

The scene narrated is part of Young Olympians, a pornographic film from the seventies and one of Joao Gabriel’s sources of inspiration for his paintings. These underground movies completely marked the beginning of the homosexual liberation before the AIDS crisis, its consequences and the days before porn became a mass industry. This early film distillates a kind of innocence, a certain air of adventure combined with the intention of breaking the rules, of letting oneself go by sexual drive.

Gabriel’s paintings take cue from this breezy and rebel spirit, but also from the pictorial tradition, which always found in this medium a perfect way to materialise this peculiar feeling we call pleasure. From the early Greek vases, to the erotic frescos from Vitti’s house or the sexualised bodies from the Renaissance to the Baroque, painting has always managed to take advantage of its own materiality, its fluidity and malleability to collaborate with the sexual.

This combination between the traditional and the clandestine revealed through this collection of paintings represents Joao Gabriel’s first solo show in the UK. These works, on many different formats, go beyond pornography to dig into the land of the fleshy and the pleasurable. Scenes in which we can recognise bodies looking for each other, enjoying themselves, loving with primordial affection and without feeling ashamed. Bodies that join with the materiality of painting to blur and band together as saliva and sweat unite.

Exuberant nature, intimate interiors and transit spaces reach a different turn when understood as sites for pleasure. These scenes place the audience into the role of the voyeur, the one that stares with desire to a scene in which he cannot take part on. The desire of observing gives a special magnetism to the painting, however they maintain a halo of innocence, the protagonists seem unaware of their external observer, they seem to feel safe, and free to let themselves go. This paradox makes the viewer experience the contemplation as something pure, not orchestrated or calculated. Something that insinuates freedom, pleasure and painting.

João Gabriel (b. 1992, Leiria, Portugal) lives and works in Portugal. He graduated from the MFA programme in Visual Arts at ESAD Caldas da Rainha (2016). Selected solo exhibitions include O Lume dos olhos / A luzir no escuro, Lehmann + Silva, Porto (2019) and A Permit For That Fire, Curated by Benoît Loiseau, Galeria Mascota, Mexico City (2018). Selected group exhibitions include Género na Arte. Corpo, Sexualidade, Identidade e Resistência, curadoria de Aida Rechena e Teresa Furtado, MNAC, Lisboa (2017), Pau Duro, Coração Mole. Curadoria de Thomas Mendonça, FOCO, Lisboa (2017), Prémio novos artistas fundação EDP, MAAT, Lisboa (2017), Múltiplas Perspectivas e Não Menos Contradições e Sonhos, Bienal da Maia (2015), Nº 91, Museu de José Malhoa, Caldas da Rainha (2014) and War(m) Up, Casa Bernardo, Caldas da Rainha. comissariado por João Fonte Santa (2013). Works held in public collections include MAAT, PT, Marin Gaspar, PT and Figueiredo Ribeiro, PT.