Many years ago, on a trip to Minas, I inadvertently went to a house in the countryside and then, in the yard, I saw a lot of children perched upon a tree stump, all of which with tools in their hands, strongly hitting wood on a small piece or iron, that did not constitute a chisel. Once in a while, a man would get up from a chair on the porch, go over to the tree stump and reorder the children, some over there and others over here, then make some remark and the children would then return to their normal knocking activity.
I didn’t know that I was at Artur Pereira’s house.
I hope I manage to talk about what I saw and see in these sculptures and in the exhibition with the same simplicity with which I went over to Artur’s house.
“What we see of things is things.
Why wouldn’t we see one thing if there is another?
Why is it that seeing and hearing would deceive us
If seeing and hearing are seeing and hearing?
The main thing is knowing how to see,
To know how to see without thinking,
To know how to see when you see,
And not think when you see
Or see when you think.”
(Fernando Pessoa writing as Alberto Caieiro)
Hands speak, move, sing and tell, about a world that does not yet exist.
It is not here, but there. It is a gesture, a movement of construction, of giving shape, of bringing together the beat of the heart and the flow of blood. The sound of digging into wood, which brings such distant worlds together.
The hands protect the mild part of the blood, which is very different from the one that stirs up the movement of the hoe on the soil, from sunrise to sundown. This protected world is far beyond those places that the eyes can see.
These gestures, repeated ad infinitum, bring the eyes close to the ears, making it possible that the world protected in the heat of the heart may construct channels through which shapes and weights, lights and shadows, materialise perceptions.
The husbanding of the soil, the rudeness of gestures, the whole wasting of the body, have not seemed to eliminate the sweetness meaning of the growth of plants, that would be engraved in the hands of each and every sculptor.
We all know of the pain of growth, and there is a legend that the song of the cicada is a song of pain, because moulting is an extremely painful process. However, we would like to imagine some happiness in the song of the cicada. The conquest of the necessary serenity to coexist in the hard life of farming in the field is made stronger for the preparation of a dream world. Between the movements of the hoe on the arid soil and the bang of the chisel, the length of the field to be tilled or hoed, and the full compact bang, dreams and thoughts get solidified.
In the harshness of daily life, the song says “My house is behind the world, where I go in a second when I start to think. Thought seems something unimportant, but how do we start drifting when we start to think?” Behind the hard and peely hands of the farm worker, the soil and the hoe create the melody. The hand of the artisan is a hand of dreams, a second that expands when there is a start of sculpture, and the continuous movement builds more sensitive worlds.
The farm working man builds new life possibilities with his body, and his hands, in symbiosis with the soil, makes food. The artistic man preserves the imaginary work of this handling and builds a world which is either ahead of, or short of, the long arduous process of plant growth. In the fable of the cicada and the ant, the artist would be the ant, who stores senses, shades and dreams, so that when the sun goes down the tiredness of the body foes not erase his most subtle impressions.
For this man, there are not many topics to discuss beyond existence itself. In his linearity we could say that there is a way to mould the soil, occupy the land and occupy time. I see sculptures as a form of resistance, a movement for superimposition of the human element over nature, from the refusal of what is primitive and crude, from digging and giving shape to the world and to himself as an individual.
The sculptures as here presented have similarities and differences, and are all executed in wood. Most of them are carved in circles and repetitions. Wood, the circle, the repeated movement of the figures that are superimposed on the gesture of digging get associated to the origin and the creation of the world. The story of the sculptor gets prolonged in the continuity of the veins of wood and also, in the roundness of the forms, ends up constructing an ideal world in which the vein is a linking bond. We have one piece and a format comprising many images; these are not different images or even different parts that come together, but rather one single rounded and continuous universe, like days within the time scale of these sculptors.
The precision of gestures and manual dexterity are not easy to see. The shapes that have been built with precision are a result of the peculiar relationship with time and also the way they live. It is through this gesture that the human species establishes human individuality in the world, standing out from nature. The shapes and the movement of the sculptures are a bit like the slow repetition of daily activities. Time is nothing more than itself, very monotone and constant like the circular row of animals that Artur Pereira presents, or the human dots in GTO circles.
