Ashes of the hours…

Maria de Fátima Lambert

O Porto, Portugal 2006
Especially written to the website



“Se nos aparta o espaço, o tempo – esse nos liga”

If space sets us apart, time, it binds us

from the poem “Ao Crepúsculo” in Cinza das Horas, or “The Ashes of the Hours”, by Manuel Bandeira.


José Bechara’s work develops precise concepts that translate the centrality of art in relation to life in a sense, I would dare venture, close to survival itself. Thus emerge the House series and its associated works such as the paintings entitled Cadernos Rápidos, “Quick Notebooks”, Mercúrio, “Mercury,” and Paramarelos. To inhabit, to be inside…, while concomitantly carving out territories of cognition and continents of abstraction through writing, drawing and objects: such are the privileged domains that synthesize the cohesion of this Brazilian author’s (artist’s) aesthetic language and thought.

1. The House* and my trajectories

A casa que eu amei foi destroçada
A morte caminha no sossego do jardim
A vida sussurrada na folhagem
Subitamente quebrou-se não é minha (1)
[the house I loved was torn apart/ death walks in the quiet of the garden/ whispered life in foliage/suddenly broken, mine no longer]

There was no house; no house existed; no house to talk about. I had practically exhausted, in my mind, to my eyes, in the words of others, what there was to say about the House. Those were my thoughts until a while ago; deciding later that after all, not everything had been said yet.

It was through two or three photographs (façade, side-view, in an official booklet) that I first came into contact with the House project, the records of the project/dwelling as it had been created in the little town of Faxinal, in Brazil’s Paraná State, for the duration of 15 days, May of 2002, under the curatorship of Agnaldo Farias. (2)

The first time I saw the House fully fleshed out, in form and matter, was that September, at the Modern Art Museum of Rio de Janeiro. It was accompanied by a series of drawing/notebooks on the conception of the installation, and a series of photographs of taken of the House project by Dedina Bernadelli.

On visiting the House at the museum, I was told off for photographing it. I retracted, understood, walked around it once, and circled around José Bechara’s House yet again (who was it that told me sight does not include the other senses?); I left the Museum and found myself sitting down- gazing at the sea and far off palm trees, past the Aterro do Flamengo. And I had brought with me, out into open air, round-about images of the House, so many turns had I taken around it, plus, I must confess, the single photograph that escaped the museum guard…

The second time I saw the House was in São Paulo a few days later. It inhabited, this time, the Tomie Ohtake Institute. An installation with two daisies (direct descendants of the 1998 series “Eating Dasies”) and it was a spider. In the words of José Bechara:

[Referring to Two Daisies] “they bring together two paintings made on truck tarps, weathered by the sun, rain and wind. In it are the remains of a violent oxidation process of layers of steel wool.”
[Referring to the installation entitled Spider, in it there is] “a kind of explosion, a warning of the dangers lurking in the desire for stability and comfort that people hope to find when they set up their dinning and living rooms. The notion of time, memory and human presence resides in the confrontation of these two works. This brings about, for the artist, “a fleeting sense of helplessness engendered by the familiar notion of dwelling.” (3)

There was a delicious cup of coffee in the lower floor that helped glue to my mind the wood, iron beams and tarps upstairs. Coincidence or not, masterpieces of Surrealism revisited were present in the other exhibition held at the Institute. Doubtless the House knows how to pick who lives next door, its privileged neighbors. So many ready-made objects, so many objects, so much proclaimed, and above all an immense and multiple force and clarity of thought, formatted in ideas conceptually so fruitful well into the 20th century, and thank God, it [Surrealism] continues its good work.

[Objectos, tantos objectos e todos sendo, como ensinou (aplicando a analogia) Fernando Pessoa acerca dos seres.] [Objects, so many objects and all of them Being, as (employing the analogy) Fernando Pessoa taught us about beings.]

Some time elapsed and traveling on another occasion I happened again, coincidently, on the works of José Bechara.

This year in Porto Alegre inside the warehouses near the docks, those huge anonymous houses (could they be still anonymous, filled with art works, artists, public?) and [relics] of industrial archeology, were 3 paintings in large format.

Had the House stayed home, or at Bechara’s atelier, I did not inquire. It rained, it was cold, and in that particular Brazil I could not think clearly—could not take my thoughts very far. I looked at the paintings, hung aloft in the pavilion of the Merco Sul Biennial as if set in their own home. The paintings, contaminated by the imposing surroundings, took over the spaces, the surrounding walls, making them their own.

