O Batismo de Maxwell Alexandre (The Baptism of Maxwell Alexandre), the name of the artist’s first individual exhibition, is intentionally performative, as the ritual adopted in it does not refer to any known religion. The ceremony will be conducted according to the rites of the Church of the Kingdom of Art, newly created by the artist and some friends, including the rapper BK who will act as priest at the ceremony and liven up the opening party.
At the opening day, the large-format paintings that make up The Baptism of Maxwell Alexandre will be carried on foot – by the artist and some members of the new church – from his atelier in Rocinha, to the gallery A Gentil Carioca, located in the vicinity of Praça Tiradentes, at the intersection of Rua Luiz de Camões and Rua Gonçalves Lêdo, where these works will finally be hung. But such interlacement can be also considered a metaphor of the biographical and poetic crossroad that inform Maxwell’s work – as well as the real crossroads created by these streets in which the only demon is intolerance to diversity.
Other paintings from the same series Reprovados, painted on window frames and doors and whose weight prevented them from being included in the ritual, will be added to the paintings which have been carried for miles in the procession.
The prevailing poetic reverie of this urban action, and the religious content of the baptismal ceremony that informs it, is almost autobiographical. Both the artist’s everyday experiences and the social and family references in his work seem to converge in The Baptism of Maxwell Alexandre. But we can take them as a simultaneous indication of the celebration of another ritual, which will also be celebrated on this night: the beginning of Maxwell Alexander’s artistic career.
Born into a religious family and raised in Rocinha, he graduated in Design from PUC-RJ in 2016. He was, however, not baptized. From 14 to 24 years of age he worked in the professional circuit of street rollerblading.This experience changed his perception of urban space as, with the wheels under his feet, the body of the rollerblader, a fast vehicle used for day to day transport, the poetic curiosity of the artist was aroused over a decade by the dizzying flow of images of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The last years of this time led to his first paintings, drawings on walls and urban infrastructure that are fluid and gestural, almost as agile as his rollerblades.
In an interview given by the artist to Catálogo 2017 – convite para colaborar (2017 Catalogue – invitation to collaborate), organized as a record of his work process, he summarizes his new poetic focus, elaborated on the basis of his series Reprovados.
“[…] it had been in my head for a long time, but I did not want to start painting black people in situations of weakness and devastation. Reprovados is critical and acidic, so painting Pardo é Papel was a good choice as a prologue to talk about empowerment, and self-esteem. […] When I went back to painting Pardo é Papel I found it pertinent to continue with this format of big paintings, to intensify the dialogue between the amount of articulated paper and the number of black bodies in contemporary positions of power. I wanted density and contrast between these two pieces of information – the black body and brown paper, so I decided to move forward with large format paintings.” Maxwell distinguishes, with poetic precision, what he wants to say discursively – To not “paint blacks in situations of weakness and devastation”; to “Talk about empowerment and self-esteem” – from what he can only repeat in other ways – by editing materials or symbols, in heterogeneous mediums committed to the syntax of the works.
The conversion of verbally explicit discourses (thematic, narrative, personal, cultural, or socio-political) into poetic devices (works), almost always silent, is neither automatic nor literal. It traverses fields far from those of strict verbal coherence and thereby preserves the work from the thematic compulsion which could lead it to the simple representation or illustration of such discourses.
The large formats adopted by Maxwell Alexandre since his series Pardo é Papel continue to be used in Reprovados. However, they can not be evaluated from a merely aesthetic point of view, since the gigantic dimensions of these paintings, rather than an attractive format, are, for the artist, a means to “intensify the dialogue between the amount of articulated paper and the number of black bodies in contemporary positions of power “; and to allow for a “political and conceptual act that I was articulating in doing this: painting black bodies on brown paper. Since the color brown was used for a long time to obscure negritude.”
The large formats of Maxwell’s current paintings force us to look at them from a distance, their large scale determines this. The dimensions of these paintings can be functionally associated with the murals that prevailed in antiquity, before the invention of paintings.
Murals do not usually portray intimate scenes. Their function, conversely, would be to celebrate the collective and all that is positive in the legacy of a specific culture. Maxwell does not want to refer to “situations of weakness and devastation” that slaves and African descendants are subjected to. From this point of view, the artist’s paintings possess an ancestral positivity from which they, perhaps, derive their most radically contemporary content.
Maxwell’s striking “murals” bring together in a single space (the canvas) a number of specific situations in which Rocinha’s anonymous black characters, whose faces are only sketched, spread apart on flat backgrounds covered by small blue wave prints drawn on the interior of Capri swimming pools, abundant on many Lajes (roof terraces) in the favela.
These personalities, almost shadows but proud, are the same that circulate daily through the streets and alleys of Rocinha: women with shopping, children with uniforms from municipal schools, workers, urban service personnel, brands of products aimed at children, as well as the, also black, policemen going about their violent authoritarian routine.
The logic of painting on doors and iron window frames that are common in the houses of the favela is the inverse of that of the “murals” of the everyday community, as every collective celebration has its reflective counterpoint in domestic intimacy. According to a quote that separates the sections of 2017 Catalogue – invitation to collaborate: we didn’t get here by asking for permission and the Laje only exists with people.