In 2004, the São Paulo State Pinacothèque had a major and important exhibition of the works of Gilvan Samico. Aside from beautiful woodcuttings, several frames were also shown, to our delight, each one being a true sculpture of its own. Marcelo Araújo, who was already the museum director, called me asking how I felt about having a meeting in my home to honour Samico, Celida (dear Celida, wife for over 500 metres…), his family and some friends; Imagine asking this to me? Those who know me know that I’m the party type, and also the happiness I feel when I open my home to welcome my friends. This was a great night of meetings, reunions and liaisons. Moments we never forget. In January 2012, a friend gave me a still-unlaunched book, Samico. What a surprise! What a great surprise!” I had never even heard that this work was being carried out and later, talking to the author Weydson Leal, I knew that he had been working on it for six long years. A beautiful book published by Editora Bem-Te-Vi, worthy of the artist’s work. I immediately called Samico, who I had not spoken to for some time. I congratulated him, and immediately invited him to have an exhibition and, on the same day, launch the book in São Paulo. In the beginning, he didn’t really take to the idea. “Oh Vilma dear, you know I don’t really like this exposure stuff”. I rebutted straight away: “So we are going to commemorate life and also this beautiful book”. I think I got it right then. He liked the idea and things started to progress. At the end of April, Germana Monte-Mór, with her photographic equipment, and I spent the day with him in Olinda, in that magnificent 17th Century house next to St Benedict’s Monastery, from where, looking out from the studio terrace, one can see yards with mango and breadfruit trees and, just over there, the sea. The refurbishment of this house, says Celida, was designed by Samico himself and, “just see”, he calls us over “as we see his woodcuttings in these passages”, showing windows and eaves inside the house. It is a privilege and a joy for Roberto and I to show Gilvan Samico. This is another step in our history, in the still short history of the Estação Art Gallery.
THE ART OF A MASTER
Faced with an engraving by Samico, the first feeling one gets is that of enchantment and strangeness. His pictures, carefully carved out on wood and printed on paper, are records of a private world which is at the same time intimate and universal, and hence also human. This humanism, reflected in symbolism and figures, would be clearer or less distant for those who recognise it with sensitive thought, long before the erudite framework. Yes, the erudition is there, stored in each and every line in the drawing, hidden under the black ink or in the colours that are opened as underlined phrases to clarify a meaning. The framework surrounding these scenes is a window to mystery, and in this mystery all landscapes are mirrors of their inventions. Hence we conclude that what is really present in a Samico engraving is poetry – the same poetry that can only find expression in its personalities and constructions, as also in plots and scenery.
If I am faced with a picture like Hunting, of 2003, I recognise that the Native Brazilian in the scenery is myself. My intention, with the bow in wrist seeking the already-hit fawn, is an act of survival and gets confused with the innocence due to the fact that he is also game. Like what happens in the triangle of a food chain, the fawn at the top of the set is just one vertex of the chain. In the scene – or scenes -, while the fawn and the Native Brazilian appear unmovable in their gestures, a moving eagle appears, and is the only figure that goes between the different environments of the narrative. We shall never really know who is the hunter, and who is the prey. In this picture, which brings together all the kingdoms of life, in which the human, the animal and the plant have their spaces glorified, only the figure of the fawn and the Native Brazilian receive absolute white light, without any markings, suggesting that this similarity brings them together in the tragic destiny of all victims. The eagle – we shall consider that this bird is an eagle, although it could also be a hawk, a condor, a harpy eagle or a crested caracara, both sovereign and heraldic, goes to the inside of the scene while the Native Brazilian and the fawn aim at the external infinite, seeming to be the only one is that is aware of, and has control over, its action. Only it has its body decorated, and its feet, head, chest and wings carefully worked as if in hierarchical homage. Its power becomes clear, in a final analysis, using an amplified scale that puts it in prominence, allowing a new interpretation of the title of the work considered.
