In the way a funhouse mirror warps the mundane into the absurd, Brazilian artist Rafael Silveira combines innocuous imagery with the vaguely grotesque to provide a disorienting sensory experience not unlike that of a carnival, where the cheery morphs in and out of the eerie until they are no longer distinguishable.
Amid lovely florals rendered in the style of 18th-century botanical drawings, a classically statuesque woman holds hands with melting ice cream cone children or has an exposed rib cage under her ladylike parasol; festive hot air balloons float alongside eyeballs and anatomic hearts; and, in one of his prim portraits, the upper portion of a mustached gentleman’s head has been replaced by a vintage red convertible driven by a hula hooping skeleton.
“My work invites the viewer to abandon everyday paradigms and walk into a mixed reality,” said Silveira. “I see life more as how we perceive it than any external thing.”
Heavily influenced by a boyhood obsession with comics and cartoons, Silveira’s newest paintings, featured in a solo exhibition, “Unforeseeable,” at New York’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery opening June 28, move away from the carnival motif, but still combine discordant symbolism in his clean, illustrative style. In At Full Steam, a beehived, horn-rimmed bespectacled woman in a row boat smokes a pipe giving way to a cloud-choked sky while oddities bob in the waters—a car, crab claw, skyscrapers, a sword, palm trees.
“I like to create my own symbolism, using unusual stuff as a metaphors,” said Silveira. “I believe that the universe talks with us using secret, unexpected signs.”
Silveira’s most distinctive touch is his use of unconventional frames, sometimes cutting the panel into the shape of the subject, as in his galloping horse series; or, working with old world furniture craftsmen to design ornate custom frames that augment the symbolism in the painting.
“In the art world, ornaments are considered the antithesis of concept… merely decorative,” he said. “As an artist, I try to bring together the best of both worlds.”