Gravity and grace

The painter “offers his body”, says Valéry. And, in fact, one does not see how a spirit could paint [1].

In Gravity and grace, homologous name to Simone Weil’s 1952 essay [2], Isabel Simões summons a space of suspension inherent to the innate quality of a falling process, reflecting on its aesthetic and emotional condition as a unique – unrepeatable – moment.

Modelled in the image of a rehearsal arena, the gallery receives a set of six works of the same size as the tatamis [3] placed on the floor surface – which will be, in three distinct moments of the exhibition’s duration, the performative field of aikido ukemi [4] exercises shared by the artist and her teacher.

Strongly influenced by this practice and by the possible proprioception of Ki [5], Simões evokes a physical training before a state of harmonisation with space – inhabited and surrounding – taking as a transversal constant the sensorial questioning between the relation of the walking surface and the time of the action as an enabler of the glimpses perceived in moments of suspension and rebound. In Steve Paxton’s words, the increasing speed of a falling object must be encoded in our genes. Even when we are that falling object [6]

Mimicking the movement on the sky-earth axis introduced by the constant gravity in the physical action, the paintings and the reed tatami woven by the artist also appear in two planes of existence – rising from the horizontal field (as a potentiator of bodily reception) to the vertical one – (re)positioning themselves on the walls and renewing their relationship with the spectator.

Endowed with a horizontality that conflicts with the imbalance of the lines of depth, the paintings presented, in greenish pastel and lilac tones of water, come close to the device present in the space and to the action arising from it, to the extent that they make a clear reference to the traditional Japanese reed matting and to the acceptance of the gravitational law of this exercise through the activities of the soul, in a second instance. In the same way, the artist places the spectator before a window open to the rice fields, where the very material that weaves the lines of the tatami grows, recalling the essence innate to that matter – which is also alive as an apparently weightless body – rising vertically in relation to the ground that supports it. Furthermore, in a second room adjacent to the exhibition arena, we find the continuation of the drawing series Sheaths, where different compositions of shadows and light reveal the resting of naked hakamas [7] over absent bodies.

Grace, evoked admittedly in the exhibition’s name, comes naturally in the wake of the work of the artist who, in her first presence in the gallery in 2019, had already worked on light as the main plastic matter – modelled, dissolved and almost liquid in its representation. The accompanying pathos [8] leads us to the perception of its intimate form – even a sensuous one – detached from its exterior. In the same way, it problematises the relationship between its idea and form, attaining its condition of aesthetic union between the rational and the mystical [9] (let us recall the confluence between the axes sky-earth, between the sensorial awareness of the sun rising and the rational awareness of the earth rotating [10]). As a consequent occupation of the void that exists between any binomial of metaphysical reality, Isabel Simões’ grace is sustained by the gravity that rules the bodies she negotiates, in a light limbo that is simultaneously momentary – in a material instance – and eternal – in an aesthetic conclusion.

We might say that her paintings are the culmination of an awakening of echoes, resulting from the transitional instants and proposed by the influence of light, grace and her bodily awareness, analogous to the evidence of an unbounded emptiness before the world – but even that does not come close to the ethereal quality they symbolise. Resulting from a process determined by the downward movement of gravity, the upward movement of grace and the downward movement of grace in the second power [11], they are what it is possible for us to see in the single moment of a corporeal yielding – they are the fleeting image of a falling body, a manifested fragility – elegant in their final intimacy. The physical complexion is present in them through an interpersonal immersion in the liberating circumstance portrayed, proposing to the spectator’s own gaze a displacement towards his observation, intersecting perspectives, depths and evanescent transparencies – transferring the vertigo inherent to the painting to the body that contemplates it.

It is difficult to find words to talk about the feelings of gravity… [12]


Eva Mendes


[1] Merleau-Ponty, The Eye and the Spirit, Vega, 2002.
[2] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.
[3] Tatami is a type of Japanese mat used to line the floor, typically made of reed.
[4] Ukemis is the term by which the Japanese martial arts techniques are designated whose purpose is to study the means by which the practitioner controls the way they fall, so that, when they reach the ground, they still leave in a favourable position.
[5] Ki, as perceived by Steve Paxton, seems to be a concept that refers to both the quality and the potential of connections. Applied to our bodies, it is about the relationship between parts and then flows into relationships with the environment. But mostly it is a form of practice, with the feeling of easily connecting with our own weightGravity, Contredanse Editions, 2018.
[6] Steve Paxton, Gravity, Contredanse Editions, 2018.
[7] Hakama is a type of traditional Japanese dress. It covers the lower body and resembles wide trousers.
[8] Pathos as a condition for existence, in the sense developed by Kierkegaard.
[9] Thorsten Botz-Bornstein, Aesthetics and Mysticism: Plotinus, Tarkovsky and the Question of ‘Grace’, Md, 2008.
[10] Steve Paxton, Gravity, Contredanse Editions, 2018.
[11] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.
[12] Steve Paxton, Gravity, Contredanse Editions, 2018.




  • Isabel Simões