Evocações, Ismael Nery and Lewis Hammond Curated by Germano Dushá


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A phantasmagorical apparition comes into view, appearing as a primal form, as pure potency. A blotch heralding the figure exposes the indescribable substance from which the world's embodiments stem. Whatever is briefly seen scorches the retina, embedding itself in memory. When it first appears, it resembles a symbol, then quickly a wound. Initially, a sign of smoke, fog. Later, a gash and a scar. By marking the soul, the image makes its observer a host, a stigmata, from that point on a conduit of a vital burden. At the right moment, the image will resurface, revealing itself in the mind, to reenact the splendor of its revelation. 

In this century-spanning exhibition, two artists separated by a long and fundamental historical period come together through the energy conveyed by their works, sharing aesthetic and spiritual aspirations. The dialogue consists of fourteen pieces—eight paintings and drawings by Ismael Nery from the 1920s and six paintings by Lewis Hammond produced especially for the occasion—in which bodies, settings, and unusual situations are revealed through a sharp interplay of light and shadow, like spectral apparitions. What then appears before us? A phantasmagorical self-portrait. The duality between a man and his spirit. Boys with hollow eyes experiencing trances in indescribable circumstances. Female figures emerging from everyday surroundings or ideal landscapes. The relentless pursuit of a saint. Gatherings in the darkness. The indelible light of stars and angels.  


The hundred years that separate the modern genius of Ismael Nery from Lewis Hammond's sharp contemporary practice only reinforce the universality of their quests, as well as their shared ability to handle images that stand on the thin line between materialization and dissolution. Despite the depiction of figures—often disconcertingly frontal—that which cannot be seen plays a great part in the atmosphere of the works. Whether within the very figuration, which presents itself as a fragment of a larger event or scheme, or in the invocation of the intangible—what is hidden from the realm of matter finds only signs in the world. Thus, their figures veil and shimmer with emotion and feeling, as well as psychic and mystical phenomena, opening channels between what is seen and what is felt, between the earthly and the ethereal. 


What stands out in the dynamics of these paintings, therefore, is their singular ability to reveal images. Hence, the dual meaning of the word "evocation" encapsulates the artists' practice, referring both to the faculty to reproduce memories, sensations, and mental states on the canvas, and, above all, to the power to conjure the spirit of things. In the gravity with which they express themselves, they bear witness to a fatal tremulation, a decisive energetic moment from which an action can erupt, transforming the material reality. Dense atmospheres, dark and restless tones, compositions laden with tragedy and imbued with drama, liminal spaces that evoke both aversion and nostalgia, circumstances that reluctantly admit the incidence of light, expanded temporalities, surreal and magical breaths woven into the fabric of reality... All of these elements form an alchemical device of transmutation, guiding us from familiar language to that which has no name, the inexpressible.    


Rapture, radiance, ecstasy, passion, rupture. Diabolic amazements and angelic aspirations, lacerated bodies, and spiritual sublimation. It is through this distressing vital balance that these works deal with the magnetism of violence, and voluptuousness while calling for the veneration of an eternal, ineffable beauty. The tremor of the flesh does not prevent the vibration of the soul, just as the abyss serves as the negative force that ignites the flash of elevation.  


Ismael Nery (Belém, 1900 –  Rio de Janeiro, 1934) was born at the very end of the 19th century in the state of Pará, but moved to Rio de Janeiro with his family in his early years. While still very young, he enrolled at the National School of Fine Arts, and in 1920, he traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. The following year, he visited other European countries, such as Italy, as well as the Middle East. Upon his return, he worked as a draftsman in the Architecture department of the National Heritage, where he met the poet, critic, and collector Murilo Mendes (1901-1975), who would become his close friend and intellectual partner for the rest of his life. He soon married Adalgisa Nery (1905-1980), who would later gain recognition as a brilliant writer, journalist, and outspoken politician—his soulmate and greatest muse. The couple's home became a meeting point for an important intellectual circle, which included figures like Mário Pedrosa (1900-1981) and Alberto da Veiga Guignard (1896-1962). In 1927, he traveled to Europe once again, where he closely acquainted himself with the Surrealist movement, became friends with Marc Chagall (1887-1985), and made contact with André Breton (1896-1966). From then on, his work underwent significant expansions, while his body began to show the first signs of pulmonary tuberculosis. In 1934, on his deathbed, it is said that he expressed two wishes to Murilo Mendes: that he convert to Catholicism and that all of his works be destroyed. As history shows, only the first request was fulfilled. He passed away at the age of 33 and was buried wearing the habit of a lay brother of the Third Order of Saint Francis.  

An artist of unfathomable complexity, who reconciled paradoxes and contraries within himself, Ismael Nery created a singular work, whose striking style unfolded along different paths. The quest for the essence of beings by overcoming the limits of space and time propelled both fervent religiosity and a radical sensitivity to worldly beauty. Despite being born in the North region of Brazil and turning into one of the fundamental figures of Brazilian Modernism, he charted his own path, far from any desire to contribute to the creation of a national identity. In another sense, he based his work on the universality of philosophy and spirituality. He is also considered the precursor of surrealism in Brazil. Mário Pedrosa testified about the artist's rare intelligence and demeanor: "Prince of the spirit, disdainful of everything and generous to the point of devotion, he refused to be an artist of marked category." 

Lewis Hammond (Wolverhampton, 1987) lives between London and Berlin and holds degrees in Fine Art from the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture, and Design, and in Painting from the Royal Academy Schools, both in London. His paintings—marked by ocher and dark tones, atmospheric situations and somber aspects—are populated by liminal spaces and bodies in atypical situations or undergoing clear transformation. In between ecstatic trances, radical relationships and lugubrious rites, his works awakens, at the same time, familiarity and strangeness, evoking deep feelings and complex mental states. In this new chiaroscuro based on an intimate iconography, universal, classic and archetypal images are combined with subjectivities, personal memories and free imagination, conjuring existential dramas on the canvas with the most prosaic elements of contemporary life.


– Germano Dushá 

Installation Views