Going with the flow is inherent to Marcelo Novo’s automatist approach to painting, in which he lets his subconscious take over. That subconscious is going new places these days. Novo’s work is sparser than before, certainly in terms of pallet but often also with respect to visual content and compositional complexity.
The compositions in Novo’s “Grey Series” at times remain complex and rich in detail, but the pallet consists of shades of grey only. In the “Contrast Series,” the compositions are straightforward and the pallet, limited. The contrast is between the solid background in hot pink, bright blue or mustard-yellow and the grey-toned, isolated figures and objects set against them. Novo has produced sparse paintings before but not as a sustained body.
There are also more paintings in which the figure doesn’t take center stage even as human presence does in the form of a hand or heart and on a psychological and symbolic level. The introduction of bars, pipes, and faucets is new to his repertoire, certainly as featured objects, as is the frequent appearances of the human heart. The compositional isolation of these common elements against a solid background, in combination with Novo’s already graphic and stylized approach, connects his work closer to Pop Art than before.
The new paintings also confirm his esthetic affinity with Fernand Léger. Novo shares the French artist’s interest in rounded forms and volume in a flat space. The initial impetus for these style forms was not Léger, though, but Latin American art, especially that of the Mexican muralists. “And I like Francis Bacon, the figures against large areas of flat color,” Novo says. “I like the impact. I have never been much attracted by more subtle pieces. It’s almost guttural.”
Novo’s connection to Magic Realism and European Surrealism remains. A hand “holds” flowers without stems, a figure has a heart for a head, another figure tries to squeeze through a faucet. While he paints whatever his subconscious would have him paint, Novo’s automatism, a Surrealist method, takes place within certain parameters. His general mood over weeks might be in favor of certain size canvases, and he tends to mix colors in large batches, which he doesn’t want to waste. Such restrictions do not affect what he paints, just what is available to paint with. “Automatism,” he says, “that freedom to just paint what comes, is liberating.”
What comes is often autobiographical. His laughing men remind Novo of Al Jolson, one of his father’s favorites, and of Carlos Gardel, the early-20th century tango singer who’s still a pop phenomenon in Novo’s native Argentina. His figures’ large hands are those of his grandmother. “I can still remember the feel of her hands holding me.” Flowers resembling vaginas and sensual couples reflect his own sexuality, Novo says. “I am a very sexual person and that shows in my work sometimes.” And the water and the pipes it flows through could be about healing and health issues, Novo thinks. His mother became ill and his father died a few years back, which might have triggered such concerns. The water is also about “Catharsis,” a ballet Novo developed earlier this year. “I am basically influenced by anything I see and experience. Everything is recorded and could come out when I am painting.”