Power in Symmetry: How Silvia Cavelti’s concrete a...

Power in Symmetry: How Silvia Cavelti’s concrete art comes to life

By: Sara Alves

Photo: Sara Alves

The perfect synchronisation between colours and shapes brings life to Silvia Cavelti’s concrete art

Organisation and discipline are present in everything she does — both personally and professionally. The inspiration to create comes from classical music, mathematics, geometry and nature — essential elements that shape the art of Silvia Cavelti, who is originally from Switzerland but has lived in Portugal for 30 years.

Currently, she is the “only artist in Portugal dedicated to concrete art”, working from her studio in Almancil. To explain the basis of her artistic concept, she quotes Max Bill, a Swiss designer, architect and professor: “[It’s] the pure expression of harmonious measure and law. It organises systems and gives life to these arrangements, through the means of art.”

The concept of concrete art first appeared in the first half of the 20th century and had a strong expression, particularly in painting and sculpture. This style stands out from every other for its strong inclinations towards pure geometric shapes, making everything seem more like a machine crafted the pieces rather than a person. When asked if she ever makes mistakes while drawing these precise sequences, she promptly replies, “Never!”. Not even when painting for over five hours nonstop to perfectly complete them at the same rhythm.

“What fascinates me is the perfectionism of the technique itself”

Silvia Cavelti

The Swiss painter began her academic career in 1958 at Kunstgeverkeschule (today known as the Zurich Institute of Design), where she studied under renowned painter and professor Johannes Itten, one of the founders of the vanguard Bauhaus art school, in Germany, which is celebrating its centenary this year. Itten taught her about the “philosophy and harmony of colours” and inspired her for the rest of her life. The first time she heard about concrete art was at university. “I was very fortunate to have been selected to enroll in this school and to have learned from such modern and progressive teachers.”

In 1963 she began her career as a stylist at Globus, a department-store company, and split her life between Switzerland and Italy. Later on, she was also in charge of developing and coordinating the brand image of the ABM retail chain in Switzerland. She only took up painting again at a later stage in life, after moving to the Algarve in 1989. And so began her intense artistic creations with acrylic paint on canvas.

“I would spend my holidays in the Algarve even before the revolution of April 25, 1974. After the fall of dictatorship in Portugal, this became the perfect place to live and paint: great climate, beautiful colours and fresh air,” she recalls.

It was at this moment of greater artistic inspiration and creation that Silvia discovered the square as an ideal geometric shape to work with, and realised that “it represented the perfect limit” — a philosophy that marked her work forever. “For me, the square is like a house. It may look reductive and limiting, but it’s not! It can be constantly reinvented,” she says. “These stripes and lines are the themes of my visual approach. It’s how I express myself according to my deep nature and education.” In her opinion, the paintings themselves “have no meaning, but are a reflection of those who appreciate them”.

According to the artist, “squares involve a lot of mathematics, precise systems elaborated from rhythms and sequences”, and that is one of the main principles of the concrete art movement, which completely opposes figurative art: lines, dots, colours and planes have no meaning by themselves, making them the most concrete elements of painting. But this does not mean they cannot have an impact and generate feelings in the eye of the beholder: “They all incite feelings and this is largely due to the colours used,” she believes.

The size of her works can vary from small, 20cm by 20cm canvas to pieces that can go up to one metre. Although she mainly works with acrylic paint on canvas, Silvia also likes to experiment with different materials and occasionally develop other works, such as installations, sculptures and prints.

She was first invited to exhibit on an individual capacity in 2007, with the Arte Adentro — Arte Contemporânea gallery, in Faro, which wanted to introduce this art style to the general public, as it was so peculiar and unexplored in Portugal. Since then, she has held exhibitions all over the world. In Goa, India, she did an installation inspired by the “artistic Portuguese calçada [cobblestones]” as part of the theme of Goa’s history.

“The Portuguese were in Goa for 500 years, so I decided to create a carpet that was 5.5m tall and 2.5m wide, composed of suspended squares with Portuguese symbols,” she recalls. “In every installation I’ve done, there is always a pattern with a continuous sequence and rhythm. The same happened at Museu da Água, in Coimbra, where I developed a waterfall with lights and sounds, or at Lagos Cultural Centre, where I created an installation with animal skeletons. I think that with age I have developed a special taste for venturing out and experimenting with new and unknown areas,” she reveals.

Her exhibition, which ran summer of 2019 at Faro Airport, was an installation she created from scratch with 250 seagulls flying over the ceilings of the departure area. According to the artist, the piece has double meaning: “Tourists are like birds; they come and go.” On December 8, the Praça do Mar gallery, in Quarteira, will also debut a collective travel exhibition entitled Micro Cosm, led by the International Print Exchange Programme.

Based in India, the project has already travelled across the world and which will soon feature Silvia’s works. She has only two dreams left to accomplish: to showcase the perfect synchronisation of her work at Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, in Porto, and at Belém Cultural Centre, in Lisbon.

You do not have to go all the way to the Haus Konstruktiv museum in Switzerland to appreciate the artworks characteristic of this artistic movement and learn more about it. Silvia Cavelti points out that the best place to enjoy the pure geometric shapes of concrete art is right here in the Algarve, and, of course, in her studio.

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