Shape & Structure
February 2021 | San Francisco
Ultimately, as you get deeper into your language and into your medium, you find yourself getting a unified perception of your personal reality.
Del Over the Delta
Paul J. Karlstrom
"In 1985, at the age of twenty-four, Deladier Almeida boarded a jet plane in his native São Paulo for a flight destined to change his life. He now describes that flight, his first, as “transformative.” He did not use this term as an introduction to yet another successful American immigrant story. It was more specific than that. Accompanied by his new wife, Robbie, returning to complete her undergraduate degree in international relations at the University of California, Davis (coincidentally then one of the top art studio art programs in the country), he was taking the first step in creating with her a new life in her native California. At the same time, Del was on his way to fulfilling his deferred dream of becoming a trained fine artist, a goal unavailable to him in São Paulo, where he had studied industrial design, architecture, and urban planning.
From the age of five, Del has loved to draw, and his earliest “career” goal involved image-making. He describes the other studies as “backup,” fine art not being viable as a stable career. In fact, local art schools lacked the technical and material requisites he imagined would be available in the US. In addition to the dearth of worthy art to study and serve as inspiration, there were few important artists from whom to learn. He is unequivocal on these deficiencies: “I wouldn’t have been able to become the painter I am if I had stayed in Brazil.”
However, perhaps the conceptual drawing involved in his São Paulo studies provided useful background training for his thoughtfully composed and carefully constructed paintings. Del cites geometry as a primary tool and pictorial objective; geometry and architecture are among his main subjects, most evident in his aerial landscapes. He has also expressed his preference for “unnatural” landscapes that are manipulated by human design and agricultural prerogatives.
On the flight from São Paulo to Miami, Del experienced what he remembers as an “epiphany” as he eagerly observed, literally, the lay of the land far below him. He marveled at the human “interaction” with the environment set against the natural environment itself. As his own goals developed, he found tamed nature more suitable to them. In fact, his eventual choices run counter to traditional values of plein-air landscape painting. Del’s landscapes fall instead in the company of modernist practice as introduced by the Impressionist dissolution of solid objects and the formal innovations of Cézanne, some of the post-Impressionists (especially Van Gogh), Picasso, and the Cubists.
Del’s aerial landscapes, recent examples of which are in the present exhibition at Caldwell-Snyder Gallery, were presaged by that first high-altitude view that stimulated a remarkable visual imagination. Retrospectively, that moment was the beginning awareness of not just what he wanted in the look of his future paintings but, more important, how his own evolving thinking about “seeing” would define the content"
Del Almeida’s landscape paintings reflect a skill and intelligence that allows them to stake out a territory unto themselves, despite the artist’s acknowledgment of sources such as Wayne Thiebaud and Roland Petersen, with whom he studied at Davis. Del’s paintings are neither traditionally nor predictably beautiful. They are quirky and “deceptive” in a positive manner. Realism, a term overused to describe paintings that imitate the subjects represented, is of course deceptive on the face of it. All art is inherently abstract, that is to say, not the actual thing but a depiction of it. Part of Del’s magic is the sophisticated way he pivots back and forth between representational art and abstraction. The viewer, especially the casual one, feels comfort in the familiar rural landscape imagery. No modernist trickery here. But then, a closer look reveals elements that betray a playful mind at work behind the keen observation. The artist confounds his audience, producing a reassuring superficial reality and then shaking it up by digging deeper.
When I first looked at the original paintings several years ago, I of course recognized they were landscapes, part of the realist tradition, but I almost immediately pivoted to the far more compelling abstraction. I looked at the paintings in terms of shapes and colors. The imagery moves seamlessly back and forth between the two binary poles of abstraction and representation. Although Del allows that he is a “friend of abstraction”, he considers himself essentially a figurative painter. However, the giveaway of Del’s modernist inclinations is that for him the subjects are “irrelevant.” His project is above all to create “successful” paintings—to treat them in terms of their independent reality— their fundamental autonomy.
This is a thoroughly modernist approach, entirely in keeping with attitudes, devices, and objectives typical of twentieth-century modernism. Two important sources that Del readily acknowledges attest to that connection while demonstrating his keen knowledge of art history. He owes a major debt to Alfred Stieglitz’s theory of Equivalencies in which clouds reveal unrelated “images and patterns that are not there.” Del became fascinated with perception and visual experience, making of them virtual leitmotifs. Working from aerial photographs that he combines without concern for location, he denies specific topography in seeking the collective essence that can exist only in the art. Full-scale black and white charcoal drawings establish compositional structure, serving literally as the support surface upon which he introduces paint and—frequently arbitrary—color.
But perhaps the most surprising features of Del’s landscapes are the tiny animals and figures that inhabit the shrubbery at the banks of his meandering rivers (see interview section). These are allowed independent lives of their own, as in the work of Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch (1450–1516). As Almeida wrote to me,
"In The Garden of Earthly Delights... I deduce that he started with a general concept and a cultural, aesthetic, religious agenda. But then he proceeded to incarnate said agenda with imagery and subtext largely coalescing on the fly. He was
operating on what we call stream of consciousness to fill in passages in which cautionary tales, perversities,
personal dramas and religious horrors flowed into the landscape. He wasn’t always thinking of these strange things ahead of time but allowed them to emerge on their own to fulfill his agenda."
Despite the thought and calculation that go into the construction of an Almeida composition, when the actual painting begins he intentionally shifts method. Determined not to think or control what is taking place, he awaits the emergence of the unplanned images. When they appear they just take over. “There’s a lot going on, which is completely happening on its own.” And then: “You know, this is a painting!”