The mystery or the multiplicity of meanings in the scenes created by Samico arise from what Ferreira Gullar called “dreams, delirium and poetry”. Even so, as Gullar well points out, we wish to decipher them, or better, in fact we don’t want to do so, as we need to preserve the enchantment and the enigma”. It is this enigma that survives in The Hunt and also in many other titles where Samico operates with fantasy as his arsenal of plots and characters. It has been known for a long time that the source of this fantasy has been the traditional cordel style of literature which, in a second phase of the artist’s development, served as a kind of bridge for an oniric and private world as from the 1980s. At that moment, his readings of mythology texts of other cultures came onto the scene, especially the study and the re-creation of myths found in the narratives of the Memory of firetrilogy penned by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. One of the best examples of this re-creation is the picture The conquest of fire and grain, finished in 2010, with extremely rich colour details. This picture also has a special characteristic which is quite rare in Samico’s works: the lack of the human figure throughout the scene. Under a large bird carrying a flame or a flower of fire, elements such as the rain, corn plantations and floods surround a lizard that points to the ground. All are symbols and characters of a legend by the name of Power, read by Samico in Eduardo Galeano’s trilogy. In this uncommon narrative, a character called “The Stingy One” has the grain and the fire and also, as the only supplier of food to the people, supplies the grains already burnt, so that no-one can plant them. One day, a lizard manages to steal a raw grain, “The Stingy One grabbed it and scraped its mouth and the fingers of both hands and feet; however, she knew how to hide the grain behind the last tooth. Then the lizard spat the raw grain out, onto everyone’s land. These scrapes have left lizards with enormous mouths and very long fingers.” The legend also says that one day, during a fight with the Stingy One, a parrot stole the source of fire, “a lit ember”, and fled to the woods, hiding the flame in the hollow of a tree. (Any similarity with the mythological character Prometheus just reinforces Samico’s idea that a universal mythology re-creates itself in different civilisations.) In an attempt to put out the flame and punish everyone, the evil character “beat his drums and triggered a deluge”. The story also says that, due to the effort to save the fire, the parrot’s beak was “short and curved” and that “the white mark of the burn can still be seen”. In the engraving The conquest the fire and the grain, Samico has reproduced nearly all the elements and people involved in this parable: the two animals (the hieratic parrot has green and yellow plumage, which is characteristic of this species), two cobs or corn, one corn plantation, a tempest and the fire, all ordered by the human species. Curiously, the leading player in this whole study, the Stingy One, does not appear, and his absence shows the express condemnation to which he was subjected by who graphically re-creates the legend. This means that the engraving is an ode to their heroes.
Samico’s creation process is meticulous and takes a long time; indeed, he has taken over a year to finalise one single engraving. Recently, he said, in a rare lecture in which he spoke for a long time about his work, that he could prepare three of four engravings, or however many he wanted, within a year. However, it became clear that this was just proof of his sense of humour. In reality, before the definite drawings on wood, a series of preparatory studies are prepared, as well as variations of details, experiments at different sizes, inversions, suppressions, all generally starting in minor roles, until reaching the final work which shall be printed. As a rule, this work takes months. In each version, often there are radical changes, in a quest for obsessive balance. Within its process, time has a peculiar reasoning. When I once asked Samico why the time taken for the execution of an engraving was uncertain and, from the first studies to the printing, he said: “I don’t know how to work with time frames, under pressure. I am afraid of going crazy”. So I then realised that he was not referring to time as duration, but rather as a reason for his freedom.
The printing of each engraving is entirely manual, done by him alone, and the number of copies for the engravings carried out in recent years may reach 120. “It is important to know that there are artists who only proceed with the drawing and ask someone else to do the engraving. I myself draw, engrave and print.” The long time taken for this work is also due to the fact that, apart from the black colour that prevails in his work, coloured details are also added. In these cases, the time taken to print one stroke in colour is never less than two hours per unique copy (exemplar). I here use the word exemplar rather than cópia (copy) because, as Samico well explains, just like in the case of a book, each printed engraving is an original in itself, ad if a minor detail in printing makes it different from the others – provided this does not negatively affect them -, before distinguishing it, enriches is, making this exemplar truly unique, as every book should be.
