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In the Studio with Emanuel de Carvalho

In the studio with Emanuel de Carvalho, whose oversized paintings explore issues pertaining to fluidity in gender and identity. We met with Emanuel to tell us more about growing up in Portugal, the message of their work, and greatest influences.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

It took a while for me to reach a stage where I would call myself an artist. Over the years my practice evolved through different stages, initially writing and performance which then led to painting and photography. The public image I convey at the moment is perhaps more in keeping with what others consider to be an artist. Whether I am an artist now or 5 years ago is a matter of subjective interpretation. 

 Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?

I was born in Portugal and hold Canadian citizenship through my father. My mother is an artist and I feel I have inherited her perceptive responses towards objects and people.  As a child I would spend hours drawing, writing stories and making up imaginary languages and worlds. As soon as I was allowed to, I began travelling; I have lived in Canada, Italy and the Netherlands. My work reflects this longing for places, they function as narratives, each telling a story about otherness

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work?

I began writing short stories and micro-fiction while living in Amsterdam. Eventually I became part of an artist’s collective initiated by Sterre van Rossem, Peter Leung and Mathew Pawlicki-Sinclair. We would perform and exhibit together as a collective. I always felt I had to represent the stories and decided to make drawings that would accompany fragments of text. I noticed during a particular exhibition at a gallery in Amsterdam that the drawings were as compelling as the written text. In some instances I saw people were having a physical reaction to the works and wanted to know more about the drawing. I realised then the power of image-making and decided to pursue this further in painting. 

What’s the message of your work? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

My work is a direct response to the current social issues that society is witnessing, and in particular the current re-definition of categorical gender-identities. I believe everyone is able to understand that we are living in a period of transition, hopefully to a more tolerant society, and as an artist we ought to document these changes. Recent works include large-scale paintings where objects and bodies are placed with an equal degree of importance, meant to emphasise the relationships that we establish with objects around us. Perception is an acquired construct, we learn to categorize people and groups by making subconscious associations that then trigger a response. My aim is to destabilize perceptive responses to queerness, by engaging the viewer to reflect on their emotional responses to these images. 

The paintings draw influences from Western hyper-visual culture, accentuating objects and individuals, textures, surfaces and fabrics that somehow bear an association with queer identities.

Who/what are your greatest influences? 

Kathy Acker is my biggest influence. I am obsessed by her transgressive writing, her ability to add a different dimension to literature, using words for both their syntax and visual strength. When I create an image, I often think of Acker, creating the work as a narrative of something and somewhere else

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