In Revista «Villas & Golfe», Junho/Julho de 2008
Ever since the red circle he painted, at the age of four, on the white wall of his parent´s house, Nadir Afonso suspected, and now feels and knows, that the essence of a work of art lies in geometry, in mathematical laws. When an artist paints, Afonso explains, he «depicts these mathematical laws in nature, although he is not aware of this». His career – as impressive for the works of art created as it is analyzable, in the many books in which he expounds his theory on artistic creation – is littered with many experimentations, as art is a « quest made through experimenting». Architect by chance, inevitably and intrinsically a painter, Nadir Afonso continues on his search for harmony, this law that governs art, inhabitant of irreplaceable and indestructible mathematical laws of geometry. As these laws are natural and cosmological, the core of nature is reached through geometry, revealing art, according to the Nadir Afonso, «the relationship between the law and the object».
With four you painted a circle on your parents’ living room wall. What caused you, do you think, to paint this geometric shape, geometry that has marked your subsequent paintings?
I was four years old, it was something unpremeditated. If there is any relationship with my subsequent work, I wouldn’t be able to explain it. I thought that it was a pretty and interesting shape- the red circle stood out on the white wall. But it was nothing more than this. The reflection comes now. And perhaps it has come to a conclusion – there had to be, subconsciously, an attraction, unfelt at the time, for geometric figures.
You have said: «a canvas ponders certain laws, laws of composition, laws that lie in mathematics and these laws are unchangeable». What laws are you referring to?
They are laws of mathematics. The laws of mathematics are unchangeable: 2 + 2= 4 everywhere. Even if a circle or a square had never existed, the law itself exists, it is pre-existent. Man has been attracted by this geometry, a latent geometry. The laws of the circle, of the square, of the tetrahedron, all of this are irreplaceable and exist even if the object has never existed.
And a painter tries to depict these laws through painting?
He tries to, even though he is not aware of this. And normally he is not aware of it. The artist says: «I have nothing to do with geometry. I express my inner world in my art». This is wrong. The artist thinks that he is expressing his inner world in his work, when what he is doing is searching for laws present in nature. He expresses these laws because he senses them without understanding them.
You could therefore say that art is an equation that n to be developed mentally, the solution of which is not necessarily to be found in the visual world?
It is not visible. Geometry' is a not an utterable phenomenon. 1 cannot define the laws of art work, or the laws of the cosmos, but 1 can feel them. I insist on this because it is very important: the artist employs these laws because he feels them, but he doesn’t understand them. And therefore we see artists who disagree with me and aesthetes even more so. Because things are not meditated, they do not reach the level of consciousness. They pass to the level on institution and not of consciousness.
Your experience with the red circle on the living room wall and subsequent development seemed to dictate that you would study fine art. What happened for you enroll in architecture instead?
I went for architecture because it was requested by outside. forces. When I arrived at the School of Fine Arts of Oporto, I brought with me an application form to enroll on the painting course. But when l entered the school, I was met by a clerk, dozing behind his desk. I told him that I wanted to enroll on the painting course. He tugged at my application and said: «Oh man, so you graduated from secondary school and you’re going to sign up for painting?! You're going to do architecture! » Back then, 60 or so years ago, it was unthinkable for anyone with a full school education to study painting, as you only need to have studied primary school level to get onto this course.
Out of cowardice, and at just 18, I tore up my painting course application and filled out another for architecture. And so I studied architecture, prompted solely by the opinion
of this clerk. But I made a mistake, because 1 was only' a painter. I was never an architect. I took the course, but I never felt 1ike an architect.
Do you still believe that architecture is not an art, as you did when you wrote your final thesis?
I have always tried to understand the laws governing art and the laws governing architecture. The laws governing art are the laws of harmony, the mathematical laws of geometry. Architecture does not need to attend to these laws; it is a discipline in search of functionality. A good architect does not chase after laws of harmony, rather the laws of perfection, which are the laws of nature, like those of harmony, but which have a different source.
But what distinction do you make then between harmony and perfection?
