Alagoas is a wonderful treasure trove, full of excellent artists, especially sculptors who work with wood. João Francisco, better known as João da Lagoa. was born in the city of Girau de Ponciano. He lived his whole life in the rural area of Lagoa de Canoa, which is curiously the same city of another incredible sculptor, Antônio de Dedé, whose work was shown by our art gallery in 2013.
I was introduced to João Francisco’s work by my local friends, Maria Amélia, Dalton and Jerônimo.I started to buy his work, and then bought more and more, building a collection and falling in love with his works. I was getting ready to finally meet him to book a date for his exhibition when I received the news of his sudden passing away at the age of 69. I had waited too long.
This made me really sad, really unhappy, and I even felt a certain guilt complex. He was ready, his work had told me this all along, but the circumstances... I got as far as including some of his work in a collective exhibition which we had organised, dedicated to children aged between 3 and 80, by the name of Artistas e arteiros (Artists and naughty ones), with great success. However, this was but a drop in the ocean compared to what he really deserved.
Despite the fact that João Francisco is no longer with us, the time has come to show the results of his amazing talent. For the curatorship of this event, we have invited poet João Bandeira, who immediately understood the poetic element in the sculptor’s work and accepted the invitation.
I take the blame for him not being here to enjoy the exhibition of this work, carried out with the same care and dignity that have been the guiding lights of our activities in these ten years of existence of the Galeria Estação. So, let us enjoy his work. This is the honour which, albeit too late, I can bestow on him.
João Francisco da Silva - Sculptures Opening: 20 May 2014, at 7 p.m. (guests) Runs until 09 August 2014, Mondays to Fridays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – admittance free.
JOÃO FRANCISCO DA SILVA – A PINO (OVERHEAD)
Gods are born every day / Some larger and some smaller than you // Gods are born every day / Some better and some worse than you // This is the dawn of everything you want to see / Without a shadow at the best time of the sun / Long-lasting eternity with tranquillity then / It’s best if it stays like this.
They say that João Francisco da Silva was a circumspect man, speaking very little and showing seriousness in his job. Living in the small town of Lagoa da Canoa, in the agreste region of the Brazilian State of Alagoas, it is also said that he spent much of his life in rural areas, especially in what is called subsistence agriculture. His was a modest life, in houses with a door and a window, and also, at a certain point, dedicated to the production of sculptures, in an environment in which the population has been involved in major economic cycles of extensive agriculture, since the 19th Century at least.
What I have seen of the production of João da Lagoa, as he also became known, makes one think of one same characteristic people made out of wood – including men, women, saints, mermaids and also some animals. There is not much distinction between those which, on principle, would be special and those which would not. The heart laden with box-cutting knives clearly identifies Our Lady of Sorrows, while the accordion identifies the person who plays this instrument. In all other respects, they are sensitively similar. With one exception of other, the members of this people could be summarily divided into the lanky and the dumpy. However, taking a better look, even within this latter group it is verticality that tends to stand out. Under the sign of containment, nothing expands significantly sideways; nor forwards, nor backwards.
In several exhibits, for example, the arms are attached close to the body, and sometimes only sketched in using low-relief. Even the open arms of an effigy of St Francis has proportions that do not compensate for the effect on the space that is produced by the central log, where the base, the cassock, head and crown are added together. The somewhat neutral features of the saint are a feature that recurs in the other parts, where there is also no prominence of any other parts of the body, as also clothes (when they exist), objects and ornaments that the figures carry with them. Or, when this occurs a bit more often, it is by no means rare that the details appear as if they are encrusted into the main mass – as well as arms, hands, a heart, a tambourine, a rifle, a book and a terço (string of prayer beads). The verticality, low extent of detail, and the prevailing symmetry ally themselves to the very smooth and carefully crafted finish given to the unpainted wood, giving most of them a more compact appearance, almost like a totem, also in the case of some very small exhibits.
The effect of solidity does not lose its strength in those pieces where there is more than one sculpted figure at the same time, with several different symbolic meanings. This can range from faithful people protected under the wing of a saint or a priest, through to couplings that are somewhat enigmatic – at least as seen from the big city – and that, for this reason, seem to warrant even further interpretation. This is what happens with two similar sculptures, from which a human head comes forth, as possibly a “thought”: in one of them, as a branch on which a bird has perched (beneficial ideas?) and on the other taking the form of a head of cattle (even though, in this context, the ox and the Devil do not normally appear in association, but it could be the demo, in opposition to the other part?), and it is also worth noticing that this second character is taking a mobile telephone along (could this be the livestock speculator, duly equipped?). Or that part which, on the same base, a masculine figure with two arms that are not his appears erect and side by side with another figure that is half caterpillar and half snake, half human, but that is also suggestive of a phallus (well, the enigma does not seem that great). Indeed, there are other masculine or feminine figures where sex is not hidden, albeit without abandonment of discretion and reserve.
