Power and Sensitivity or The Deconstruction of a Violin

The 24 Caprices combine Dalva Duarte´s abstract expressionism with her personal “cubism“ (see Body’s Music), her gesture of painting with the deconstruction of a violin. On one side of the 24 canvases, a series of violins are represented, flanked by abstract spaces of sheer colour; on the other side is a series of purely abstract, expressive “inner landscapes“, each referring to one of Paganini’s 24 Caprices, all connected by a sinuous, musically swinging line.
The monumentality of this work is comparable to Cy Twombly’s cycle Lepanto (2001), but where the American painter refers to an historic event of enormous consequences – the fight between the Islamic and Christian armadas in 1571 – Dalva Duarte picked up what has been an important event in her personal life: On the way to become an excellent violonist being able to play one of the most sophisticated compositions, Paganini`s 24 Caprices (24 Cappricci), Dalva Duarte´s brother decided not to follow a career as a musician when he was eighteen years old. For Dalva Duarte who absolutely wanted to become a painter and had hoped to share her life of an artist with her elder brother, this decision was a shock, harsh and incomprehensible. So when living close to him again for some time in 2002 in the United States, this significant moment in her youth rose up again.


Caprice 15, acrylic on canvas, 270 x 380 cm


Caprice 15, acrylic on canvas, 270 x 380 cm

But her first motive to look back soon became the examination of contradictory forces in her own artistic work, between construction and imagination, between restriction and freedom, and, more specifically, between two important forms of painting we find throughout Dalva Duarte´s work: the tension between figurative, precise (re-)presentation and the release of colour in an expressive gesture reclaiming the autonomy of painting itself.
In The 24 Caprices, created in ten years of work (2002 – 2012), these sides, connected like siamese twins grown together on their back, build a self-portrait of the artist: as a double-portrait in a surprising “frieze of life“, reflecting also Dalva Duarte´s origins in a double sense: the memory of her childhood and youth in Brazil deeply connected to the music of Paganini´s 24 Caprices, and her “origins“ as a painter, her beginnings and sources of creation.

Music and Memory

At the age of twelve, Dalva Duarte discovered the work of Pablo Picasso in an art magazine (see The Artist/Beginnings). The invention of Cubism will always be associated not only with Les Demoiselles d´Avignon (1907) but with the famous violins Picasso and Braque deconstructed between 1908 and 1914. Picasso who once had started with copying the masters opened a new perspective with his abstract and multiple points of view for the young artist Dalva Duarte who at the same time had to listen to the violin of her brother every day. His music, Dalva Duarte says, filled the house every minute. Sometimes they had a fight because she wanted to listen to Rock´n Roll, The Beatles or Bossa Nova, and sometimes she couldn´t bear listening to his endless repetitions. But nevertheless, when leaving for Europe on her own, the fiddling and then virtuous playing of her brother stayed deeply associated with the warm and supportive atmosphere in their home. Love and hate, happiness and sorrow, understanding and loneliness, everything in this house happened in the realm of music, especially of Paganini´s 24 Caprices. So every time she remembered her home, she remembered Paganini and vice versa, so when looking back at her first steps and issues as a painter, she immediately had to refer to the violin, her pleasure and pain.

Violins I, oil on canvas, 76 x 183 cm

On the violins´ side of The 24 Caprices Dalva Duarte is examining different combinations and ways to represent the violins, single, compressed, some of them in a fast movement, mainly in black and white, drawn with charcoal she already used as a child. Dalva Duarte refers to cubism – and her first “influence“, Pablo Picasso.
Around the frieze of partly broken and displaced instruments interlaced surfaces of colours as often appearing in her paintings, reflect the different “moods” of the music as well as the relation between the material “body“ of the instrument (his resistance) and the immaterial sound it is evoking, a relation she dealt with before (see Body’s Music).

On the other side of The 24 Caprices, Dalva Duarte starts off with a dark purple, opaque painting, then moves forward through a couple of red ones and opens into blue-ocre-white. As said before, each canvas is dedicated to one of Paganini´s 24 Caprices. Each canvas can be seen separately but as joint together, a large movement in the whole frieze arises, opening from almost hermetic surfaces to a diaphaneous depth.
The only counterpart to the colours’ atmospheric, pending and changing form – with a personal use of colours as an emotional or mental space („Seelenraum“ in German), like the orange and yellow of Dalva Duarte´s hometown in Brazil or the blue of the sky she only could paint when starting with oil colours (see The Artist/Beginnings) – is a kind of scribbling passing through the paintings. Scribbling as the same origin of drawing and writing – by the way reflected by Cy Twombly also, even if in a different manner – seems to work as a reference to the free floating, pre-lingusitic states of remembering and wading through existential questions. For forty years, Dalva Duarte has not gone back to live in Brazil. “The only place I could go to when I wanted to visit the Brazil of my youth“, says the artist, “was my memory.“
In The 24 Caprices, she transferred this imaginary place into a huge sculpture of paintings.