Well, it happened again, as if I were being followed: November of the same year (still) an exhibition of a contemporary Brazilian artist in Lisbon (“guess who?”); a spacious gallery – a unique species of the house family, temporarily hosting works of art and aesthetic objects… There was no House; there was instead the imaginary of the insides of a house. I will return to this later. It is not by chance that works of art are bought to be experienced in the homes/houses of a few or of many – public, private…

A few weeks later, in a very rainy November in Portugal and Galicia I traveled to Santiago de Compostela to see the House and taste the Chocolataria (4). (Let us not kid ourselves– there is no wicked witch in this House that is not made of chocolate, as in the pseudo magic realist tales, or the little ironies and small perversities of children’s fables would be not be lost on us…)

As in an exercise in juggling and flexibility, parts of the House enter and exit the STG exhibition space (perhaps for that reason, because of such flights, it was entitled Vespeiro or “Hornet’s Nest”…) and stay there, in limbic state, set in a netherland or every man’s land that is the patio, its windows open to the embrace of orange trees -or were they lemon trees- I cannot remember which.

Perhaps it due to Apostle Santiago’s influence, or perhaps it was the influence of Galicia’s words, morriña that is practically saudade**, the fact is “Hornet’s Nest” is a House interpreted, built, made sublime; it is a genre of work that aesthetically enters the very soul [alma adentro], perhaps it echoes the title of film “Mar Adentro” [The Sea Inside]… On returning to Oporto, back to my own home/house, of a substance analogous to the place where one stays, the house, firstly and ultimately, is what we are.

The house forces us, thus, to think of trajectories, journeys, of permanence and precariousness, taking the appropriate concepts from body and landscape. Being and occupying space/a place, the prevailing mytheme of sedentary life, but also of travel, a combination of the thought of Gilbert Durand and Bruce Chatwin. The house as a place of travel/passing: place from where departures are made, a place to which one returns, be it physically or mentally.

It is a place that is left, exchanged, decided on. Being a cause of settling, it is, thus the cause of movement and flight.

To move to another house means to build a house/home, to reconstruct one’s self, articulated through or dissociated by the interferences of traffic and urban webs. While making our way home, or away from it, our experience of time in [our daily] routes is disconcerting, practically auto-phagic – “The House, Mouth” of the Series “Domestic Landscape (or I do not remember what we said to each other yesterday)”, 2002:

A casa não é uma casa. É caixa que dela expulsam os objetos. A casa-caixa cospe camas, cadeiras, mesas. (5) [The house is not a house, it is a box that spews objects. The house-box spits out beds, chairs, tables.]

The house is a synthetic concept that reconciles, now and then, individuality and gregariousness, almost always guides itself through an incorporation of inside versus outside; it directs (successfully) a reconciliation between thoughts, memories and heartening comforts, it (shall we reach for utopia?) undoes the Judeo-Christian mind body dualism.

In the philosophy, poetics and aesthetics that have marked the 20th Century, the House motif (almost a paradox) has been the object of various interpretations, as different authors elected different trends and discourses, taken by its resilient polisemy. It persisted beyond conflicts, bombings and repressions, beyond death, through the power of intervention, rewarding perseverance, offering shelter.

“…A família é pois uma arrumação de móveis, soma de linhas, volumes, superfícies. E são portas, chaves, pratos, camas, embrulhos esquecidos, também um corredor, e o espaço entre o armário e a parede onde se deposita certa porção de silêncio, traças e poeira que de longe em longe se remove…e insiste.” (6) [The family is thus, an arrangement of furniture, lines, volumes, surfaces added up. And it is also doors, keys, dishes, beds, forgotten parcels, and a corridor, and the space between the closet and the wall the repository of certain quantities of silence, moths, dust, that from time to time we insist in removing….]” (…)

Whether it is made manifest through records of its decoded semblance (pictograms), the iconographic transfiguration that easily engenders cubisms, futurisms and other isms (a few and different ideograms) – with peculiar emphasis on constructivist dimensions and perspectives – or whether noted for its semantic/visual absence, the House is a thing we love.
A privileged paradigm for making our peace with unfulfilled childhoods (outside it) it oversees the story telling and phantasie nurtured by psychoanalysis. (psicograms, perhaps).

Conditioned by the individual imaginary, it serves the limitations, the greed of the collective imaginary as duly conformed in one of the favorite concepts in insurmountable philosophical models, as put forth, organized and rendered by Gaston Bachelard:

Les souvenirs du monde extérieur n’auront jamais la même tonalité que les souvenirs de la maison. (7) [Memories of the world outside will never be imbued with the same tonality of memories of (the house) home.]

In the case of José Bechara, in the House, he takes convenient memories of the outside world and uses them to load the compulsive memories of the house, later returning them, charged practically metaphysical levels. As in the words of Sophia de Mello-Breyner:

Construirás – como se diz – a casa térrea
Construirás a partir do fundamento (8) [Build, you will, the house on the ground/Build you will from its foundations]

Conclusion: there is an immense symbolic weight that precedes the House, (as an allegorical topic of construction) one that has been detailed since the biblical myths of the Tower of Babel, reinvented more recently in conceptual or constructive dream buildings such as those by Wladimir Tatlin’s Denkmal für die III from 1920. At the time, revolutionary artists embodied the complicity between a certain aesthetic posture and a particular version of functionalism, of historical, social and economic foundations.

