The flower of my anger grows wild

Thomas Bernhard[1]

This dream is a dream and it moves in darkness,

by rights it should be illuminated only by bolts of lightning

Witold Gombrowicz[2]



An artist well-versed in questioning: this is the artistic work of Renato Costa (Rio de Janeiro, 1974), a fine reminder of the ever-familiar dissertation of our abstract painter: art lives from tensions and dies from distractions.[3] Yes, art tinged by tension and the constant provision of what represents the elusive truth and what is no more than mere appearances; what is real and how it is expressed in words. Costa relates a discourse on what seems to be real: the world, communication, history, time and its images. He reiterates the concept of eikōnos in his artistic creation, an expression of likeness through form, primarily pictorial. “Inkless” is electrifying, with a touch of film noir, as if Chandler himself were there. Visitors to Costa’s exhibition are plunged into the denseness of cerulean light, flooded with indigo, a compact spectrum that summons the neon lights of the city, the mysterious night with its dark shadows, blua ombro,[4] the very first photographic prints, cyanotypes with their mysterious and palpable phthalocyanine blue. Goethe associated the color blue with understanding and reason, but it was also the essence of darkness: the appearance of objects seen through an azure glass is melancholy. The air, bathed in an aura of cobalt blue, hangs suspended, and the account of what is real evolves thus, a cosmogony, a way of viewing reality not so much as a solid discourse of established elements but rather as the evolution of a universe inhabited by astonishment and peculiarity.[5] “Inkless” is the title given to the exhibition at the IAACC, curated by Juan Carlos Moya,[6] and in contemplating it, I told the artist that it brought to mind an air of breathlessness, or that it could also be read as a sort of “game over”, the end of the match.

A creator of unease, of unbearable otherness,[7] very accurately defined by professor Carmen Calvo in the text cited here: he is a creator linked to the idea of je est un autre, (“I is another”) expressed by Rimbaud in one of his letters to Demeny. But we should not lose sight of the fact that in this journey between unease and otherness, we are dealing with an idealistic artist, an ethical creator, both pensive and intense, who is accustomed to writing his thoughts in the catalogs he publishes. His objective does not lie far from the intensity of Manolo Millares, an artist who, like Costa, navigates the full spectrum from joy to terror. Like Millares, Costa’s art derives from an extraordinarily complex reality, an exclamation of a singular “I accuse”.[8] It is not associated with a particular time or era, but is rather of a timeless and transcendental nature: the claim for an urgent balance in the world, the need to demand jux, justice, from a history that has repeatedly punished and trampled upon the world.[9]

Let us pause. I do indeed feel, perhaps because of my preceding words, that Costa finds himself divided, distanced from himself, standing alone in his study a desolate –and exhilarating– inhabitant of the Kingdom of the Other, blissfully extraterritorial, in a radical pictorial experience which, like so many others that push the limits of art in our times, finally diverts him towards the finite.

Son of a renowned painter, Manoel Costa,[10] a champion of the authenticity of the artist and the possibility of a full life shut away in the study –as Meistre upholding the joy of a room–, Renato has continuously questioned the images spewed from our screens day after day, and his works are a sort of interrogation regarding the manner in which legends are forged, both minor and grandiose. We find evidence of this in the colossal work “Blua ombro”, hung in the exhibition at the IAACC (2017), which I told him reminded me of the mythical “La Fée Electricité” (1966-1937) by Raoul Dufy, another immense work relating the events of history. I also recalled the paintings of Diego Rivera shown recently in the Colegio de San Ildefonso, and those hung in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico. Costa’s polyptych, “Blua ombro”[11] (which moves from light to shadow: from the “Hada Electricidad” to the indigo veil), takes us on a journey from the questioned image, already mentioned, to a certain explosive atmosphere that can be associated with his series “Vanitas” (2013-2014), which is a play on fallen idols. In his own words,[12] “those portraits that seem to be smoldering images, about to burst into flames.”From there, certain elements of this mural of blue and shadow acquire a glacial aspect, reminiscent at times of Friedrich relating the shipwreck of the Esperanza, which I have oft read, almost unconsciously, as the “wreck of hope”.[13] Costa’s works do not aim precisely at building a narration, but rather serve to expand his meditations, dissolving relations by avoiding verbose explanation and thereby diffusing the meaning. His pictorial form, which at times brings to mind the portrait of Bloom-Dedalus-Joyce-Ulysses, is immersed in a peculiar logic that replicates the disarray and turbulence of history. Costa’s frozen blues in the images of the polyptych point us towards the work’s denouement, the representation of a cerulean test pattern, the end of the television broadcast (let us recall the idea of “game over”): geometrical stripes and superimposed figures offering a silent linearism reminiscent of Agnés Martin, geometry in shades of blue. In his polyptych hung in the IAACC, he seems to have created a discourse on the history of 20th century painting in but a few meters.

