The art that we like
A relationship based on seriousness and coherence, arising from personal coexistence that has been getting more frequent, culminating with the carrying out of this exhibition.
This is why, talking at the end of last year, we had the idea of bringing together two worlds that are so different yet so near for one single reason: art – for all the experience that expands our world and our lives.
On suggesting this meeting, we reaffirm the conviction that art is art and that we should, yes indeed, open ourselves to looking, seeing and viewing everything that is good and which is around us. If we do not do this, we shall lose.
We knew that this would be a major challenge, and this we immediately had the idea of inviting Lorenzo Mammì, a thinker for whom we have great respect and that, without any doubt, would be able to analyse the agreements and disagreements that the “popular” and “erudite” worlds provide for us.
If our idea was to expand and bring new information, we were sure that all the artists and galleries involved would be honoured to participate in this new venture. And so happens Almost a Figure, Almost a Shape.
Socorro de Andrade Lima
Continuing with the commemorations of the gallery’s tenth anniversary, the Galeria Estação art gallery, this time in partnership with the Millan Gallery, carries out the collective exhibition Almost a Figure, Almost a Shape, with the curatorship of critic Lorenzo Mammì. The union of these two galleries, that work with distinct lists of artists, reinforces the popular concept that there is no territory separating production which is known as popular from a more contemporary set of themes. Alcides Pereira dos Santos, Ana Prata, Aurelino dos Santos, Cícero Alves dos Santos, Felipe Cohen, João Cosmo Felix, João Francisco da Silva, José Bezerra, Neves Torres, Paulo Pasta, Sebastião Theodoro Paulino, and Tatiana Blass are the names represented in the collections of the two galleries. However, the curator has also selected artists that are part of other casts, such as Marina Rheingantz (Fortes Villaça Gallery), Fabio Miguez and Sergio Sister (Nara Roesler Gallery), and Paulo Monteiro (Mendes Wood).
Almost a figure, almost a shape
Placing side by side works that, for lack of a better term, are often considered as “erudite” together with others from the parallel circuit, in Brazil particularly inexperienced, known as popular art is a delicate task. The references of the artists are not the same, even though there could be some punctual similarities. The scale of values depends on the context. Even so, for me it seems possible to identify, between the “erudite” and the popular production of the last thirty years, a convergence which is worth exploring. It refers not only to changes of poetics but also transformation of the very circulation of art and the awareness that the artists have of their own work.
In relation to the first group: the last three decades have once again put participation on the agenda. Not only photography and video, for which the relation to the reference is a structural characteristic, but also, and maybe more significantly, painting: all have started to reconsider the issue of the image as from the 1970s. The two first, indeed, renewed their repertoire by considering the procedures and the different forms of presentation of painting. Maybe it could even be said that, if the 20th Century was a century of abstraction, then the 21st Century starts as a figurative entity. Stated in another way, this means that if the concept of shape prevailed in the 20th Century, in the last quarter of the century and also in this dawn of the 21st Century the elements of image, figure and sign dominate the scene.
The shape has value on its own, while the image, the figure or the sign always link up to something. This does not necessarily mean a naïve confidence in a world that can be represented immediately, or even that the world may be reduced to a projection of an effigy or imitation, without any consistency, all indifferent as there is nothing behind it. If every sign, in sensitivity and contemporary living, links up only to another sign, in an infinite sequence in which the bare reality, prior to language, is never reached, even so the sign is something in itself and has concrete materiality, and is the result of real action.
Brazilian art has addressed the issue in a way that is very peculiar: starting out from the world phenomenon of a return to the participation characteristic of the 1980s, at the end of the decade there was a return to material and gestural abstraction, something very rare on the international scene. However, this was not a case of a return, but rather of a cleansing operation: the works seem to retreat back to the source of the image, positioning itself at a point where it is about to appear. It has already been mentioned, for example, that the paintings of Paulo Pasta are an example of paintings of absence. He prepares the scene so that something like a figure may emerge, but does not let this process get finalised, becoming something else, regardless of the irradiation of colour and the act of spreading the colour out on a surface. The shapes that now threaten to come through are not exactly abstract, but at the same time do not take on a concrete form (a column? a beam? a door?),
but only something which is soon reabsorbed (but not entirely) by the relations between the colours and the intensity thereof. The strips of wood and boxes in the work of Sérgio Sister, on the other hand, are not objects, or even paintings, in the strict sense, but rather something between the two. They are the results of a process of negotiation: the painting renounces part of its universality, and the object loses part of its contingency. The boxes mimic as paintings, of flat images, as certain reptiles of insects are able to look like the bark of a tree. The strips of colour, in turn, acquire a three-dimensional reality, a handling value, one here and now that its distant derivation from minimalist procedures (Marden or Kelly) would not assure.