The GTO sculptures remember Bosch, in the accumulation of people, almost stylised, who appear to fight for their individuality by participating in a collective act where the movement created by the position of the figures creates a the movement of the circle or the whole part, remembering the movement of the world.
In an ideal imagination, where many people who are amicably linked divide and determine one single piece of wood, the marks of the adze or the chisel are not natural but rather a resource which covers the delicateness of the figures and the relationship between them.
In GTO and Valdir’s sculpture, the crude gesture is still apparent, while the shapes get coated in the crude part of the material. This finish, which appears to be unfinished, results in a hard and disconnected rhythm.
Different from Artur’s sculptures, animals, trees and tree trunks get detached from the crudeness of wood and highlight the veins, adding a visual force to the continuity and the oniric aspect of the parts. The visible veins create a rhythm of steady and smooth lines.
Here, wood speaks with its most sensitive and profound characteristics. On the surface, it speaks for itself rather than through human action. In some place, possibly in animal features or the excessive length of the bodies, their sculptures remind me of Chagall, with skies where figures, angels and nature dance as if they were in a separate world.
A separate world which, within this group of sculptures, is a world consisting only of these different parts without individual weights and measures.
In both cases, tree men and animal wheels, they all have the same origin and also the same nature, which is this unique way of creating a cohesive unit of a spacious yet harmonious world, spacious as nothing would prevent this movement from extending to infinity in columns, in Artur’s case, similar to those of Brancusi. This way there would be perfect union between earth and sky, as an ideal status of relationships between humans and deities.
In GTO circles, one thing that comes as a surprise is the hanging chains, elements that are strange to the whole of this movement which was created through the rhythmic accumulation of human figures which balance themselves in communion between people, leading to a need to put the brakes on the movement, then the wooden stumps give the complex so much plastic strength that one would not be surprise if a centrifugal movement appeared there, taking it out to infinity. These are people who help each other, cooperate, and also create a movement dividing forces. This is a world of companionship.
Jadir is the most monoblock of the three. These are figures that repeat themselves and would probably not separate from the wooden stumps. Different from the other two, here the figures consider the blocks as parts thereof, and the issue is, as I see it, more a matter of erasure, of so many people that we see, it would be very difficult to treat them individually. Jadir’s main issue is more like a man-to-man matter, and in his statements it was the carving of the wood that saved him from a situation of depression, and his daughter speaks of the emotion he felt when he heard the tuc-tuc sound and thought that his father’s heart started beating again.
Jadir created a legion of human beings, all with slight roundness, being more formal and square, and thus less human, but in the same way as GTO are co-operative people who help each other out in the sustenance of the weight of the world or of themselves. In plastic terms, the shape is of the whole, which means that it is the addition and ordering of the faces that the shape and weight of the sculpture appears.
In some works, Jadir gives greater details of faces, but these have always been connected to a greater mass which gives weight and also an appearance of bidimensionality.
Finally, we have Artur’ columns, where animals appear in individualised fashion. There is the appearance of hierarchies, and the trees or trunks are nothing more than a plastic element seeking independence of mention. Animals occupy different places, creating a strange spatiality without a centre or an axis. The rhythm is constantly changing, and there is longer any one set rhythm, based on the trunks, and looking from one side is no longer almost the same as looking from the other. In this way, Artur seems to be authorising me to invent his own laws and his own origin, superseding the natural and predictable movements of round works. Here the sculptor gains freedom to act beyond the laws of Nature, and it is the sculptor himself or herself, in the battle with the imaginary, who goes as far as the materials and the balance allow.