One of the secrets for printing quality and durability of an engraving is the paper used. Samico recognises that there was a time when he felt greater ease in finding paper specifically for painting, and also remembers a certain kind of paper made from remains of linen fabric. The tissue, once transformed into a paste, brings a material of unrivalled quality. He says that what has been commonly called “rice paper” is just that paper made from the fibre of a Chinese plant (rice paper), in the same way that paper is made from bamboo, mulberry plants, banana trees, and others using vegetable fibres. In terms of origin, the one he uses comes from Japan. Of almost artisanal production, here the paint sticks better, the printing is soft, something which is very rarely seen on the best industrialised paper, be it produced in Brazil or anywhere else. However, this is not the only thing that provides a firm and dry faultness stroke. A fine stroke, without printing accidents, is due mainly ,to the quantity of oil present in the paint. If the paint is too oily, then this creates a yellow halo around the limits of the printed line. It must be mentioned that paint used in printing is not the same oil-based paint used for ´paintings. This, when applied to printing, slips too much, and does not attach properly.
Also before the paper itself, another essential material for the execution of a xylogravure is of course the wood. Samico knows, like very few other people, the specific features of woods from several different species and also, in most cases, can identify them by touch, smell and colour. When he had not decided on the specific type to be used for his work, he used everything, even pieces of fruit boxes. This was the suggestion of Lívio Abramo, one of the masters of Brazilian engraving, with whom Samico studied in 1958, in São Paulo. In his lessons, for financial reasons, Lívio would only use linoleum, bur was never against those who wished to experiment with the wood and even encouraged the student from Pernambuco: “Walk down the alleyways that cross São João Avenue and you will find some apple boxes, thrown away.” This was how Samico started to have material for his first woodcutting work in the capital of São Paulo, Soon he considered that that fibre was excessively soft and hence made work difficult. Even so, he managed to do some engravings with strokes that were unbelievable for such conditions. One cannot talk of an ideal wood for woodcuttings. Indeed, Samico says that “the best wood is that of each person”, but the ideal situation would be to always have some pequiá-marfim, a hardwood that stands the most delicate of cuts without breaking. This was the species most commonly used by Osvaldo Goeldi, another engraving giant in Brazil, during his stay in Rio de Janeiro soon after leaving the course given by Lívio Abramo.
In the sawing room he has in his own home, a beautiful 17th Century house in Olinda, in Greater Recife, Samico keeps samples of different types of woods. On all sides the smell is strong and unusual. A piece under the table is smelt like a flower is smelt. “However, there is the one that makes you sneeze, and when this is passed through the machine you feel bitterness in the mouth, and stinging in the throat”, he says. After showing several samples, he gets involved with their colours and textures. “Here I have many different types of wood. For example, this one here is jackwood, which is not ideal for my engravings as the fibre is complicated. However, I can keep it and then use if for something else. Termites hate me because I have always been competing with them. Things that are thrown away in other wood sawing units, I keep”.
However, in the process for execution of engravings, the most unusual characteristic is that of the tools. Samico is also a creator of gouges and special tables, and we can call him an “industrial designer” of modern engraving. Over the years he has developed his own working instruments, starting from needs observed in the exercising and in the enhancement of his techniques. Through this, he became a creator of his own “machinery”, in the same way as the Renaissance artists or even older representatives. It is known that in the 14th Century, based on wooden blocks used for printing fabrics, the first paper printing came about, with wood cutting also starting at that time. In this process of discoveries and enhancements, as from the 15th Century there was the appearance of the first specialised workshops, in which special tools for printing were created. Five centuries later, Samico recovers a tradition of inventors.
