BIOGRAPHY

Elza [Elza de Oliveira Sousa]

1928, Recife | PE – Brazil

2006, Rio de Janeiro | RJ - Brazil

In 1946, she moved to Rio de Janeiro with her husband – Gerson de Souza, also a painter – working as a embroider, she studied drama, aquatic dance, and had singing lessons. She attended classes with Ivan Serpa at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, in 1962 and 1963. In this same year, she took part in a collective show organized by Gallery IBEU, and “Salão Nacional de Arte Moderna” (Modern Art National Exhibition), in 1969, and won Isenção de Juri.

She showed individually at the Galeria Atualidade, Rio de Janeiro, in 1964, at Clube Hebraica, in 1967, and the Galeria Astréia and Galeria Jacques Ardies, in São Paulo. She has participated too of the “Lirismo Brasileiro” (Brazilian Lyricism), which was presented in Portugal, France, and Spain, under the co-ordination of Rute Laus, who wrote about the painter: “Elza evokes a romantic universe, with brides, sirens, children, and grown up and slender angels, escaping of the baroque, plump angels style, so common at the traditional Brazilian churches.”

Source: Catalog - POP BRASIL: popular Art and the popular in Art | CCBB – Gama, 2002

 

An artist’s soul

“I met Elza some decades ago when, married to naive artist Gerson Alves de Souza, she was starting out in painting. I would often go to their home to select and buy some of Gerson’s paintings, about which I was, and still am, passionate. It was during one of these visits that Elza called me aside and said that she was seriously devoting herself to painting, showing her first works. Encouraged by her husband, she embarked on this new activity with all the impetuousness of the tireless worker she always has been. In Recife, where she was born in 1928 as the eldest of eight siblings, Elza would cook, wash clothes and also do the ironing. Her mother, a qualified midwife, would say: “My daughter is my feet and my hands”. Despite the harshness of household chores, Elza always exercised other activities that would bring her some money: she would give literacy classes to children at her own home, gave private tuition and also embroidered baby clothes, sheets and towels. While she washed her clothes, she would sing, and soon called attention because of her soprano voice. She got as far as approaching the Music Conservatory of Recife, and passed a test for the local Radio Clube, but her father forbade her from pursuing a musical career. Only much later, already married and living in Rio de Janeiro, did she study opera singing for some time. She got married very young, at the tender age of sixteen, “in a Romeo and Juliet passion” as Elza puts it. Even more so because her father opposed the marriage. Gerson, her boyfriend, was an employee of Western and delivered telegrams. She had to nick her birth certificate and ask friends to witness her wedding to Gerson at the registry office. Then, she had to return home and wait for her father’s wrath to die down. They only got to live together after their daughter was born. This gives us an idea of the willpower of this passionate woman.

Coming to Rio de Janeiro in 1948, Elza again started to embroider to help to pay the couple’s expenses. She took a hairdressing course and started to serve her clients at home. When I met her, there was a large dryer standing in the middle of the room. Very curious and interested in everything, she answered an advert asking for women to participate in an aquatic ballet which was being rehearsed at the Glória Hotel. “I feel I was born to do art”, said Elza. “Since I was a small girl, I noticed that I was different from my sisters. However, I didn’t know where I could express myself better”. In the meantime, Gerson, her husband, got established as a naive art painter, and started to have exhibitions and have his work accepted in the National Exhibitions which were held every year. Elza started with drawing. She would draw to pass the time while she waited for her husband to arrive. One day she thought: “If I put colour into the drawings I do, then these shall turn into paintings”. She asked Gerson to buy some canvases, paints and paint brushes, and teach her the basics of this technique. He then suggested that Elza take her work along and show them to Ivan Serpa, a famous painter who gave painting classes at the Modern Art Museum. She took this course for one year. At the beginning, Elza’s painting was strongly influenced by that of Gerson, who painted at home, well within her reach. The drama of some works of this period already announced, through the concentrated potential, the sheer untapped potential of the future artist. The hardness and the power of those first pictures surely revealed all the willpower she showed to extract, from inside herself, everything that she knew she had. Soon, her themes calmed down somewhat and became lighter. Slowly, like every authentic naive painter, she started to depict, on her works, only what she had in the heart. In a short time, due to her strong personality, Elza broke free from Gerson’s influence to become more and more established in her own unusual way of painting. If Elza inherited something from Gerson at the start of his career, it is the attraction she has for the human figure. Most of her paintings represent the human individual in all situations and under all possible circumstances. In painting, Elza finally found her vocation. “I only do things with a lot of love”, says Elza. “I want the people, on seeing one of my works, to perceive its “soul”. I feel what the painting will be like at the time when I start painting. Each of my works is felt before it is thought. I get involved in what I feel while my hand works.” After an obstinate work project, Elza made considerable progress, and her paintings improved by the day. Without being limited to her first successes, she continued to paint without any rest, from early morning through to the end of the day. She was searching for the knack for painting that she was sure she had and that she wanted to discover. In the end, she did discover it. This was like an explosion: with incredible speed, Elza became a great artist with a conception all of her own.