Taísa Palhares - The soul, the eye and the hand: three sculptors from Minas Gerais
"The observation of an artist can attain an almost mystical depth. The illuminated objects lose their names: shade and clarity form systems and also private problems that do not depend on any science, that does not allude to any practice, but which receives all its existence and also the full value of certain unique affinities between the soul, the eye and the hand of a person born to surprise such affinities in himself or herself, and also to produce them.” (Paul Valéry)
Ever since my first contact with the creations of Artur Pereira (1920-2003), GTO (1913-1990) and Jadir João Egídio (1933), one thing that called my attention was the acuity of their respective plastic expressions. The sculptures suggest an intimacy of a relationship constructed based on continuous slow and accumulative observation of things and of the world.
On bringing them together in one same exhibition, the idea was to exploit, through the double exercising of approximation and distancing, the singularity of their complex and composite structures. As such, these parts signal the presence of a tradition that, without amounting to a school as such, is in a way anchored to the regional culture of these artists who, let us not forget, have experienced a considerable artistic heritage, even though they lack a formal education in Art.
Here we perceive the marks of the inventiveness of a hybrid culture in which humanity and nature, spiritual and earthly dimensions of existence, are in deep symbiosis. To a certain extent, it is impossible to decipher the meaning of the compositions without knowing the reference universe which is provided by the communities to which they belong. As workers who have dedicated part of their lives to farm work or other types of manual labour, and who, in their free time, participate in religious activities common to several communities, their works are unthinkable without this experience. It is also worth stressing that, differently from some propositions often charged with artificialism of “contemporary art”, they do indeed implement continuity between art and life, between the individual and the collective, to the extent that they return, without any proselitism, the creator potential of each and every person.
One thing that is quite impressive is the way each of them works with wood on these complex pieces. All three sculpt out of whole blocks that, even after being carved, still preserve something of their original format, which may seem trivial at first sight but which in reality shows a special aesthetic sense. It is not difficult to imagine how different they would be if they were constituted by the joining of separate parts, even when the parts are completely filled in.
What seems to be at stake here is a notion of unity of and with matter, in which raw wood is worked based on shapes that the wood contains and suggests to the artist. In this sense, everything in the case of these major parts, from format to particular surface aspects, results from a timid relationship between the creator and his or her monoblocks, in a relation of mutual respect.
Artur Pereira started his career path by sculpting isolated figures of animals, in clay. Born and raised in the town of Cachoeira do Brumado, Minas Gerais, his first set was of a hunting scene and, soon after, a small Nativity Scene in cedar. Since then, he started to work with dense wooden blocks, working on compositions that are based on his experience of rural life.
Animals, trees, plants, hunters, cowboys and herds of cattle are all part of the imagination present in his compound sculptures, whose preparation leads to hollow columns and branch structures. There we see the same synthetic drawing of robust volumes and rounded edges of their unusual unitary figures.
In their joint sculptures, there is a prevalence of near-total integration between the parts of the whole, but without each figure losing its strong sense of individuality, as one of the small columns present at the exhibition shows. On the one hand, its spiralled and rising rhythm orders the sense of the composition.
However, to reach this effect, the artist does not forsake an infinite repetition of the same parts, different from what many popular creators do. On the contrary, when we take a walk around this part, we see that one face is never like the other, and that in this concert each animal plays a role, in its singularity.
Especially in the branch structures, there is an interesting variation in the size of the animals, which generates an inversion of the illusion of traditional perspective. The felines that are at the top of the branch structures are, as a rule, strangely larger than the animals and the human beings at the base, suggesting a strange yet highly expressive asymmetrical relationship.
In this regard, we can say that the boxed Universe² as proposed by Pereira keeps the opening of multiple arrangements, showing a generous look that did not seek to represent the natural world based on an impervious hierarchy.
In a simple and singular manner, he explains about the extreme unity which was a guide as to the way he acted:
“I never finished a piece different from what I had thought. I finish things the way they come into my mind. I never change anything. If something else comes to mind, I get another piece and do whatever I was thinking about, whatever comes to mind. However, whatever I started needs to be finished.”
