Lucas Arruda - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Introduction 


    Born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1983, Lucas Arruda has propelled to international acclaim for his rich painterly language that exists at the point of tension between abstraction and figuration, characterised by his tenacious pursuit of light. The present painting, Untitled, is a captivating example from his rare-to-auction Deserto-Modelo series of seascapes, which are immediately recognisable for their intimate scale, impossibly intricate detail, and grounding horizon line that marks the blurry divide between sea and sky. 


    "These paintings are perhaps greater forays into silence, and the temperament of light."
    — Lucas Arruda


    Though the title of his Deserto-Modelo series was inspired by the writings of Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto and the subject of Arruda’s first major institutional solo exhibition at the Fridericianum, Kassel, in 2019, his harmonious paintings undeniably evoke the history of landscape painting and its historical associations with the Romantic Sublime. Arruda’s paintings differ from his predecessors, however, in that they are not expressive of inner turmoil, nor are they formed from observation. Instead, plucked from the mind's eye with no viewpoint in mind, his works focus on the process of painting, seeking to reveal 'a sensation, a state of mind suspended within the medium of paint… that can't be grasped through language because there aren't sufficient visual elements to describe it'.i As such, building upon the masterpieces throughout art history but through a distinctly contemporary lens, Arruda succeeds in refreshing the genre through his uniquely singular approach.




    Lucas Arruda in his Studio


    Untitled from the series Deserto-Modelo


    In December 2020, Phillips were the first to offer a work by Arruda at auction in Asia with Untitled (2013), which far surpassed estimates, achieving the world auction record for the artist. From the same series, both paintings bring into form the key emblem that endows each Deserto-Modelo work, being a complex rendition of a horizon line at dusk or dawn. Whilst both works articulate the artist's patient, methodical and persistent dedication to this pictorial motif, there is a great deal of variation within each work from the series and the present painting feels notably airier compared to the darker, moodier canvas created a year later. Rendered in shades of mauve, grey and taupe highlighted by muted ivory and pink, brooding clouds billow into the foreground above the darker sea below, illuminated by a horizon line of brightness that radiates despite no clear depiction of sun or moon. Though the clouds hang heavy, they simultaneously feel wispy and light, blowing in the wind by undercurrents of air we can almost feel in the room around us as we’re reminded of the calm that immediately follows a storm. 


    Providing an ironic juxtaposition to the vast expanse distilled, the present painting is small in scale, inviting the viewer to come closer to indulge in Arruda's exploration of the material, evocative and illusionistic possibilities of oil paint. And as we approach the canvas, in a viewing experience that has been likened to peering into a portal that 'crack[s] open white walls to unchartered territories that defy familiarity'ii, we become intensely aware of the remarkable craftsmanship required to compose such a piece as our eyes oscillate between focusing on the meticulous details and relaxing into the larger scene. 


    Plucked from the Mind’s Eye



    J. M. W. Turner, Seascape with a Buoy, circa 1930-45
    Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom


    Thickly applying layers of paint over a white gesso background, in colours mixed directly on the wall around the canvas, Arruda then scrapes, peels and wipes pigment away to carve out a transcendent light that radiates from the horizon that is just out of reach. Left behind are tiny, sharp marks that weave together as if mimicking the fleeting movements caught in nature itself, gathering and dispersing across the work's surface with an atmospheric effect reminiscent of Rembrandt's great etchings, ocean scenes by J. M. W. Turner, and John Constable's swirling clouds. 



