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Da Vaz - The Inventor of American Baroque
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Da Vaz - the Inventor of American Baroque

Roy Oppenheim, Kunsthistoriker, Bern

«He seeks to fascinate with the force of affect, directly, overwhelmingly.
What he gives is not movement, but excitement, ecstasy, rapture. He aims
for an impression of the moment... What he gives is not a happy state,
but an evolution, an event; not a satisfied, but a dissatisfied and restless
condition. One does not feel redeemed, but is torn into the tension of a
state of passion.»

Heinrich Wölfflin

The parallel to the artist Da Vaz's oeuvre is clear: his work is marked by dynamics, boundless candor and passion for innovation, playful and imaginative investigation - all qualities characteristic of north American art after 1950. This attitude to art has a Baroque touch: unceasing movement, unsatisfied curiosity, pleasure in things new and unknown, but also optimism as the basis for a view to the future, the courage for new ventures. The artist becomes an explorer. This is the essence of «American Baroque» created by Da Vaz. With Da Vaz a painter enters the stage who, after decades of low-key activity in art, now delivers a new thrust forward to open up new horizons.

Subsequent to the modern interpretation of Baroque (Alois Riegl, A. E. Brinckmann, Dagobert Frey, Richard Sedlmaier, Hans Sedlmayr) a broader understanding of Baroque has emerged which includes and illustrates the international interrelationships of artists and art as well as the significant movements in the development of art. A distinctive feature of this broader Baroque concept is the dissolution of the borders between the individual art genres and techniques: «Ganzheitlichkeit» (Wholeness) and «Gesamtkunstwerk» (synthesis of the arts) are concepts which developed from the philosophy of Baroque and which have constantly captured artists' imagination and thought ever since. This is joined by illusionism: painting does not remain painting in the traditional sense, but adopts plastic elements from architecture. The plastic does not want to be seen as an individual work of art, but as a part of the whole.

Crossing Borders

The artist - the researcher, too - is intent on unveiling the mysteries of multi-dimensionality. The Baroque fundamental consciousness, as expressed by Da Vaz in his oeuvre, reflects this quest for multi-dimensionality, also in the sense of transcendence. Da Vaz is an artist permanently crossing borders.

Today we find ourselves at the end of a long period of inquiry, of trials and experiments which in the most extreme case have led to a total destruction of the artistic form. In other words, the traditional form no longer satisfactorily reproduced the world's multi-layered and multi-dimensional nature, its complexity. The presentiments of the creators of abstract art have proved to be inviolable reality: the part of the world not yet within our reach is «infinitely greater» than the part we perceive through our eyes, ears, noses, taste buds and the touch of our fingers.

This also signifies completely new chances for creativity. Da Vaz is one of the first to discover that the computer offers a fantastic extension and continuation of previous opportunities. Da Vaz used the computer to develop further his drawings, forms, colors created from within themselves in earlier years. Most important, all the formal elements Da Vaz previously drew by hand re-emerge in the works designed by means of the computer. In this process, he experiences the computer as an extension of himself. The pattern of his previous oeuvre finds an undeviating continuation in the gamut of electronic tools. Hardly any other aide is as apt as the computer for depicting the multi-dimensionality of artistic thought and feeling, of so-called «inspiration».

The electronic processor thus consistently continues the artistic process. In the final analysis, it permits the creative probing and artistic fecundation of the previously mentioned extension of dimensions, the «new intellectuality».

Active Imagination

Certain moments in human existence evoke forms or colours, spontaneously set them in motion to conjure forth a sculptural form. The picture in turn unveils this mental process.

The foundation of the picture becomes an intersection, a junction of paths charged with energy and suspense from the artist's interior. There are many names to describe this process. The psychiatrist C. G. Jung coined the term of active imagination: the - largely American - action painting gave rise to the concept of psychic improvisation. But this also includes the notion of the automatism, the creative process impaired or filtered by the intellect as little as possible, a seismographic proceedure of recording as a trace every impulse from within.

The crucial factor in all these expressions in abstract art is the fundamental idea of the all-embracing sculptural freedom of self-expression, which takes a human being's most hidden, deep-down emotions seriously and which experiences artistic activity as a direct expression of life itself. Da Vaz also passed through this phase in the artistic process, but he not only continues along this path, he goes beyond it to arrive at a new artistic vision: an absolutely process-oriented course of totally new, undreamt-of opportunities.

New Directions

The direction taken by Da Vaz is basically new. He focuses neither on the search for a personal mythical element or Mythik, for pictures arising from the apperception of the world in the subconscious - as in the case of the American artists Rothko, Matta and Gottlieb - nor on the autonomous, minimally filtered exposure of inner emotions, characteristic of Pollock, Motherwell and de Kooning, for example.