The formal launching of these improbable and utopian buildings necessitated the impact of a gaze sensitive to experiments in spatial indexation. Various logics of fiction, imaginaries and immaterialities were tried, not limited to those creations effectively based on supports and materials. Moving ahead to the 1960’s, minimalists explored definitions of the term construction, resorting to industrial materials, repetition and reducing artistic intervention to practically nil. Enter the modules or other genre of independent units, cohesive aggregates, consider the three dimensional pieces by Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Carl André or Sol Le Witt. This approach, mediated by an activity founded on certainties practically devoid of personal action/authorship generated in the public multiple perceptions and varied interpretations, especially in the generational flux closer to the present time.

The symbolic dimension of the house was recovered in Arte povera, particularly that of Mario Merz, in his various and prolific productions of igloos, made of a variety of industrial and natural materials. Merz thus reconciled ancient to current times, rescuing the human matrix in crisis. And thus it follows… let us not however, forget Helena Almeida’s series of photographs “A Casa Habitada” [the inhabited house] from the 70’s or the three-dimensional works, that appropriated the space around them, by contemporary Portuguese authors, such as Pedro Cabrito Reis, Pedro Croft and Rui Sanches, among others.

Perhaps the need to make constructions visible/externalized, taking the form of gregarious functionality, as is the nature of houses (public/private buildings), corresponds to the intrinsic motifs/causes from the realm of the human individual – in its various ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic aspects, beyond religious or aesthetic models. The universal demand to inhabit, to take up space as one’s “own”, of marking one’s “own” territory, to erect a building with one’s own hands or to purchase one (leaving the world of barter and entering the world of societary affirmation), is an undying and cross-cutting requirement.

In the different post-modern visions, the theme of the house allows for all the desired artistic and conceptual incursions. These approaches, whether of a more exclusively aesthetic nature, or pertaining to relational performance, whether playful, or of ideological valence and/or semiology, images or objects impose a new order on affect, on the laws of social logic, or on the most fundamentalist aesthetic beliefs. By recovering ancestral models, or benefiting from advanced audio-visual technology, artists and poets interpret their respective products charged with coherence and opportunity.

It is blatant that the House theme is inextricably linked to the (recurring) theme of the body. An “obligatory” presence that has made itself especially present in the last few decades, an obligatory category of so-called contemporary art. Both the House and body are structural to today’s definition of identity. They are “compagnons de route”… The House is in a way, a second skin, a built up epidermis that comes undone at rising and falling breath, as if per chance!

In Sylvia Plath’s words:

My skin felt like a wall: I am myself. The stone over there is the stone. My beautiful fusion with the things of this world was over. (9)

Hieratic painting and its metamorphoses

Para Bechara a pintura acontece na superfície das coisas, nos rostos, nas pedras, nos edifícios, no céu, no detalhe entrevisto na fruta antes dela ser mordida como também depois dela ser mordida, na pele dos animais, como o gado que cresce solto no campo, as voltas com os bichos e as cercas que lhes criam cicatrizes, até chegar a hora de rumar para o matadouro e serem abatidos com um estampido preciso e seco desferido na parte posterior da cabeça. (10) [To Bechara, painting happens on the surfaces of things, on faces, stones, buildings, the sky, the glimpsed detail on a fruit just before and just after biting down on it, the skin of animals, like cattle on the fields roaming free, scarred by insects, animals, and fences, until led to the slaughterhouse and killed with a dry shot to the back of the head]

Se a experiência diante de uma obra é a de ter a alma afetada, se diante de uma obra a pessoa que observa tem alterada, mesmo que só por um instante, sua percepção do mundo, então isso faz dessa uma alma melhor. (11) [If the experience provoked by the work of art affects the soul, if in front of a work of art a person’s perception of the world is changed, even if only for an instant, then that soul is a better soul for it]

The series “Mercury”, “Pietry Dish”, “Eating Dasies”, “Insects”, “Stripes”, “Matter and Form”, “Fields of Roses”, “Nuptials”, “Paramarelos”, “Quadrimetrics”, “Domestic Landscape, or I do not remember what we said yesterday”, “Quick Notebooks”, “Work Area”, “Centipede” and the titles “Old Bulls with lead butterflies”, “Vertical Solids”, “Tarp Change”, “Flaglets”, “Lead Wing Tryptich”, “Lead Blade”, “Green over there, in the middle”, “Dubliner”, “Clara Rio de Janeiro”, “Clara Salvador”, among others correspond to drawings, paintings, photographs that detail:
• affects, discrete emotions;
• unique and gregarious acts;
• simple geometrical abstractions
• semiologies and concepts
• Human, animal and vegetable morphologies
• Personal objects – playful and/or utilitarian
• Connoted and effective territories
• Idealizations and visual metamorphosis
• exempted mental maps
• uncommon Materials/matter
• physical supports versus “uncommon continents” (to paraphrase a Freudian concept)

And so forth…

Nomear (To Name): To give name to…; to endow with a poetic identity to…; Designar (To Designate): Call attention to…; attribute something specifically to…;
Intitular (To Entitle): Bestow a title upon…; confer semantic meaning to…

And so forth…

The specific titles of Bechara’s works are not chance occurrences. The titles result from artistic design, expressing the author’s established intentionality, such as is the case of Bois Velhos (Old Bulls) and Borboletas de Chumbo (Lead Butterflies).