These words contain a concept of indivisibility of the imagination and also of matter, and the first cannot materialise without the participation of the second. In his case, the choice of the “wrong” block would mean putting the imagined idea at risk, as the accomplishment thereof depends on the completeness and the entireness of the act of doing. With his subtle intelligence, Pereira sees in the peculiarities of crude materials, with trunks and ramifications, the possibility of new compositions which at the same time mimic and recreate nature.
It is also this concept of an indivisible and simultaneously multiple world which seems to animate the sculptures by GTO and Jadir. As artists who carried out their respective work projects in the city of Divinópolis, State of Minas Gerais, firstly there is an effective closeness between them who, different from the case of Artur Pereira, tend to dedicate their work almost exclusively to religious themes, even though these appear as a mixture between elements of Roman Catholicism, Native Brazilian rites and also Afro-Brazilian culture.
Having started his career with a “revelation” in a dream, GTO regarded artistic activity as a kind of divine mission, and also considered that within the peculiar gearshift system that interconnect the terrestrial and spiritual planes, the human figure would stand out. For this reason, his hollow structures are formed based on a rich human plot which expresses a cosmogonic view of the world in which Paradise and Hell appear as places which are constantly changing.
The recurrence of certain elements in their sculptures makes us believe in knowledge, albeit unconsciously, of an ancestral symbology. The union of circles, which is in itself a powerful symbol of time and completeness, as well as representing the cosmos and the spiritual world in a wide range of cultures, is the most significant structure that characterises the pieces by GTO. Seen from afar, they are reminiscent of the curves and ornamental arabesques of an important antient Oriental tradition that, faced with the ban on representation of human beings, was able to juggle a plethora of shapes and decorative forms inspired by the natural world, in order to express the experience of the supernatural.
Midway between humans and lines, the human network that completes and connects the living circles of GTO transmits that expression of unity which otherwise is an element of the spirituality of the artist himself. However, it is also worth noting that he shies away from the idea of absolute symmetry. On seeing these pieces of different angles, we perceive a variety of positions and scenes that are often overlooked to inattentive eyes.
Within a somewhat repetitive structure, the artist gives shape to a wide variety of events, and this makes the delicate hollow structures represented by GTO keep a powerful centrifugal force, able to add tension what could become an excessively pacified total.
In Jadir’s case, sometimes the hyperbolic repetition of similar pictures affects the grandeur of the pieces. However, in general the dry and vigorous cut recovers, for the surface of its compact columns, the energetic and concentrated power of its actions. This way, the cut acquires an essential plastic function, as it restores to the observer the creative tension of doing.
As in the case of Artur Pereira and GTO, he also produces his works based on dense monoblocks sculpted equally on all sides, thus obtaining a carefully turned out set of fittings, based on the interdependence of the parts of the set. However, on producing less hollow spaces than the other artists, its components have the heavy appearance of monumental sculptures.
The hieratic characteristic of his works, often manipulated in relief form, show affinities with the austere traits of Romanic art. Only rarely does Jadir work on the tridimensional aspect of the figures. For this reason, even though he deals with wood, at some moments his work achieves the hardness and resistance of stone, which is a typical material used by the artists of that period.
A certain realistic lack of concern allows the artist to lay out the images, as those primitive anonymous artists did, based on intricate symbolic and ornamental criteria. To a certain extent, this freedom emancipates him from the need to imitate the natural world, enabling him to transmit, with greater vivaciousness, a dramatic feeling regarding the supernatural. Taísa Palhares
¹On the concept of “a boxed world” in popular art and its consequences for the understanding of the work of Artur Pereira cf. “Artur Pereira: a unified and porous nature” by Rodrigo NAVES (IN: Arthur Pereira – sculptures. São Paulo: Moreira Salles, 2009, page 26).
² Apud Arthur Pereira - sculptures, op. cit., page 107.
