Agostinho Batista de Freitas
I couldn't resist the temptation to show once again the painter who enchanted Professor Bardi on a visit to Praça da República.
He is an artist that we always have in the gallery's collection and we are continually pleased to acquire.
I met Agostinho in the 90’s when I had an art office in an old house in Alto de Pinheiros. He would visit me with his paintings under his arm and I would buy them all.
He was a short man, somewhat stocky and unfriendly. He always seemed angry but I think deep down he was shy.
I invited Agnaldo Farias to write about him. He loved the idea of getting to know Agostinho better.
Here it is. Let's view it and remember it.
Agostinho Batista de Freitas – Master of the Streets
The city is like that, through these skyscrapers,
through these buildings,
it seems that we are in the middle of a rock,
looks like a mystery, looks like a cemetery.
Agostinho de Freitas
From: Lélia Coelho Frota, Pequeno Dicionário da arte do povo brasileiro
Produced in 1991, the painting Praça da República (Republic Square, oil on canvas, 70 x 100 cm) brings a cropped image of one of the best-known icons of downtown São Paulo. It is a perspective that showcases the building of the old Colégio Caetano de Campos (Caetano de Campos School), a majestic, eclectic structure built in 1894. This is emblematic of a time when education was the focus of great attention by the State. However, surpassing the buildings height by three, four or five times and more arises a gray mass composed of different lattices of the buildings constructed in the middle of the last century engulfing it. The yellow hue of the heavy horizontal block where the old school used to be, sets it apart from the ensemble that seems to wall it up, relieving it by approaching, on the one hand, a significant example of modern architecture: Edificio Ester, by Álvaro Vital Brasil, with the syncopation of its blue and yellow windows. On the other, the green of trees with rounded foliage and the short red chassis of the buses that slide slowly, glued to each other like ants brushing their antennae, changing the pheromones of the brake lights and of the red of arrows. Visitors to downtown São Paulo, architecture scholars or those simply interested in understanding and following the growth cycles of the largest metropolis in South America easily recognize the buildings. They recognize them because all are meticulously represented although they keep their distance from the technical drawings executed with rulers and squares. They are fascinated by the ribs of the pillars and gables of handmade white slabs, the verticals that oscillate smoothly, as if breathing, as well as the shades of gray and the variations of black inside the windows calculated by the eye without the benefit of color catalogs. One sees with the clarity of a sunny day like this one in Praça da República where the clear blue sky is the sea through which an organized fleet of clouds calmly floats. It is similar to certain skies in Magritte, indifferent to the multifaceted rock – the metropolis – the thick row of layers of concrete piled up below it.
As is common in most of his urban paintings, the framing of this painting favors the buildings. In this painting Agostinho de Freitas ignores the respectable garden in front of the school. In another, also present in this exhibition, he preserves a fraction of it, the protected geometric sidewalks where the sellers of everything travel, rest and arrange themselves, especially on weekends, when they jostle in the stalls of the fair. Among them are the lambe-lambe photographers and, as done by himself at the beginning of his career, the square painters. A framework because, as we know, Agostinho de Freitas, like his colleagues and contemporaries, the pop artists, the hyper-realists, and, before all of them, the Irishman Francis Bacon, painted from photographs. In his case, he switched from observational painting to studying postcards, photographs of professionals such as Marcel Gautherot or his own since he assumed the everyday use of portable machines, such as the unpretentious and effective Instamatic and Xereta, both from Kodak.
Avenida Ipiranga X São Luís (Avenida Ipiranga and São Luís crossroads, oil on canvas, 80 x 140 cm), dating from 1983, almost ten years earlier, almost repeats the motif of the previous canvas: it flies over the roof of Caetano de Campos, from which only one end of the orange-red roof can be seen and leads to a frontal view, in the center of which is the Edifício Itália (Italia Building), the point where the two avenues in the title diverge. Here there is no sky. The angle chosen from top to bottom is abrupt and suppresses the game of heights, cuts the built mass in an exact horizontal, leveling it, which highlights the mismatched cadence of the design of the facades. The succession of volumes are more or less narrow, eventually curved, hexagonal and all elongated; the smooth blue-gray planes of the streets, the graphics of the crosswalks. There are cars. There are buses, but they are small, almost out of scale, bordering on childish schemes. They look like multicolored toy cars, which contrasts with the refined finish given to each of the buildings, the meticulous respect for their particularities. There are also people, even more simplified than cars, reduced to almost dots, of course due to the gigantic scale of the skyscrapers, which compresses them on the sidewalks making them slide unaligned, unprotected and unimportant.