“… entendi que podia construir um trabalho de “pintura” a partir da reunião de ocorrências visuais, produzidas na superfície do couro do animal durante sua vida. Sinais diversos sobre a pele do animal. Ao mesmo tempo trazia com esse trabalho uma paleta nova de predominancia de “branco” , que até então estava em torno dos tons cinzas das lonas de das oxidações. Ao utilizar pequenas borboletas de chumbo, “pousadas” proximo aos orgãos sexuais dos touros( bolsa peniana e bolsa escrotal) pensava em discurso sobre simbolos de masculinidade, feminilidade, força, fertilidade e morte. Borboletas são delicadas e frágeis mas acho que na forma de chumbo isso muda. Tambem estão pousadas sobre as peles esticadas dos touros. Não há vida natural mas vestígios de que houve vida cheia de beleza tanto de borboletas quanto de touros.” (12) [I understood that I could create/construct a “painting” by assembling visual events, events that had been produced on the surface of the animal’s skin during its lifetime. Various signs on the animal skins. This also led me to change in my range of colors, now with a predominance of white versus the grey hues of oxidations and tarps. On having small butterflies of lead poised near the bull’s sexual organs (penis and scrotum) I was thinking of discourses on the symbols of masculinity and femininity, strength, fertility and death. Butterflies are delicate and fragile, but I think this changes when they are made of lead. There remains no natural life, but the vestiges of a previous life, a life full of beauty, of butterflies and bulls, that is no more.”]

If the series Mercury (13) compels us to the realm of alchemy, as Wilson Coutinho posited in 1998, I think it not a digression to consider the hermetic reminiscences that underlie both the name/titles of the works and series, and the nature and quality of its content. José Bechara moves in a world of deep experimentation with matter, he addresses it from the standpoint of an inner belief that is more intensively metaphysical than might be apparent at first glance.

In Greek mythology, Hermes is the counterpart of the Roman deity Mercury. The chemical element Mercury (Hg << hydrargyrum, for watery [or liquid] silver, quicksilver) is a highly toxic transition metal. It was known to ancient civilizations such as the Chinese, Indian and Egyptian. The Chinese named it liquid silver (as did Aristotle) and it corresponded in their eyes to the dragon, the “bodily liqueurs” such as blood and semen, the kidney and the primordial element water. In Western alchemy mercury is opposed to sulfur, while the Chinese refer to cinnabar (mercury sulphide). Mercury is also associated to the male-female opposition, (mercury being associated with the feminine seed; cinnabar to the male seed). Actually, in Eastern philosophy, the alternation of mercury and cinnabar, resulting from successive calcinations, would be equivalent to yin and yang, death and regeneration.

Mercury is a mediator, the closest planet to the Sun, a mythical winged entity that is both mediator and messenger among deities and between humanity and the gods!
It is therefore, a privileged link. Ultimately, it points to the construction of personal identity, from the perspective of socialization, since it is the power of communication among humans, the mediator of the overriding inner drives/instincts and the external demands of the “Ego”, that constitute, thus, one of the most important agents in each and every person’s effort to adapt to life.
The poetics driving Bechara’s choice in titles for his works guides spectators toward desired interpretations. The titles do not (it seems to me) restrict semantic fields. By inventing, by choosing the titles first, Bechara offers the public multiple angles for viewing his works, distinct possibilities of interpretation. By naming his works, the artist promotes aesthetic clashes between works and images, both in their most urgent configurations.
The hermetic quality of his ideas, his action, his intention as an author, it all rests, therefore, on the external and physical manifestations that empower his production. Bechara’s work is two-dimensional it is also (not merely three dimensional but) object-producing.

Quando mais me perco de novo neste antigo
Caderno de capa preta de oleado –
Que um dia rasguei com fúria e que um amigo
Folha a folha recolocou com vagar e paciência – (…) (14) [When I find myself again lost in this ancient/black skinned notebook-/that I once tore apart furiously and that a friend/reassembled back together page by page, slow and patiently]

De novo se ergue em minha frente a clara
Parede cal do quarto matinal
Virado para o mar e onde o poente
Se afogava denso e transparente (…) (15) [Again before me rises the white/wall of lime of the morning room/turned to the sea where the sunset/drowned thickly and transparent]

The surfaces of Cadernos Rápidos (“Quick Notebooks”) look like translucent pages of earth, finely shorn by sure hands, in ancient practice. It brings to mind glimpses of landscapes one sometimes sees on the ground, visions aroused by recognized smells and strange pigment. Pinned up on the walls of a gallery, these Notebooks are returned the vertical quality of objects no longer meant to be used.