³ According to researcher Lélia Coelho Frota, "the major repercussion of the sculptures by GTO, back in the 1960s, encouraged other artists from Divinópolis to produce and show their work". Jadir relocates from the rural to the urban part of town in 1960s and started production in the late 1970s, after an accident which made him unable to carry out any tasks which required a lot of physical strength. After some sculptures made in firewood with a pen-knife, he paid a visit to GTO who taught him to use other tools (FROTA, Lélia Coelho. Small Art Dictionary of the Brazilian People – 20th Century. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano press, 2005, p. 245). All the biographical information as mentioned are based on this book.
4 – According to a statement made by the artist, he was already doing his sculptures in his “dream” before doing it in wood. “After the first I continued, then I had been dreaming that I was doing Christ, so I did Christ on the Cross, carrying the Cross on His back. This was a promise that God gave me, and I carried it out. (apud FROTA, Lélia Coelho. Mitopoética de 9 artistas brasileiros. Rio de Janeiro: editora Fontana, 1975, p. 131).
Minas Gerais Sculptors: Artur Pereira, GTO and Jadir João Egídio
The triumvirate of Minas Gerais artists, Artur Pereira (1920-2003), Geraldo Teles de Oliveira – GTO (1913-1990) and Jadir João Egídio (1933) are brought together in this exhibition which, through approximations and distancing between the respective productions, shows the singularities of these popular masters of wood sculptures. Acclaimed by the critics, the trio shares the virtue of doing and also enhanced plastic sensitivity, characteristics that can be checked out in the 14 large exhibits on show in the exhibition. “Their sculptures suggest the intimacy of a relation which is constructed based on steady, slow and accumulative observation of things and also of the world”, says curator Taísa Palhares.
Supported by regional culture, the three do their sculptures based on whole blocks that, even after they are carved, keep some of their original shape. The relation between human and nature, the spiritual and terrestrial aspect of existence, according to Palhares, remain in close symbiosis with the artistic expression of each sculptor. “As workers who have dedicated part of their lives to farm work or other types of manual labour, and who, in their free time, participate in religious activities common to several communities, with their festivities and rituals, their works are unthinkable without this experience […] they do indeed implement continuity between art and life, between the individual and the collective, to the extent that they return, without any proselitism, the creator potential of each and every person”, the curator explains.
Artur Pereira, born and raised in the town of Cachoeira do Brumado, Minas Gerais, started his career by sculpting isolated figures of animals in mud. After sculpting a small Nativity Scene in cedar, he started to work with dense wooden blocks, working on compositions that are based on his experience of rural life.
Animals, trees, plants, hunters, cowboys and herds of cattle are all part of the imagination present in his compound sculptures, hollow columns and branch structures. There we see the same synthetic drawing of robust volumes and rounded edges of their unusual unitary figures.
In the case of GTO (from Itapecirica, Minas Gerais) and Jadir (Divinópolis, State of Minas Gerais), both having carried out their respective work projects in the city of Divinópolis, there is an effective closeness between them. Different from the case of Artur Pereira, “they tend to dedicate their work almost exclusively to religious themes, even though these appear as a mixture between elements of Roman Catholicism, Native Brazilian rites and also Afro-Brazilian culture”, Palhares remembers.
Having started his career as a sculptor with a “revelation” in a dream, GTO regarded artistic activity as a kind of divine mission. This artist, who participated in the São Paulo Biennial Exhibition in 1969, 1971 and also in 1975 with a special room, as well as the Venice Biennial Exhibition in 1978, places the human figure in a prominent position at the intersection of the terrestrial and spiritual planes. “For this reason, his hollow structures are formed based on a rich human plot which expresses a cosmogonic view of the world in which Paradise and Hell appear as places which are constantly changing”, the curator explains.
In Jadir’s case, in general the dry and vigorous cut recovers, for the surface of its compact columns, the energetic and concentrated power of its actions. “The cut acquires an essential plastic function, as it restores to the observer the creative tension of doing”, Palhares analyses. In addition, according to the curator, the artist subtracts imitation from the real world and transmits it in their sculptors a “supernatural dramatic feeling”.
Marcy Junqueira – Pool de Comunicação
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