Out of all types of engraving, maybe wood-cutting is the type that brings together most peculiarities, not because of the difficulties compared to other techniques, such as etchings, drypoint and the burin, but rather due to the specificities of the most important raw material, which is wood. This having been mentioned, like in the history of Western engraving, Lucas Cranach, Hans Holbein, Rembrandt, Piranesi and Goya have been marks of our high culture – the two first-named being great woodcutters -, and names like Picasso and Morandi have ensured the excellence of modern printing. In Brazil, Osvaldo Goeldi, Lívio Abramo, Rubem Grillo, Marcello Grassmann and Gilvan Samico are canonical artists. Samico, in wood cutting, and Grassmann, in metal, are now the major engravers in the history of Brazilian Art.
Observing an engraving by Samico, allowing myself to consider coexistence with the characters while I look, makes my day feel better. One minute of observation about his creations reignites my ability to fee, to see beyond the walls of reality, and I can also reinvent what would just be a man, faced with these walls, because there is a window to fantasy., At the moment when I face this universe with animals and figures, that travel along Samico’s fantastic world, I open the dialogue in which the other element is his poetry, and each of his engravings is a dream which I achieve through glass.
Weydson Barros Leal
The Pernambucan artist shall be coming to São Paulo to open this exhibition at the Estação Art Gallery, which brings together 16 of his works, produced between 1992 and 2011, and two painted models so that the public may appreciate his careful work project. Creator of a unique work style, Gilvan Samico in wood carving introduces a multiplication of human and animal reigns, and oniric compositions which, split into series of xylogravures, have entered his name on the list of grand masters of Brazilian art.
With his work produced in his home studio in Olinda, the member of the Armorial Movement, which is the brainchild of Ariano Suassuna, also stands out in the general panorama of engraving, being one of the few artists that draws, engraves and prints his work, all this being done manually. “Dream, delirium and poetry”, as Ferreira Gullar defined the work of the engraver, are constructed with so much technical compliance that each colour never takes less than two hours to be printed. Biblical characters, as also characters arising from local legends and tales, such as fantastic and mythical animals, are an element in the work of this artist, in which erudition comes out of popular culture.
According to Weydson Barros Leal, who writes the text of the exhibition catalogue, the pictures created by Samico, carefully carved into wood and then printed on paper, are records of a specific world which is intimate and universal art the same time, and thus also human. “This humanism reflected in symbols and figures shall be clearer, or less distant, for those who recognise it with sensitive thought, well before the mere erudite framework (…) erudition deposited along each stroke of the drawing, hidden under black paint or in the colours that open up as phrases underlined to shed light on a specific sense”, he completes.
In 1952, together with other artists, Gilvan Samico (1928, Recife, PE) founded the Collective Studio of the Modern Art Society of Recife (SAMR), which had been idealised by Abelardo da Hora ever since 1924. In 1957, he studies xylogravure with Lívio Abramo at the Handicrafts School of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (MAM/SP) and then, the following year, with Oswaldo Goeldi, at the National School of Fine Arts, in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
In 1965, he relocates to Olinda, and teaches wood carving at the Federal University of Paraíba – UFPB. In 1968, with the trip abroad obtained as an award at the 17th National Modern Art Event, he stays in Europe for two years. In 1971, he is invited by Ariano Suassuna to be part of the Armorial Movement, aimed at North-eastern popular culture and cordel literature.
At the opening of the event, WMF Martins Fontes shall be selling the book Samico, with a text by critic Weydson Barros Leal, and preface by Ariano Suassuna, Editora Bem-Te-Vi, 96 pages, R$ 190.00. (After the opening of this exhibition, the book may be purchased at the Martins Fontes bookshop, at Av. Paulista, 509 (in front of the Brigadeiro Underground Station), Telephone ++ 55 11 2167-9900 – www.martinsfontespaulista.com.br)
Opening on 26 June at 7 p.m. (for guests)
Runs through to 31 August 2012, Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – admittance free.
Estação Art Gallery
Rua Ferreira de Araújo, 625 – Pinheiros SP
Telephone: ++ 55 11 3813-7253
Pool de Comunicação – Marcy Junqueira
Contacts: Marcy Junqueira and Martim Pelisson
Telephone: ++ 55 11 3032-1599