Time sculpture

The 24 Caprices is not only a frieze exploring a life time (see Time´s Frieze), and it is not only articulating an experience of time in the layers of colour: it is also a painted sculpture, needing a large space to be shown, defining the room in which it is placed. The viewer has to walk along 90 meters on each side, the paintings he is passing are changing with his movement; in this movement he is becoming part of the painting.
“You have to work hard“, says Dalva Duarte, “to discover the hidden side of a person“. The viewer cannot see everything at once, the gathering of the whole work is taking time – so time itself is experienced, an almost epic duration. Also, one has to perform the work of memory oneself: to keep in mind what one saw on the one side (the violins) to be able to create a relation with what one will see on the other side. The viewer is passing physically through the years the artist has evoked in her work and worked on them.


Model of The 24 Caprices


Dalva Duarte working on The 24 Caprices

Paganini and Goya, music and terror

So Dalva Duarte heard Paganini´s music again and again as a young girl, and again when working on The 24 Caprices. Paganini, known as the “devil´s violonist“ composed these pieces to push his own virtuosity, especially in the higher ranges, to force quick changes and pizziccati. This extremely difficult and “intellectual“ rather than emotional music, mutual in the romantic excaltation, involves a certain cruelty itself. When reflecting on her life as an artist, Dalva Duarte remembered the restrictions she had experienced as a woman from Brazil in the art world and market. But also the exclusion of coloured or mentally “different“ people (see Brothers and Sisters) that had become her subject. The precise way of painting Dalva Duarte has learned from the “old masters“, belonged to a tradtion that excluded her, but at the same time offered a knowledge of composition and techniques to articulate her own perception of the world. Just as the the violins´ side of The 24 Caprices is constitutive for the other side, the non-figurative, completely free expression in colour and space.
But what, if there was a completely different way?

Both sides are keeping each other in an ambivalence of freedom and restriction.The violence in “breaking“ an endless number of violins (even in the sound of the word!), the violence in their merciless repetition (as in the ear of the listener): in her insistance Dalva Duarte is opening her personal approach to a more general question. Her anger – as a powerful source – is concerning all kinds of restrictons. Explicitly in The Cardinals (see Hands and Gloves), The Seductor, Unknown Visitor and other works, Dalva Duarte has examined and analyzed terrorizing manipulation, abuse and censorship – sexually, mentally, and socially. This criticism today, in times of growing religious fundamentalism, has become of great importance. And of course, one has to think of Goya`s Los Caprichos, having as a subject man´s cruelty and the dark side of reason.

Possession, oil on canvas, 41 x 61 cm

In this sense her reference to Goya’s Los Caprichos (1793 to 1799) can be understood. In his etchings, Goya denounces the abuse of clerical and governmental power, inquisition, superstition etc. and points out the fight between reason and phantasy, but also the perverted forms of “reason“. Although Dalva Duarte is not pointing out this terror directly in The 24 Caprices, it is there, in the violence of the violins, related to Picasso´s or Braque´s famous initial paintings of cubism. She has been collecting broken violins for thirty years. Her brother´s decision for her, of course, was difficult: they were the only ones in the family to take the path of art (see Brothers and Sisters II)

Of course, the artist is aware of her own limitations: zones in herself she doesn´t like to go, hidden areas of fear or aggression, unpleasant memories and thoughts. The attempt to pervade them, gives The 24 Caprices a vivid tension.

The fact, that Dalva Duarte is taking a personal event in her life seriously and develops a reflection about herself in a work as huge as Cy Twombly´s Lepanto is not only a female point of view, comparable to Frida Kahlo’s intention of understanding the artist as medium and object of examination. It is a clear statement of power. Even if the artist has to cope with destructive forces that can be as terrible for an individual human being as war, she has the capacity to denounce and overcome them in and with her art.
In The 24 Caprices Dalva Duarte also expresses the happiness of having been supported by her family as a girl to be able to make her way. She pronounces an inner freedom that is to be seen in the canvases, where memories and music set free a strong gesture of autonomous painting.
The “violence“ of the monumental size of the entire work is an act of the self-assertion of the artist holding the extremes together in a genuine and productive way.