Therefore, here we have a relative variety of solutions within one same repertoire, with a significant formal balance. It would be a mistake to conclude that the general sobriety of the carving could be sue to some technical limitation of the method, It is more certain to assume a clear option in the way of doing things, that shows little interest in models which are too imitative of what we can see and also in its richness of details, different from what is reasonably common at this production sphere. When he wants to, João Francisco is perfectly able to show details of an object, such as the mobile telephone mentioned. Thinking of a specific, and rarer, type of “imaginator” – a beautiful term which is sometimes used to represent santeiros of the Brazilian Northeast – we are faced with one of those talents in which parsimony tries to be responsible for the extent to which it moves the expression, in that “by excess of the object rather than shortage of the subject, all that remains for the artist is to acquire significance”.2
Maybe for the very fact that it includes everything that is needed, in this art there is little distance between the sacred and the profane, fantasy and daily activities. At the end of the day, only the best distinctions are really relevant. Outside this, saints, mermaids and people place themselves more or less on equal terms, with similar build and appearance. In the opinion of João Francisco (who liked to work in the open air), they are all there, in a kind of shared privation, under the same conditions, under the overhead sun.
1 Excerpts from the lyrics of the song “At the Olympus” (No Olimpo), a song from the CD by the name of Fome de Tudo (Deckdisc, 2007), by Nação Zumbi. The song was composed by Jorge du Peixe, Dengue, Pupillo, Toca Ogan, Gilmar Bola 8 and Lúcio Maia.
In my own way, I here imitate Roberta Saraiva, the curator of the exhibition by Antonio de Dedé, a sculptor from the very same city as João Francisco da Silva, also here at the Galeria Estação, suggesting a soundtrack for that exhibition: “Lagoa da Canoa”, a song by Hermeto Pascoal, another of the city’s famous sons.
I take the opportunity to thank a series of people for their collaboration. Apart from Vilma Eid and Germana Monte-Mór for interlocution, and also Giselli Gumiero and the team at the art gallery, who gave the necessary support for the hosting of the current exhibition, I would also like to thank Roberta and also Maria Amélia Vieira, for the information about the context of João Francisco’s production; Ana Carolina Roman Rodrigues, for help with research; Ana Cândida de Avelar and Noemi Jaffe, for the conversation about assembly.
2 This quote is from Lévi-Strauss, on commenting, in another context, certain formal solutions of what has been called “primitive art”, giving the term acquire significance a new meaning, that of a specific formal codification in which naturalism would not be enough. See: Look, Listen, Read (Olhar, Escutar, Ler). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997.
JOÃO FRANCISCO DA SILVA | sculptures
AT THE GALERIA ESTAÇÃO ART GALLERY
Opening: 20 May at 7 p.m. – Closes 09 August 2014
As a continuation of the commemorations of the tenth anniversary of the Galeria Estação art gallery, Vilma Eid has invited poet João Bandeira to be the curator of the individual exhibition of artist João Francisco da Silva (Girau do Ponciano, AL 1940 – Lagoa da Canoa, AL 2009). With a total of 45 sculptures, the exhibition presents the works of João da Lagoa, as he was also known, depicting the typical characters of the agreste region of the state of Alagoas, where he lived a modest lifestyle and worked in rural areas, especially in subsistence agriculture.
His vertical sculptures represent a “people in wood”, with men, women, saints, mermaids and animals, in which small details show the difference of a special figure from an ordinary one. “Verticality, few details, and also the prevailing symmetry join up with the very smooth and elaborate finish which was given to the unpainted wood, so that the definition of the silhouette is reinforced in each part, giving most of them a compact appearance, almost like a totem, including some of very small size”, the curator says.
The drama and expression. of the carving are present in each and every piece. Longitudinal figures with arms close to the body, or even shown in low relief and with neutral features in which only on rare occasions does another part of the body stand out. Details or clothes reinforce the effect of the solidity which is a recurrent feature of the artist’s work, even when we consider pieces with more than one figure or with miscellaneous symbolisms. João Bandeira explains that it would be a mistake to conclude that the general sobriety of the carvings could be due to some technical limitation of the artist. “It is better to assume a clear option in the way of doing, showing little interest in those models which are excessively imitative of what is seen and in richness of details, different from what is quite common in this production sphere”, he adds.
For the curator, another characteristic of the work of João da Lagoa is that there is not much distance between the sacred and the profane, between fantasy and daily reality. “At the end of the day, only the smaller distinctions are really relevant and, apart from this, saints, mermaids and people are more or less on equal terms, being similar in terms of both appearance and size.”
João Francisco da Silva (Girau do Ponciano, AL 1940 – Lagoa da Canoa, AL 2009)
João Francisco da Silva, also known as João da Lagoa, spent his life in the rural zone of the municipality of Lagoa da Canoa, until he died in June 2009, at the age of 69. A son of agricultural workers, he also always worked in the rural areas and started sculpture as a “leisure activity”, as a way to spend the time. He became the main sculptor in the region where he lived, working on wood in a longitudinal way, with a simple yet contemporary style of doing, even though he bore the marks of an artist with impulse and spontaneity, and also a self-learner. As a Roman Catholic, João da Lagoa also brought in his works the most popular saints, without the ornamental embellishments of the traditional santeiros (painters of saints). João da Lagoa brought an important work project that can be found in important private collections of Popular Art and also in museums in Brazil, Portugal and France.
João Francisco da Silva - Sculptures
Opening: 20 May 2014, at 7 p.m. (guests)
Runs until 09 August 2014, Mondays to Fridays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – admittance free.
Galeria Estação Art Gallery
Rua Ferreira de Araújo, 625 – Pinheiros SP
Telephone: ++ 55 11 3813-7253
Pool de Comunicação – Marcy Junqueira
Service: Luana Ferrari
Telephone: ++ 55 11 3032-1599