And questioning, always questioning, the painter directs us towards another striking “non-painting,”[14] the polyptych entitled “Esto no es una pintura… Lo digo yo” (“This is not a painting, because I say so”) (2017), a meta-painting subjected to a personal experience, like much of our painter’s work. This piece in particular strikes a chord similar to the cold metal of Duchamp, whose “ready-mades” demonstrated a similar point insofar as they “reduced the aesthetic consideration to the choice of the mind, not the ability or cleverness of the hand.”[15] Like Duchamp, Costa has in him something of an anartist, as we have titled this work, with his idea of creation as a mental state –“it was an attitude of the mind,” quoted Duchamp in his dialogs with Pierre Cabanne–,[16] or in the words of Renato, approaching creation as an exaltation of consciousness,[17] not so much as a presumption of artistic ability, and like Duchamp, distancing himself from other creators around him.[18]

All of the artists Costa alludes to are creators who in one way or another have had an extraordinary relationship with thought and thinking, and he could therefore subscribe to Torner’s joy of thinking;[19] the artist does not provide answers so much as he broadens and deepens the question. “Art does not teach us by providing answers, but rather by causing us to question.”[20] Costa creates an enigmatic link only to invert the meaning, the new significance being that our very essence is at stake.

The example of another artist-thinker, Joseph Kosuth, is very present in the IAACC exhibition; his memory and example are referenced in the unsettling piece entitled “One and Three Paintings” (2017).[21] In this likewise conceptual and metapictorial work, Costa relates the possibilities of representation through fragments or frames of his “Inkless” video, addressing this in three formats which appear to represent a cycle: painting, a photograph of the painting, and a printed text which has been reiterated and altered such that our first impression is that we are floundering in appearances. This is amplified in the exhibition to a certain extent by the questions raised in the video itself and the attached verbal presence depicted in another text, the National Sharecropper’s Contract, cited in these pages.[22] By using what we could refer to as a “tracking shot” technique in his painting, the elements are at times represented in a realistic manner, while others, exaggerated in their proximity, are transformed into mere abstractions. In this sinuous and successive study in variations which seems to drive us to an altered state of awareness, the images become abstractions; the texts, al(li)teration; and what we intuited as true and certain is represented in the video as a suspended, simulated reality. To a certain degree, what Costa aspires to do is create a certain disconnect between feelings and their meanings; in other words, if the word should indeed connect images with their given names –concept and image–, the artist has recourse to a thought process which leads to a certain dematerialization. The elements displayed in the exhibition no longer bear testimony of their existence through feelings. If language should be the system to prove the meaning of a work, Costa seems to advocate for disconnection, perhaps suggesting that we may in this way be witnesses to an alternate reality.

