Living Kills


in: Expresso Newspaper - Revista Actual, 16 of July 2011

Addiction and obsession in the work of a Portuguese artist or when the dangers of smoking are the benefits of art

We know that it causes lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and impotence and like the packets scream at you, it can also cause rapid and painful death. More than that, the fight against the dangers of smoking has become a kind of moral crusade that greatly transcends its health consequences. However, for a smoker the cigarette is a faithful friend through sad or happy hours of relaxation or meditation. It is a marker of time; the large informal clock separates or unites the different times of day. João Leonardo is one of those impure creatures who persists in the vice against all warnings, and this can be realized in olfactory terms when barely crossing the door of Gallery 111 to see  his latest exhibition "One Hundred and Six Columns, Four Heads and One Table".

It prepares the viewer for a politically incorrect ubiquity. All the pieces inside are made from cigarette material, everything from the filter paper to the tobacco ashes. It is obviously not the first time that an artist has used waste in their work. Just think of the "Tableaux-Pièges" by Daniel Spoerri (true left overs like material reports from meals that also included cigarette butts), or the scandalous "Artist's Shit " by Piero Manzoni. But if the former created works that used the remains of the consumer society to establish  a kind of archeology and the latter was a statement regarding the iconoclastic Art institution, then the work of João Leonardo has other, perhaps less ambitious but more intimate and autobiographical characteristics. Since the beginning, the work of João Leonardo has had a cumulative premise, almost neurotic and obsessive. This becomes a confrontation with issues related to the body, flesh, blood, skin - that transform him to an engine and evidence of identity and affection, but also a pledge of unrepeatable individuality. In the exhibition, this characteristic reaches its zenith together with a high level of consistency and consequence. Between the poles of pleasure and disgust, to which the cigarette always refers, Leonardo creates a true multi allegory of desire and its prohibitions, unfolding the cigarette in a quintessence that sticks to life like a second skin. For this, the artist almost rewrites the genres of art history, especially of modern and contemporary, with this material.

The complete exhibition  includes monochrome paintings made of ash, self-portraits made of  encrusted cigarettes, full busts made of cigarette filters, vanitas, "modernist" grids with packs of Marlboro and drawings made with liquid nicotine where it asks us to breathe in and breathe out. At the centre of all this, we have a small workshop-table where, very contemporaneously, all materials and production processes are exemplified. Under the principle of repetition repeated to exhaustion, everything is executed with sophistication and takes full advantage of the unique material that is used. But what is felt last is the humor - half cynical, half existential - and arising from this is a visual  theatre  projecting on art one of the most famous of addictions. Smoking kills, we already know that and the idea will continue infiltrating our days and, imagine, coloring our dreams.