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Horário de Funcionamento:
Segunda, Quinta e Sexta
15:00 / 20:00

Sábados e Domingos
11:00 / 18:00



Áreas Principais


versão portuguesa version française


Dreaming With Hands

drawing in the work of Mário Dionísio



(click on image for larger view)





The exhibition DREAMING WITH HANDS, DRAWING IN THE WORK OF MÁRIO DIONÍSIO* shows a body of work that the artist kept for the most part hidden from public view but which is intrinsically linked with his theories about neorealism, a movement he joined from ‘the moment before dawn’,1 as well as his research into painting, which led him to abstraction.
Mário Dionísio (1916-1993) graduated with a degree in Romance Philology from Lisbon University where he began his activities as a militant anti-fascist. He was a poet, storyteller, novelist, reviewer, essayist and literature professor. He wrote forewords for art books and exhibition catalogues, interviewed painters, gave talks about art and presided over the education reform commission that introduced visual education and music as state school subjects in 1974-75. 
The visual arts came into his life in the early 1940s when he had to defer his teaching career because he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and was obliged to remain in isolation at home.  His first endeavours at art work were encouraged by his friends Álvaro Cunhal, José Huertas Lobo and António Augusto Oliveira and this led him to investigate art materials and history of art and form an opinion about the problems of painting in relation to the political issues also raised at that time in poetry and fiction.
Mário Dionísio was Portugal’s leading theoretician of neorealist aesthetics and within this movement, which in the 1940s and 1950s brought together artists who opposed Salazar’s dictatorial regime, he defended three major structural principles: that forms should relate with humanist values of historical materialism, that forms should be used without the past being obliterated and that collective reality should be brought to the fore without it encroaching on the artist’s individuality. He coherently translated into his multifaceted work a utopian vision that he endeavoured to make material with his own hands, and which led him to leave the Portuguese Communist Party in 1952 and, the following year, the organization of the General Exhibitions of the Visual Arts (where artists against the regime presented their work between 1946 and 1956).
A self-taught artist, he took a ‘piece of advice’ from his reading of André Lhote that would influence his entire artistic output: ‘Drawing is a way of reserving in advance a place for colour’.2 He never freed himself completely from this concept of drawing as a means to reach out and attain painting. The fact that he destroyed much of his artistic work means that in order to understand it properly we have to piece together what he left after sieving through it with the resulting gaps especially in relation to chronology.3
He exhibited his drawings on only four occasions: twice in 1949 – the year in which his work entitled Rapariga do Cais [Waterfront Girl] was awarded the 3rd Medal for Drawing at the SNBA [Fine Arts Society] Winter Exhibition and Maria and Maternidade were shown at the 4th General Exhibition of the Visual Arts; once in 1950 (Rapariga do Cais at the 5th General Exhibition of the Visual Arts) and once again in 1983 (Cabeça [Head] at the exhibition entitled ‘Neorealism and its Margins’).
However, Mário Dionísio’s drawings – whether the ones he had exhibited or his rough draughts, studies or rapidly executed sketches - indicate the way he constantly re-elaborated his artistic process.  They reveal how his ideological convictions linked up with his aesthetic thinking and not only give us a better understanding of a trajectory that led to abstraction but they also bring the exercise of the visual arts together with that of writing in his work.
This exhibition seeks to highlight this association by showing hitherto little known diaries and documents of his as well as a few objects that serve as an introduction to the exhibition: portraits of Mário Dionísio drawn by his friends (Júlio Pomar, Tereza Arriaga and João Abel Manta) as well as a collection of self-portraits dating to 1943-44, two of which he signed with pseudonyms, and a poem from his book Memória dum Pintor Desconhecido [Memoirs of an Unknown Painter], 1965, which he associated with all his previous and later artistic output.4


Hands that build dreams
The problematic issues of aesthetic mediation in the representation of reality are central to Mário Dionísio’s theoretical, visual and graphic work, to the extent that they were the basis of his critical position in the early 1950s during a period of internal polemics within neorealism. He didn’t separate form from content, and believed that there were no revolutionary or conservative artists but only artists whose works expressed their convictions (thereby deviating from the movement’s orthodox line, which was closer to the Soviet Jdanovist model).
This introductory group of works shows his first charcoal drawings dating to 1941, among which there is a Self-Portrait, a portrait of his wife, Maria Letícia, and others of anonymous men and women.  His interest in the human form, which is still executed here in thick smudges and strong contour lines in somewhat academic poses, was to continue throughout the process in which he perfected his gesture drawing.  As he later wrote, ‘dreams alone won’t erect monuments. Hands are needed.  But hands that feel and think, human hands’.5


In search of the drawing trace
It was mainly in photographic reproductions of artworks in books that Mário Dionísio found the aesthetic models with which he refined his perception of form and ventured into translating reality. Van Gogh, Goya, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso were the first to influence him, together with the Mexican muralists and the Brazilian painter Portinari. His 1943-44 sketchbooks reveal that he was training his drawing hand to achieve an individual style while he developed the skills of expression and form. In his landscape studies, although they were still just rapid notes of details, or in his sketches of people at work, he kept refining the line and exploring the possibilities of pictorial framing as well as condensing contours into elemental curves and angles.
Increasing geometrization of figures becomes apparent in a group of drawings of men sawing wood and in waterfront scenes he caught on paper in drawing sessions on the Lisbon banks of the river Tagus, together with writer Alves Redol and painter Júlio Pomar. Working class people, a recurring theme in neorealist representations, was well documented.  But ‘there were not only the proletariat and farm workers’.6 Although in considerably fewer numbers, Mário Dionísio also drew portraits and scenes of daily bourgeois life that relate to new experiments and other stylistic influences – such as Leitaria [Dairy] (which explores the possibilities of perspective and depicts women with synthesised features and with hairstyles like Fernand Léger’s women) and Comboio do Estoril [Estoril Train] (a quick sketch that suggests affinity with Grosz’s caricature drawings and German Expressionism of the 1920s).