The exhibition opens with a militant quote from Philip Guston,[23] such that

–as I noted at the time– it is his epigone work from this chapter that has come to be known in contemporary art history as “Art & Language”; and he, like his predecessors, was a skeptical and resilient artist, complex in his deluge of questions, a style of art that is of difficult classification. His work would not be understood without language, a circumstance that has been characteristic of the art of our times: Picabia or Picasso, the lettrism in the writings of Kurt Schwitters or the incendiary words of Cy Twombly, and many others –Grilo, Jonic, Lebel, Nöel, Millares or Wols. By articulating image with discourse, Costa shows that language, the presence of words, is essential if one is to capture the agitation created by aesthetic experience; the previously mentioned journey towards the dematerialization of the artistic object, to cite Duchamp once again.

Words, words, words: we read another prolix artist, Henri Michaux, and his imperious compulsion for language; it seems that Costa requires language to clarify his daily experience. And I believe that, as occurred with Dada and phonetic poetry and the utter imbroglio of words one discovers in surrealist verse, the complexity of creation seems to transfigure itself into an extraordinary use of signs and symbols that is capable of creating al(li)teration – an altered and alliterative, yet entirely new alphabet. The assembled word, altered, as if unsure, striking out what was written before, a re-writing of what was originally published. Costa takes words to a fever pitch, that sublime something that Artaud describes in The Theatre and its Double: “to break through language to touch life,” a mysterious operation which liberates the symbols which, once restrained, are suddenly flung into the air.

With the hopeful anticipation of the creation of a newly-evolved or private language, narrating the journey between commitment and ostranenie, Costa treats words under the dazzling mask of ordinary language, as something unable to be grasped, mistrusting for fear of abuse. Praising both permanence and fragility, his work, populated with images, seems enticed by the tremor of the spoken word, the altered or slightly transformed voice, yet also by what is not said (this is poetry), the word removed from the circumspect telling of the history of art (which Torner claims does not exist: art, a victim of its theories and its history).[24] This same idea begins the superb text by Cruz de Castro[25] on the dramatic setting of our artist’s work:[26] “There can be no aesthetics,” writes Manolo Millares, “without man as a social being, and if man –the artist, in this case– is a realist, it is because he works from within himself, with no possibility of eluding or losing sight of the environs that surround him and condition him.”[27]

Costa paints lucid dreams, evoking the Kerouac of the “broken-down heroes of the Western night”;[28] from the cornerstone of time he incites a description of appearances, painful and autobiographical, the flower of his anger growing wild: painting, photography (the photograph of the painting), video and text, and the rhetorical figure of the word.[29] And rather than deciphering enigmas, our artist sets them before us, continuously bearing testimony to the fragility of appearances, including the possibility of transforming appearance through slight, nearly imperceptible modulations.


May the lightning come to illuminate us.



[1]Bernhard, Thomas. In Hora Mortis: Under the Iron of the Moon (Original title: In Hora Mortis: Unter dem Eisen des Mondes). Barcelona: DVD Poetry, Barcelona, 1998, p. 15.

[2]Gombrowicz, Witold. Diary (1953-1969) (Original title: Dziennik 1953-1969). Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2011, p. 102.

[3]This quote is from Fernando Zóbel, and we have cited it numerous times. De la Torre, Alfonso. La poética de Cuenca. Madrid: Ayuntamiento de Madrid, 2004.

[4] “Blua ombro” (2017), Blue Shadow, is the title of Costa’s magna polyptych hung in “Inkless” at the IAACC in Zaragoza.

[5] We have dedicated a text to the theme of blue and cyanotypes: De la Torre, Alfonso. Javier Riera. Dice misterio. ¿Qué misterio es este? Valencia: Galería Ana Serratosa, 2016. Wolfgang’s reflections are found in: Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. Theory of Colours (Original title: Zur Farbenlehre). Valencia: Consejo General de la Arquitectura Técnica de España, 2008, 86-87. Edition used. Here we should quote the contemporary classic with its recently published translation. Gass, William H. Sobre lo azul (Original title: On Being Blue). Madrid: La Navaja Suiza, 2017.

