Sónia Vespeira de Almeida
David de Almeida was born in São Pedro do Sul, into a family of blacksmiths. Hailing from this town in the region of Beira Alta and the contact with the art of fire would determine the path he would take. Working with metal became an option very early on, first by engraving, making plates, and then working with metal on paper and canvas, in an "unconscious eager desire to transform tradition into creation, and to make what is simply utilitarian into something aesthetic."
Everyday rural tools were fashioned in his father’s workshop, whose use on the land assiduously asserted blacksmithing in the manufacture of agricultural implements which would plough the surrounding fields. This was the scenery in which David de Almeida began communicating with the landscape and with the archaeological and ethnographic heritage in this region. Françoise Cachin stated that “the landscape is a space created by the combined forces of nature, man and time" . But this one is also created by the painter who approaches, observes and translates it.
His work reveals a fascination with the different spaces and times which constitute the history of mankind. His place of birth provided contact with the days of the dolmens and “written stones”, firstly with those at Castro da Cárcoda and Serrazes, which are geographically nearer, and later those at Lanhelas, in Caminha, and at Vila Velha de Ródão.
The approach to stone engravings and Pre-Historic expressions was not just made from a formal standpoint. David de Almeida diligently surrounds himself with scientific studies on the subject, and has consequently built up a vast library. His fascination therefore lead him to a dialogue with the scientific narratives about the aspects brings into his work. In the case of Serrazes, he was unable to find answers in the Archaeology relating to the groups of concentric circles carved into the surface of the rock. Unsatisfied and restless, he researched and developed a theory based on experimenting with and reproducing the functionality of stone. David de Almeida sees it as a sun calendar which “marks the solstices and seasons of the year, the sunrise and sunset. The cycle of the years and the centuries. It is a science book, engraved onto stone using stone by man’s hands and intelligence
Like Anthropology, the artist shares an attraction with the “other” which he endeavours to imbue with meaning. Whether the “other” is an “archaeological” people, the whalers of the island of Pico in the Azores, the people who walk the streets of Arzila, the brave seamen from tragic - maritime history and the people of China and Macau who experience daily the Jardim da Guia [Garden of Guia] in Macau. David de Almeida takes time to observe all these “others”, scrutinising them, investigating them. According to Arnd Schneider , the concept of "appropriation" entails a dimension of learning and transformation. In this sense, David de Almeida established communication with the different cultural contexts he comes across. This attitude is particularly evident when he creates Public Art projects. The painter goes to the place, to observe how it is used and enjoyed. He sits down, takes notes, sketches and feels the responsibility of designing a fragment of space.
At the start of the eighties, the "Written Stone of Serrazes" became the " David de Almeida’s umbilicus" . Here, he sought to make contemporary the time of the different “others” who crop up in his work. Observed, felt, examined, he borrows their daily lives, their secrets, their journeys, and updates them with the language of his time. Using the “cast paper”, he moulds the stone and "prints" the proofs of the engraving executed by his “pre-historic colleague ", which would result in the "Exercícios Líticos" series, exhibited, at the São Paulo Biennial in 1983. What stands out in this series - which is in white, in homage to all colours and with obvious respect for the morphology of the stone engraving - is the texture of the paper which melds with the accidents of the written surface of the petroglyph.
Then he ventures. White only no longer satisfies him and provokes his pre-historic colleague, beyond Serrazes, Cárcoda, Seixa and Lanhelas. And here, broadening his search to other places, he challenges the white and begins to almost play with the shapes of the stone engravings: the moulds are sectioned (rectangular, square, triangular and circular) and carefully assembled, subverting the original position. And, in order to provoke, he hides, reveals, illuminates, fragments, isolates, and tears, using contrasting colours which veil and reveal their relief.
Starting from this relationship with the "Serrazes Stone", and still in the 80s, he returns to Pre-History and its mythological universe through works where he joins iron to paper paste or canvas in the same piece or work, making a formal and technical synthesis of an entire decade of work. He further widens the geographical universe of Pre-History citing other lithic monuments, such as Stonehenge, to which he would ally the chromatic universe transported from a trip to New Mexico.
His seduction by colour extends to the early 90s when he continued to invoke daily pre-historic life, particularly its ritual dimension, as in the engravings "Adoração ao Sol" [Sun worship], "Máscara" [Mask], "Oferenda" [Offering], "Serpente" [Serpent] and "Bisonte" [Bison]. This group of pieces is marked by a need to go back in time and dialogue with an era which was not inhabited by mankind, alluding to the formation of the world and the beginning of life on Earth: "Devoriano", "Pré-Cambriano", "Carbonífero" and "Plastoceno".
The artist’s eye is always challenged by time, by place and by the vestiges of his memory. All places end up leaving a mark on his work, and sometimes his work leaves a mark on a site. Here we can see another feature of David Almeida artistic work: the influence of experiencing the places he visits and to which he returns, in an attempt to construct an identity of the present by investigating the past.
He has visited Morocco several times, and has stayed in Arzila, where he took part in international Engraving workshops. The need to stay in one place led him to rent a house in the “medina” which bordered on an ancient Portuguese wall. Morocco and Lisbon: his tireless search for the past in order to identify himself in the present would be reflected in the "Trágico-Maritima" series of collages and engravings, where the past, and all his imagination, live side-by-side with the day-to-day Moroccan life of the caravans or the woman who goes to the "Portuguese cemetery" in Arzila. Portugal’s expansion around the world, and above all the aspect of someone facing the unknown, would later be taken up once again by David de Almeida in the exhibition in homage to Fernão Mendes Pinto and his "pilgrimages" held in 2006 in Almada. In this exhibition the language of the "Trágico-Marítima" series was resumed in a group of pieces designed especially for the old cistern at the Casa da Cerca.
After Africa, came Asia. Despite the Portuguese presence in Macau, the seduction by the place came from elements of Chinese mythology, represented in the panel installed in 1996 at Colina da Guia, at the top of which the Typhoon signs are hoisted during the monsoon season.
At the end of the 90s, these three-dimensional pieces were transported to the flat surface of the engraving. This resulted in a series of works with large uniform surfaces, in black, occasionally lacerated in white, in an extension of the language developed in the series "D' après Malevich", where the contrast is more marked. He returned to the formal language of this group of works in 2006, with “Visão Interior", a series which particularly displays the crossover of the different eras in the artist’s contemporaneousness, in which times gone by and the places experienced in the present intersect, as if David de Almeida were inside a dolmen looking at the rays of light which penetrate the darkness inside.
1. Translated from Duarte, Luiz Fagundes – David de Almeida Fecit. Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda, 1986, p. 12. .
2. Translated from Cachin, Françoise - «Le paysage du Peintre» in Pierre Nora (dir) – Les Lieux de memoire: II, La Nation, Gallimard, Paris, 1985, pp. 435 – 486.
3. Translated from DUARTE, Luiz Fagundes – David de Almeida […], p.32..
4. Translated from SCHNEIDER, Arnd – Appropriations, in SCHNEIDER, Arnd; WRIGHT, Christopher - Contemporary Art and Anthropology. Great Britain: Berg, 2006, p. 34
5. Translated from DUARTE, Luiz Fagundes – David de Almeida […], p.31..