It was in 2009, the very first time we exhibited José Bezerra, a Brazilian artist born in Vale do Catimbau, in the state of Pernambuco. We have been following his consistent artistic footsteps ever since.
Nothing is easy in the place he comes from. Life is hard. And I think that only art can hold the joy in this energetic man, who is always ready for any artistic expression.
He plays his “berimbau” music instrument, composes his own songs, dances to his so called “family”, comprised of sculptures stuck on the ground in his small farm.
His inspiration comes from the earth. It is from the earth, from dead tree branches that he gives birth to figures perceiving them even before he starts sculpting them. His intervention is subtle and transforming!
To visit him is always a renewed emotion. There, where nature is so lush, one can talk to God…
It is indeed true, that Bezerra is and will always be a great artist. His intuition, perceptiveness and creative vision make him what he shows us in this exhibition. He is close to a minimalist, and I hope this particularity always sticks to his artwork.
My dearest Tiago Mesquita, who curates the exhibition, has accepted this mission with great joy. He is one of many who admirers Bezerra’s talent.
All the artworks presented in this exhibition are unpublished. We are very happy to show them. I hope you are happy to see them.
We will enjoy them together.
José Bezerra | Sculptures Curated by Tiago Mesquita Opening 16th june 7pm
Four Notes about José Bezerra
José Bezerra sculpts in trunks and fallen branches. Torpid materials that otherwise would deteriorate. Bezerra nevertheless, sees in these crooked branches the shapes of animals and other figures. It is the resemblance with such figures what leads the artist to choose the materials. He sees something in the branches even before he begins to work. Incidentally, it is what he sees in the plant that triggers him to get started. Thus, the shape is not the end of the process, but the quality of the stump in itself.
Therefore, the incisions cannot take away the design presented in the material. Bezerra does little; he cleans the branch, takes away all the distractions, makes incisions and enhances the appearance of the animal he already saw. Slots need to be minimal enough for the branch to take the animal feature, without being any longer firewood.
How best describes the art critic Rodrigo Naves, Bezerra performs a “rude and parsimonious intervention” on the branches. They are short and harsh notches. These notches also give a brittle and irregular appearance to the material surface. As if the skin revealed that a lot happens in the inside. Nothing there is pacified.
Often his slot is confused with the very veins and cracks of wood. Although it seems animal, the trunk does not lose its vegetal quality. Fallen material also is no longer tree and begins to take on another aspect. The artist figures one thing becoming another. Not another branch, but still not an animal.
It is not the first time that culture describes the transformation of vegetal in animal or vice versa. Oral narratives, as mythologies, tell similar stories about animals to take the feature of plants, people converted to tree, tree that became animal.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8 AD), human becomes vegetal, animal and mineral. The Latin author narrates the beginning of things from the changing nature of beings. One of the best-known poem myths, and most represented in art, is the impossible love of god Apollo for the nymph Daphne. Rejected, he pursues her to declare his love. The nymph repulsed by the deity, flees him. Feeling harassed, she asks her father to save her, and so he transfigures her by making her lose the look of a beautiful nymph to become a laurel2.
When the poet describes the modification, he tells how the soft rounded spry body, in an instant becomes husky, rough and crude. All what once was smooth skin hardens. The fast feet are converted into lazy roots; the heat of the skin is replaced by the coldness of the wood, averse to the sensual contact of the bodies. The tree finally manages to get the disgust indifference.
In the myth a living organism becomes another. The body that was once described as lively, soft, full of movement becomes lifeless, stiff and static by the transformation. Something of life is lost. In the sculpture made for the narrative by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the volume also loses vigor as it becomes vegetal. The rough stone to represent the log of wood replaces the soft glow of polished marble. The surface dims as it is overridden by the rough unpolished stuff.
The work of José Bezerra, like that of Bernini, figures a body from one state going to another. Nothing, however, could be more different. In the Italian sculpture, although Daphne still has the appearance of a woman, she is covered by a spiral smooth bark that gives her a hybrid nature: human and vegetal. Everything happens in a gentle and orderly manner. The direction in which the wood grows is the same of the twist of the character’s body. The sculpture imprints a continuous rhythm.
For José Bezerra there is no softness in moving from one state to another. His figures sprout in the wood as if they force to leave. In fact, as vegetal, they spring up there. They need to break the seed and no longer be what they were so as to begin to be identified with something else. The process is not without difficulty. The branches imply the figures, but they seem not to be confused with them. In many ways, it shows up the core of the artwork: the material to take certain shape.
In this exhibition, for example, we have at least two types of relation of matter with form. There are two types of sculpture. The first is the group of sculptures where wood has a format that suggests the figure of the animal. However gross the woods, the similarity to a bird, a cat, a fish, an armadillo is undeniable. They share the same characteristics. Are winding like snakes, have beak like birds, ears like cats.
The other sculptures do not have the body designed as any animal. Most of these have the aspect of a regular trunk as base. The top part expands and shows a more irregular appearance. The figure comes from there. As if from one end was to emerge an animal. It may be the head of a pig that appears at the end of a twig, a sheep trying to get out of the cylinder trunk or an armadillo that squirms trying to drag a curved stick.