Da Vaz centers on the technique - the structuring, but also propelling element which triggers the free flow of lines, forms and colors. The result is fascinating: new structures emerge, non-representational constructions, layer pictures, vibrating colour rhythms. The lines run, jump, somersault, promptly leaving along their individual course geometrical traces and autonomous symbols, which we associate with growth curves, vegetative organisms, geological strata.

Many drawings and paintings stretch beyond the boundaries of the picture format, unfurling for several meters. Frequently, a section from this Baroque pictorial profusion re-appears in another work - reduced to a few strokes or enriched with new elements, colours and highlights. They are creations rising forth from unfathomable depths, in a constant flux of change and development. Whole bands of intertwining structures, proceeding to unravel before our eyes.

The variety of form knows no bounds. New elements spring up, mutating into new sub-varieties of the original form. Associations of musical scores and tonal forms of architecture ensue; Johann Sebastian Bach's ingenious fugues come to mind. The longer we contemplate these works, the more clearly we realize that this loose, evidently virtuoso production has little to do with coincidence, with coincidental factors. A perfectly controlled technique compels the coincidental to become a conclusive entity. This is all the more astonishing, since Da Vaz constantly stresses that he has no prior conception of the work. On the contrary, such prior conceptions would impair the free, precise flow of the lines and forms.

The fantastic element in Da Vaz' oeuvre is indeed unforeseeable. This new, apparently inexhaustible visual language, American Baroque, opens up new, undreamt-of opportunities for artistic creativity. A treasure trove for our eyes, a thrilling excursion through an incomparable, unique pictorial world. But unlike the works by Hans Hartung, Wols, Pollock, Motherwell and others, who undertook similar ventures, these symbols are not the result of pure coincidence, they are not the expression of a moment, of uncontrolled, trance-like artistic activity oblivious to all rules, adopting all coincidences.

Da Vaz's approach brings to maturity Robert Delaunay's thesis that challenges for painting are no longer set by themes and objects, but by the heartbeat of man himself. The perfect technique Da Vaz has acquired brings the artist's inner, rich, multilayered dynamism straight to the surface. In Da Vaz's work harmony is united with expressiveness to mould a new, intense, unmistakable mode of articulation.

A New Art Technique

The word «technique» derived from Greek also contains the aspect of «artistry»; the concept of «technique» should therefore not be restricted solely to the level of a utilitarian purpose. The question as to whether we experience the world from an airplane or through an electronic microscope illustrates the differences in the meaning of technique or technology with regard to our perception of reality: the choice of medium fundamentally transforms the way we experience the world.

Da Vaz has applied several techniques, wielding pen, pencil and brush but also deploying the scanner and computer. The transitions are smooth, the individual movements can be followed from one artistic state to another with virtually no hiatus.

Da Vaz's works develop in a specific organic fashion. But the crucial element is that they do not develop according to a linear pattern, i.e. from the beginning through to the end, but from several directions and on several levels, even simultaneously. Simultaneity is a state in which the most varied elements and mental movements appear at the same time and thus relate to each other. The futurists introduced the concept of dynamism - universal dynamism as the lyrical expression of a modern attitude towards life, based on the rapidity and simultaneity of intuition, knowledge and the message.

The latter assumes the following pattern in Da Vaz's oeuvre: every creative impulse develops autonomously, in a structured fashion, without adhering to the dictates of a superior order. Slowly various developing strands approach from different directions. They collide, blend into each other, set mutual boundaries and enter into a dialog. Da Vaz says: «When I start work, I don't imagine anything, neither at the outset nor during the work. I have no ready-made conceptions. I work in all directions. So much is possible. I turn the white sheet of paper or the blank canvas like a potter his wheel. The creative act is a 'dialogue' between the drawn line, the line yet to be drawn (the line 'in progress') and the white sheet of paper...». The individual figurations are the result of this multilayered, complex, dynamic, iterative process. His creations express a world of its own, marked by variety, intensity, autonomy and inventiveness. His works do not portray a semblance of reality, that is second-rate reality, but are autonomous objects. As a result, Da Vaz has achieved a new level of freedom. He no longer thinks in isolated categories, but leaves the «Èlan initial» of the form and colour activity to the various metamorphoses of the technical process.

Ursula Davaz, the wife of the artist, received a scientific education and in her essay Kunst und Evolution (Art and Evolution) (Morphogenesis, Washington D.C., USA, 1980) she refers to the similarity between this artistic process and the evolutionary process in nature. A fascinating thought, whose consequences for art and its self-image are so far unforeseeable. But one thing is sure today: as the founder of American Baroque Da Vaz heralds a new artistic direction, a new optical perspective, probably a new epoch in today's art scene.