Brazilian painter Marta Penter’s latest series, “Otium,” transports us to the lively beaches of Santa Catarina, on the coast of Brazil, where groups of friends play in the surf and stroll along the sand, solitary beachgoers sink into thought, and people laugh at private jokes while reclining in the sun. The concept of otium, a Latin word that translates as leisure or tranquility, is at odds with the values of our fast-paced, business-oriented world. But to ancient Romans such as Pliny and Seneca, its pursuit was paramount, allowing for real contemplation of beauty, nature, literature and art, and creating a pleasurable, calm state that could expand one’s selfknowledge.
Penter is an artist deeply interested in psychology; in fact, she studied psychology before becoming an artist, a sensibility that remains ever-present in her work. Along with the idea of otium, her new paintings continue to explore human connections, particularly the experience of intimacy. Her complex portraits, painted with an anthropological eye, convey entire personal histories and relationships through subtle expressions of body language. They describe not just moments in time, but slices of life.
Despite her playful interlude with color, Penter’s work remains largely monochromatic, focused on a dynamic realism that weaves through intense detail to blurred views. As in the work of renowned artist Gerhard Richter, who likewise blurs the distinction between painting and photography, Penter’s carefully restricted palette both heightens and suppresses reality.
It is Penter’s ability to engage the viewer in an intimate dialogue that truly sets her apart as an artist. Explaining her preference for large-scale canvases, she cites her desire to fully immerse the viewer into each painting—to not only depict intimacy in a literal sense, but to recreate its energy. As art critic and professor Paula Ramos has written of Penter, “It is the human that touches and instigates her; the human is the essence of her thinking and work.” This
deep sense of humanity, this profound celebration of others’ existence, radiates from each of her paintings. Like an antidote to a world of increasingly fast-paced, remote communication, Marta Penter’s “Otium” reminds us of the importance of tranquility, personal connection and empathy.