Science fiction expressionism

Monumental matriarchs: André Butzer at Duarte Sequeira
By Barry Pierce | Art | 2 August 2023

When you think of northern Portugal, perhaps you think of vinho verde, Catholicism, and, eh, unique festive traditions. It is the country’s more traditional region, and nowhere is the lineage of tradition more palpable than in Braga. A city steeped in religious history, it boasts almost fifty churches despite having a population smaller than the average London borough. So recognised is the city for its religious past that its central cathedral (which is older than Portugal itself) is part of the popular lexicon of Portugal. Instead of saying something is as old as the hills, they say “mais velho que a Sé de Braga!”, literally “as old as Braga Cathedral”.

So how did this famously traditional Portuguese city become a central destination in the country’s contemporary art scene? Well, it’s all thanks to the Sequeira family. The patriarch, Mário Sequeira, is a surgeon turned gallerist. Turning to art in the early 1990s, he set up a gallery in the ground floor of his home before building a vast and impressive white cube gallery in, essentially, his garden. Over the years Galeria Mário Sequeira housed shows that displayed works by artists such as Damien Hirst, Alex Katz, Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread, Julian Opie, Gerhard Richter, and Gilbert & George. All in the bucolic surroundings of northern Portugal.

Duarte Sequeira HQ in Braga, Portugal. Courtesy of Duarte Sequeira.


Then, in the late 2010s, Mário decided to retire, passing the gallery onto his son, Duarte. Having obtained a Masters in Curation in London and working for the Whitechapel Gallery, Duarte returned home with a mission to start afresh. Re-christening the gallery Duarte Sequeira and leaving the majority of his father’s clients behind, Duarte immediately brought a distinctly London approach to the gallery, opening a second space in an old shed on the grounds to display works by artists from outside the world of the white cube.

For Duarte Sequeira’s autumn exhibition, the works of André Butzer take over the walls of the main gallery space. Monumental in scale, these new paintings loom large, reducing the viewer to a tiny figure within the space. A central work in the exhibition, a four-metre tall untitled piece, depicts a colossal female figure. Her face is undeniably Butzer, those trademark eyes glancing at something off-canvas, her arms and legs as fragile as bread sticks. Is she the matriarch of the exhibition? All the surrounding canvases her children?

André Butzer, “Untitled” (2022), Acrylic on canvas, 405 × 196 cm. Courtesy of Duarte Sequeira and André Butzer.

Butzer shot onto the international art scene in the 1990s, his first major solo exhibition I Am Munch taking place in the Esther Freund Gallery in Vienna in 1999. Born in Stuttgart in 1973, his huge colourful canvases which often depict childlike figurations have been pioneering in a style known as “science fiction expressionism.” His works are something which simply must be experienced in person, letting their scale and colours flow over the viewer in an almost overwhelming capacity.

Alongside canvases depicting Butzer’s female figures, there are also works that display simple but sporadic dashes of colour. One of Butzer’s innovations in art is his theory of the fourth primary colour. Aside from blue, red and yellow, Butzer theorises that the colour of flesh counts as the fourth primary colour. It makes regular appearances in these dash paintings, alongside the traditional trio of primaries. These works convey the academic side of Butzer’s work, his deeply theoretical journeys in colour and form that lay just beneath the surface of these seemingly simple colour works.

André Butzer, “Untitled” (2022), Acrylic on canvas, 198 x 410 cm. Courtesy of Duarte Sequeira and André Butzer.


A side room of the Duarte Sequeira is dedicated to some smaller canvases by Butzer, again his female figures appear but in portrait form, giving them the air of family portraits. Perhaps they are the kids of the mother in the main gallery. The exhibition does lead toward this reading. Have we intruded on a vast, populated family home?

André Butzer is on display at Duarte Sequeira, Braga until September 9th.

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