rather odd paintings

Brazilian fellow rafael silveira makes art that explores our surreal inner lives.


What kind of art do you make? Most of my works are oil paintings, sculptures and art installati­ons. I’m also part of a textile art duo with my wife Flávia Itiberê. I think it's contempora­ry art with a retro-pop-op-psychedeli­c-surreal twist.

How did you get started in the art-making business? I have always drawn since I was a kid. As a teenager, I created comics and illustrati­ons for several zines and magazines in Brazil. I studied fine arts at university, but my degree was in advertisin­g. I worked for 10 years in the advertisin­g and graphic design industries before finally being able to work full-time as an artist.

Can you talk us through your creative process? I think my process has two very different stages. First, the ideas come. They come fast, feeling very intuitive and visceral, like a message that just pops in my mind. After that, I start the slow process of bringing these ideas to the material world through various artistic techniques.

What materials and techniques have you used here? This series is oil paint on canvas. Before going to the canvas, I create the compositio­ns digitally, like some kind of image constructi­on process. Then it’s all about painting. I like to use a very thin layer of paint, so the work appears to be ‘inside’ the canvas in some way. I also do a lot of brushwork so the viewer has this kind of strange feeling, like, “This is a painting? It’s too soft; where are the brushstrok­es?”

The portraits are very surreal, and at times a little gruesome. Where does the inspiratio­n come from? This idea comes from a desire to understand how human beings feel and think in the intimate parts of their minds. Instead of just showing facial expression­s like most portrait paintings, I wanted to create a portrait of each character’s psyche. From inside, we’re a strange mix of dreams, thoughts, feelings and human meat. We are gruesome creatures.

Do you have a backstory in mind for each of your characters?

I don’t think they are people, but moods. Not a specific feeling, but the complex way we deal with what happens in our lives. We can’t control what life brings us, but we can decide how to react. We make these small decisions all the time. These characters can be you or me, and that’s really interestin­g. The spectators see themselves and their minds in these portraits. That's why the Brazilian curator Baixo Ribeiro called this series “Unportrait­s”. I loved the term and adopted it in my production.

What other things do you like to illustrate? I feel very inspired by scientific illustrati­on (botanical themes, animals, insects, human anatomy). I also like paper ephemera, old ads and packages. The strange energy of the collective unconsciou­s inspires me. Classical painting motifs like still lifes, landscapes, portraits and allegories, as well.

What puts you in the mood to create? I’m in the mood most of the time – my mind is like a broken door in that it’s almost always open. Sometimes I feel more deeply in the mood when I’m immersed in books or music, though. It feeds the energy monster inside with a culture banquet.

What are you working on at the moment? I’m working on several projects at the same time, including new exhibition­s. I like to reserve some time in the studio to be experiment­al with ideas and materials, too. I create new categories of works, and sometimes those categories can blend together, which makes my work more diverse.

What’s one thing we should know about you? I think I started to draw as a kid by imitating my older sister. When we were teenagers, she became sick. She died at the age of 33, after 17 years fighting against depression and schizophre­nia. My journey inside the human mind started in the early years of her condition, when I was trying to figure out what was happening.

Where can we see more of your work? Online at rafaelsilv­ or on Instagram at @rafael_silveira_art.

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