In Praça da Bandeira (Bandeira Square, 1989, oil on canvas, 80 x 120 cm), the buildings move away from each other opening a clearing for the curvilinear islands where the buses pour and fill with people. In the background, the solid wall sits along a horizontal line that slopes slightly from left to right, although shattered in exact volumes, adjusted in positions defined by the lots on which they were built. In the lower half, people represented with the simplicity of illustrations aimed at children, are unaccompanied, seem to walk aimlessly, apparently mobilized by the solitude that defines life in the big city. Perhaps because they are endowed with proportions compatible with people, cars and buses, unlike buildings, which are monumental and inaccessible, they suggest the same delicacy and fragility.
An extraordinary example of the vision of the city as an infinite, unfathomable construction where cars become dots and people disappear appears in Paisagem litorânea (Seaside landscape, 1983, oil on canvas, 100 x 70 cm). Not a bird's eye view but a plane view of a coastal city with avenues following the tortuous design of the edges of the cliffs that jut out to the sea. Cars are converted into miniatures circulating through the web of streets that divide the rows of low buildings that descend until they are beyond what can be reached with the naked eye.
Despite the preservation, albeit attenuated of the human drama of those who inhabit large cities, the set of paintings presented in the current exhibition is more solar than the paintings made in the first two decades of his ascendency. They are evident expressionist extractions. Some are related to the somber atmospheres of Oswaldo Goeldi's prints. Carved in a dark blue typical of dawn, Praça da Sé (Sé Square, 1986, oil on canvas, 53 x 65 cm) is connected to this lineage. The black of the pointed towers and the nave's dome contrasting the light façade, with the seven-pointed star stamped on the floor in front of it, the opening of the subway heart pumping people from morning until dawn.
The paintings presented in this new exhibition by Agostinho de Freitas bring refined images of the cities and buildings that embody it. This means a less somber and more objective view of objects. Canvases that record Estação da Luz (Untitled, 1983, oil on canvas, 92 x 62 cm); Parque do Ipiranga (Ipiranga Park,1986, oil on canvas, 53 x 63 cm), Circo dos Bandeirantes (Bandeirantes Circus, 1986, oil on canvas, 80 x 120 cm); Estação Júlio Prestes (Julio Prestes Station), former headquarters of the Sorocabana Railway (Untitled, 1987, oil on canvas, 52 x 82 cm); Palácio dos Bandeirantes (Untitled, 1987, oil on canvas, 72 x 102 cm) exalt the buildings and their particularities. Eventually, they impose themselves on the other buildings, on the street and the gardens where they are installed as well as and above all on passersby establishing gesture and rites. When reproducing these buildings and paying attention to the fact that he stood over viaducts, football stadiums, shopping centers such as the São Paulo Supply Center Ceasa, the artist reaffirms them as examples of what, in architectural terms is meeting the population's needs by producing the best effect on the inhabitants who use them.
From this point of view, Cemitério Chora Menino (Chora Menino Cemetery, 1993, oil on canvas, 50 x 70 cm) is surprising. The arid landscape of the tombstones is equivalent to the reduction of the city to the desolate. Each building is flattened in proportion to the body or the few bodies that lie in them. He is composing a stripped skyline of concrete cobblestones provided with lids, ornamented by the indefectible crosses, separated from each other by asphalted streets. Moving between them, in a silent ceremony under warm light, the groups disperse carrying the flowers that they will deposit in honor of the memory of their loved ones.
Aldo Rossi, in his classic A arquitetura da cidade (The architecture of the city) rereads in an updated key the concept of genius loci, genius of the place. He is recognizing the importance, since the classical world, not only of the building but of the choice of its location. In line with this point of view, Agostinho de Freitas toured the city of São Paulo making an inventory of the most prominent sites, urban sections and buildings. If his adherence to the city was unrestricted, the same could not be said about his interest in rural life. “Luminous over here, sign over there, you study so many things in your head, right? Now, not in the bush, you only see bush, the only thing is to think about going to plant, right” (Interview with Lélia Coelho Frota, 1976). The artist went from the center to the outskirts, to the highways that connect the cities to one another and even to the countryside which, as has been said, did not interest him much, but to which he returned because of the commissions apparently in greater numbers than for urban paintings. About this unforeseen part of his production, he said he did it from memory, which, changing into offal, meant that it was irrigated by imagination. Much has been said in relation to these commissions considering how much they meant a misdirection of the artist, the “abandonment of his purity”, and his co-optation by the market. For Roça (Country, 1977, oil on canvas, 55 x 145 cm), responds to this poorly disguised paternalism. The velvety touch of the brush takes care of dissolving shades of green at the mercy of a topography that resolves itself into gently rounded hills, interrupted here and there by tufts of dark green that act as portions of remaining woods, until it ends in a stretched layer: a horizontal in white, topped by another deep blue. The sugarcane harvest (Untitled, 1987, oil on canvas, 91 x 136 cm) is another example worthy of mention. Close to the sugarcane trees, at their height, the workers, as they cut and stack them, thin the field leaving the brown of the earth speckled with yellow spots – the ends of the stalks left over from the cut – by the green, mismatched graphics of the fallen foliage from the tops of the cane stalks, the same ones that infuse movement to the whole that remains to be harvested.