    John Constable, Cloud Study: Stormy Sunset, 1821-1822
    Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


    Yet as argued by the esteemed critic Oliver Basciano: 'Arruda's scenes are lonelier than those of the historical artists… Turner and Constable gradually remove the figure in their work… Arruda goes a step further. Apparently, no one lives in or ventures to the places he paints (except, in a way, us); in fact, the materiality of landscape is all but disregarded in favour of atmosphere.'iii Elaborating on this, as none of the works in the Deserto-Modelo series are based on any specific place, Arruda explains:

    “The only reason to call my works' landscapes' is cultural – it's simply that viewer's automatically register my format as a landscape, although none of the images can be traced to a geographic location. It's the idea of a landscape as a structure, rather than a real place.” 
    — Lucas Arruda

    With this in mind, Untitled can instead be viewed as an ambiguous meditation on time and, much like Mark Rothko's paintings - an artist who provides a more contemporary comparison - a quietening space for personal contemplation as we bear our own memories onto the work.




    Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1952



    Alternatively, however, as proposed by American art critic Barry Schwabsky iv, Arruda is perhaps more in tune with the fourth-century Chinese painter Zong Bing, who in writing about the spirituality of landscape painting, observed:


    “The K'un-lun mountain is large but the pupil of our eye is small… When we stretch out a piece of plain silk to capture the distant scenery, the appearance of K'un-lun may be encompassed within a square inch. A vertical stroke of three inches may equal a height of several thousand feet… By such means the beauty of the Sung and Hua mountains and the mystery of the Dark Spirit of the universe may be captured within a single picture.” — Zong Bing v 


    Indeed, opposite to Rothko who painted on a large scale 'precisely because [he] want[ed] to be very intimate and human'vi, the emotional intensity from the internalised scene in Arruda's Untitled feels all the more monumental precisely because of the small-sized format it is caught within.

    Collector’s Digest

    Ethereal in quality, Untitled perfectly exemplifies Arruda’s celebrated oeuvre which has received international recognition and critical acclaim since his exhibitions at David Zwirner in London in 2017 and New York in 2019. More recently, the Pond Society in Shanghai were the first to present a Lucas Arruda solo exhibition in China, which ran from November 2020 to January 2021.


    His works reside in prestigious institutional collections including the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Fondation Beyeler, Basel; the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in Brazil; and the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. 



    i Lucas Arruda quoted in Angeria Rigamonti di Cutò, ‘The only reason to call my works landscapes is cultural’, Studio International, 19 September 2017, online
    ii Osman Can Yerebakan, ‘Lucas Arruda Presents Paintings to Escape Into in His David Zwirner Solo Show’, Observer, online 
    iii Oliver Basciano, ‘Lucas Arruda’, Art Review, October 2017, online
    iv Barry Schwabsky, ‘Lucas Arruda: The Service of Clouds’, in Lucas Arruda, New York, 2019, p. 109
    v Zong Bing, quoted in Wen Fong, Sung and Yuan Paintings, New York, 1973, p. 20
    vi Mark Rothko, ‘A Symposium on How to Combine Architecture, Painting and Sculpture’, Interiors, vol. cx, no. 10, May 1951, p. 104

    • Provenance

      Mendes Wood DM, Sao Paulo
      Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami
      Private Collection, Brazil
      Mendes Wood DM, Sao Paulo
      Private Collection, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Lucas Arruda

      Lucas Arruda is a Brazilian contemporary artist who lives and works in São Paolo. Arruda paints diffusive land- and seascapes characterized by faint horizon lines, intense internal light, and a placid expression of the sublime. His paintings recreate the unrelenting violence of nature, blending wisps of clouds and the foam of the sea into the indistinguishable whole of the storm. His works are meditations on memory and loss, created by paradoxically using abstraction as a means to achieve illusory figuration.   

      Arruda’s paintings are marked both by an all-encompassing elusiveness and an immersive turbulence of form. Primarily working on an intimate scale, Arruda co-opts the onerous expressiveness of abstract painting to create scenes of the intense power and beauty of nature. Arruda’s formal experimentations with the temperament of light and the capabilities of tonality align his work with that of James Abbott Whistler and J.M.W. Turner as much as with that of Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.  

      View More Works


Untitled from the series Deserto-Modelo

signed and dated 'LUCAS ARRUDA 2012' on the reverse
oil on canvas
40.3 x 40.3 cm. (15 7/8 x 15 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,213,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021