Neves Torres | Paintings
My first contact with the paintings by Neves Torres gave me the feeling that I was facing the work of an artist who lived in another sphere, different from the one we live in. His calm colours, landscapes with lakes, mountains, animals and, once in a while, people with faces of animals led me to believe that the artist was surely a rural man. I was wrong, but I only found this out when I read, on his personal file, that he lives in the city of Vitória, in Espírito Santo.
He deserved and won the acquisition prize which, I later discovered, took him and his family by surprise. This was his first ever participation in an event.
The year was 2010; the place, the Brazilian Naïf Biennial promoted by the Social Service for Commerce (SESC) in Piracicaba. I was on the panel of judges and, together with two colleagues, had to choose a first prize winner from some 800 work projects put in front of me… a daunting task!
I returned from Piracicaba determined to visit him. I had to know him to understand his paintings. I asked two friends to go with me, and we went on this small adventure which left my head full of fantasies and also respect for Neves Torres’ way of life (I am unable to call him Neves, not even Torres…).
His son Francisco was waiting at the airport and took us straight to his home, where his father, artist Neves Torres, was waiting for us. A beautiful family, closely knit, well-structured and also very happy with the sudden conquest of the family patriarch.
The story is simple. Father and son worked in the building trade and the son painted for pleasure and also to provide assistance for a painter. When his father retired, the son, concerned, bought some canvases, paints and brushes and gave them to his father to pass the time away. His father’s paintings surprised him, and then he decided to take two of the paintings to Piracicaba, where Neves Torres ended up the winner.
After this first contact, I started to select and purchase several of his works, as I always do when I meet a new artist. He painted his works, then would send them to me; I would keep a few and return others. However, his work was growing in such a way that I started having difficulties to return the poorer works. Well, I thought, the time has come to show them off.
Tiago Mesquita felt the same enthusiasm as on the first contact with the paintings, an enthusiasm that was even further reinforced when I visited him at his home in Vitória.
The decision having been made, Hervé Chandès, the director of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, was at the gallery to select some artists and their works to participate in the exhibition known as Histoires Vraies (True Stories), to be opened at the institution in Paris, France, on 13 May 2012. Among many others, he selected six paintings by Neves Torres, which thus kicked off his career with an individual exhibition in São Paulo and a collective exhibition in Paris!
We at the Estação Art Gallery are happy to be able to share this special moment with you all.
Neves Torres was born in Conselheiro Pena, in the Doce River Valley, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. He also lived in many other places, and lived for a long time in Mutum, in the same state, where he started adulthood, started a family and worked in rural areas.
Mutum has already been a setting for stories by Guimarães Rosa. In “Campo geral”, the writer describes this small settlement in a simple yet broken manner. Based on the voice of some anonymous personality who passed by the town, he said that that part of the world was “a beautiful place wedged between the hills, with quarries and a lot of forest; it’s far from anywhere and rains a lot.”
I don’t know to what extent this Mutum of the character Miguelim is like the Mutum of Neves Torres, but in the works of the painter everything shows scenes of this beautiful and remote place, characterised by what Nature made of it. His written description is simple and does not describe anything, but lists what the character found in Mutum. The descriptions made by the strokes of Neves Torres on each branch are also direct. The beauty lies in the way how these simple strokes bring back such precise memories of the rural environment, in such an original way.
The text tells us about some parts of this place. There are stones, there are woods and rain, but nothing seems to take up a set space. There is a hill, then a certain place, and then another hill. In the pictures, we also see different animals, different minerals, several types of plants and people, and a “lot of brush”. Just like the text, the pictures also show somewhat detached pictures, individualised and isolated, so much so that it seems difficult to reconstruct one same scenario for the grazing land, the cattle, the houses and the plants.
In the work of Neves Torres, these items also seem to be in unusual pieces of land. If they are not physically distant, as in what Guimarães Rosa describes, they could be distant in time. The feeling that we get is that this is the image of somewhere and nowhere. The artist brings his figures together as if he was joining parts of the world that remained in the past and that were narrated or imagined. Even though one is beside the other, they may not be in the same place yet, however, they are, but rather in the work of art.
In one of the paintings, for example, the lighter hue of green can be at the back when there is a closed forest. Beside, a darker green appears where that forest is felled by loggers who have bird faces. They take up the same picture but represent different moments in the scene, and do not construct the same place. They relate different places, like who tries to discover the hard link between so many things that have been experienced or imagined.
