Approximations, woodcuts of Fabrício Lopez and J. Miguel
The main aim of the Brazilian People’s Imagination Institute (Instituto do Imaginário do Povo Brasileiro – IIPB) in showing the differences and similarities was what led us to these two artists. Fabrício hails from Santos in the state of São Paulo, while J. Miguel is from the Pernambuco town of Bezerros. The former is defined as erudite; the latter, as popular. Both are woodcutters and met when we decided to show the works of both these artists at the Estação Art Gallery. We sent Fabrício to Bezerros and there, throughout a period of 7 days, he exchanged with J.Miguel experience with the work by both of them, returning with some paintings by two people in his baggage, something unprecedented until then. We do hope that our boldness is rewarded by the acceptance of the visiting public at the exhibition. In any case, we and the artists are already fully satisfied. Managing to bring together what seems to be so different: this is what is most gratifying for us.
Lessons in simplicity
What are these two doing here, together?
Except for the form of art to which they have both been dedicated, that of wood cutting, they have very little in common. On the verge of reaching the half century of life, J. Miguel, the Pernambucan José Miguel da Silva, lives and works in the small town of Bezerros, a city with 60 thousand inhabitants and which is about one hundred kilometres from Recife, the state capital, and what he produces is normally considered to be popular art, full of regional themes and also characters of the regional folklore and of the Brazilian Northeast. Fabrício Lopes, in contrast, has just turned thirty and lives in a much more cosmopolitan location, in São Paulo and also in Santos, where he was born. What’s more, even though he does not like the label, it is as an erudite artist that most people see him, rather than for the University titles which he has in his curriculum vitae. J. Miguel carves small images into the wood, and such images are often limited to 16 x 11.5 cm which is the size of a cordel sheet. On the other hand, Fabrício, who is an engraver coming from painting and creation of scenery, is more and more concentrated on larger formats, such as the 2.20 m x 4.80 m of one of his works shown in this exhibition.
If they are together here, this is because of their differences – so that, placing them side by side, there is a search for approximations between the work of one and of the other.
In this proposed dialogue, we started from scratch: the two artists had never met before the end of January this year when, with a view to a possible joint exhibition, the first contact between them was arranged. It turned out easier for Fabrício to make his way to see J. Miguel in Bezerros rather than J. Miguel to go down to Santos, to the spacious studio that the young colleague has above an old building in Valongo, the neighbourhood where the city started to be created 464 years ago. In his luggage, he transported an idea which would widen the scope and the reach of the exhibition: initially imagined as the juxtaposition of the two universes, the popular and the erudite, Fabrício wished that a bridge could be built between them, in the form of xylogravures which were created by both people working together.
This was the ambition that kept both artists busy during six long days, during which they worked from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon, sitting at a long table in the Serra Negra Cultural Centre in Bezerros, alongside the BR-232 motorway which connects Recife and the city of Parnamirim. This was not exactly an art studio, but rather an old printing press which was restored in 1986 by J. Miguel’s stepfather, José Francisco Borges (1935), better known as J. Borges, who was the founder and central figure of a true dynasty of wood cutters – more than this, he was the main person responsible for the conversion of the city of Bezerros into an important hub for the creation of popular art. Now, the ugly bungalow is more of a shop than a studio, being cared for by the artist children of ol’ man Borges, who rarely drops by, removed, albeit still active, a few hundred metres further on, along the side of the same motorway, to a memorial that bears his name.
Fabrício got to Bezerros bucked up at the possibility that joint experience could make a contribution to dilute the borders between the popular and the erudite – frontiers that, in his opinion, are more of “something imagined, something created”. In his opinion, “there are images that work and others that do not; there are original images, which sprout out from a creative impulse, and also mechanical images”. For the young artist and professor, “things are sorted out in the images”.
If, for him, those frontiers are something at least disputable, on the other hand this was not a case of trying to ignore the differences between his own work and that of J. Miguel and also between the creative processes of one and of the other. He came thinking like this: “I play jazz, and he plays the baião, well, let’s go, let’s do a jam, bring the two together and see how the cookie crumbles”. This would mean, of course, each person having to leave his or her traditional trail – a dislocation which, so Fabrício thought, could be highly positive, as this could bring out in both a stimulating “discomfort” which often sprouts out from “adverse situations”.
Even though he was confident, Fabrício did not delay in realising there were difficulties ahead. To start with, J. Miguel was not exactly thrilled with the possibility of producing wood cuttings together with another person. In the solid school of J. Borges, this is not how one should work. In fact, everything was different between himself and the man who had just arrived from the South of the country, from the repertoire to the paper that was used for printing. Among the studios of Bezerros, only foolscap paper was used – a far cry from the sophisticated alternatives that Fabrício took in his luggage, the Fabriano Rosaspina, in cotton, and also the variations of kozo, a Japanese type of paper made from the long fibres of a shrub.
Neither, as J. Miguel made known right at the start, was ideal for the printing methods that were current in Bezerros, where, instead of a printing press, there was the use of a wooden spoon and a well-engineered “cart”, as the instrument was called, by which hose cylinders crossed by a metal axis would roll and press the paper to reproduce the image.
And that was not all. According to the local customs and culture, the colours in a woodcut would never overlap. This is what J. Miguel learnt by seeing his stepfather work, and this is how things were when, at the tender age of ten, for the first time he carved wood to create a wood cutting. Or even before, as the ol’ man Borges informs, remembering Miguel when only five years old, testing images on the surface of scraps which were collected on the floor of his father’s studio. That was his school, and that was his luck, that of growing in the shadow of a master – which, as is well known, he did without the benefit of any shadow, when aged about twenty, in sheer self-teaching without any assistance, through the need to illustrate cordel booklets to earn a living. “I got into art in the dark”, J. Borges normally says – and, to prove that he is not exaggerating, he has a story to tell: when he had been working for some time, he never even suspected that his art was called woodcutting, he had to go to the dictionary when he heard the word for the first time.