The end-result of procedures that predate any logic of possession, isolated pieces emerge bound together in Notebooks like individuals contained in communities. They become condescending spirits, brief, protectors. The collection of these “pages” in “notebooks” that are “quick” expands their aesthetic qualities and the non-decipherability of writing that is non-existent. The air is heavy with the humidity of unkempt books, rendered prematurely old by humidity. From them exudes the aroma of lost time, a time only recently lost, but lost irreversibly.

I recall being back in Rio de Janeiro’s National Library Foundation, leafing through Albergue do Vento by Edgard Braga, and that I was left with fragments of paper in my hands. At first I could not understand how a book published in 1952 could be in such advanced state of deterioration.

Curiously, in José Bechara’s work the logics of pure visuality are articulated to an austere pictorial quality with symbolic foundations and an inherent poetic structure.

“O interesse inicial nesses suportes é sempre de base formal. Mas aspectos simbólicos, principalmente ligados a idéia de memória, tempo, finitude etc atuam tambem como motivadores para o trabalho. Eu tenho a impressão de que essas questões vão se refazendo em todas as experiencias inclusive na Casa. Como esse caminho se dá, como esses cruzamentos por meios expressivos diferentes se dão, em sua opinião, me interessa muito.” (16) [The supports initially interest me from a formal point of view. But their symbolic aspects, especially those connected to notions of memory, time, finality, etc., also act as motivators in my work. I have the impression that these issues return in all the different experiments, even in the House. How this happens, how these intersections suggested by different media come into existence, in your opinion, interest me greatly.”]

In the two-dimensional pieces, more even (perhaps) than in objects or installations, we dramatically perceive the passage/work of time. Time as a measure of passage, of human chronology, and time as the medium for climate action, weather. We are led further even, to perceive it in its etymologic and mythical senses as kronos and Saturn as Chronos. Less in the saturnian sense traditionally associated to melancholy, of the God that swallowed up his own children, although kronos, time of measureless length and thus clearly by analogy capable of swallowing us all, sons legitimate and illegitimate – House of the Series Temporária, 2004.

In other words, when José Bechara decided to adopt uncommon materials as support medium, he also benefited from their characteristics. The bovine skins, the truck tarps, and other materials are weathered and different according to the time of year. Oxidations combine with properties that change according to the season, Summer, Spring, Fall or Winter.

Thus, in the artist’s explanation, taken from his comments on the exhibition of 10 canvases of the Series Paramarelos:

“A diminuição do tempo de oxidação das lonas combinada às condições climáticas da estação me deram um resultado de cor diferente do que venho fazendo.” (17) [A shortened oxidation period, combined to the weather conditions of that particular season resulted in a color that is different from the ones I have been employing in the past.”]

The cycle of the seasons is the privilege that rests us (we who experience time linearly) of experiencing mythical time aspect.

Somniem la possibilitat de la reversibilitat del temps i, quans ens expliquen que es produeix en certs nivells subatòmics, encara hi somniem més perquè som presoners de la fletxa del temps. Caminem inexorablement cap a la mort. L’entropia ens domina. Així mateix, sempre estem obsedits per inscriure el temps dins l’espai. (18)

The irreversible quality of human time feeds on (and redeems itself through) the cycles of nature – vestiges of the eternal return, the incessant repetition of events in myths. The mutations of chronology are accompanied by foreseeable changes in the cycles of weather.
Apparently the violence, the force implicit in these works comes from the nature of the materials themselves.

On closer examination we understand that it is the artist’s decision that unleashes this force. Such strong materials would, from other action, become inoperable or loose. But instead, in Bechara’s case, they are associated to the intention (idea) of the author as foundations submitted to his applied procedures and techniques. The force emerges through an underlying aesthetic operans (to put it this way) through subjectivity.

The oxidated canvases, elicit in me, in the imaginary museum I carry as an European, metallic plates subjected to Yannis Kounellis’ gas flame, Richard Serra’s monumental molded metal plates (submitted to the passage/action of time in site specifics), Anselfm Kiefer’s canvases charged with tragic historical memorials that have been pursued since the late 40’s and early 50’s in European Art History by the informalist surfaces worked with concentrated action on “poor” supports by Antoni Tápies (torn sheets, bedcovers, used clothing…) or even Alberto Burri’s “combustions” (an artist recognized at the São Paulo Biennial of 1965) of various and uncommon materials such as jute, shreds of cloth, burnt wood, rusted metal and bits of molten plastic…

We must of course, keep in mind that differing more widely than the supports they employ are the different artists’ various intentions, especially in the case of Bechara. The symbolic dimension that is so significant in the works of Tàpies and Kiefer, one that is crucial to situate their work in aesthetics and in the history of art, for example, is not explicitly present in Bechara’s work. Or, at least, it is not a prevailing factor.