Agostinho was my discovery
Pietro Maria Bardi
Artist exhibition folder
Hotel San Raphael, São Paulo, 1974
Agostinho de Freitas was an extraordinary artist. And, if Pietro Maria Bardi is to be believed, Professor Bardi, the anthological founder of Masp, he was one of his discoveries. Among others, as he certainly said, since as is well known, the couple Pietro and Lina Bo Bardi did a lot for artists found “in a gallery, on the street or in a museum”. They really did. Bardi not only encouraged him and ensured the means for Agostinho de Freitas to start producing regularly, in 1952, he organized his first solo show at Masp, took him to the Venice Biennale in 1961 and 1966 to the horror of critics and artists who were not used to the invasion of an environment marked by affectations of all kinds. Lina Bo Bardi, in association with Pietro, filmmaker Glauber Rocha and theater director Martim Gonçalves, produced the memorable exhibition A mão do povo brasileiro, which shook the milieu not only for what it exposed but for the way in which it exhibited. Among the artists were Mestre Vitalino, Agnaldo dos Santos and our Agostinho de Freitas.
The exhibition was an undisputed success, leaving an immense legacy waiting to be better digested. A mão do povo brasileiro leads to the following question: who are the Brazilian people? The answer, as immediate as it is unsatisfactory, leads to layers of expropriated people, the poor and humble people. As a corollary of this reasoning, it is concluded that artists from art schools, as well as curators and the entire set of agents that make up the artistic milieu, that includes the author of this text, are not part of the people. And what are they anyway?
The artistic milieu is very resentful of this understanding that places it outside the overwhelming majority of the population, which leads it to such candid and fallacious formulations as this one: “Agostinho was my discovery”. This kind of statement has no theoretical status, it is equivalent to someone saying that he discovered gunpowder. Did the evident, ostensible talent of Agostinho de Freitas need Bardi to exist? Curiously, Masp, which in 2015 dedicated a magnificent exhibition to the artist, strongly insists on this theme, to the point that most texts leave aside the analysis of the works, in favor of the biography of a semi-illiterate electrician, whose winning ticket was to bump into the director of the largest museum in São Paulo. Agostinho de Freitas was an extraordinary artist and, by incorporating him into the artistic milieu, Professor Bardi benefited him, benefited himself and benefited the milieu.
GALERIA ESTAÇÃO OPENS ITS COLLECTION TO PRESENT
“AGOSTINHO BATISTA DE FREITAS – MASTER OF THE STREETS”
Opening on May 12, the exhibition brings together around 20 canvases by the self-taught painter who dedicated his art to portraying the urban landscape of São Paulo.
After a 14-year break Galeria Estação will hold a new solo exhibition by the painter Agostinho Batista de Freitas (1927-1997). Entitled “Agostinho Batista de Freitas – Master of the Streets” the show can be seen between May 12 and June 11, 2022. Curated by critic and professor Agnaldo Farias it brings to the public a selection of approximately 20 canvases by the artist, which are part of the collection of gallery owner Vilma Eid.
Vilma was an admirer of the painter, who was revealed to the visual arts in the 1950s by the director and founder of Masp, Pietro Maria Bardi (1900-1999). She met Agostinho in the early 1990s. “I had already acquired a few of his pieces but we had never met in person. Short, stocky, somewhat sallow he had great mastery in the art of expressing himself through his compositions, especially in portraying the landscape of São Paulo”, says Vilma, who had held a large exhibition with his works in 2008.
About the motivation for this new show, Vilma says that since the exhibition at Masp (December 2016 to April 2017) Agostinho's paintings had never returned to the exhibition circuit of museums and galleries. “That's why I decided to present this one now, and bring again to the public some canvases by this self-taught artist who, poetically and with mastery in the composition of urban perspectives, in the capture of everyday scenes and in the harmonious use of colors, reproduces the most different angles of the city. A work that remains current and surprises us with the simplicity of its iconography”, she evaluates.