As from the 1990s, the sculptures of Paulo Monteiro, on transferring the neoconcrete cutting (seen in Lygia Clark, but above all in Amilcar de Castro) into a soft material which collapses, removed all assertiveness, and made it an organic process which never reaches its definite form. The linear sculptures, stuck to the walls or precariously supported in one corner of the floor, have similar characteristics: they do not draw, but rather sift. These poetics have, in recent time, shown an unpredictable consequence in paintings with live colours and almost amorphous contours, in which the rough edges, and protuberances between painted areas, the way this fits into the sides of the picture – all features, after all, that result from the execution of the picture – are planned with so much accuracy (or even more) as the plans for colours and figures. The image therefore becomes a kind of film with its own life and structure.
Among the artists of this lineage and this generation who are present at the exhibition, Fábio Miguez is certainly the most imaginative: fragments of figures and composition schemes derived from the history of painting (from Piero della Francesca to Matisse and Diebenkorn), but also arising from the signalling codes, poetry, graphic design, are laid out on a flat background in cold colours, as if on a work table (the flatbed of Leo Steiberg). There is a constant process of rearrangement, but never the fixation of a full meaning. Much to the contrary, for the success of the work, it is very important that this remains largely symbolic and formally submerged. The small pictures provide a kind of dictionary of shapes, always incomplete, such as so many starts of possible narrative.
What the most recent generation has inherited from these artists and also from some others is the suspicion regarding general solutions, highly assertive shapes – a certain cultivation of the “difficult shape”, to readdress the expression coined by Rodrigo Naves. On the other hand, it further accentuates the episodic and even anecdotal character of artistic work, as if collecting, within a disorganised flow of feelings and memories, sparse fragments, signs with a vague meaning. All this, aware that the artistic experience is no longer a matter of principles, but rather of occasions.
In the pictures by Marina Rheingantz, round stains could be turned into a flight of insects; a netting, into the neck of a giraffe; lozenges spread onto the white of linen, a suggestion of a landscape. The coats of paint placed on the screen make beings and places of precarious existence appear, through the superimposition or distancing thereof. Each stroke is associated with something, although never in a single way. There is no precise meaning in these invocations, and this is similarly not a case of free gestuality, which would make a subconscious emerge. Like in travel notes, things happen and are noted down.
The last works of Ana Prata further enhance the overall feeling of fragmentation and contingency. Supports of several different formats and sometimes unexpected – a stub of wood; a board enwrapped in barbed wire etc. - meet up with figures that have been summarily penned, or elementary geometrical schemes. The relation between the image and the physical object is still unstable and unusual. The meaning of the work is always open: it depends on the position of the object or image in space, the relationship with other objects, associations and also memories that this could occasionally stir up in the mind of each observer. All this intuition, all the feelings, only seem to have value if it can be presented as something disposable or irrelevant, after all: marginal in relation to what we normally ascribe a value to.
The paintings by Tatiana Blass are more constructed and enacted. In general, these refer to encoded relationships between people (Theatre, Interview, Going Back Home) or refer vaguely to a plot, such as photograms of a film or illustrations of a tale (Ship on the beach). However, the same gesture that distinguishes and defines the figures with a certain degree of detail once again pastes them in the general hue of the picture, or recasts them in bronze. Thus, the narratives, spaces, the model of the figures, which seem to have been so promisingly structured, now get worn out. The image shows a fragility that the material of the paint, the heavy mass of the metal, is always able to reabsorb.
The poetics of Felipe Cohen stands out, in this universe, because of its more conceptual characteristics and also its carefully crafted finish that does not leave any room for gestures or randomness. However, here there is also an issue of figures in the nascent state, whose contours do not close. Many of these arise from association of ideas, the significant potential discovered and present incommon objects: a stone and confetti (No title #1), a glass and a lamp ( Annunciation ), a clasp and granite (Cathedral #2 ). In the collages, the impeccable white cardboard on the one side draws and on the other side wipes out the contours of then object, a bit like the strokes of Tatiana Bliss.
A certain erasure of the image, a certain dissolution of traditional narrative structures and symbologies that have already been established may also be identified, as I see it, in more recent popular art. In Brazil, it has never been strictly folklore, in the sense that it repeats, without any intention of singularity, an inherited community repertoire. Apart from this, the fact is that this repertoire, with the exception of
Native Brazilian art, practically did not exist in Brazil, or was a very recent import. Handicrafts developed from the very beginning close to urban centres or even within them, where commercial activity was more intense. This favoured a production with more noticeable individual characteristics. The borders between these have never been strictly defined: artists with a popular origin, such as Emygdio de Souza, Agnaldo dos Santos, Djanira and Heitor dos Prazeres, circulated in a cultured environment, while painters of an erudite background (Guignard, Volpi, Pancetti) became closer to popular language. There is no doubt that the authorial vocation of Brazilian popular art got stronger in recent times. This was probably partly due to the transformation of a social environment which supplied the artists, if not with a fixed repertoire, at least certain general iconographic guidance (animals, professions, and religious images); on the other hand, the growing refinement of the market, which gives value to exceptional artists, not limitable to any particular genre.
