The late Brazilian installation artist Lucia Nogueira had a taste for things that flew and floated. This show of drawings and watercolours, most of them done in London in the 1990s, features images of balloons, helicopters, ghosts and kites. In one piece neat white teeth hang from a horizontal red stripe against a dark backdrop, looking like clothes on a washing line. In another a helicopter hovers over a column of wispy yellow patches that seem to trace its rise. Elsewhere colourful faces float against the white of the paper, trailing lines of paint below them as released balloons trail lengths of twine. In Nogueira’s world gravity has little pull.
She had a light touch. Her drawings, with their gawky lines, thin washes and pared-down imagery, play themselves out in a minor key. They take pleasure in coincidences, in odd conjunctions and non sequiturs, but they often push their whimsy up against something darker. The floating objects are touched with lightness and humour, of course, but also at times with an understated menace. Their weightlessness is not a sign of ethereality but of a randomness that occasionally has dim undercurrents of pain and horror. It is a measure of Nogueira’s wit and judgement that you don’t immediately ask what those heads are doing without bodies, or those teeth without a mouth.
Many of the drawings show groupings of similar objects – a trio of televisions, a set of tables, an army of buttons. The items are removed from their context and left in a kind of semiotic limbo. But not all of them are ordinary household objects; Nogueira also had a liking for isolated body parts and prosthetic limbs. In one drawing lone feet protrude from long tubes. In another, Pinocchio’s wooden arms and legs are separated and laid out in rows and, in a clever play on the story, the red of his conical hat seeps out of its triangle, as if the dismantling were really a dismembering. This is one of several images in which runnels and stains of water-colour obliquely mimic the dripping and spreading of blood.
Nogueira was alert to the slipperiness of shapes and symbols. She knew how to make a plane look like a sea creature and a rabbit like a snail. In one piece she painted mathematical signs against a dark backdrop, labouring over their outlines as if the meaning of a plus sign were contingent on its painterly treatment – although the signs, which form a horizontal band, could also be read as a luminous fence in a nocturnal landscape. The drawings regularly treat the conventions of picture-making as seductively foreign. The laws of perspective are at times teasingly undermined, as in the drawing of a ladder against a black background. There is no telling whether the ladder tapers towards the top or just looks wider at the bottom because it is pictured from below. And, leading nowhere, it serves no obvious purpose.
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