Michael Anderson, Dan Barry and Jana Brike, Darcilio Lima and Henry Darger at PULSE Art Fair New York 2013.
Charles Dellschau, Henry Darger, Darcilio Lima, Martin Ramirez, Judith Scott, Bill Traylor, William Blayney O_____ER ART FAIR New York 2012. Stephen Romano, NYC NY.
Darcilio Lima's Opus Magnun by Barbara Safarova 2013.
“When we say things openly in fact, we do not say anything. But when our language is
In the first half of the twentieth century the Surrealist movement accomplished in the arts what thinkers like Carl Gustav Jung or Gaston Bachelard achieved at the theoretical level: the rehabilitation of image in connection with mythical thinking. Gradually, image became not only another way of seeing the world, but also a true epiphany of the being of things, a means of knowledge — a secret number of human destiny.
If at first sight the Brazilian artist Darcilio Lima belongs to the Surrealist aesthetic, he seems first of all a true spiritual brother of the great alchemists of the Renaissance. Through their Art, in search of the Opus Magnum (1), they aimed to heal the sick body of the world by creating a new order. According to the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles, all life is a movement born out of the tension between the bipolar forces of love and hate. These forces correspond in the Opus Magnum to the successive operations of solution and coagulation, dissolution and fixation, distillation and condensation, systole and diastole, the “yes and no in all things.” (2) In Arabic alchemy there are also two bipolar agents—sulfur and philosophical mercury, the sun and the moon, the white wife and the red husband.
The high point of the “Great Work” is the conjunction: the union of masculine and feminine principles—the igneous spirit and aqueous material—at the wedding of heaven and earth. And the unbreakable product of this cosmic coupling is the Philosopher’s stone symbolizing perfection, lapis—“the son of the red sun”—or Christ-Lapis: “After much suffering and great pain / I have risen, clarified and spotless.” (3)
We could conclude that the eroticism and sexuality Lima shows in his images—and that leads to the meeting of two opposite aspects—functions not only as a highly personal version of an alchemic treatise, but above all as a critique of false moral doctrines and religious dogmatism, instruments of sexual repression. Behind the violence of Lima’s images we can perhaps also discover a highly intelligent and insightful critique of the materialist and mechanical worldview, the disastrous repercussions of which have been felt throughout the twentieth century until today.
In an attempt to grasp the meaning of Lima’s artistic production—and in the absence of other artist’s testimonies other than those left in his work—one can begin by identifying certain esoteric symbols. In his work, we often perceive the triangle—the symbol of fire—the circle and the dot, with the circle representing eternity, and the dot the concentration of time in one single moment , the snake, (4) the signs of the Zodiac, and the eye of the awakening, among others. Lima’s secret universe is designed as a kind of cipher, a mysterious writing, which also features in some of his images.
We are reminded of signs that appear on the scales of a turtle, and that would have been the ancient Chinese model for their language’s first characters. Is the purpose of this enigmatic writing to confer a sacred power to language? There are also other references, more aesthetic than esoteric. The hand that pinches the breast of Lima’s polymorphic beings again points to the artist’s double affiliation: on one side the late Renaissance School of Fontainebleau (the portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters, 1594) as a possible source of inspiration, on the other, certain works of his fellow Surrealists. We can recall, for example Hans Bellmer’s Games of the Doll (5) (1949)—the hand-colored black-and-white photographs of a tied, decapitated female body—or Metamorphosis of Narcissus, by Salvador Dali (1937).
In his poetic essay Arcane 17, André Breton emphasizes the quadruple nature of the fairy Melusine, a Surreal figure par excellence. According to Philippe Walter, this marine fairy from the other world, holder of exceptional knowledge, mistress of war and fate, is a beautiful Surreal emblem provided that it is understood she is a figure of the imaginal—that is, “representations which have the property of being autonomous as objects, while putting us in the presence of shapes or patterns without equivalent in experience.” (6) This hybrid woman from the other world is simultaneously a snake, a fish and a bird. Melusine participates in these creatures’ respective crucial elements—earth, water, and air—as their direct emanation. Lima shows us her monstrous nature—the figure lacks an essential element of the human anatomy. The head is often replaced by that of a dragon. Some of her members are enlarged, others are absent. She is characterized by an all-powerful animality, voracity, the presence of double sex. Her bisexuality is related to very specific reproduction—conception by mouth. Her fishtail links her to the world of water and denotes her initiatory knowledge. This Siren has sometimes other feet, which may also function as an allusion to the tripod of the cauldron found on Lima’s images, part of an initiation ritual unfolding before our eyes.
The divinatory power of this androgynous being is more than just anticipating the future. It is as if to say something could provoke the destiny, produce the event itself. This may be one of the essential qualities that the monstrous fairy Melusine shares with the artist. For Lima, to draw is to trace a sacred space—to avoid being devoured? —to ward off the invisible. His gesture of disseminating hermetic symbols by association becomes an operative phenomenon similar to geomancy. It is as if it is his way of accomplishing a process the aim of which is the transmutation of his own self.
The German Christian mystic and theologian Jakob Böhme (1575-1624) was the first to conceive the life of the cosmos as a passionate struggle, a perpetual genesis: “I recognized, I saw the three worlds in me...and I saw the good and bad in everything and how the one flows from the other...I saw chaos where everything lay helter-skelter.” (7) Self-reproduction, self-perpetuating, self-healing of the body to the point of re-organizing it—in this way, through his work, the artist becomes an omnipotent creator. By facing his own reflection in the void, he rises from the ashes. By the creation of new links between hypertrophied organs, and multiple arms and limbs, Lima invents a new cosmogony. The alchemist’s Art and artistic creation overlap without any possibility of separation: the crown of perfection symbolizes the ultimate completion.
1. The Opus Magnum: the “Great Work” starts from a mysterious material called materia prima, in which the isolated parts are totally opposed, then gradually integrated to achieve the state of perfect harmony known as the Philosopher’s Stone or lapis philosophorum.
Creature Discomforts: By Robin Cembalest, executive editor of Artnews. see on tumblr