The imperative of action
In 1945 Mário Dionísio produced a number of Chinese ink drawings that were more overtly political. He drew crowds in the streets celebrating the end of World War II in Europe, quick and emotional sketches that show what he then believed: that the dictatorship in Portugal might also be brought to an end.  He used the gribouillage (scribble) technique – the register of that very generation of drawing7, which he achieved here by means of short elliptical gestures in which the line unfolded in greater or lesser density according to shading and volume – to show a critical representation of Portugal under Salazar’s Estado Novo [New State]; the peasant’s bare kitchen, conspiratorial atmospheres, long lines of urban blue-collar workers, harvesters toiling under the orders of a landowner’s foreman. But also a maternity, representing the nation with a dislocated head and an enlarged hand and from whose cloak emerge figures that symbolise power, religion and labour exploitation.
This series concentrates what Mário Dionísio advocated for neorealism, both in its ideological underpinnings and its range of stylistic resources (with suggestions of Portinari’s curves, Goya’s grotesques, Expressionist distortions as well as automatic lines and architectural elements that suggest De Chirico’s metaphysical pre-Surrealist painting). It is also noteworthy for it marks a change in his artistic work.


Freeing the drawing line
Using the gribouillage technique, Mário Dionísio sought to draw with clean lines an exemplary full-face Self-Portrait and several posed portraits of children. In his search for the ideal contour, he explored shading and volume in watercolour. In a 1946 drawing, strong lines reduce the figure of his seated wife to bare essential lines, and he used this technique again for his portrait of Maria [Letícia], 1948, which was exhibited the following year in the drawing section of the 4th General Exhibition of the Visual Arts. Other drawings of women also reveal the same references to Picasso and a greater control over his drawing hand in organic lines. They include Rapariga do Cais [Waterfront Girl], which was awarded the 3rd Drawing Prize in the SNBA Winter Exhibition in 1949 and is now in the Museum of Neorealism collection.
He also produced during this period a design in tracing paper and a model in colour for a mural for Café La Gare (now the Cervejaria Beira Gare in front of the Rossio train station) that the architects, Francisco Castro Rodrigues, José Huertas Lobo and João Simões, asked him to carry out. The mural was never painted because other architects were given the project. 
Between 1952 and 1962, Mário Dionísio was obliged to reduce the time he spent on painting in order to focus on writing A Paleta e o Mundo [The Palette and the World], which required a great deal of concentration.  However, he continued to draw either to keep in check his desire to paint or then because he needed, when drawing, to ‘see clearly’ the problems he was addressing in his book on theories of aesthetics. A charcoal drawing of his daughter, Eduarda Dionísio, where the geometric shapes of Cubism are mirrored in a sketch of a dove, also dates to this period, as do crayon drawings of women on the beach and two small studies that indicate a transition from figurative to abstract art.


The labyrinth of space
In 1957, Mário Dionísio gave a celebrated talk, Conflito e Unidade da Arte Contemporânea [Conflict and Unity of Contemporary Art], in which he aimed to demonstrate that figurative and abstract art could be brought together.  Aware that the analytical Cubism of Braque and Picasso had opened up the way early in the 20th century, and now influenced by the work of Bissière and Vieira da Silva, he not only developed the idea in A Paleta e o Mundo but he also tried to concretize in painting ideas that were being sparked by his graphic work.  Examples of this are the drawings of scenes on the waterfront in which geometric figures emerge from interlocking meshes and erasures that decompose them. They continued in a series of small drawings on graph paper that were studies for the abstract paintings he was to produce in the 1970s and 80s.
His graphic work reveals a love for experimentation that led him to explore several styles and techniques simultaneously, as well as his endless examination of his own limits in drawing.  This is why this last part of the exhibition presents studies for the cover of a book on psychiatry, published in 19448 and inspired by Russian avant-gardes, that not only speak of the relationship they sought between hand and dream but also synthesise, perhaps the most accurately, what Mário Dionísio thought about Marxism, about the inseparability of form and content and about art as a means of simultaneously transforming the artist and the viewer.


Paula Ribeiro Lobo
(from ‘The need to see clearly’, text in the exhibition catalogue).

1 Mário Dionísio, Autobiografia, Lisboa: O Jornal, 1987, p.27 back to text

Unpublished diary, 27/2/1974. In the Casa da Achada-CMD archives. back to text

3 In Mário Dionísio’s assets in Casa da Achada-CMD, in Lisbon. back to text

4 Foreword by Mário Dionísio (cat.), Galeria Nasoni, 1989. back to text

5 Mário Dionísio, «O Sonho e as Mãos II», Vértice, vol. xiv, n.º125, Fevereiro 1954, pp. 93-101. back to text

6 Mário Dionísio, Autobiografia, Lisboa: O Jornal, 1987, p.43. back to text

7 According to Hubert Damisch, Traité du Trait (cat.), Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1995, p.155. back to text

8 Análise de Alguns Casos Psicopatológicos: A irredutibilidade de Tyndall e o pensamento fenómeno bio-social, by the doctor Emílio Aparício Pereira, Lisbon, 1944. back to text


* DREAMING WITH HANDS exhibition was made possible with the support of the Fundação Montepio. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation lent the glass display cabinets.  Three of the exhibited works were lent by Tereza Arriaga, the Museum of Neorealism and the Lisbon City Museum (Museu da Cidade). back to text




André Spencer e F. Pedro Oliveira para Casa da Achada - Centro Mário Dionísio | 2009-2017