In this case, the trunk does not have the same format as the animal. Parts of its body are announced here and there. He seems to try to get out of a more regular and compact volume with much effort. Perhaps these works are simply the most visible way to show the appearance of the figures in José Bezerra’s sculptures.
Although the artist always speaks about the facility that he has to find the configuration of the different beings in the material, the way he carves shows these beings to emerge from tortuous manners. Thus, both the branches and the animals get wild, angry features. The work speaks of animals living in a hostile nature.
The most telling index of the effort that the animals make to stop being inert matter and show up as figure is attested by the their facial expression. In a large number of sculptures, I believe that through the way the twigs are worked by Bezerra, the figure’s head looks up, diagonally, as if trying to drop the rest of the body. The direction is commonly opposed to the base of the stump; the figure stands as if to curve it.
From there, figures appear with stiff neck, wide eyes, stretching. The snout is long, disproportionate to the rest of the head and much thinner than the rest of the trunk. In some works, the animal's mouth is open and denounces its pushing.
In a beast resembling an alligator, the upper part is opposed to the volume top. The sculpture’s foot is thick, compact, heavy. The face is long and thin. It does not seem possible for an animal to emerge from there. Not surprisingly, he has the desperate look, of what will not be anything but a static and fossilized animal volume.
Furthermore, how these animals are related to fossil! They look like someone who saw death approaching, the gaze fixed on nowhere. Sometimes the represented animals are older than the wood itself. They arise in them as the manifestation of a memory of earlier times to what is old.
José Bezerra is from Catimbau Valley, a place where the signs of the past come from far away. The evidence from a remote occupation of the territory is the on the petroglyphs on the rocks, on the worn-out paths and in a dry nature, twisted and beautiful. Lots of things have been there, a lot of people and animals. In the images we find more fossils, remnants of a time that has passed, more than the present in it.
José Bezerra takes advantage of the nature of Catimbau Valley to do his work. Things that exist there, but also a certain significance of things that once were there and hover like traces. He finds the shape of these animals and people in the pieces of trees. The animals are trees and the trees are animals. As if they shared some essence in common. The past emerges in the present figures at a time when nothing can abandon us.
1 Rodrigo Naves: “Natureza e expressão” em idem, José Bezerra: esculturas. São Paulo: Galeria Estação, 2010.
2 Ovídio: Metamorfoses I, 452-567 (translation by Raimundo Nonato Barbosa de Carvalho), in http://www.usp.br/verve/coordenadores/raimundocarvalho/rascunhos/metamorfosesovidio-raimundocarvalho.pdf (acessado pela última vez em 9/05/2015).??
José Bezerra | Sculptures
At Galeria Estação
Opening: June 16, 7pm
Through August 2nd, 2015
When José Bezerra looks at piece of wood he already recognizes the image that there creeps. His art is then carving the trunk so that the drawing appears, whilst leaving a window open to the imagination. Pets and animals of the region as armadillos, dogs and anteaters are considerable part of his production. Bezerra transforms simple themes in unexpected solutions to move with his artistic arsenal the idea that one has of the original fauna.
With the intervention of a knife, rasp, chisel and hacksaw on fallen trees, pieces of driftwood and roots, he portrays the most diverse forms, taking advantage of the nature of Catimbau Valley (in the state of Pernambuco-PE), where he lives, to design his work. " He sees something in the branches even before he begins to work. Incidentally, it is what he sees in the plant that triggers him to get started. Thus, the shape is not the end of the process, but the quality of the stump in itself", says Tiago Mesquita, who curates the show.
The exhibition features about 40 sculptures that fall into two different ways of relation of matter with form. In addition to the parts where the wood suggests the figure of the animal, Bezerra also works with regular trunks from which the animal appears. “It may be the head of a pig that appears at the end of a twig, a sheep trying to get out of the cylinder trunk or an armadillo that squirms trying to drag a curved stick”, explains the curator.
Mesquita emphasizes that often Bezerra’s slot is confused with the very veins and cracks of wood. Fallen material also is no longer tree and begins to take on another aspect. The artist figures one thing becoming another. Not another branch, but still not an animal.
About the artist:
José Bezerra (1952 Buíque, PE) lives in the Catimbau Valley, in the state of Pernambuco, according to researchers and archaeologists, the second largest archaeological site in Brazil, both by the amount of paintings and inscriptions as by the historical value. It is by breathing this atmosphere that the artist produces his sculptures, displaying them around his home, a village of wooden creatures that delight travelers who pass by, among those, Zé Celso Martinez.
José Bezzerra | Sculptures
Curator: Tiago Mesquita
Opening: June 16, 7pm (by invitation only)
Exhibition: from June 17 to August 2, 2015 (Mondays to Fridays, from 11am to 7pm; Saturdays from 11am to 3pm)
Rua Ferreira de Araújos, 625 – Pinheiros SP