Neves Torres did not live only in the rural area. He moved several more times and worked in many different professions. The profession that gave him most pride was that of a caterpillar tractor operator. He says that he drove all models, from the oldest to the most modern, from the most difficult and hardest to drive through to the most recent types: smooth to drive and with power steering. He was very good at this job, and his dexterity is told with the pride characteristic of who knows what he is talking about.
For some time now he has been living with much of his family in the city of Serra, in the state of Espírito Santo, detaching himself somewhat from his rural roots. This is a larger city with avenues, close to the motorway and very near to Vitória, the capital of the state. This is closer to the coast than to the general fields of upstate Minas Gerais; more like a multitude than isolation.
Encouraged by his son Francisco, in Serra, he started to paint on canvas. Two of his sons have dedicated themselves to painting since they were young. Neves Torres started in this trade when already a man, less than ten years ago. Since then, he has already participated in important group exhibitions, won awards, and become known within the popular art medium.
He started to paint pictures of the rural world he left behind; a lot of that rural world that the tractor destroyed and remade. In his paintings, the artist tries to remember everything he knew. Some things do indeed relate to the artist’s life memories. The engine room appears in several paintings, as also the mill, the felling of the forest, the cow sheds, grazing land, the cattle grazing, the lake, the fish in the lake, the birds in the trees and the other plants.
There are also things suggesting fantastic and impressive figures. On one screen, two birds were at the top of the bough of a tree, As they appear in the corner, the foliage seems to become a peacock’s tail for each of them. The birds and the tree are integrated into one unit. However, that dark green contrasts with a pink shape that is completely out of blend with the colour of the animal which is forest, and the forest which is animal. About the pink, a house that has been simply drawn suggests a dwelling in the middle of this enchanted nature.
The pictures carry something from the rural medium and also a representation of an idealised peace of country life. It cannot be said that the picture remembers something from the artist’s own life, but the repertoire of forms comes from there, or from something that someone has told and even from a vision based on what he knows.
In general, these are memories that arose when the artist had both his feet in concrete and also in the city’s asphalt. These are memories of a rural lifestyle left in the past, a lifestyle that shall never return.
The best Brazilian country music was also composed by people from rural backgrounds living in cities. They were able to capture the pleasures and the difficulties of the simple life in the countryside. Singing nostalgia for who needed to abandon the place and now remembers the place as paradise lost.
It seems that Neves Torres performs a strongly similar operation. This way, he finds a place full of simpler relationships, where nothing seems to be nearer or further away. None of the figures seems to be more important than the others. These are pictures of small memories, each of which established with the same dedication and as an individual piece of memory, rather than as part of a complete picture.
The tree seems to have as important a role as the person, the fish, the leaf and the flower, but is always an idealised representation of that life. This is a form that makes an option, like in the lyrics of the modas and pagodes of country music, to assign a certain degree of grace and blossom to the harmonic murmur of nature and the friendliness of the country folk.
In the picture, the artist tells about aspects of this life, bringing together figures that seem to be representative of the place. Maybe for this reason Neves thought of such an original way to show us what these places were like. Instead of dedicating himself to the painting of landscapes, shapes in perspective, or the insertion of animals and objects in recognisable scenarios, he brings together a series of isolated pictures in regular coloured planes, different from each other. The articulations between such coloured shapes is what gives the painting its unity.
In one of the strongest works, the artist paints horizontal coloured stripes representing different parts of a country landscape. One blue stripe, then one in ochre, another in pink, another in sandy beige and one in a bluish hue, which does not even get to the right or left margin of the painting. At the top, the whitish blue represents the sky. Below, simple contours suggest the field, the plantation, the plant elements. In the third band, blue spots form decorative circles on a pink base. As a flowery field is perfumed, the neighbourhood of the garden is a village which finished when a lake, or a bluish white shape, begins.
Even though all the elements of a landscape are on the picture, it does not organise the picture as being a view of nature. In the paintings of landscapes within the European tradition, the picture tries to describe this vision, organising it from a specific viewpoint. In this way, artists such as Constable and Ruysdael decide the distance between the ground and the sky, the colour and also the method of painting each element so that it forms a complete picture, representing the same point of view, organised within the perspective space.
Neves Torres brings together loose elements of this landscape. The painting groups the leaves together on flat shapes. The leaves can come from several places. They are together not to reconstruct any place, but as they bring back to memory a meaning of life that seems to be present in all these places.
It is not by chance that the colour element is so strong. Colour gives individuality to each figure, but also brings to these elements a dimension of fantasy. The painter fits in these shreds of colour as if arranging a desirable space. Neves Torres found a way to put all this in the same place, to bring together elements that he saw in different places, and make them so beautiful.