[6] “The project is based on a metaphor which uses a printer to print out endless copies of a national sharecropper’s contract until the ink runs dry, drawing a parallel between the concept of depletion or exhaustion and themes related to the human side of global issues such as displaced populations, the environmental crisis and political and economic unrest.” Renato Costa, conversation with the author, Nov 13, 2017.

[7]This was the title of his exceptional exhibition: “Unbearable Otherness,” CEART – Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente (Fuenlabrada), March 12 – April 16, 2015.

[8] This brings to mind Westerdahl’s words on Millares: “Automatic writing, not as a means of escape but rather an accusation, an I accuse, under the featherless wings of the angels of Dada who, to our great fortune, continue to hover over the corrupt and luxurious Earth. ”Westerdahl, Eduardo. Se dice que el tiempo, la distancia (They say that time is distance). In the Exhibition “Tribute to Manolo Millares”. Madrid: Galería Juana Mordó, 1973, p. 12.

[9]The quote again pertains to Westerdahl: “He would take the residual figure of Man in representation of humanity, humiliated and destroyed by his own society. From there, the homunculus (…) a certain man or vestige of a man, recognizable to a certain extent, would become the main crux of his work (…) this man would be innocent. And consequently our painter, who would do him justice, would become just in himself (…) a historical and impartial judge. Westerdahl, Eduardo. Manolo Millares. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Colección Guagua, 1980, 30-31.

[10] Gurupá, Pará, 1943.Vid.: Ayala, Walmir. Manoel Costa. Rio de Janeiro: Walmir Ayala-Manoel Costa, 1987.The book begins with a quote from Manoel Costa himself: “Art is a silence that speaks from the depths of the human soul.” Ibid., p. 5. The idea of authenticity can be translated as: “Artists of all periods have always combined old and new ideas. What is truly important is the authenticity of each creator.” Ibid., p. 284. Note from the author: The book quoted here is by Xavier de Meistre, “A Journey Around My Room” (1794), of which numerous editions exist in both English and Spanish.

[11] Returning to his fixation on the word, Renato Costa pointed out that “‘Blua ombro’, meaning ‘Blue shadow’, is the title in Esperanto of my ad-hoc pictorial installation created for the exhibition. This pictorial installation is comprised of twenty large-format paintings covering 24 meters of wall space, 4 meters high, distributed on two walls set at a 90º angle. The first wall, 21 meters in length, holds sixteen 200 x 250 cm paintings depicting scenes of global importance, which I extracted from the media. This first mural is complemented by a second set of four paintings measuring 200 x 200 cm, inspired by the color bars that appear on the television screen when the transmitter is active but no program is being broadcast.” Renato Costa, quote taken from the exhibition brochure published by the IAACC (2017).

[12]Costa, Renato. The Unbearable Otherness. Fuenlabrada:CEART – Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente, 2015, p. 18.

[13] “The Sea of Ice” or “The Wreck of Hope”. Caspar David Friedrich, “Das Eismeer” (1823-1824), Oil on canvas. 96.7 cm x 126.9 cm (38 in x 49.9 in). Hamburger Kunsthalle.

[14] This polyptych uses canvases and mirrors.

[15] Interview of M.D. with Harriet, Sidney and Carroll Janis in 1953, quoted by: Clair, Jean. L’oeuvre de Marcel Duchamp. París: Musée National d’Art Moderne-Centre National d’Art et de Culture, 1977, p. 81.

[16] This term was one Duchamp used to describe himself, and can be found in the essential and legendary work: Cabanne, Pierre. Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (Original title: Entretiens avec Marcel Duchamp). México D.F.: 2006-2010, p. 70.Duchamp is clearly playing with the term “anarchist”, with the obvious play on words “an artist” and “a-artist”, i.e. “non-artist”, in the sense that it brings up other issues about art that had been scarcely addressed at the time.