The gradual switching off of a “general language” is compensated, in many more recent popular artists, by a more intense relationship with their materials. The support has never been neutral, in the realm of popular art. Even though this may be a straight stub of word, or the square of a canvas screen, this is already a shape, the suggestion of an image. The figures need to be traded with this given shape, which the artist respects, according to the undulations and the deviations of wood, or dividing the plane of the picture into smaller areas, like a field to be cultivated. This has always been the case: we just need to look, to be among the artists present at this exhibition, and see with what delicateness an artist still strongly linked to traditional imagery, such as João Francisco da Silva, lets himself be carried away by wood. However, the negotiation becomes explicit, to the extent that this becomes the main work centre, in artists such as Véio or José Bezerra.
When Véio says that his work is to bring life back to dead wood, or when Bezerra says that there is a need to “open” the wood to see the sculpture, all ready, inside it (look at where Michelangelo has ended up…), they are bestowing on the materials an authority that formerly rested with tradition. In this sense, they are becoming modern artists. However, as they have not yet established their roots in the rural environment, they see each shape as an animal, as a living being. There is no longer a need for these to be recognisable animals: these are trunk-animals, root-animals, hovering between plant and animal. Véio sculpts with colour, in a way that is always more economical and cleaner.The control that he shows, on reanimating wood with only a few strokes, the domain over his means, calms down the strangeness of the figures, making them almost classical. Bezerra, on the contrary, is dramatic if not tragic: on the outside, once again he drafts when nature has already penned on the inside; the shock, on the wooden surface, of these two efforts at formalisation is intense and characterised by suffering.
Nino is lighter, and everything inside him is polite. Otherwise, he belongs to an older generation. However, in the steles in bas-relief, which are his trademark, the popular tale already gets mixed with the comic strip, and the delicate colours refer both to the plaster of the countryside houses and also the cheap printing of comics in four colours. It is as if Nino recollected, in the elliptical narratives, the whole of a culture, and if this was placed in this manner, with ineffable elegance, on the border between two eras.
Regarding the painters, the issue is different yet again. By its nature, popular painting is more urban, closer to the conventional circles of art. It also requires less space than sculpture, in order to be produced, and fits in better with the apartment of a medium or small collectionism. Sculptors live mainly in small urban centres or in rural areas, where they are prominent figures. Painters tend to live in poor districts of large cities, being in conditions closer to those who, in other countries, are considered “outsider artists”. However, it is this peripheral vision that grants pregnancy to his works. The impact, often painful, with the contemporary world is bravely tackled by an imagination with archaic roots, but the current conditions demand constant renewal.
In this scenario, Neves Torres could be a partial exception. Even though he has a place of abode in Vitória, he spent much of his life in the countryside of the state of Minas Gerais, in the city of Mutum. He started to paint after he retired, and his art talks about a world that is about to disappear, or which has already disappeared. This is also a recapitulation, a bit like it is in Nino, but with greater distance and nostalgia. With this sculptor, however, he has similarities, including the like for delicate colours. Neves Torres likes to graduate them: from greyish blue to lilac, from yellow through lemon green to dark green. This is an organised world, organised on an item by item basis: not only each figure has its colour, as also each figure corresponds to a background of a specific colour, which is also the exact tone of his affective intensity. Everything in memory has the same importance: a house, a face, a tree branch, a tuft of grass.
For Alcides, the changes were rougher: from Bahia to Mato Grosso and then, when Alcides was already in his sixties, from Mato Grosso to the outskirts of São Paulo. All the works included in this exhibition were made after this last change. In one of them, Alcides blends a rural landscape in with a brick wall. In others, the machines that dominate the environment where Alcides is called to live (aeroplanes, lorries, ships and cannons) are sketched in such a way that one would remember tin toys, those that at one time were sold at the roadside. However, the threatening power that reduction to a toy removes from the machines is, indeed, partly returned by the scale used (Alcides’ paintings need to be large in size) and also due to the fact that they take up almost the whole surface of the picture, to the extent that there is identification with it. The machine is the picture, and the picture is the machine.
Aurelino is surely the most conflicting of the painters that we shall be showcasing here. He does not have any rural memories to contrast with a city that, over the ages seems to be denser and noisier. He was born in the city and is a product of the city. To ease the movement surrounding him, and which should seem frenetic to him, he resorts to using the plane of the screen and also the reference material found in the street (circular lids, small rods). His pictures bubble, showing a restless life in which only the geometric divisions are kept in their place. The colours, which are all expanded to a maximum intensity, do not establish a dialogue, but rather dislodge each other, shoulder to shoulder,with each colour wishing to invade the other. The plane of the screen is the venue of the daily fight between order and chaos.