O uso de superfícies já impregnadas de algum significado (as lonas usadas de caminhão, os edredons – cobertores de casal, que chamo de série Núpcias, etc). O interesse inicial nesses suportes é sempre de base formal. Mas aspectos simbólicos, principalmente ligados a idéia de memória, tempo, finitude etc atuam tambem como motivadores para o trabalho. (19) [The use of surfaces already impregnated with some meaning (the truck tarps, the eiderdowns – queen sizes I call Nuptials series, etc). My initial interest in these supports has always been aroused from a formal perspective. But symbolic aspects, especially those associated to memory, time and finality, etc, are also motivations for work.]

The symbolic dimension in his case is subtle, ingrained, creating a whole out of the very material quality of the works. It is a substance that impregnates their singular identity, without however, detracting from them.

A obra é a aproximação. Tenho a impressão de que quanto mais qualidade estética a obra possuir, mais autonomia ela terá mesmo que tenha se utilizado de um tema ou fenómeno social. (20) [The piece is an approximation. I am under the impression that the higher the aesthetic quality of a work of art, the more independent it becomes, even if it has made use of a social theme or social phenomenon.]

It seems to me that, with respects to this Brazilian author, the oxidations, the action of time and weathering of the materials, as surfaces susceptible to being transformed, are a form of “action painting” directed by the elements (of nature) that is quite primeval. Agnaldo Farias sensed this quality of the artist’s work when he emphasizes:

“…suas operações aceleram a ação do tempo, de modo a tornar perceptível uma dinâmica, cujo vagar faz com que escape à nossa percepção. Mas, isso não esgota o espectro de suas pesquisas.” (21) […his interventions accelerate the work of time, making perceivable to us, processes that would otherwise so slow as to escape our perception. But there is a wider spectrum to his research.]

Wilson Coutinho considered that, in the case of José Bechara’s paintings “method and objective are for him one and the same.” (22) The critic was then referring to the artist’s contribution when invited to show his work at the Modern Art Museum of Rio de Janeiro, in 1998. Wilson Coutinho emphasized the intrinsic relationship established with architectural space, describing works that dialogue amongst themselves and with their “continent”:

“São obras, portanto, de ação e estratégia. Ação sobre o espaço e energia estratégica para colocar aquele local num fluxo de atenção estética, que esteja em confronto com aquela dimensão que soa como uma fenda, um abismo, uma espiral devoradora. É um combate contra o Muro.” (23) [They are works, therefore, of action and strategy. Action over space and strategic energy to locate that site in the flux of aesthetic attention one that it is in confrontation with what could be a precipice, an abyss, a devouring spiral. It is the struggle against the Wall.]

The crucial action of the artist is present, not absent at all, it is highlighted as a catalyst, he (the artist) allows the elements of nature to interact, sharing thus his creation/intervention with the Other that belongs precisely to a tellurian, visceral, a mythical order. Is it the deity Ogum, is it Vulcan … perhaps both or are they even the same?

The surfaces appeal to what Bachelar describes as the imaginary of matter, where the 4 elements succeed each other, directed, as they are summoned on stage at the anthropological and aesthetic instances of José Bechara:
• fire (light, sun),
• earth (glued to tarps, supported by pigments),
• water (rain, humidity) and
• air (sustainer of wind, breath, odor and smoke…).

Here, thus, the imaginary is real, its action forces surfaces to react; the surfaces themselves are epidermis, practically human, porous, tactile. From which result the concatenated titles of Bechara’s works, richly inventive and poetic. Thus it all makes sense. Actually, these words lead us to aesthetic experiences, to be expanded on according to the personal disposition of each and everyone.

Bechara´s paintings always overflow the material realm, substituting the representational of the real object or its matter. A technical demand is implicit there, one that drives him to both the object and the surface of the painting with great precision. The udders become surfaces to be touched visually; their color, form, and texture become, fervidly, the “message”. To know that skin is not synthetic turns it into a broad, happy experience; something synthetic would not generate so many positive associations, but rather mournful frustration. (24)

Like children and Da Vinci himself, inventing stories based on the shapes of clouds, I find myself doing the same looking at some surfaces of “Paramarelos”, “Nuptials” or “Notebooks” – that is, independently of the materials, my imagination is set free in the forms that shape a whole inextricable from its materials.

The same is often said of certain works of Antoni Tàpies, of his walls where the wasting away of history shapes the imagination of the “active spectator”, to use a term/an argument of the Catalonian artist.

In some of the “Paramarelos”, “Inserções”, “Matter and Form” paintings, as well as in “Quadrimetrics”, the insertion of simple geometric lines (Inserção com stripes, 1998) establishes modes of reading the piece as image, as an incursion into drawing. Drawing establishes a sort of destiny that disguises itself under the appearance of a pictorial promenade over the surfaces. There is a feeling of passage, of a particular aesthetics of the nomad that is left for the public to envy, both his availability, and thus, his sure direction as an author.

