Celeiro, Lagar e Parque de Serralves
14 JUL - 15 OCT 2023
Paulo Neves: O tempo das árvores

Fotografia: Frederico Martins


Manuela Hobler Kaempf

Since the start of his career, Paulo Neves has developed a personal and unmistakable language and has traced a path that is rooted in the ancient tradition of sculpture. His work stems from a profound spirituality, respect and love for nature and the search for purity and harmony.

His first works were born from bits of firewood. Even today, wood continues to be the preferred material for the creation of his work. Paulo Neves finds inspiration from the infinite wealth created by nature, and in the intimacy of its pure values. He loves to discover the unique memory of each tree; the marks of time, texture, colour and aroma, which he transforms into autonomous objects.

When I met him in his studio to talk about this exhibition, I was fascinated by the impressive trunks of chestnut trees lying on the ground. They were "majestic trees", which had grown for hundreds of years and offered shade and food to an abundant wealth of humans, animals, microbes and fungi. They endured heat and cold, storms and pests and still managed to uphold their natural cycle. Unfortunately it is only in some parks or protected forests that we can admire healthy trees of this size, with colossal trunks and extensive tree tops. But these chestnut trees, although dark, lifeless, rough, riddled of holes, still revealed much of their beauty. Paulo Neves saved them from the fire and managed to give them a new life that we can now admire in this exhibition that celebrates Serralves Park’s 100th anniversary.

As a tribute to the countless burnt forests, Paulo Neves has charred the outer surface of the wood. Hectares and hectares brimming with life die somewhere in the world every day, through carelessness or greed. Thousands of creatures lose their natural habitat or face a horrible and unnecessary end and are lost forever. The impact of such fires is not only revealed in the short term and locally. It alters the entire ecosystem and can be a threat to a healthy future.

At the centre of the exhibition are two colossal tree roots, turned upside down, like giant brains that have been burnt out, with their nerves severed, unable to communicate. In counterpoint we see a forest of ladders, like twisted filigrees that grow up towards the infinite sky, like elongated arms, raised in joy and hope.

In other sculptures we find emblematic rhythmic lines that have been carved by the artist, which run along the surface of the branches creating a kind of new soft, almost velvety bark. The interior remains raw and rough in contrast to the exterior. The shapes resemble a soft and elegant embrace, in a play of light and shadow.

In another part of the exhibition we see sculptures that present a rough cut between the polished surface of the solid inner section of the trunks and the totally blackened bark. This intervention underlines the luminous interior of the wood, rich in unmistakable contours, drawn by time.

Working with this wood is like walking a tightrope, between the artist's intervention and respect for the characteristic nature of each piece of the centuries-old chestnut trees. With great care and sensibility, Paulo Neves has discovered the rich "landscape" inside and outside the trees and transformed them into unmistakable, harmonious and beautiful sculptures.

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