To make the vibrant, graphic paintings and drawings for which he is known, Francisco Vidal merges utopian ideals and art. While he was recently featured in the Angolan Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale and is currently featured in an exhibition at London’s Tiwani Contemporary—in his first UK solo show, titled “Francisco Vidal | Workshop Maianga Mutamba”—he is not content to simply make, show, and sell his art. Instead, he wants to change the world.
Harkening back to the ideals of the modern era, Vidal believes that by fully embracing technology—from machines and mass production to the internet—humankind may achieve a better world and ultimately reach a state of utopia. He has begun with his own artistic production, which is based on his philosophy that the artist is a machine and the studio is a workshop—which is also at the heart of his current show. Such an approach—underpinned by the legacies of Constructivism and the Bauhaus—finds its expression in his many projects. These include e-studio Luanda, the Luanda-based artist collective, project and exhibition space, studio complex, and educational center that Vidal co-founded with fellow artists Rita GT, António Ole, and Nelo Teixeira in 2012. Through their work, they are helping to grow the Angola capital’s visual arts scene.
Vidal’s powerful, ongoing series of machete paintings are some of the highlights of “Workshop Maianga Mutamba.” In each work, what may at first appear to be large paintings of budding flowers in popping pinks and greens on thin horizontal panels are in fact cotton plants, painted directly onto some four dozen machete blades. The works reference the 1961 battle Baixa de Cassanje, a gruesome revolutionary event that took pace in a cotton-producing region, now considered the beginning of the Angolan War of Independence. The shape of the cotton flower drifts into several of Vidal’s new works, including another series of paintings that proclaim the word “FREE.”
Another of Vidal’s projects, one more immediately connected with his own work, is what he calls his “U.topia Machine.” A portable plywood box outfitted with everything he needs to produce his work; this machine is both an ingenious and fully-functioning factory-cum-studio, as well as a wryly humorous comment on the peripatetic life of a successful contemporary artist. It also makes manifest another of his notions: that an artist is an itinerant, international laborer. Out of this box come compositions on thick, textured paper, handmade by Vidal out of discarded paper he collects. Evincing influences ranging from graffiti to graphic novels to music, they feature bold colors, raking lines, and snatches of text that seem to evoke revolutionary slogans. These coalesce into faces, figures, and motifs referencing postcolonial African history, workers, and labor—images of the world as it was, is, and, if Vidal has his way, will be.
“Francisco Vidal | Workshop Maianga Mutamba” is on view at Tiwani Contemporary, London, Nov. 13 – Dec. 19, 2015.
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