Bechara’s The House project

Adriana Herrera T.

El Nuevo Herald
Miami, USA, 2006



It was a common sight, back in the early 90s, to see the Brazilian artist José Bechara – whose celebrated project The House is being shown for the first time in the United States at the Diane Lowenstein Fine Arts in Wynwood – walking into a truck cooperative in Rio de Janeiro. Over his shoulders he carried a new tarpaulin, a large size canvas used to cover loads on trucks in long highway trips. Much like a contemporary reenactment of the Arabian Nights, Bechara took on the role of a new Alladin at the trading floor: “I trade new tarps for old ones.” It was a period when Bechara’s geometric paintings detailed a concern with color and form. On the surfaces of the old tarps Bechara found a series of ‘visual events’ that he could not have created on brand new tarps. He took home used, strained and stained canvasses, tarps whose imprints bore witness to the passage of time, objects worn and torn, that became the starting point for Bechara”s composition. His multi-textured studio paintings were put face to face with that other ”work” of lead tonalities that lengthy highways had left on tarps that were white no longer.

It was on one of these deteriorated tarps that the Brazilian artist first noticed the ferrous oxidation deposited on it from coming into contact with iron. This ferrous stain, this tension of color created by an event on the canvas” surface, caught Bechara’s imagination. The artist was awoken to the fascinating process of oxidation, which is how time transforms the presence of iron — dark and heavy — into yellow ochre. “When iron disappears it leaves behind only a visual imprint” said Bechara. Bechara’s fascination is evident in works such as Paramarelo. The title is a play on the word yellow in Portuguese, it calls attention to a color that has been “invented” by iron that Bechara reproduces with a play of textures and tonalities that go “beyond yellow” to vermillion and black. To wrest out of our quotidian existence objects that have been wedded to function, to use, and provoke the contemplation of their shape and the signs of the passage of time and wear, is to create a poetic experience that is one with experience of the world, the world we inhabit.”

That was the point of departure for Bechara to produce oxidations that were not limited to his canvasses but also extended to objects. His vision of art changed: his formal pictorial conceptions were juxtaposed to a symbolic dimension. Bechara’s Núpcias (Nuptials) is key to this transition. Bechara moves from traditional one-dimensional painting to submitting queen size mattresses to a special oxidation and pigmentation process with vermilions and yellows. Nuptials works like a geometric volume, but is at the same time a metaphor for the wasting away of the matrimonial bed, of conjugal strife.

“Topics such as memory, such as the world we inhabit, of the notion of an end to all things, lead me to work with the shape of objects marked by daily routines, much like skins,” said Bechara. In fact, in the works that he created for the Lisbon Culturgest collection the canvasses are gone. In their stead are the skins of oxen, large, old animals full of scars and tattooed by the passage of time. Bechara used the dark areas of the skins that cover the oxen’s reproductive organs and applications in the shape of butterflies to evoke the navel or pubis of a woman in geometric compositions made up of nine squares. These paintings, in which a formal vision fused with the notion of “human signs,” preceded a crisis that would cleave Bechara’s artistic trajectory in two.

The year was 2002, Bechara was a guest artist taking up a single chalet at the Faxinal do Céu project in the vicinity of Pinho, Paraná State. Faxinal brought together 100 artists, who lived together for 2 weeks in the company of art critics and journalists, and, before them, the challenge of creating works of art that would show the nature of contemporary art. It was the 12th day into the project and still Bechara drew a blank. “To be far from my studio, from my urbe, was to be distanced from my own memory… incapable of creating anything I began to doubt myself as an artist.” He took walks circling the chalet provided him for his stay, and a pause sitting on a bench led to an epiphany. The bench itself, and all around him, he was surrounded by geometric shapes and volumes. An open widow was the empty rectangular void to fit the bench through. And once he did it, he created a distinct body, a sculpture that now cancelled the original function of those objects, impossible to look out that window, to sit on that bench. To disturb the intentions that made the furniture of the house functional triggered a great exercise in contemplation. “All the objects that we use in our daily life are geometric and reflect our family life. Tables, chairs, beds, are impregnated with our day to day life,” said Bechara.

“There are a number of points where the formal and symbolic aspects of both the pictorial process and the sculptural process meet,” said Bechara. In the three remaining days he devoted himself to creating such “sculptures”, combining cubes, spheres, and all the geometric forms of the entire furniture of the chalet. Thus was born The House project (A Casa).

By relieving the house of all the objects that make it inhabitable, that allow us to sit, eat, read, love and sleep, Bechara created a work that takes objects out of the world in which they are nested, and encrusted them in the house’s external space. The House is composed of both its vacant innards– that deprivation of the customary, the absence of objects that relate to memory – and the display of all the shapes thrust out —the geometry of the human habitat. In symbolic terms Bechara creates aesthetic leisure out of our daily perceptions, of an affective space. In the last few years Bechara has deepened his investigation in this direction, a direction born of a profound experience but one that also takes up again the thread of Bauhaus and its fusion of architecture and art, extending it to the territory of emotion and a phenomenological perception of objects.

His works of art pick up the tracks of human experience centered in the house, this crucial object that forever changed the lives of rootless nomads, trading that way of life for a haven, and from it irradiating a world of civilization.

In preparation of his installation at the Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts exhibition, Bechara spent the first few days visiting warehouses. After physically experimenting with forms, he assembled his construction of geometric volumes. “It’s an experience that comes from grey area, a place that is intermediary. One can think of it as a sculpture but it is also a space that is ’empowered’ by its inner laws”. The final work displays formal rigor and “awakens poetic associations that intertwine the notion of human inner space and externality.”

In a parallel exhibition, Rio de Janeiro’s Centro Helio Oiticica will show, for the first time, Bechara’s oxidated furniture, a metaphor for the end that engulfs all lives and human ties, as well as the very objects that humans create to inhabit the world.