Antonio de Dedé
First I got to know the work, and then the artist, only recently.
It was with Maria Amélia and Dalton that I saw Dedé’s works for the first time. I followed his work for years, as I usually do, and I was able to confirm the incredible talent of this humble man who transforms trunks into highly spirituous beings, full of fantasy. Living in the dry backlands of Alagoas, in the location known as Lagoa das Canoas, he creates Sereias, which is one of his favourite characters, as well as St Francises, St Georges, Bird Men and another host of figures from his rich imagination.
In 2012, with his participation in the project known as Stubbornness of Imagination (Teimosia da Imaginação), comprising a book, a documentary and also an exhibition at the Tomie Ohtake Institute, Antonio de Dedé has become known in the South of the country. By an interesting coincidence, that very same year his work was selected to take part in the exhibition known asHistoire de voire at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, France, being part of the catalogue of this exhibition. Apart from his participation, his works were acquired and are now part of the collection of that prestigious institution.
Almost unbelievable, don’t you think? This is recognition of talent: Antonio de Dedé in the right place and at the right time.
At the beginning of July 2013 I finally went to visit him. We went over there with Germana Monte-Mór, with her camera ready to record the events that unfolded during our visit, and also Roberta Saraiva Coutinho, invited to be the curator of this exhibition.
I was captivated by Dedé’s humbleness. Living in absolute poverty, surrounded by his five children and also his grandchildren, he shows an unshakable happiness in living. A natural chatterbox, always with a smile on his lips, he gets really emotional when he talks about his wife who passed away, leaving him to bring up their children single-handedly. However, he carried out this task with flying colours. The family is extremely close-knit. One of his sons came to work in Ribeirão Preto, a city in upstate São Paulo, but could not bear to be far from his family. He returned after only a few months. He said that the rents were very expensive and that he didn’t see any reason to be far from his family. This is how they live, all close together and working.
I invited Dedé to come over for the opening of the exhibition at the art gallery. I also invited one of his sons to come with him, but this was not possible. He came up with a salvo of excuses, mainly alleging that the boys kept him busy and that they could not be left alone. In this case, the “boys” were almost thirty years old... It really comes down to a fear of flying.
After all, this is the work of Dedé. Full of colour, with a sprinkling of humour and fantasy, just like our artist really is.
I hope you like him as much as I do.
Opening: 12 September 2013, runs through to 31 October 2013
Antonio de Dedé
Antonio de Dedé – Antônio Alves dos Santos, aged 59, widowed, the father of five children and the son of Dedé Lourenço, lives in the hamlet of Lagoa da Canoa, which is next to Arapiraca, famous for its tobacco industry, in a rich region within the agreste area of the state of Alagoas, forty kilometres from the São Francisco River and 150 kilometres from the state capital.
A man with a generous smile, he comes to the door and invites you in. Inside the dark house, a white St Sebastian, long and some two metres high, calls one’s attention. It seems out of place. This is the announcement that the fusion between daily life and the imagination is the key to understand an artist who mixes up children, animals, legends, devotion and nature. At the rear of the unpaved Yard, a covered part of the tiles protects the wooden trunks on show. On the roof, a dog with the habits of a cat contemplates a dozen or so windmills that don’t stop turning.
Antonio never leaves his house, and never leaves his children behind, and there was no way we could entice him into coming over for the opening of the exhibition. So far I imagine what impression his coloured pieces would cause if assembled in a white gallery in São Paulo.
The first pieces of Antonio de Dedé were made for play pursuits: cars, toy aeroplanes and tops. However, it was at the age of twelve or thirteen, when he started to play at a pottery factory, that he started to use mud and “burn the little dolls close to the tiles”. It was from there that came the ducks, dolls and horses, all modelled, burnt and painted. This was how it all started: “In my work, I was discovering gold”.
However, the world was changing and the pottery unit was slowly closing down, and then, with the scarcity of mud, the artist started to use wood, a common path trailed by other popular artists who started with modelling and then moved to carving. His first pieces were of very small size, still like a toy, such as the Small Horse with leather ears, the Ballerina with plastic eyes and the Parrot with pink wings. However, it was in the longer figures of the Bull and the Tiger, both long with short limbs, that he announced the future proportion – long and stretches – of the future works of the artist.