This characteristic of Agostinho's legacy, that of taking everyday scenes to the canvas, was what caught Bardi's attention when he came across the electrician selling his drawings near Viaduto do Chá (Chá Viaduct). Immediately, the experienced critic and collector was sure that he was facing someone who could give up everything to dedicate himself only to painting. After giving him oil paints, brushes and canvas, Bardi commissioned a paint of the view of São Paulo from the top of the Banespa building. The painting, which remained with Bardi until his last days, was the seal for the artist’s first solo show at Masp, in 1952, at the age of 25.
Regarding the works that are part of the new exhibition by this artist, whom he considers extraordinary and calls “Master of the Streets”, Agnaldo Farias recalls that Agostinho traveled through the city of São Paulo, taking stock of sites, urban sections and buildings that he believed to be the most prominent. “Despite the preservation, albeit attenuated, of the human drama of those who inhabit large cities, the set of paintings presented in the exhibition today is more solar than those carried out in the first two decades of its trajectory of evident expressionist extraction”, anticipates the curator, who also included in this show landscapes far from the metropolis.
“If Agostinho's adherence to the city was unrestricted, the same could not be said of his interest in rural life. The artist went from the center to the outskirts, to the highways that connect the cities to one another and even to the countryside, which did not interest him much, but to which he returned because of commissions, apparently in greater numbers than those for urban paintings. About this unforeseen part of the production, Agostinho said he did it from memory, which, changing into offal, meant that it was irrigated by the imagination”, contextualizes Farias.
ABOUT AGOSTINHO BATISTA DE FREITAS
The son of immigrants from Madeira Island, he was born in 1927 and raised on a farm in Paulínia, then a district of Campinas. There, he worked in the fields until the age of 11 and studied only until the third grade. After the death of his mother, he moved with his father to São Paulo. In São Paulo, he worked as a bricklayer's helper and was an employee of a toy factory, from where he was fired for drawing during working hours. After specializing as an electrician, in his spare time he sold his paintings in the central region of the city, where he met Pietro Maria Bardi. Despite having the center of the metropolis as a muse of inspiration for his paintings, he also portrayed the outskirts of the city, such as the Imirim neighborhood, where he lived, and scenes of everyday life and leisure from less favored parts of the capital, such as amusement parks, children flying kites and even June festivities. He died in São Paulo in 1997.
ABOUT AGNALDO FARIAS
He is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo.
He was general curator at the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, in Curitiba, at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake (2000/2012) and at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro (1998/2000). Curator of Temporary Exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo (1990/1992). He was the general curator of the 29th São Paulo Biennial (2010), of the Brazilian Representation of the 25th São Paulo Biennial (1992) and assistant curator of the 23rd de São Paulo (1996). He was also the International Curator of the 11th Bienal de Cuenca, Ecuador Biennial (2011), of the Brazilian Pavilion of the 54th edition of the Venice Biennale (2011) and General Curator of the 3rd Coimbra Biennial, in 2019. In 1994 he was awarded the “Best Retrospective” from the São Paulo Association of Art Critics – APCA, for the Nelson Leirner Exhibition, and in 2011, the Maria Eugênia Franco Award, from the Brazilian Association of Art Critics – ABCA, for the best curatorship.
ABOUT GALERIA ESTAÇÃO
With a collection among the pioneers and most important in the country, Galeria Estação was established in 2004 in São Paulo, Brazil, and inaugurated a curatorial program serving a wide-reaching community of non-canonical artistic voices. Its performance was decisive for the inclusion of this language in the contemporary art circuit, when the gallery edited publications and held solo and group exhibitions under the eyes of the main curators and critics in the country. The roaster, which started to occupy space in the specialized media, has also conquered the international scene by participating in exhibitions such as “Histoire de Voir”, at the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain (France), in 2012, and in the “Between Two Seas – São Paulo | Valencia” biennial, in Spain, in 2007. Emblematic of this international performance was the solo exhibition of “Veio – Cícero Alves dos Santos”, in Venice, in a parallel show with Venice Biennale, in 2013. In Brazil, in addition to some solo and prestigious group shows, the gallery's artists are featured in important Brazilian collections and institutions of great prestige and recognition, such as the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, the São Paulo Museum of Art, the Afro Brasil Museum (São Paulo), the Pavilion of Brazilian Cultures (São Paulo), Instituto Itaú Cultural (São Paulo), Sesc São Paulo, MAM – Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro and MAR, in the capital of Rio de Janeiro.
AGOSTINHO BATISTA DE FREITAS – MASTER OF THE STREETS
When: 5/12 to 6/11
Where: Galeria Estação
Address: Rua Ferreira de Araújo, 625 – Pinheiros, São Paulo
Opening: 5/12, from 2pm to 7pm
Gallery opening hours: Monday to Friday, from 11am to 7pm; Saturdays, from 11am to 3pm; Closed on Sundays
Phone: +55 11 3813-7253