Ranchinho is a mystery. He suffered from very serious mental problems, and could hardly express himself by speaking. Surely, part of the fascination present in his pictures comes from the feeling of immediacy and freedom that he shares with the drawings of the children. From then on, Ranchinho developed complex and balanced compositions, with a rare sense of space and depth. This is a world seen in a glance but which is already complete and rich at this instant. The painting suggests how the intelligence of the world could be, if it were possible to reach full development without the mediation of language.
Lorenzato is at the opposite end. Even though he had a poor background and limited education and schooling, he was a well-travelled man and had the opportunity to see museums, be part of academia, and work as a restorer of the al frescos by Raphael at Vila Farnesina, in Rome. In Florence, where he lived in the 1920s, he probably became familiar with the “Strapaese” movement, a breakaway group from the “Novecento” that defended an artisanal style of painting, programmatically from the countryside. In any case, for him popular art was a choice, more than a biographical need. His combed painting (literally, passing the comb through the dense materials), not excessively polite (“I like Masaccio more than Raphael”, he would say, “as Raphael is very polite”), does not reject any cultural references, especially from Italian painting, but brings them down to an artisanal and colloquial tone. The two works that we show, from the end of his life, could be considered abstract. But one suggests an excess of twigs stamped upon the grass, while the other seems to be made of fragments of something. Like the more recent “erudite” paintings, they do not link up to the general formal principles: these are occasional configurations, drafts of feelings, meetings.
Almost a figure, almost a shape
AT THE GALERIA ESTAÇÃO
Opening: 21 August at 7 p.m. – Runs until 10 October 2014
Continuing with the commemorations of the gallery’s tenth anniversary, the Galeria Estação art gallery, this time in partnership with the Millan Gallery, carries out the collective exhibition Almost a Figure, Almost a Shape, with the curatorship of critic Lorenzo Mammì. The union of these two galleries, that work with distinct lists of artists, reinforces the popular concept that there is no territory separating production which is known as popular from a more contemporary set of themes.
Alcides Pereira dos Santos, Ana Prata, Aurelino dos Santos, Cícero Alves dos Santos, Felipe Cohen, João Cosmo Felix, João Francisco da Silva, José Bezerra, Neves Torres, Paulo Pasta, Sebastião Theodoro Paulino, and Tatiana Blass are the names represented in the collections of the two galleries. However, the curator has also selected artists that are part of other casts, such as Marina Rheingantz (Fortes Villaça Gallery), Fabio Miguez and Sergio Sister (Nara Roesler Gallery), and Paulo Monteiro (Mendes Wood).
In the opinion of Mr Mammì, while many contemporary artists are getting closer to issues related to representation, or addressing the support programme in a more individualised and less concept-based manner, popular art is gradually taking on a relationship with greater freedom, with their traditional repertoire.
According to Mr Mammì, a careful analysis of the production of popular and contemporary art over the last thirty years shows possible areas of convergence to be exploited. For the curator, the end of the 1970s signals the start of a greater value for participation rather than abstraction in contemporary painting. “Maybe it can even be said that if the 20th Century was a century of abstraction, the 21st Century starts out as a figurative century”, he adds.
At the same time, Mr Mammì defends the idea that Brazilian popular art – always rooted in the core concepts of image, picture and sign – has expanded its repertoire by allowing the authorial vocation of its representatives to gain more and more space. “A certain erasure of image, a certain dissolution of the traditional narrative structures and symbologies that have already been established, can also be identified, as I see it, in the most recent form of popular art”, says the critic.
Mr Mammì stresses that popular art in Brazil “has never been strictly folkloric, in the sense of repeating, without any intended singularity, an inherited community repertoire.” In his opinion, with the sole exception of Native Brazilian art, this repertoire practically did not exist, or had been imported very recently. Mr Mammì also highlights the fact that handicrafts were developed right from the outset, close to the urban centres or even inside them, where commercial activity was more intense, favoured a production with more evident individual characteristics. “The boundaries were never clear-cut in this regard: artists of a popular background, such as Emygdio de Souza, Agnaldo dos Santos, Djanira and Heitor dos Prazeres would circulate in a more cultured environment, while painters that had an erudite background (such as Guignard, Volpi and Pancetti) were closer to popular language”, he adds.
Almost a Figure, Almost a Shape
(Quase figura, Quase forma)
Curator: Lorenzo Mammì
Opening: 21 August at 7 p.m. (guests)
Exhibition runs from 22 August to 10 October 2014, from Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admittance free.
Rua Ferreira de Araújo, 625 – Pinheiros SP
Telephone: 0xx11 3813-7253
Pool de Comunicação – Marcy Junqueira
Service: Martim Pelisson
Telephone: 0xx11 3032-1599