Everything that J. Miguel knows was learnt from his stepfather who, when almost fifty years old, and with modesty that is not to be taken seriously, still declares himself as a “trainee” – and also, having learnt from him, never put one colour over another.
This is not the path trailed by Fabrício Lopez who, on the contrary, likes constructing an image through successive layers of colours that sometimes add and other times cancel each other out. In his opinion, there is a play element here, often guided not by the intention of getting somewhere but rather by the like for adventure. Regarding the possible intervention of other hands in his work, he thinks that this could actually be welcome. He says that he has often created things together with other young artists, in the group projects he has participated in since he was very young, such as the Espaço Coringa, in São Paulo, essential for his grounding. This is something that he encourages, for example, at the Acaia Institute, also in São Paulo, where he has a woodcutting studio under his responsibility. Fabrício is convinced that this way it is possible to reinforce individuality while, at the same time, promoting a well-dosed dilution of the author.
“What can come of the join between us?”, he asks. “What can arise from something that is not mine nor yours, but which is a constitutive part of what we are both creating?” This discussion is actually didactic, he says, to the extent that it helps the artist to “construct a work that has health, that is not incarcerated in itself”. Fabrício explains: “It helps to know when you give a solitary dive, manage to get to the bottom and collect that most precious shell and then, already getting short of breath, bring it to the surface and when, on the contrary, you depend on others to solve problems that you would not be able to solve alone”. This act of doing together, says Fabrício, “is very important in creation, also to avoid creation of strongholds of ego”.
It is by no means easy, as he himself was once able to confirm during those days in Bezerros – during which, indeed, there was no shortage of obstacles to overcome. One of these, a practical problem, was that of getting materials for digging. After traipsing round the city for a long time, all that was found was pieces of piquirá, a hellish wood with hard flesh and which, to cap it all, was not entirely dry. Well different from the cinnamon-blond which J. Miguel is so familiar with, and even more from the incomparable umburana, or imburana, which is a soft and co-operative wood. However, all they had was piquiriá, and with this wood the two artists started to work, and slowly things started to move forward. “I shall prepare a background”, Fabrício suggested at one end of the table, “and then you make a picture to be superimposed into mine, in the foreground”. The risk, he remembers, is that this could lead to the appearance of pictures of natures so different that they could actually be incompatible, “like water and oil”.
But this was not the case: on Fabrício’s red flower, J.Miguel’s hummingbird landed smoothly, in what could be the most successful of the four woodcuts that they created together in Bezerros. “It had to be a hummingbird to work out”, J.Miguel cheered, finally embarking on the adventure that made him worried at first, and which for Fabrício Lopez was no less gratifying. “This is a kind of cliché”, he says, “but these are real lessons of simplicity: seeing how other people understand and do something that you also like doing so much.”
Approximations, woodcuts of Fabrício Lopez and J. Miguel
This exhibition in the Estação Art Gallery seeks to establish encounters through the differences in the works of these two Brazilian artists, of different origins and artistic schools, as well as revealing an adventure painted in four hands. “They have very little in common except for the art that both dedicate themselves to, which is woodcutting”, comment curators Humberto Werneck and Germana Monte-Mór. Their view is that, if J. Miguel and Fabrício Lopez are here it is exactly because of their differences, “so that approximations may be sought between the works of one artist and the other, when these works are put side by side”.
Initially imagined as a joining together of two different universes, the popular and the erudite, this exhibition awoke, in Fabrício Lopez himself, an interest in proposing the construction of a bridge between himself and J.Miguel, through woodcuts created by both. From then on, the artists, who at the end of January had just met, worked together for six days in a special workshop, a former printing press, conceived by J. Borges in 1986 in the city of Bezerros, one hundred kilometres from Recife, a city which is now an important production pole for popular art. From these sessions arose the 4 woodcuttings with double signature that are in the exhibition together with 18 works by J. Miguel and 23 by Fabrício Lopez. For the artist from São Paulo State, the joint experience played a part in diluting the borders between the popular and the erudite which, for him, “are more like something created, imagined”.
J. Miguel (José Miguel da Silva), aged almost 50, lives and works in the small town of Bezerros, a city with 60 thousand inhabitants. His art, arising from the teachings of his stepfather, J.Borges, is full of regional themes and also characters of the regional folklore and of the Brazilian Northeast. Fabrício Lopes, in contrast, has just turned thirty and lives on the São Paulo/Santos axis, and is considered an erudite artist, for his work and academic presence. While J. Miguel carves small images into the wood, and such images are often limited to 16 x 11.5 cm which is the size of a cordel sheet. On the other hand, Fabrício, who is an engraver coming from painting and creation of scenery, is more and more concentrated on larger formats, such as the 2.20 m x 4.80 m of one of his works shown in this exhibition.
Exhibition: J. Miguel and Fabrício Lopez
Opening: 19 May at 7 p.m., running until 7 August 2010
Mondays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Admittance Free.
Estação Art Gallery
Rua Ferreira de Araújo, 625 - Pinheiros
Telephone: ++ 55 11 3813-7253
Marcy Junqueira – Pool de Comunicação
Contact: Martim Pelisson
Telephone: ++ 55 11 3032-1599 Fax: ++ 55 11 3814-7000