London-based painter Emanuel de Carvalho has not had the most traditional journey to becoming an artist. He began his career in the medical field, first obtaining a Doctorate Degree (PhD) in Medicine from the University of Amsterdam and then postgraduate studies in neuro-ophthalmology at University College London. His unique approach as an artist is deeply rooted in investigation, no doubt ingrained from his rigorous medical studies.

Through his work, De Carvalho aims to challenge and question the structures of vision, presenting an alternative perspective that extends beyond conventional notions of representation. His work is deeply rooted in engagement with philosophical texts on sexuality and gender, medicalisation, institutional power, disidentification, anarchy and human consciousness, with particular emphasis on the works of Michel Foucault, José Esteban Muñoz, Catherine Malabou, António Damásio and Kathy Acker.

This month, we sat down with Emanuel to discuss his recent group show with Hauser & Wirth, his upcoming solo show in London and how his move from science into painting has informed his creative approach.

constancy lack, 2024. Courtesy of Gathering.

LVH: Was becoming an artist something you always considered or was it later on, after completing your medical studies, that you decided toswitch careers?

EDC: My trajectory is indeed unusual, but I prefer to view it as a personal journey of discovery. There was a time when medicine was my primary focus; however, during that period, I was also engaged in fictional writing and drawing. I do not perceive medicine and an artistic practice as entirely disjointed; rather, I became an artist because I felt compelled to explore an alternative research output through painting and sculpture, one that would incorporate knowledge from other fields of thought, mostly philosophy. I am afraid medicine does not offer all the answers.


Abgrund, 2023. Courtesy of Gathering.

LVH: Have your medical studies informed any part of your creative practice?

EDC: I studied the human brain, specifically focusing on visual and cognitive processing. I have also seen patients whose perceptual responses are abnormal due to pathological processes. When faced with this, you can’t help but wonder about reality and the structures that dictate our thought process. I started questioning everything, dissecting my very own negative associations in the context of my own environment and upbringing. I learnt that Michel Foucault talks extensively about this, the individual process of reflection as a way to find your own moral code.

In my work, compositions feature unconventional orientations, colours are muted, reminiscent of urban environments, human figures are depicted in isolation, engulfed by architectural forms, and there are vacant spaces seemingly beyond reach. These elements collectively allude to aspects of human cognitive and visual processing. Disruption as a vehicle to raise awareness.

A detail of one of Emanuel's paintings.


LVH: There has been fast momentum to your career since graduating from the RCA last year. How have you navigated incoming opportunities? Did you feel pressure to join a gallery?

EDC: I have been fortunate to exhibit my work across various platforms and countries. I am keenly aware of the importance of proceeding cautiously and thoughtfully, making decisions that are well-structured and deliberate. It is crucial to invest time in defining a focus, understanding one's objectives, and collaborating with individuals who share a similar vision. Personally, I value having a theoretical framework to guide my approach to work, although I acknowledge that this can sometimes pose challenges, especially when collaborating with galleries. However, I have observed a growing interest in research-driven practices, even within the realm of painting.

Grund, 2023. Courtesy of Gathering.


LVH: Your work is deeply rooted in engagement with philosophical texts. I’m curious why you think these texts serve as such a strong source of inspiration for you? How do you go about transforming the written word into a purely visual medium?

EDC: My approach to philosophy is that of a consumer, offering an alternative route to analysing what is happening in society. It is a way of dissecting the reasons behind my beliefs. For instance, the philosopher Michel Foucault talks about the power of institutional structures in moral code, stating that one can only be aware of this influence but cannot escape it. Catherine Malabou, known for applying neurological principles in philosophical theories, proposes an alternative view, in which the human brain is seen as a ‘plastic’ entity, constantly in flux and capable of change. I am not certain she would agree, but I believe this is a positive and optimistic view on the power of the individual.

In my works, I often respond to very specific concepts in philosophy and medicine, translating a text into the language of painting or sculpture. For example, institutional power is depicted by the use of geometrical shapes, reminiscent of logos of corporations. Other times, the reference to philosophy is more subdued and personal. I depict a narrative that is deemed as a significant moment of change or reflection (askesis in the words of Michel Foucault).


Emanuel's paintings at Hauser & Wirth's group show, 'Present Tense'. Courtesy of H&W.


LVH: You are currently part of a group show at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, titled ‘Present Tense’. How did this come about given that you are not represented by H&W?

EDC: Present Tense brings together a group of young artists living and working in the United Kingdom. I share a sense of community and values with many of the exhibited artists, and I believe this to be main intent of the show: to give a platform to practices that respond to what is happening in society at the present time. I have been working on a reading circle session with the Learning team at Hauser & Wirth where I discuss my work in relation to the work of Kathy Acker, Antonio Damasio and Michel Foucault.


code lack, 2024. Courtesy of Gathering.

LVH: You have an upcoming solo show in London with Gathering. Could you speak about the focus for this exhibition? What other projects do you have on the horizon?

EDC: The show at Gathering, titled ‘code new state’, will present a new series of monumental paintings alongside two sculptural installations. The works reflect on perception as a neurobiological construct and explore the concept of plasticity, as described by the philosopher Catherine Malabou. It will act as the first iteration of a future collaboration with Malabou and the UCL Professor of Neurology, Parashkev Nachev.

The compositions and sculptures are characterised by subtle distortions of perspective and depth, and create a sense of unreality and discomfort. I would like to think of this show as a vehicle to raise awareness to perception.