[17] Costa, Renato. Against Intellectual Imposture. In “Renato Costa. Shadows of an Intersection.” Ceuta: Museo de Ceuta, 2013, p. 13.

[18] Our artist reflects extensively on Duchamp and his work entitled “Fountain” in: Costa, Renato. Against Intellectual Imposture. Ibid., p. 14.

[19] Text by Gustavo Torner, quoting “The Aleph” (1945-1949) by Jose Luis Borges for the exhibition held at “Institución Fernando el Católico” in Zaragoza, 1958. Gustavo Torner, “Oh, joy of understanding, greater than that of imagining or feeling!”, text extracted from the catalog entitled “Torner”, Ediciones Rayuela, Colección Poliedro, Madrid, 1978, 7-8.

[20] In: Torner, Gustavo. Gustavo Torner Interview with Gustavo Torner. In Gustavo Torner. Writings and Conversations. Valencia: Pretextos, 1996, p. 104.

[21] “These works, which comprise a series of six triptychs, are based on the work of Josep Kosuth, “One and Three Chairs” (1965). “This point was previously contemplated in “Paramnesia Colectiva” (Collective Paramnesia). Renato Costa, conversations with the author, Nov 13 and 16, 2017.

[22] “This video shows the massive printing of a “National Sharecropper’s Contract”. This contract (framed and hung next to the video projection) avails itself of irony and metaphor to relate a series of unethical clauses which comprise the core of an agreement between the contracting party and the citizenry for transforming democracy on a private country estate. Renato Costa, conversation with the author, Nov 13, 2017.

[23] “What kind of a man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything – and then going home to adjust a red to a blue?” From: Godfrey, Tony. Painting Today. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. The full quote is: “So when the 1960s came along, I was feeling split, schizophrenic; the war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world. What kind of a man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything – and then going home to adjust a red to a blue?” Talmer, Jerry (Interview with Philip Guston). Creation is for Beauty Parlors. New York: The New York Post, April 9, 1977.

[24] Torner, Gustavo. From his speech: El arte, víctima de sus teorías y de su historia. (Art, a victim of its theories and its history). Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1993.

[25] In February 1966 Manolo Millares offered a biting criticism of Realism in his prologue to the catalog of Francisco Cruz de Castro’s exhibition at the Ateneo in Madrid. A fragment of this is reproduced in note 27.

[26]Cruz de Castro, Francisco. The Dramatic Setting of Renato Costa’s Paintings. In “Renato Costa. Shadows of an Intersection.” Op. cit., 23-24. Here he pronounces very similar words to those of the art historian Gombrich.

[27] “There can be no aesthetics without man as a social being, and if man –the artist, in this case– is a realist, it is because he works from within himself, with no possibility of eluding or losing sight of the environs that surround him and condition him.(…) There are painters who communicate, depose, condemn, because they work from the very core of the body they have been given to inhabit. They are the true painters of reality – the reality of existing in a particular space and time. There are other “realist” painters who serve nothing other than the empty statism of a piece of fruit coated in the yellowing wax of the archetypes of a monolithic past, veiled to a greater or lesser degree, but invariably ineffective. These painters, undeclared authors of cardboard portraits and testimonial obituaries, speak with the prefabricated voice of a new reality that has been preserved in formaldehyde or mothballs from time immemorial, turning their back on the cultural reality of the people and the subsequent development of humanity. We should clarify now the non-existence of an art deserving of this name, which can be represented by any deranged form –fully abstract or a copy of objects– in other words, of an art born as a separate entity, floating in the sky of an uncertain and tacit world of timelessness.” Millares, Manolo. Cruz de Castro. Madrid: Cuadernos de Arte del Ateneo de Madrid-Publicaciones Españolas, no. 43, 1966.

[28] Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. Barcelona: Anagrama, 2008, p. 227.

[29] We can see this in his immense, nearly ambient work “National Sharecropper’s Contract” and Inkless video (2015).