Hélio Luís on Expresso Newspaper

By Gonçalo M. Tavares – The head goes home full of colors
  1. Hélio Luís is a painter who paints what the eyes see, but also what History sees — forHistory has likewise at least two large, attentive eyes.
  2. Beyond Taprobana is a verse that lies in the head of the Portuguese, and in the head it goes where that head goes.
  3. Camões and The Lusiad, taught at school, can sometimes be re- jected on a rational basis, due to the excess of analysis that manuals require and that calls for an almost maniac study of that epic — but never, at any moment, are those verses forgotten.
  4. The paintings of Hélio Luís color the verses we do not forget.
  5. It is not just about giving color to a part of memory, but yes, painting is also that.
  6. Part of memory is blue, we can say.
  7. And we can think immediately of the distinct colors that color different memories within the brain.
  8. And there, suddenly, this obvious finding: for an artist, for a painter like Hélio Luís, the brain is not grey, it does not have the color of the sober buildings of so many city places.
  9. The brain has strong colors after all, colors that recall tropical zones, colors that are not shy, colors that do not hide behind characters or forms.
  10. Some blues, some greens, the sea, the trees — in Beyond Taprobana.
  11. Nature manifests itself by revealing an island that The Lusiad an nounced as some vague location, “an island in the Indian Ocean, be lieved to be present-day Sri Lanka”, as described in the exhibition overview.
  12. To Hélio Luís, this is also of interest — between reality and fiction, painting appears; as if it were the third element of the world — and it is.
  13. Art is the third element — it is not reality, it is not fiction, it is art.
  14. Not false, not true, but immensely true and immensely false, that is art. And within it, painting.
  1. Of course this exhibition speaks in the mode of color and form about colonialism; but pamphlets and loudspeakers are nowhere to be seen. Only tranquil and silent paintings showing landscapes or the human in situations of apparent calmness.

  2. Can calmness be a method of political action? It can, of course. Calmness that shows, calmness that reveals.

  3. Landscapes are not mute entities, and color in Hélio Luís is not speech nor verbiage, it is, rather, a kind of whisper that is not so- norous but visual.

  4. The whisper soothes, yes, but it also belongs to the realm of secret. And hence these colors are also that: a way of transmitting a secret. As if the viewer is after all looking through a tiny hole.

  5. To see the wide landscape through the keyhole, here is what has always fascinated the child and the big adult.

  6. They are not, of course, about terrible or scatological secrets, these paintings. On the contrary: they are about a quite new and quite old secret, the secret of beauty.

  7. As someone who, turning a corner, coming from a space full of gar- bage and filth, is suddenly confronted with the majestic green, brown and blue nature that ever delights in the colors of the natural world.

  8. And also those rednesses arising in some of the landscapes painted by Hélio Luís; rednesses like fires without flames, fires without damage, non-burning fires that do not exist in the real world, only in the perception and in the eyes.

  9. An optical fire, is what arises, sometimes, in certain corners of the paintings.

  10. As used as we are to the colors of metals and machines, in these paintings we find ourselves in another world, even though our feet never leave the city. We are in the world of nature, where seeing water is at once listening to water, and feeling, smelling, touching wa- ter.

  11. Paintings that require, then, not just the presence of the eyes, but of the full body.

  12. The characters are also there, soldiers and poets. A soldier that could have been a poet. And he misses that target, the most important one.

  13. As if a soldier were always the manifestation of a redundant failure. The on who wanted to write verses has after all his arms full of a me- tallic weight that is able to kill.

  14. In writing, the weight is light on the hand and perhaps heavy on the head — little poetry exists without a violent sadness or at least a strong sense of helplessness.

  15. In the soldier, the head will also be heavy — balancing between the fear of death and the possible gilt for killing — there is no heavier head than the soldier’s head.

  16. But in the hands or on the back, the soldier also carries an additional, unnatural weight, the metallic weight.

  17. And the weight of possible death — a weight that weights so much.

  18. The poets of Hélio Luís are often not too clear faces, whose features look as seen through water, floating, not distinct. But yes, only the face is there, as if with enough courage to be there, alone, a face.

  19. And yes, even painted characters, either fictional or real, need courage to be there as just a face in front of the painter. Brave charac ters, the ones in this exhibition. Whether soldiers or poets, there they are in front of the painter, in front of his eyes and his imagination, as someone who gives himself away completely.

  20. The soldiers surrender, not to the enemy, but to the artist.

  21. The poets surrender, not to the muse, but to another poet who uses drawing and color instead of lucid and rhythmic letters.

  22. This exhibition by Hélio Luís, these paintings, are here to speak about the history of the world and the history of Portugal, of Camões and The Lusiad, and of the faraway places that have been reached. But way more than that: these paintings speak of the art of painting, the art of the portrait and of fixing the landscape. The art of the imagina tion that puts in the canvas the vision of that which reality never wanted to see.

  23. Hélio Luís paints bodies, faces and natural landscapes of an island located in that infinitely folded map that is our brain.

  24. Somewhere in that map — that mixes many oblivions with some ob sessions and memories — somewhere in that map, then, lie the images of these paintings. And now, turned visible, they cease to be external and lodge in that twisted map that the brain is. Those who look return home with more color in the head.

  25. And this is no mean feat, it is a lot, it is a triumph: to come home with more color in the head.


    Gonçalo M. Tavares

    Writer and University Professor

    translated by Raul Luís

Jan 23, 2023