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Blog: Blog2
  • Writer's pictureNelson Ferreira

In the Deepest Noir, Radiance Finds Its Reflection

Please maximise your screen brightness, so that you can see the different shades of black.

As a resident artist at two of Portugal's most important National Museums, I embarked on an artistic journey that would forever change the way I perceived classical sculpture.

'The Exiled,' - also called 'The Banished' - a stunning sculpture carved in white marble by 19th century artist Soares dos Reis, has long been a symbol of beauty and serenity. Yet, during my residency that celebrated its 150 Anniversary, I was determined to breathe new life into this classical masterpiece, to unveil a hidden facet that would challenge the viewer's perception.

The Exiled - by Soares dos Reis. 1872.

Under the cover of night, in the Sculpture Garden of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Lisbon and the Museum Soares dos Reis in Porto, I embarked on an almost blind journey of artistic expression. My tools were not the conventional colors one might expect in a painting; instead, I exclusively used pure black pigments, each with its distinct chemical composition.

The decision to use pure black pigments was a deliberate one, as it presented a unique challenge. I chose to forego the use of white or grey pigments entirely, pushing the boundaries of what could be achieved with shades of black. It was an exercise in contrast and texture, an exploration of how 3D shapes and subtle nuances could be carved out of the depths of darkness. Surprisingly, two of the palest shades were by a company that claims to produce the World’s Blackest Black paint. The darkest shade was by a Japanese company that never made such marketing claims. So I used the 'World’s Blackest Black' to represent the light!

The delicate features of the sculpture came to life in a world of black, a world that revealed a hidden depth, a haunting beauty that had been lurking beneath the surface of the white marble. The process of transforming white marble into shades of black began already in the 19th century, when the original white sculpture was cast and copied as a bronze replica.

Bronze replica in MNAC, Lisbon.

When I set out to paint 'The Exiled,' the remarkable sculpture by Soares dos Reis, I knew I wanted to create a piece that delved deep into the complexities of exile, where one loses everything but their thoughts. I wanted to convey the unity of human and divine, the essence of mythology, and the haunting depths of the ocean, all while exploring the fight between good and evil. The result is a painting that tells a story through a myriad of symbols, each representing the thoughts, emotions, and memories of the exiled.

Exile, a theme that has echoed through the annals of history, carries with it the weight of despair and the resilience of the human spirit. 'The Exiled' stands as a stoic embodiment of this concept, and in my painting, I sought to add layers of meaning to this timeless sculpture.

At the heart of the composition is 'The Exiled' himself, his serene face a canvas for a labyrinth of symbols. I drew inspiration from mythology, introducing the bull and the owl, representing Zeus and Athena, the divine and the human united. These symbols remind us that even in exile, there is a connection between the mortal and the divine, and that hope and wisdom can still guide our way.

The bull (Zeus) and owl (Athena).

The ocean, with its mysteries and vastness, finds its place in the painting, with a majestic black sperm whale and delicate corals at the very top of the painting. It speaks to the idea that even in the harshest of circumstances, there is beauty and wonder to be found. Exile may strip one of their surroundings, but it cannot take away the awe and majesty of the natural world.

Black sperm whale. Mediaeval gargoyle (top right), monkey imitating man (bottom right).

Interwoven with these symbols are the darker elements of exile, the fears and anxieties that can plague the mind. A monkey imitating man, a medieval gargoyle, and a rodent biting into a pool of blood serve as a reminder that the exiled must confront their own inner demons and the frightening unknown.

A rodent biting into a pool of blood.

Amid the complexity of exile, there are also tender moments and cherished memories. A whimsical chocolate Easter bunny, the rolling hills of one's homeland, and the softness of a lover's breasts remind us that, even in the harshest of circumstances, love, memories, and moments of comfort endure.

A chocolate Easter bunny.

Perhaps one of the most striking symbols is the cartoonish representation of Saint George and the dragon, embodying the eternal struggle between good and evil. In exile, this battle takes on new dimensions, as the exiled must confront moral dilemmas and make choices that can shape their destiny.

Silhouette of St. George and the Dragon.

My journey of transforming 'The Exiled' serves as a reminder that even the most classical and revered works of art can be reimagined and reinterpreted, breathing new life into their timeless beauty.


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