The Unf**kable Frontier: Q&A with Felipe Pereira Goncalves

The limits of the human mind have something to do with really big numbers. There’s no insight into knowing that Earth is one hundred million miles away from the Sun, for example -- it’s just real far. Partly, it’s a matter of scale. Cornell mathematician Steve Strogatz tries to rein in this vastness in his description of the Sagan Planet Walk, a scaled replica of the solar system in Ithaca, NY. There, Earth is the size of a pea and just a couple of steps away from the sun, itself the size of a serving plate. Pluto, the farthest planet in the solar system, is scaled to the size of a couscous grain and nearly a mile away, or a twenty minute walk. Needless to say there’s no Sagan Planet Walk that includes the other 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, or the rest of the 100 billion visible galaxies in the universe. -- Matthew Smith, Washington, D.C. contributor

Unfuckable Frontier
Felipe Pereira Goncalves  | space...the unfuckable frontier, 2011, acrylic and spray paints,glue, and glitter on canvas, 32"x 50"

Taking poetic liberties that were perhaps unfamiliar to Carl Sagan, Felipe Pereira Goncalves (NAP #100) calls this infinite, unscalable vastness the unfuckable frontier. Images of space populate much of the artist’s work, as does a sense of wonderment for the great beyond. But just as importantly, his paintings also convey the intimacy of the artist’s extensive sketchbook practice. Sure, we are but a speckle in the cosmos -- in this unfuckable frontier -- but perhaps we’re just as infinite when gazing inward, just as unfuckuble. And maybe we’re left equally at awe.

I recently caught up with Felipe to ask him a few questions about his work. 

Felipe Pereira Goncalves  | 3,720 to 1, wood, paint, paper, high density foam, glue and glitter, 12 x 20 inches. This piece was a study for Felipe’s window installation at Transformer, seen in progress in the studio image below.
Felipe Pereira Goncalves’ studio in Baltimore.

Matthew Smith: Can you tell me about the installation you did at Transformer and how it’s connected to your paintings? Are the materials or processes similar?

Felipe Pereira Goncalves: My installation is very similar to my paintings in the sense that I’m using symbols instead of literal images to evoke emotions. The concept of using “bait” to lure viewers is prevalent in any medium of my work. When I start with something familiar, glitter or candles for example, it creates a nostalgic feeling in the viewer, which makes it easier for them to absorb and accept the rest of the piece. All of my work starts with my sketchbook. As I work on a piece, new ideas and unforeseen obstacles make it common for the piece to deviate from the original sketch.  Installations often change drastically due to the fact that the space I’m using is foreign to me, but that is my favorite aspect of installations. A personal bond is created with an installation space that is unrivaled with painting in my studio.

MS: It’s interesting that you say this since your installations seem so intertwined with your paintings. I wonder if working on an installation may seem more satisfying sometimes because, in a way, you’re bringing one of your paintings to life?

FPG: It’s absolutely more satisfying making an environment that people can interact with.  A painting or drawing is viewed on a much more personal level. My installations are usually group experiences, and are designed to develop into séances. I feel the people that witness and interact with the piece are the key to bringing the installation to life.

From the artist’s sketchbook
Felipe Pereira Goncalves what we'll leave behind, 2011, acrylic and spray paints, glue, and glitter on canvas, 48"x 72"

MS: You mentioned that all your ideas start with your sketchbook. I can definitely see that connection. Are you trying to make that connection explicit? In other words, are your paintings intricate, beautifully crafted works about doodles?

FPG: Yes, and thank you for saying it better than I could. A constant challenge of mine is recreating the raw energy that my sketchbook portrays. I’ve learned that my sketches and paintings are two different beasts. My sketchbooks are personal to me and grow to be more like a diary.While on the other hand, my paintings are meant for public view and leads to me taking additional consideration of all details. This doesn’t mean my paintings are lacking in emotion, just that the emotion has developed since leaving the realm of the sketchbook.

MS: Why are you so interested in images of space?

FPG: Space is a mysterious galactic womb. It is our mother, and creator of everything. Our desire to understand and conquer space is just the perpetuation of humans trying to discover/create a purpose for our existence. I use images of space because it reminds me that I am small, and the universe is epic.

Felipe Pereira Goncalves  | nebulous hex, 2011, acrylic and spray paints, glue, and glitter on canvas, 48” x 48”
Felipe Pereira Goncalves  | Untitled, 2010. pencil and ink on paper, 8” x 10”
Felipe Pereira Goncalves  | Untitled, 2010, pencil and ink on paper, 8” x 10”


Graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2004, Felipe Pereira Goncalves has exhibited around the Baltimore/Washington, DC region at Transformer, Flashpoint and Nudashank Gallery, among others. Most recently, his work was featured in the New American Paintings #100 and Beautiful Decay #7 publications.

Matthew Smith is an artist and writer in Washington, D.C.


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