Only much later would the pieces gain substance and size, and then were established in a verticality of curious proportions, of rich expression. and colour, which remind one of the figureheads that once came out of the bows of the ships in the São Francisco River.
In Lagoa da Canoa, wood no longer exists. There is a need to bring it in from afar, and the artist uses logs of all types of wood: jackfruit trees, red eucalyptus, sucupira, roble and manilkara trees. “Fixing” wood, as he says, hard wood, because “there is no hard wood, but there are soft sculptors”. And the work is really hard, because Antonio takes a long time to finish a large piece. Production is small, and each piece is made to last. It is as he says, “you have to be ‘coiful’ in this work, it’s real responsibility”.
“I must not run in my career, I spent my days working here, this is my job, just like any kind of heavy work. Here I pick up the raw wood – when I finish working on a piece of wood like this, it is a piece, a character or ‘personage’. Any ‘personage’ that I decide to construct, I identify it when it is finished. Then, when I finish carving the piece, it is not the same log as before, the piece already has some transparency, as indeed does any other living thing.”
A tooth, bulging eyes, painted nails, eyebrows, moustache and nose: all details are well defined, and each character is coloured, friendly, normally vertical, like a lamp-post or a totem, a beam, in a way that the extremities get compressed through their minuteness. There is a contrast between the lengthened body and the small feet; the endless arms and the hands that sometimes shrink, attached to the trunk, and sometimes project themselves outside the beam. At the other extreme, when the scale is reduced, the limbs once again take on their normal proportion, which comforts the eyes, but yet does not fail to surprise through their dramaticity. This is all full of colour – and vibrant, popping colours, full of contrast. When, very rarely, there is a lack of colour, then there is a reinforcement of the richness of the veins of raw wood.
In this formal universe, there are characters that are dear to the artist. You just need to see the number of saints, mermaids and animals. This is a mythical universe, which invokes an interaction with nature. This is a transparent relationship – to use an expression always uttered by the artist when talking about the shape that reveals itself.
This symbiosis between human and nature is in the saints, especially in St Francis which carries birds on his head and in his hands, and mythically integrates these two worlds. The same issue is in the “domesticators” of nature represented in the figures of the Peacock Messenger or the Man with the Siriema – in this last figure there is a vertical merger between the two characters, and bird and human become one.
This vertical and circular narrative, similar to Baroque columns, becomes more evident in the case of St George, in which the whole story is told at once: horse, human, spear, dragon, death, valiance and courage are all well told in each piece, like a victory in one act. This narrative exuberance of the image of St George contrasts with the more economical features of the mermaids, that appear with false arms, holding a mirror, or sometimes with a straight and smooth body without limbs, but full of colour. Once and again it seems that the wood makes economy of form easier, and the artist avoids limbs and adornments.
There is a whole group that warrants attention: the promise heads, which the artist produces to order. Each of these has its own personality, but two sets seem to stand out – the one in which the painting is clearly visible and another one which is marked by a kind of willpower of wood, which persists in the final version as carved by the artist. Here, there is an approximation to the popular universe of ex-votos, the “sculptures of faith”, very common in the Brazilian Northeast.
It can be said that the works of Antonio de Dedé fit the concept of popular art like a glove, especially if this moniker is associated to the sense of the artist having rural roots and also a marginality in relation to the market for mainstream art – but also fits other labels, observing the complexity of a cosmogony of its own in the foreground. It can be given other names and could be seen under other theoretical schemes but, to avoid falling into a trap regarding the order of the reducing concepts, I hereby invite you to see the work from close up.
Hermeto Pascoal. Hermeto Pascoal Live – Montreux Jazz (1979). Record 1, side B. Lagoa da Canoa.
Hermeto Pascoal. Lagoa da Canoa Município de Arapiraca (1983)
 Daniel Reis. Expressions on wood - the Antônio de Dedé Family. Rio de Janeiro: Natural Centre for Folklore and Popular Culture /IPHAN/MinC, 2010 (exhibition catalogue), page 28.
 Institute of the Imagination of the Brazilian People - org. Stubbornness of Imagination: Ten Brazilian Artists. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2012, page 14.
