Bruno Miguel: Todos à Mesa

Bruno Miguel delves into the material and conceptual issues of painting through an innovative use of non-traditional materials that include resin, found objects, wood, studio leftovers and Companhia das Indias tableware from a vast collection acquired in antique stores or at auction. “Todos à Mesa”, the title of the exhibition, references this collection, as well as his mom’s imperative command to sit at the table for a meal. The exhibition unites his interest in the representation of common, everyday experience with a diligent, but often playful formal practice that draws inspiration from his personal history and surroundings, pop culture and the media.

At the heart of the work is the question of representation and the slippery boundary between what is real and what is not. Mimicking the designs found on the plates he collects, Miguel employs trompe l’oeil in works like Negação (2014) as a metaphor for the increasingly complex nature of fact and fiction and how information is perceived, delivered, represented and understood today. He updates the tradition of painstaking trompe l’oeil by painting over both porcelain and dried paint lids, thus confounding the viewer. As an inveterate collector, for Miguel, the process of collecting and displaying objects and images is a means of generating a narrative about one’s own identity and who we might be, or wish to be, as a people. As such, it is interesting to note that he choses to collect and incorporate Companhia das Indias porcelain, which has been historically associated with Westerner’s long held desire to customize objects. After Portugal established commercial trade routes to the Far East in the early sixteenth century, Western monarchs, statesmen, leading families and others, eagerly acquired Chinese porcelain. Porcelain’s primary appeal was that it could be designed to order. Many of the pieces or entire dinner sets were decorated with family armorials or designs reproduced from drawings or engravings that had been sent to China as a reference. Companhia das Indias is considered by many as the first multinational corporation in the world.

These objects bring a personal and historical touch, and give Miguel an impressively assertive surface to work on. Negação is an installation of thirty-four plates hung to resemble a wall size X. Consisting of six central plates that make up a circle and radiate outwards, at first sight it seems as if there are many more given that Miguel uses trompe l’oeil to create new plates that seem to be fragmented because a single plate is painted on two or three different plates that are physically separate. This piece is also an example of his wonderful use of the stripe as an incremental, structural element. Thick stripes of neon yellow, green, pink and orange paint swirl over all the plates uniting the composition. As its labored and delicate appearance suggests, the work is the result of a slow and painstaking process, entirely handmade by the artist and his assistants.

Most of Miguel’s work is the result of hybridity. Born out of aesthetic collisions and layering that reveal his unique relationship to material and image, his works can be daintily detailed and virtuosic like Negação, while also looking snazzy and rugged. This comes through most clearly in his series Cozinha (2014) where he deals with narratives of surface, materiality and studio process. Here the delicate application of paint resembling famille rose enamels is applied to decorate and conceal Miguel’s “non-art materials,” such as palettes and dried paint lids, which become materials in their own right. Every bit of surface is covered in these graffiti-fueled works, lightened by energetic strokes of bright color or zaps of spray paint that bounce off one another anarchically. In addition, he has added a round layer of viscous resin, resembling a glass plate, to the protective glass that makes the images beneath waver and shift, revealing an atmosphere of baroque excess combined with improvisational daring.

In “Todos à Mesa” Miguel stretches painting as both a conceptual and formal construct and deals with more passions than might be expected. Throughout his young career, he has already shown that consistency is hardly on his mind or the hallmark of his style. This whimsical artist who adores Coke bottles and anything vintage, from Muppet Babies to cups, nearly as much as he does Oriental porcelain, treats his collecting and works as a link to the glorious past and a sly form of political rebellion against the present.