According to the revolutionary Brazilian educator and pedagogical theorist, Paulo Freire, the ideal aim of education is to be the “practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” Continuing Freire’s legacy and heeding the call to radically transform the world through creativity and empowerment, New Jersey-based Brazilian artist, Duda Penteado, has dedicated over ten years to honing not only his own personal art practice, but also to sharing his passion for art with New York City metro area youth through a variety of urban arts outreach initiatives. The most recent of a long list of notable projects, is his Global HeART Warming project. Located in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, it is a 100 x 72 foot mural commissioned by the CITYarts Foundation, aimed at raising awareness about climate change.
The finished mural, a collaboration executed between Penteado and his students, consists of a Pop-Surreal landscape reminiscent of George Garnett Dunning’s classic animation of The Beatles’ The Yellow Submarine. The joyous and compelling mural depicts a people, flower, bike, and car-filled road, flanked by brick red mountains and verdant rolling hills on one side, and Hokusai-inspired ocean waves on the other. A funky yellow factory is situated in the foreground, and a vibrant collection of city skyscrapers looms in the distance. “Nature is in love with the earth … Nature is spring blossoms … Nature’s tears are earth’s floods” is written in yellow letters hovering in a starry night sky like undulating air currents above a large yellow bird of peace.
“Philosophically, my mission as an artist is to empower and to create dialogue about difficult issues,” he says. “… In my case, my art pieces are not an end in and of themselves, but a means of arriving at a fundamental human truth: the struggle of the carnal and the divine in our lives.”
Despite the obvious historical links of this kind of large scale public painting to the Mexican muralist movement of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, Duda’s personal art practice seems to follow more from a long tradition of Latin American modernist, surrealist, abstract, and figurative artists including Juan Batlle-Planas, Rufino Tomayo, Roberto Matta, Jorge de la Vega, Hilton Berredo, and Beatriz Milhazes, as well as the vibrant traditions of street art vital in both New York and many Latin American urban environments.
Take his recent Bird of Revelation wall installation at Jersey City’s City Hall exhibition entitled Deck the Hall. Penteado’s expansive mural consists of a brushy silver ground, on top of which float quasi-representational/quasi-abstract elements, including flat sky blue leafs protruding from jagged brown and orange tree limbs, which jut into the composition at off-angles from some unseen tree. Large comic-style single eyeballs in orange, each with a single vulture foot, and a pair of droopy ghost-like angelic wings, are perched on these limbs. The image is surreal in execution, drawing to mind the hallucinatory imagery of Cuban surrealist, Wilfredo Lam, yet evincing an approach that is unique to Penteado’s hybridic style and set of influences. The work is equally disturbing and comical, bringing to mind a cartoon Halloween nightmare, something akin to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Also notable in Penteado’s vast oeuvre is his recent acrylic on canvas painting series entitled the Glocallica Series. These images represent a series of deformed hands, sometimes morphing with or juxtaposed against cragged tree branches (a recurring motif in Penteado’s work), all of which is juxtaposed against a backdrop of abstracted color fields. In one image, we see a goldenrod colored canvas, with a large black hand morphing into a tree. The image bears automatic-styled contour-line drawings, as well as a blue floating reverse-tear drop shape almost quivering as it hovers in the far right hand side of the composition. In another image, we see a textured crimson ground, superimposed with a centrally-located black tree trunk, with two hand-shaped wings flanking it to either side, and a yellow abstract form similar to the upside down tear drop from the previous image. In another canvas, reminiscent of Jean Dubuffet’s Art Brut handling of paint, and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s approach to line work, Penteado depicts two abstracted hands, one in electric blue, and one in a smudged silver, both contoured with free flowing loose line work. The background is in lax blocks of color: black, gold, and red. In these, and other works in this provocative series, the artists proposes multiple reference points and interpretations from duende-inspired visions to the horrors of war. These kooky and creepy dream-like images verge on the abstract, but evoke strong symbols from the Black Power fist of freedom to the limp outstretched fingers of zombies, Penteado’s pop culture references are subtly embedded into open-ended and animated forms of representation, resulting in what critic José Rodeiro has termed the “urgent 21st-century rehumanization of art and culture, … which dare to forestall rampant technological dogmatism, bellicose neo-futurism, ravenous materialism, scientific transgenic art (bio-art) or mere reductivistic ornate decoration.”
“How can an artist working in the twenty-first century continue to create original works of art after the overwhelming presence of remarkable twentieth century art movements like Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Bauhaus, and Cobra?” Penteado queries. It is clear that he draws on his vast knowledge of art history and contemporary trends, and yet he is able to produce unique images that draw on all of these diverse cultural and historical sources while providing novel, fresh, and compelling visions that inspire us all to look at the world with new eyes. In the end, this is perhaps his most revolutionary act.The purpose of my ongoing project of work is to bring the inspiration I get from great art masters into my studio in a meaningful way, providing a deeper experience of my humanity, as well as the humanity of others. The current focus of my work remains as the desire to portray what I feel is relevant to my existence. The stories of my subjects are often interchangeable with my own story. I focus my attention on people whose stories and personal power inspire me to work. I am a painter of stories. I find stories in the faces of others.