 “Here, in the beginning, there were plenty of peacocks. I like to look at nature. it is a guide for the birds, an estimator of function. It teaches the birds to progress through time. The peacock is a modern bird, a fun bird, a happy bird from rural areas. This is a countryside bird. This is nature.” – interview on 30 June 2013.
 “He is a domesticator. The siriema is a well progressed bird, a laid-back bird. I made a man by domesticating it” – interview granted by the artist on 30 June 2013.
 “’Hey, see a moon of that over there?” There is St George and his horse, it is all perfect. “The people say that St George does not exist, but I explained that he is so fine that from here we can see the ray of the horse over yonder. He is a warrior saint, and is everywhere, between good and evil, pushing away all evil powers, making the people clean.” – In: Institute of the Imagination of the Brazilian People, org. Stubbornness of the imagination: Ten Brazilian Artists. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2012, p. 13.
 Lélia Coelho Frota. A small dictionary of the art of the Brazilian people, 20th Century. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, 2005, page 180.
ANTONIO DE DEDÉ: sculptures
AT THE ESTAÇÃO ART GALLERY
Opening: 12 September 2013, runs through to 31 October 2013
Under the curatorship of Roberta Saraiva, the Estação Art Gallery presents a collection of 38 sculptures, in the individual exhibition of Brazilian artist Antônio de Dedé (born in Lagoa da Canoa, State of Alagoas, 1957) who, in 2012, took part in the collective exhibition known as Histoires de Voir, organised by the Cartier Foundation in Paris, and the Stubbornness of Imagination project – a book, a documentary and also an exhibition at the Tomie Ohtake Institute. A self-learner, Mr de Dedé learnt art by watching his father work on wood in carpentry activities, and says he has a “transparent relationship with his creation”. In his opinion, his skill is a skill which arose from his wish to re-create the works of his father. The result of this incredible inherited talent can be seen in this set of unusual pieces which are part of his reality, including animals, effigies of saints, and human figures, in different colours and sizes, ranging from 50 centimetres to 2 metres tall.
Antônio de Dedé started to carve when he was 8 years old, creating toys such as toy cars, aeroplanes and tops, which he would sell in his neighbourhood. In his teens, his work started to develop when he started to work in a brickyard, where he would use the earthenware to “burn the figures together with the tiles” and, as a result, ducks, figures and horses, duly modelled, burnt and painted, started to appear. “At my work, I was discovering gold”, the artist said. As time went by, the brickyard gradually ended, and Mr de Dedé started to use wood as the main raw material for his sculptures.
Always with a lot of colour, it is possible to find smaller pieces with limbs of natural proportions, but the work of this artist is characteristic, with normally vertical sculptures, in which the lengthened body with small feet and endless arms with shrunken hands generate a striking contrast. In the opinion of Roberta Saraiva, “the parts have gained form and shape, and have also become established in a verticality of curious proportions, with richness of expression. and colour, which remembers the figureheads that in bygone days would appear on the bows of the ships on the São Francisco River.” With teeth, bulging eyes, a moustache, eyebrows and painted nails, each detail of the characters sculpted by Mr de Dedé is extremely significant.
The expression. of the carving and the drama in each piece are important characteristics in the works of Antônio de Dedé, work that, according to the curator, “fits the concept of popular art like a glove, especially if this is related to the sense of the artist’s rural origins and also his magnitude in relation to the art market – but also fits in other categories, if we observe the complexity of an own cosmogony in the foreground.”
Antonio de Dedé (Lagoa da Canoa, State of Alagoas, 1957)
Antônio Alves dos Santos, son of Dedé Lourenço, lives with his 5 children in the village of Lagoa da Canoa, which is 150 km (94 miles) from the state capital. He started sculpting toys at the age of 8 and discovered earthenware when he went to work in a brickyard. As happened with many popular artists, he shifted to wood as earthenware was hard to find. His first works were still of a small size, remembering traditional toys such as the Little Horse with leather ears and the Parrot with pink wings. Then came the figures of the bull and the tiger, long yet with reduced limbs, announcing the “stretched” proportion of the artist’s future works.
Antônio de Dedé - Sculptures
Opening: 12 September 2013, at 7 p.m. (guests)
Runs until 31 October 2013, open from Monday to Friday, 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: 0xx11 3813-7253
Pool de Comunicação – Marcy Junqueira
Service: Luana Ferrari
Telephone: 0xx11 3032-1599