Mais aujourd’hui, je marche :
je marche dans mes dessins. (25)

Or still regarding Nuptials in which lines are accentuated by the artist’s very decisions, aiding the interpretation of the work. Thus the accent is set on the concatenation of the aesthetic and symbolic realms:

“Uma vez colocado na parede, eu procuro ocupar o espaço lateral ( em dimensão variável) , a esquerda ou a direita, tanto faz, com linhas de algodão, na cor do cobertor, cruzando verticais e horizontais. Assim como os “gomos” do cobertor (edredom) são retângulos que não vemos lá muito bem por conta do volume que esses gomos constituem. Portanto as linhas que traço a esquerda ou a direita, reproduzem esses gomos, desta vez vazios. Uma certa geometria «escondida» que compõe o cobertor, é reforçada com essa “costura geométrica” que realizo na parede, como um prolongamento “vazio” do edredom.” (26) [Once hung on the wall, I try to take up the side areas (of various sizes), to the left or to the right, regardless, with lines of wool the color of the comforter, intersecting vertical with horizontal (lines). Just as the eiderdown comforter is sectioned off into rectangles that we do not make out very well because of their volume. So the lines I draw to the left or right are a reproduction of these sections, only emptied out. It is a certain hidden geometry that makes up the comforter, one that is emphasized through the “geometric sewing” made on the wall, as if it were an ’empty’ extension of the comforter.]

Thus our gaze is directed by its regular sinuosity, safely guided. The lightness of these lines, their regimented austerity, is reconciled to the apparent monochrome. But in appearance only, since the monochrome turns out to be a trick to be undone by the eye of the beholder, an eye that as time elapses, becomes contemplative. The decision to offer total surfaces, composed of units joined together practically imperceptibly, reinforces the [notion] of continuity brought about, in spite of the variation of visual rhythms, of infinitely small intervals, of unavoidable breathers: diptychs, tryptichs, poly-ptichs…

“…a duração tem que ver com os anos,
com as décadas, com o nosso tempo de vida;
a duração é o sentimento da vida.” (27) […duration has to do with years, decades, our life spans; duration is life’s feeling]

In sum, it is a question of seeing, the wisdom that comes from seeing as Almada Negreiros would say.

Ver é como olhar, a conjugação natural perfeita dos cinco sentidos, porém, em ver, esta mesma harmonia é de sabedoria reflectida. Por conseguinte olhar é primeiro anterior a ver e depois posterior a este, ao passo que ver é primeiro posterior a olhar e passa logo a anterior deste. (28) [To see is as to look, a natural and perfect conjugation of the five senses, however, on seeing, this same harmony is of reflected wisdom. Thus to look is firstly prior to seeing and then posterior to it, while seeing is firstly posterior to looking and soon takes precedence over it.]

Ver, conjugação dos cinco sentidos, é pensar. (28) [To see, a conjugation of the five sense, is to think]

In some of Bechara’s works, the inscription of lines awards them the status of signs. Signs, from the origins of humanity, express the visible and the invisible in the universe; its interior and exterior simultaneously: the visible expressed through its own visuality, manifested by way of generalized apperception, the invisible, revealed through penetrating visuality, fixed for its conventional expression.

O Porto, August/December 2005



(1) Sophia de Mello Breyner, “A Casa”, Dual (1972), Lisboa, Ed. Caminho, 2004, p.9

(2) “Two weeks spent amid multicolored wood chalets, in neat rows astride a gentle slope. The Botanical Gardens to one side, lakes, green spaces, cold weather, good food and lots of appetite.” Agnaldo Farias, “The Substance of Violence”, article written for the Work Area exhibition, at Casa Andrade Muricy, Paraná, June/September 2005, in http//, consulted 11.08.2005. Contrast the same article in the booklet of the Work Area exhibition, entitiled “Breviário da Violência.”

(3) José Bechara, interview given to Luiz Frederico, “Time, and human frailty in the art of José Bechara,” (in Portuguese, in http:/

(4) “A Chocolataria”: D”5 Espazo de Experimentación e Creación Contemporánea – Santiago de Compostela, Galizia/Spain. Housed in an old chocolate factory, deactivated since the 80’s.

(5) Paulo Sergio Duarte, “This House of Bechara’s”, October 2004.

(6) Carlos Drummond de Andrade, “Um eu retorcido”, Antologia Poética, Lisboa, Dom Quixote, 2001, p.44.

(7) Gaston Bachelard, Poétique de l’espace, Paris, P.U.F., 1983, p.25

(8) Sophia de Mello Breyner, “A Casa Térrea”, O Nome das Coisas (1977), Lisboa, Ed. Caminho, 2004, p.39.

(9) Sylvia Plath, “Ocean 1212-W”, Die Bibel der Traüme, Frankfurt, Fischer Verlag, 1990, p.141

(10) Agnaldo Farias, “O Sumo da Violência”, article written for the exhibition Área de Serviço, “Work Area”, Casa Andrade Muricy, Paraná, Junho/Setembro 2005, in http//, consulted date 11.08.2005. The same article was published in the exhibition booklet Área de Serviço [ “Work Area”], entitled: “Breviário da Violência”.