Divorced from Gerson after a long marriage, Elza continued to paint with even more dedication. An artist that knows no bounds, she could paint everything: from children’s games, through heads of Christ and passionate couples, young brides bedecked in white veils of unrivalled transparency and lightness, to dozens of other items, each more varied and more original than the other. All personalities are marked by the personality of this artist who has a style which is very different from the others. So personalised are the faces that they impart a certain family atmosphere, even if only through the look which is reminiscent of Elza’s own looks. The faces reveal a perfect drawing, but above all have colours that are unique in Brazilian naive art. These colours, which we could call “Elza’s colours”, are limpid, even reaching transparency. In my opinion, this is where Elza achieved perfection as a naive artist. Elza has had exhibitions from all over Brazil and also in the main countries in the world, where her paintings with discreet hues and shades are very much appreciated. Her paintings are one of the truest examples of the real blossoming of naive art, with all its innocence and concern with detail. Sometimes I ask myself where Elza wants to, or can, arrive. This, because she continues to paint with the same enthusiasm as when she started her career, producing paintings that are more and more beautiful. After all these years of struggle and will power to paint, tenacity, courage, and also thanks to all the love that her immense talent has made overflow from her paintings, it is undeniable that Elza has now become the most important lady of Brazilian naive art.

Lucien Finkelstein                                        

CV

Individual Exhibitions:


1979 Individual, Tempo Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1975 Individual, Astréia Gallery, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1972 Individual, Banco Ítalo-Belga Gallery, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil


1971 Individual, Alberto Bonfiglioli Gallery, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1971 Individual, Sobrado Gallery, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1971 Individual, Zimmer Galerie, Dusseldorf, Germany


1971 Individual, Eucatex Gallery, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1971 Individual, Salão Negro do Senado Federal, Brasília, DF, Brazil


1970 Individual, Mini Galeria of Usis, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1970 Individual, Oca Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1969 Individual, Casa Holanda, Recife, PE, Brazil


1969 Individual, Galeria do Rosário, Recife, PE, Brazil


1967 Individual, Giro Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1967 Individual, Clube Hebraica, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


 


Collective Exhibitions:


2005 Encontros e Reencontros na Arte Naif: Brasil-Haiti, Museu De Arte Brasileira, MAB-FAAP, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


2004 Arte Naif, Jacques Ardies Gallery, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


2002 6th Brazilian Naive Art Biennial, SESC, Piracicaba, SP, Brazil


2002 Pop Brazil: Popular Art and the Popular in the Art, CCBB, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


2000 Brazil + 500 Rediscovery Exhibition, Biennial Pavilion, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1994 2nd Brazilian Naive Art Biennial, SESC, Piracicaba, SP, Brazil


1988 The Fascinating World of Naïf Painters, Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1982 Soccer: interpretations, Banerj Art Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1981 4th National Salon of Plastic Arts, MAM / RJ, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1980 Gente da Terra, Paço das Artes, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1979 4th Exhibition of Fine Arts Brazil / Japan, Mokiti Okada Foundation, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1977 3rd Brazil / Japan Arts Exhibition, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1977 3rd Exhibition of Fine Arts Brazil / Japan, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1975 Party of Colors, MASP, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1973 Brasil Export Fair, Brussels, Belgium


1972 Art / Brazil / Today: 50 years later, Collectio Gallery, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1970 19th National Salon of Modern Art, MAM / Rio, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1969 18th National Salon of Modern Art, MAM / Rio, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1968 17th National Salon of Modern Art, MAM / Rio, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1968 Brazilian Lyricism, Lisbon, Portugal


1967 16th National Salon of Modern Art, MAM / Rio, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1967 3rd Salon of Brazilian Religious Art, Londrina, PR, Brazil


1966 15th National Salon of Modern Art, MAM / Rio, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1965 14th National Salon of Modern Art, MAM / Rio, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1964 13th National Salon of Modern Art, MAM / Rio, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


 


Public Collections:


Museum of Modern Art - MAM, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


São Paulo Museum of Art - MASP, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


 


Selected Publications:


2002 Pop Brazil: Popular Art and the Popular in the Art, Banco do Brasil Cultural Center, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


2000 Brazil + 500 Rediscovery Exhibition Popular Art, Takano Printing House, Brazil


1998 Naif Art in Brazil, Jacques Ardies, Empresa das Artes, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1994 Brazilian Biennial of Naive Art. Abram Szajman, Danilo Santos de Miranda and Jorge Anthonio da Silva, SESC, Piracicaba, SP, Brazil


1988 Critical dictionary of painting in Brazil, José Roberto Teixeira Leite, Artlivre, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1978 Aspects of Brazilian primitive painting, Flávio de Aquino, Ed. Spala, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil


1975 Party of colors, Pietro Maria Bardi, MASP, São Paulo, SP, Brazil


1969 Dictionary of plastic arts in Brazil, Roberto Pontual, Civilização Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil

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