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Hermes on the March

Essay by Matthew Holman


Et in Arcadia ego

(‘Even in Arcadia, there am I’)

– Nicolas Poussin, 1638


In the beginning, the Gods created the world. Soon after, the artists decided that the

world wasn’t all that, so they invented a new world. In this new world, the poets and

painters made the fields greener, the heroes more courageous, and the stories more

tragic than even the tragedies of our mortal world. The Gods were put out. Red-faced

and raging, they accused the artists of hubris, of being petty and ungrateful brats, and

condemned them. But these two worlds have since remained, locked in an awkward

co-existence, with each one needing the other to understand itself. The Brazil-born,

London-based artist Rômulo Avi moves between these two worlds with the ease of a

painter from an altogether different time. He is an arcadian painter in the sense that

Turner, Poussin, and Twombly are arcadian painters: at their most abstract these

artists get closer and not more distant, or more impenetrable, or more remote, from

real life. In imagining a poetic fantasy of pastoral paradise, Avi follows a tradition of

artists who imagined their paradise using the receptacles of this world. Like Poussin

in 1638, Avi cannot help but see the artist as forever looking from one world into the



In their horizon lines that arc out into the unknowability of distant fogs, and in the

crystalline build-up of paint that resembles cracked patterns on an icy lake, Avi’s

paintings refer to the world we know. And yet they are also the world of myth, of

fable, of the life beyond. Avi’s ongoing preoccupation with cultural memory, identity

and history lends his works their multi-layered subject matter, fuelled by a variety

of historical, mythological, and literary sources. These include references to Greek

mythology, fables, the Homeric Odes, Daoism, alchemy, and Catholic symbolism, as

well as the work of Romantic mystic William Blake, celebrated science fiction author

Ursula Le Guin, and the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. Influenced by the

German idealist G. W. F. Hegel’s dialectical philosophy of the thesis giving way to its

anthesis, and ultimately finding synthesis, Avi’s work has undergone three important

stages. As a student at the Florence Academy of Art, Avi searched for an academic,

representational, and technical understanding of painting. (It is also significant to

note that his first degree, at the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas in the state

of São Paulo, was in architecture and urbanism: note how this training must have

aided the constructed forms in Tangida, all works 2023, or Not to Touch the Earth). His

desire for an academic approach to painting then gave way to an antithetical drive to

suspend this foundation, as he moved to abstract and material experiments. It would

be reasonable to say that his current body of work, Hermaion, seeks to synthesise, or

recombine and reconcile the differences between how these two different ways of

thinking (and seeing) operate.


Avi creates texture by using a squeegee to apply colours that he has, he says, ‘chosen

intuitively.’ He does not work from preparatory sketches, which allows him to catch the

open flow of his compositions in a manner not dissimilar to the passionate conservator

of a particular species. He allows the object of his study to alight on his finger, rather

than catch it in his snare. Avi builds up, and sands down, and from the gesso base

layers thin paints without diluting. He sands down again, and once more, and glazes

over with the brush. ‘I drag the paint across the surface, push it around and cover it

up again depending on whether I find an image or not’, Avi says: ‘the act of finding a

subject inside the painting happens unconsciously.’ In his use of the squeegee and the

obsession with layering colour to find forms, or rather forms to find colour, to create a

sense of sensorial depth gravitating towards the subject, we might find commonalities

with the polychromatic, densely-applied practices of post-war German artists Gerhard

Richter and Anselm Kiefer. Like Kiefer, Avi is obsessed by the capacity for poetic

lines to transform his abstracted landscapes. Consider Vagando em Verso eu Vim

(Wandering in verse I’ve come) and the way the porous lines of the oils seep and break

into the board, not unlike Kiefer’s obsession with tying ‘the invisible threads between

things’, and how Avi has created an irregularly rhythmed metre horizontally across the

page like lines of verse. Or look at Chove Chuva (Rain Rains), with its lyrical title as an

address to an absent beloved, and find something of Richter’s vertiginous and quasi-

geological treatment of colour as a kind of form unto itself. Even at his most abstract

and material, even at his most traditionally ‘arcadian’, Avi remains tied to the organic

and artificial matter that populate the world we spend our days trying to make sense of.


The world of forms, for the arcadian artist like Avi, is the world of sensory perception,

to be sure, but also about the realities that we cannot see, taste, smell, touch, or hear.

Avi knows this better than most. When I visited his studio on a damp, dank, wet day

in December, with the wind screeching over the rooftops of Bow, we talked about the

world of forms, deep in the thunder-claps of twenty-four-hour metros and the single-

use disposables that line the streets. We spoke like arcadians might, peeking over the

field’s fence into a world without boundaries or ownership. Bachelard’s The Poetics of

Space was part of a pile of books precariously balanced on his desk. In it, Bachelard

paraphrases the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who once said: ‘These trees are magnificent,

but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though

with their growth it too increased.’ Avi is a painter of the moving space between forms,

a real painter of movement, alchemy, and transformation. Look at Arcadia (2023), in

which Avi takes us by the hand into a dense forest of dendritic patterns. The tree-like

structures are themselves magnificent, to borrow Rilke’s phrase, as they heave upwards

into the central portion of the composition. Truly magnificent. But the real energy of

the canvas is found in the relationship between the off-white area that we expect to see

as sky in landscape paintings, quivering with a kind of static or pulsating presence, and

the wild curvature of the lavender and pink in the foreground. It is as though the two

spaces of the painting, two worlds we might say, are in dialogue; it is in this separated

space somehow held in motion that makes the painting sublime.


Adeus, Amor (2023) is a seething cauldron of a painting. Look at the way the volcanic

crimsons at the base splinter and break as though the artist, resisting the Gods’ world

of elements, has reimagined a new temperature for hell. Above is a fortified structure

of gold which glints like a foundry that has been upturned and poured across snow-

tipped mountains. The triangular and shard-like forms suggest depth, like a settlement

seen through mist, in an imagined world where all the requirements for closeness and

distance have been foreclosed. I want to be close with Pátio (Courtyard Haze) because

of how perfectly this painting speaks to the ways in which we remember places,

especially those special places that can be held so closely in memory but can never

be returned to. In this work, the lines appear to be lashed down, somewhat violently

or with great force that they appear to almost slit the board, but this has paradoxically

created a calm atmosphere of remembrance. If it’s true that the Gods struck down

the artists for their hubris in imagining another world of forms, then I like to think

those same Gods absolved the artists for their steadfast search to capture something

lost, something rememberable but irretrievable, of this world. Avi’s remembered

landscapes speak to this wish.

"Hermes on the March" is an essay written by Matthew J. Holman for the LPC Solo Presentation at the London Art Fair. Further information on the catalogue and the "Hermaion" body of work can be found here.

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