(11) José Bechara interviewed by Paulo Reis, “Dez perguntas para se responder neste milénio”, Revista Encontro com Arte – Razão e Sensibilidade, São Paulo/, 2005, p.97

(12) José Bechara, unpublished excerpt, 17 October 2005.

(13) Commenting on the method employed in creating series pieces, Eugenio Espinoza
writes: “These works, executed using oxides on waxed cloth, acquire a coloration that doesn’t exist in industrial pigments. It is a palette of forgotten ochres, produced only by the bitterness and wisdom of time. Oxide penetrates the cloth and leaves its spontaneous stain. Progressively, the oxidation lines come to form a desolate, wilted landscape on an emaciated canvas. The artist’s overwhelming influx of chromatic lines deteriorated by oxidation produces a progressive echo of ancient, expiatory intervals.” Cf. Art Nexus, Nº 54, Volume 3, 2004.

(14) Sophia de Mello Breyner, “Caderno I”, O Nome das Coisas (1977), Lisboa, Ed. Caminho, 2004, p.47

(15) Idem, “Caderno II”, Op. Cit, p.48.

(16) José Bechara, unpublished excerpt, 18 August 2005.

(17) José Bechara, excerpt of an interview cited in “José Bechara – Paramarelos”, no/author, Jornal Rio Arte Cultura,, consulted date 18.08.2005.

(18) Umberto Eco , from an interview given to Daniel Soutif, “Els amants, seran més feliços sense l’agonia de l’espera?”, Art i temps, Barcelona, Fundació Caixa Catalunya, 2000, p.10: “Sonhamos com a possibilidade da reversibilidade do tempo e, quando nos dizem que esta se produz em certos níveis sub-atómicos, sonhamos ainda mais com isso, pois somos prisioneiros da flecha do tempo. Caminhamos inexoravelmente para a morte. A entropia domina-nos. Mesmo assim, estamos sempre obcecados pela inscrição do tempo no espaço.” (Fatima Lambert’s translation)[from an Umberto Eco interview given to Daniel Soutif, “Els amants, seran més feliços sense l’agonia de l’espera?”, Art i temps, Barcelona, Fundació Caixa Catalunya, 2000, p.10: “We dreamt with the possibility of the reversibility of time, and when they tell us that it occurs at certain sub-atomic levels, we dream even more readily of it, because we are prisoners of time’s arrow. We walk inexorably towards death. Entropy dominates us. Even so, we have always been obsessed with our inscription in time and space.]

(19) José Bechara, unpublished excerpt, 18.08.2005: “The supports initially interest me from a formal point of view. But their symbolic aspects, especially those connected to notions of memory, time, finality, etc., also act as motivators in my work. I have the impression that these issues return in all the different experiments, even in the House. How this happens, how these intersections suggested by different media come into existence, in your opinion, interest me greatly.”]

(20) José Bechara interview given to Paulo Reis, “Dez perguntas para se responder neste milénio”, Revista Encontro com Arte – Razão e Sensibilidade, São Paulo/, 2005, p. 98

(21) Agnaldo Farias, “Parceiro do Tempo”, José Bechara, RJ, MAM, Outubro 1998, s/p.

(22) Wilson Coutinho, “A Ação – pesos densos – o Método – o resto com beleza”, José Bechara, RJ, MAM, October 1998, no/p.

(23) Wilson Coutinho, “A Ação – pesos densos – o Método – o resto com beleza”, José Bechara, RJ, MAM, October 1998, no/p. Cf: “Só em nosso tempo, em que a pintura procura se realimentar de novos processos para, de novo, conquistar seu espaço simbólico e imaginário, os trabalhos de Bechara confundem-se com o seu método e o seu método extrai poesia do processo inventado.” [“In our time, when painting would renew itself through new processes so as to, once more, re-conquer its symbolic and imaginary terrain, José Bechara’s works are inseparable from his method, and his method extracts poetry from the invented process.]

(24) Eugenio Espinoza, « José Bechara at Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts », ARTNEXUS Nr 54 , 2004

(25) Jan Fabre, Umbraculum, Paris, Actes du Sud, 2001, p.87

(26) José Bechara, unpublished excerpt, 17 October 2005.

(27) Peter Handke, Poema à duração, Lisboa, Assírio & Alvim, 2002, p. 27.

(28) Almada Negreiros, “Ver — I o sensível e o sagrado II o estético ou a teoria”, Ver, Lisboa, Arcádia, 1982, p.221.

(29) Almada Negreiros, “Mito-Alegoria-Símbolo”, Ver, p.257


* translator’s note: in terms of word usage, the word “house” in Portuguese is practically interchangeable with the word “home.”

** translator’s note: saudade is noted for being difficult to translate, meaning something akin to nostalgia and/or the feeling of when someone or something is missed.



Maria de Fátima Lambert is a professor at the Escola Superior de Educação, (Advanced Education School) of the Polytechnic Institute of O Porto (Portugal). She is also an art critic and curator.