In the 1960s, the recording, by Belmonte and Amaraí, of “Saudade da minha terra” ,composed by Goiá and Belmonte, was a great success. The song, just like the paintings by Neves Torres, constructed an image of the rural area as being a calm place, and affirms the presence of beauty as calm.
In a contrary but tolerant tone, Belmonte sings his disillusions with the promises of the city, when compared with the beauties and the simple life in the field. He started out asking “What point is it for me, to live in the city/If happiness does not come with me”. Next, he listed the beauties of country life. The crying voice talked, in an air of nostalgia, about “See in the dawn, when the birds / Chirping in the dawn, start to sing/With satisfaction I saddle the big ass/Cutting across the road, I start to gallop/And I hear the cattle mooing/And birds singing in the trees”, or “the cockerel singing/ The inhambu chirping in the dark/The silvern moon, lighting up the roadways/The wet grass from the night”. The nostalgia is so intense that, at the end of the song, the singers say that they would return to this place which they abandoned and which they should never have left.
Neves Torres, who lived in so many different places, must miss many of the things he represents in his paintings. He also seems to identify beauty in these happinesses of simple life. Beautiful is this harmonic relationship with nature and his happinesses. Thus, albeit idealised, the image is not that of a better place than the world in which we live, but rather of a place where the most beautiful things that exist are located.
However, different from the song, this place does not exist, or no longer exists. Probably the field that was left behind is no longer the same. The artist can show us all the beautiful things listed in the song, for example. In painting, however, these beautiful things never go away. More than that, they blend in with all the others in a mesh of colours.
 “Saudade da minha terra” (Goiá e Belmonte):
Why should I live in the city / If happiness does not go with me / Goodbye São Paulo girl of my heart / I want to go back to my backlands / See the dawn when the birds / Making the sunrise start to sing / With satisfaction, I picket the large ass / Cutting ‘cross the road I start galloping / And listen to the cows mooing / Thrushes singin’ on the Jequitibá tree // Oh my Lord, my dear backlands / I’m sorry to have left you / This new life here in the city / I have been so homesick that I’ve cried / Here there is someone who wants me well / But it’s not convenient, I’ve thought it over / I live with pity, because this brunette / Does not know the system I was brought up in / I’m here singing, she’ s listening from afar / Someone crying with the radio on // What immense nostalgia of the fields and the brush / Our small stream crossing the fields / On Sundays I would take a ride in a canoe / Atop the beautiful lakes of crystal-clear waters / What sweet memories of the parties / Where there were dances and girls galore / Today I live without any happiness / The world mocks me but also teaches me / I am not happy, but also not defeated / I am well guided by divine hands // I’ve already sent a cable to my mother / I’ve grown tired of suffering / This morning I’ll be on my way / To my dear land that saw me born / I can already hear the cockerel singing / The Tataupa tinamou chirping in the dark / The silvern moon lighting up the roads / The grass that has been wet since the dawn / I need to go to see everything there / It was there I was born, and there I want to die.
Neves Torres, born in Conselheiro Pena, State of Minas Gerais, on 5 August 1932.
He passed his childhood in small cities of upstate Minas Gerais, such as Conselheiro Pena and Mantena, and also lived in the rural zone.
In 1949, he moved to Mutum, also in Minas Gerais. He worked as a mechanic, driver and tractor driver, until he bought a small farm. In this farm, as a farm worker, he planted coffee and also subsistence crops. Memories of this phase of his life are now represented in his work.
In 1963, he was widowed and left the farm, going back to living with his children in Mutum and working once again as a tractor operator.
He also worked for several farms in the region before deciding to move to Vitória, in the state of Espírito Santo. Living in Vitória, he worked as a metalsmith for a while and then returned once again to be a tractor driver. In this profession, he worked until he retired.
After he retired, he sought a new activity to distract himself. In a group of friends, some of them painted on fabric. He decided to give it a go and painted some plate cloths.
One day, he commented with his son that he would like to paint on canvas. His son suggested teaching him, and after painting two works with his son he started his solo career as a painter in 2007. Since the start, he showed a highly personal style of painting.
In 2008, he sent his work to the Naïf Biennial in Piracicaba and here, at his first participation in an exhibition, he was one of the artists selected, having had his work selected for the Biennial catalogue.
Two years later, in 2010, he once again participated in the Naïf Biennial and this time received the acquisition prize.
Neves Torres | Paintings, 16 April 2012 to 19 May 2012. Curatorship: Tiago Mesquita