These qualities both lie in nature - the spirit of man does nothing more than learn these qualities. Harmony is sourced in mathematics; it does not obey any law of functionality.
If the object, through its function, responds to the laws of perfection, this is not related to the laws of harmony. Perfection is the quality of the object whose function responds to the need of the subject. The artist searches for these laws of harmony. When a painter paints he follows the laws of harmony.
Despite your choice of architecture being the result of casual selection and not being happy with your choice, you were still good enough to have worked with Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. How did this come about?
It was purely a social coincidence. I was in Paris for a while, attracted by the harmony of forms, by art. But then I needed to work, I had to do architecture. I was already a qualified architect and I needed to work, to earn money and so I practiced architecture for many years. I decided to knock on Le Corbusier's door, as I thought it would be more interesting, as he was also a painter. This was one of the factors that led me to choose Le Corbusier. With regards to Oscar Niemeyer, I also worked there by chance, and the fact that I had worked with Le Corbusier helped me to Work in Niemeyer's studio. But these are matters of a social nature, of the need for survival, that have nothing to do with my ambition to paint.
Your aesthetic development, beginning with the fascination with all things geometric with the red circ1e, passed then through expressionism, through surrealism, through human figuration, especially the female form, through kinetic art, before returning almost to the beginning, with geometric abstractionism. What lies behind this trajectory?
This all happens a little subconsciously. A person is influenced. At a certain moment I was attracted to the painting of Max Ernst. At times I was led to search for this, or for that. For example, when I saw the paintings of Victor Vasarely I thought: «this is what art is all about». I also spent some time searching for pure geometry. There are things that we learn little by little. At the start of my career as a painter I didn't think as I did latter or as I do today, that the essence of art lies in mathematics. Initially I thought that the preference of the artist for the perfection of objects lies in art. Only much later on did I come to the conclusion that perfection had nothing to do with art - I can make imperfection and make art. It was a slow, hard work, lasting many years that led me to the conclusion that the essence of art work lies in mathematics. Deep down this is what art is all about - a person hunts all around, looking for things, experimenting with them.
Besides your paintings, you have written many books in which you explain the characteristics of artistic creation. What determines this creation? Why does the artist manages to capture these pure forms, albeit unconsciously?
Artists need to work many years before they start to understand these laws. Working forms, man is working through them. As he works, the artist senses little by little the harmony existing in forms and then uses this harmony in his work. And I’ll tell you
something odd. I am now 87. I am much more decrepit than I was 50 years ago, 30 years ago and even 10 years ago. I am no longer the same man. I find it difficult to understand certain things. But my sensitivity to the harmony of forms is more alert now than it was before. The sensitivity has grown.
Sometimes 1 come across a painting of mine that 1 haven't seen for 50 years, and 1 look at it and feel that the painting is wrong in a certain place. But is it wrong, or isn’t it? I feel that the painting is missing a square, for example, but is the square there or not? I'm not sure.
If we make a calculation, like 2 + 2 = 4, the 4 doesn't need to be there. The parity, in itself, i.e. the 2 + 2, already gives me the 4. It’s the same thing in the painting. A square here, another triangle there - the balance in the painting itself, with these real shapes, gives me the certainty that in a certain place something is missing, which I'm not sure is there or is not there, but which is the sum of the whole that is there - 1 feel the law. If I possessed the ability to learn the law through concrete form, I could see a real shape sensing the law. There is a phenomenon in nature of which philosophy is unaware: the law can show us the object without the object being there. That which exists in nature has been generated by laws at the point at which the law itself generated the object. In nature we have shapes, but before having these real things, there were laws that formed them. How did the cosmos come about? Because there were laws. There was no beginning. They say there must have been a God, Our Lord, shaping things. No, there were laws.
Couldn't you then say that the laws are God?
I’d rather say that it is nature. We believe that objects were created, but it was the law that created them.
And couldn't you say that the core of nature is reached through geometry? And that art reveals this core to nature?
I think so, through geometry the core of nature is reached. And art reveals this identity, this relationship between the law and the object.