Marina Perez Simão’s semi-abstract works convey the sublime power of nature. She is inspired by the landscapes of her childhood, which was spent growing up between Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. Forms reminiscent of fog hang heavily over hills and intense storms can be found in her densely coloured paintings. She uses sweeping strokes, depicting broad vistas in bright purples, fiery oranges and deep blues.
Simão often works on a large-scale, letting the viewer become immersed in her images. Those standing in front of her paintings are drawn into the landscapes depicted rather than simply looking at them as an outsider.
She is interested in the play between light and dark, looking for a “pulsating” effect in works that both emit and absorb light. This movement undoubtedly has a connection with music and poetry too, and there is an absorbing rhythm to her long, gestural marks. Onda, her new exhibition at Pace in London, is her first solo UK show, comprising vast multi-canvas works.
If you could save only one item from your studio, what would it be?
I am very attached to my good brushes. I work with several kinds depending on the stage of the painting. I use very soft brushes for finishing. There are other moments I need brushes that can take a lot of paint, where I really need to spread it across the canvas. It totally depends what kind of marks I want. I can replace anything else, but not my brushes.
What was the last art material you bought to use in your work?
I imported this beautiful linen from Belgium. It’s from an ancient manufacturer and I’m very happy with it. I originally found it when I stayed in Belgium for three months last year to work for a show in China. I have already used it for some paintings, the surface is really smooth.
What is your go-to song when you’re working in the studio?
I make a lot of playlists for the studio every year. Right now I love Charles Mingus, especially a song called Canon, and Petit Pays by Cesária Évora. Music gives me energy. It can change my whole mood. I never work when I’m sad. I like to be in the studio when I’m feeling good and music helps me get into this state of courage.
“I viewed the work again and realised there were things I had never seen in it. We will never fully know this kind of infinite work”
Which single work of art would you choose to live alongside in your home?
For emotional reasons I think I would choose Rubens’ The Exchange of Princesses (1625). It’s a painting I copied about 1,000 times as a student. It was part of a composition class I studied at the Louvre in Paris. The composition is made up of a big circle at the top of the work and a lot of circles in the middle, with a serpentine shape around the edge. Everything feels like it rhymes. Last year I viewed the work again and realised there were things I had never seen in it. We will never fully know this kind of infinite work.
Top three art or photography books?
Matisse on Art, the collected writings of Henri Matisse. He writes for painters and is really generous. My copy is all worn out and covered in annotations.
Another would be one my grandmother gave me, a book of Etruscan art. In their frescoes we can see how women had a more prominent role in society compared to others at the time, so they were in banquets alongside their husbands. Some say they were from Lydia, which is now Turkey. They found iron and traded with the Greeks, so they were rich and dressed in colourful, beautiful clothes. They were an influence for the Romans before they were eventually culturally absorbed by them.
I also like Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. He talks about how when we play, we make a set of rules that only make sense in the realm of playing. And that makes me think of art.
If money was no object, what would you most like to experiment with in your work?
In the end I think I’d do the same things but go to space for inspiration! Maybe I’d give some money to the problem of time travel…
“I’d do the same things but go to space for inspiration! Maybe I’d give some money to the problem of time travel…”
Tell us a pet peeve of yours when it comes to the art world.
Something I don’t like, not only in the art world but everywhere, is excess vanity. I lose interest so quickly. Art is so sublime and we make art for so many beautiful reasons beyond me and you, so vanity doesn’t fit for me. It’s never good for the work.
“Art is so sublime and we make art for so many beautiful reasons beyond me and you, so vanity doesn’t fit”
What is your favourite gallery or museum space around the world?
For my emotional attachment it’s the Louvre. I think I know it by heart and then I get lost. It’s about humankind, everything there is amazing.
I like the Roman coffins: there is one with a scene showing a young Achilles hiding with women in a harem: his mum put him there during a battle. The army comes to pick him up and on the coffin you see him taking off his disguise.
I love the Italian section of course, Leonardo Da Vinci: I always go to see The Virgin of the Rocks. Every time I visit, I get attached to something new.
Emily Steer is Elephant’s editor
Marina Perez Simão: Onda is at Pace London from 7 September to 1 October
Listen to all the go-to songs picked by our 5 Minutes With artists here
All works: Untitled, 2022 © Marina Perez Simão. Photo: Everton Balardin. Courtesy Pace Gallery and Mendes Wood DM