I met Alcides in the early 1990s. He had just arrived in São Paulo, coming from Mato Grosso where he had been living since 1950. He was born in Bahia, and this succession of changes of landscape had an influence on his work.
In São Paulo, he came to live with a daughter in an East Zone shantytown. This new dwelling caught my attention because I imagined the significant changes occurring in his life and also in his mind. After living in a place where nature is abundant, he started to live with the crawling traffic and the terrible pollution of our city.
Alcides was a very humble man, with a lot of faith and a good personality, something rare to come by these days.
In his first year in São Paulo, I felt that his work found this new habitat very strange, and that he was looking for a habitat where he could recognise himself. I would go to his home nearly every month, to watch him work and also to acquire his paintings, and I felt that he was still in the search phase. However, I wanted to encourage him to press on, as everything I saw showed me what a great painter he was.
One day he came to meet me, bringing a painting depicting an aeroplane. I was very much surprised, as this was a new element in his work. The aeroplane was wonderful! Everything was marvellous: the composition, the colours, the geometrism – everything was very well dealt with. This heralded the start, among Alcides’ works, of a long series of paintings about means of transport: lorries, motorcycles, aeroplanes and trains. So he left behind the beautiful Mato Grosso landscapes, and once again found the path that, I felt, he had been seeking intuitively.
I would buy all his works, and slowly I managed to introduce him to the difficulties of the São Paulo cultural circuit. His paintings were present at the Rediscovery Exhibition, 500 years, at the Biennial Foundation of São Paulo, in the popular art section. Alcides started to be better known, and his work started to be admired.
In 2007, with the Estação Art Gallery already operational, I felt it was time to have his first individual exhibition. He came over, and was very happy to meet people who admired his work. He received the acclaim of the Press, by means of an excellent article in the Caderno 2 section in São Paulo’s leading newspaper, the O Estado de S. Paulo, signed by journalist Camila Molina. However, he was already extremely frail, and only three months later he passed away! It was very sad indeed!
Alcides did not live to see the continuation of the acclaim about his talent. In 2010, Paulo Sérgio Duarte, who is now the curator of this individual exhibition, and who was then already an admirer of his work, put him beside a work by Nuno Ramos in the exhibition known as Arte Brasileira: além do sistema. [Brazilian Art: Beyond the system]. In 2012, his paintings participated in the exhibition Histoire de voir at the Cartier Foundation, and are now part of the institution’s collection. Later in 2012, Alcides’ works participated in another group exhibition, this time in New York, at the Andrew Edlin Gallery. There are also works by Alcides in the collection of the Pinacothèque of the State of São Paulo, in the Afro Brazil museum and in the Brazilian Cultures Pavilion, as well as in the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM-RJ), in the Gilberto Chateaubriand collection.
For all this, this exhibition has a special meaning to us. This is a final and fitting tribute to Alcides Pereira dos Santos, who was born in Bahia in 1932 and died in São Paulo in 2007.
Exhibition about Alcides | paintings
Alcides’ Poetic Machines
Paulo Sergio Duarte
The picture always takes up the painted surface, almost right out to the edges. Flat, supported by a sophisticated geometry that rules out any naïve aspect of the work. Alcides intuitively incorporated the planar truth of modern painting which is present in much of his work, through to the last pictures. As he works with imaginary machines inspired by means of transport, in the case of the works chosen for this exhibition, the work requests a duality between picture and background. In the end a suggestion of volume appears, but this is nearly always flattened, attached to the surface. A kind of frontalness law, as so significantly present in the painted figures of Ancient Egypt, is applied, but these are closer to the profiles of modern technical drawings. This structure shall be activated by a varied palette.
Observe any of the pictures here present – one depicting motorcycles, such as Turismo of 1999. The invented machine imposes itself, from top to bottom and from one side to the other, occupying the whole painting area using relatively few colours – orangey yellow, black, brown, read and a bit of pink on the rear mudguard. Straight lines and well-crafted curves draw the physiognomy of the coloured machine but, in the meantime, another event, entirely diverse from the commemoration of transport technology, appears in the rear. This is a small flowery festival in blue and white: a similar event repeats itself in the work Fessi, of 1996. Strict contours of straight lines and curves describe the machine without any excess details. This is a lorry with a self-carrying crane which draws a triangle so as to completely occupy the surface. The mechanical gadget once again reaches out to all edges, placed on a base on which we could guess the projection of another vehicle as seen from above, but this is already a highly imaginative speculation. As always, Alcides’ invention goes against our common experience. The rectangle which corresponds to the bodywork is in vivid yellow, only interrupted by the three axles of the machine. The cabin is the object of a geometric graphical exercise. The blue background appears like a sky with many small clouds, once again contrasting, in its freedom of expression, with the strictness of the drawings and the colour of the technological object.
In order not to return to Leonardo da Vinci and his formidable imaginary engineering in an attempt to anticipate possible technological achievements of humanity, we just need to return to the 19th Century and remember the architecture of the engineers who, before the architects themselves, had exploited the plastic potential of steel, creating formidable structures such as the Crystal Palace (1851) in London, by Joseph Paxton, we have passed through several major feats culminating with the commemorative gratuity of the Eiffel Tower (1887-1889). Art and technique have been together on several adventures and, in the second decade of the 20th Century, the Italian Futurists would, awe-struck, present their praise in artwork, especially through the speed provided by motors, and the dissection of human and animal movement, allowed by the new photographic studies of Marey or Muybridge. The centre of plastic interest of the futurists lay in speed or in the discovery of animal movement, provided by the sequential images obtained from a camera. Alcides sees his machines as completely static technical models, as if they were ready to leap out of the screen and become a form of reality in the world. They are completely sovereign and thus take up the whole space of the painting, thereby restricting the receiving environment to a secondary role. Maybe for this very reason, this environment or background is given a contrasting pictorial treatment. This monumentality that Alcides’ machines acquire is unprecedented, and we have not found any similar occurrences, even in popular or erudite art.
In 2007, the Estação Art Gallery, under the leadership of Vilma Eid, presented an exhibition of Alcides’ works and also issued a small catalogue with texts by Lélia Coelho Frota and Roberto Rugiero. The artist would pass away only days after the exhibition was opened. It was there, in the printed document, that I first came into contact with the paintings by this artist, which really caught my attention. Three years later, visiting the rich collection of the Estação Art Gallery, in São Paulo, I was able to have direct contact with the work. The virtual force which was present in the graphic reproduction of the pictures in the catalogue grew, and very much so, in rare power, in this meeting with his real materiality. Now I have the opportunity, together with the perseverant and attentive Vilma Eid, and artist Germana Monte-Mór, to participate as curator of this exhibition of Alcides’ works. Taking into account the generous space of the Estação Art Gallery and also the scale of the works, I have only selected pictures of motor vehicles for this exhibition. I am well aware that Alcides’ paintings are much more varied, and that the collection held by Vilma Eid also includes, among others, the architectural paintings which show, even more clearly, the geometric structures that sustain the artist’s works.
I hope this exhibition shows the poetics of an artist from a rural background who knew how to establish a unique empathy with the mechanical characters that he would find in the cities.