Deambulations about qualities…

Paulo Reis

Lisbon, Portugal, 2010.
In Como piscada de Vaga-lume,  published by Editora Réptil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2010.


Men only understand one another as far as they are imbued by the same passions[1].



When Bechara’s interview was published in Dardo[2] magazine, under the title “Finally a man with qualities”, a title that played with Robert Musil’s famous book, I thought that the measure of an artist was his promethean effort to reveal mystical truths, as Bruce Nauman put it in his work-manifesto. An artist’s true stature should be measured by his persistence and intelligence in transforming something empirical, thought, through recognized artistic skill. True intelligence, after all, is often identified through qualities not apparent, or even through what I could call intelligent obstinacy. Issues such as these stormed my mind when, last year, I found myself in a beautiful exhibition that brought together the works of Cézanne and Picasso. The confrontation, in which Picasso revered Cézanne’s mastery, by copying him, at times literally, at times by way of citation, made me certain that artistic obstinacy is, at times, worthwhile. I immediately wrote José Bechara when I returned to the hotel, ecstatic with the revelation, and this is how our email exchange unfolded:

 Dear Bechara, it has taken me long to answer you, but there were reasons for it. Some personal and some other. I would still like to explain that I did not mean to interview you tout court, but instead, to exchange ideas on the work of creation. That is why I am writing you now, having just arrived back from Arles, Nîmes, and Avignon, at my destination that is Aix-en-Province. The trip was not motivated by gastronomy, nor the bullfights, I came here exclusively to see the Picasso and Cézanne exhibition[3] at the Musée Granet at Aix-en-Province. It is curious that I had already been at these places, but that it had never ocurred to me that art could so profoundly mark a place. Ipso facto mythical Arles owes its existance to the fact that Van Gogh made the city known to us and we cannot distinguish the real city from the one depicted by the Dutch painter.

Césanne started a revolution that shook the art world right here in this small southern European town. He changed art from the inside and took the city beyond its walls… This exhibition, apart from the its spectacular concept and many years of accumulated research, helped me see even more clearly how some artists – and their own goals- are relentless forces of human nature. Cézanne was nine times refused by the Paris salons and he persisted in his pictoric research. And, like the saying goes, revenge is best eaten cold. From that city he not only marked Aix-en-Province, but transformed all art that was to come after him. What admirable tenacity, to face those steep inclines of Mount Victory ato see the grooves of the white rock and to be bathed in the streams of light that change the landscape every minute!  Cézanne transformed the physical experience of the landscape into a phenomenology of color, of sensation! I stood at that mountain and all my thoughts were taken by Cézanne. Such is the power of art! The power impelled Picasso to seek out Cézanne’s truth and buy the castle that faces that very mountain. There, in front of Cézanne’s mountain, Picasso takes his collections made up, above all, of works by Cézanne and Matisse […]

[…] Picasso always said that he was Cézanne’s son, Cézanne the father of all modernists. In one of his memorable phrases he said that an artist’s true search is the one that Cézanne did and Van Gogh took up. For a true artist, all the rest would be false. In this exhibition there were a few exquisitely simple Picasso drawings in imitation of Cézanne’s landscapes. A small “aixois” street, with is angular conjunctions of houses and roofs, transports us as if to another dimension, to a world where the eye and the spirit are fused into one, as Bachelard wrote about Cézanne.  Cézanne tried to excavate the flatness of the landscapes, while Picasso stressed the angularity present when he reinterpreted Cézanne. Such simplicity, such beauty, such potency […] It reminded me acutely of your sculpture of a house made in simple drawings – stamps and washes – where the solid image of a house fluctuates in immaterial space, as if something trully weightless, contrary to its nature. Is it, to put it like this, is your house the mountain? Because it repeats itself in a dozen, hundreds of drawings that juxtaposed to each other, look like an animated film, imbued with life, something solid that fluctuates in space like a soap bubble[4]?

In response to my speculations, the artist’s letter seems to me even more emotional than my own:

Hello Paulo […] with such an introduction to your question, I don’t even know what to say. Your description is cinematographic and romantic, so any response of mine would be utterly pale. So that, in all modesty, and in response to the end of your question, the house – and all that it stands for, outside as well as inside – yes, it is my moutain. It has been that way for 10 years and it is present in my sculptures, as well as in my drawings, and, in the latter, it has in it the conflict that you mention: that of a solid object, that is physically and psychologically solid, that floats directionless. That is what it is, it is the most simple, direct possible drawing. For me it is like writing about the impossibilities of daily life in spaces that one starts to invent. But it isn’t exactly in soap bubbles (although the idea you offer is more beautiful) that I see the houses floating. I really think of it as if there were no place for them. As if there were no place for them to settle into. I always think about a poem by Julles Supervielle that says more or less the following:

Procuro em cofres que me cercam brutalmente

Pondo trevas de pernas para o ar

Em caixas profundas, profundas,

Como se já não fossem deste mundo.

[I look in vaults that surround me brutaly/darkness overturned/in profound, profound,boxes/as if no longer of this world]

[…] I read this perhaps six or eight years ago, and ever since I have been thinking on the impossibilities of a state of things that “põe trevas de pernas pro ar” [turns the darkness upside down] . It inspired me a lot, and it impelled me to produce The House and later, through drawings, I found a field in which I could explore it better.  Our email conversation started a discussion on drawing and it evolved into something more metaphysical: 

[…] Dear José Bechara, to begin with were must distance ourselves in our conversation from a discussion of style as evoked by Wölflin[5]. I believe that, at the time it was written, the author looked at the production of the past that had as a goal to determine a distinction between Michelangelo and Raphael. I think that in modernity the linear and pictorial practices have fused in the concept of object, and today it would have been impossible to write that book. Who is interested in whether an artist is pictoric or linear? I think that back then the distinction helped to distinguish one artist’s form of action from the other. Today that would be impossible. Drawings were created as foundations, as preliminary “sketch” for a final work. There existed the notion of search, in the direction of a final destination, the painting. The modernist affirmation of the artist as freed from any kind of academicism – whether formal or conceptual – was key in granting drawing  definitive autonomy, a Picasso drawing, it’s worth noting, is as valuable as a painting. I always think that a drawing is never  something that searches beyond itself, but inside itself, since it requires great concentration on the part of the artist, don’t you think? Since you are a painter who has persisted in the practice of solitary drawing, private, intimate, even, and since your work has been developing itself incisively in other practices such as sulpture and installation, it is only now that it has gained significance along with the other practices and media to the point of exposing them as autonomous. How did this take place, is it a way to show the complexity of your work?

Paulo, starting back from the last part of your queston, thank you for considering the form “way to show the complexity of your work”. It is just daily work. My work researches painting, sculpture, drawing and tries to interplay these mediums with visual experiments in hopes that the resulting artistic object, a sculpture for example, implies in an idea for a painting […] The time that elapses between them is not measured by conventional time measuring tools. It is a time that is unique to the choices I make when I think about what I am producing, even if it is not yet clear to me. I have realized recently, that it is one of the reasons for organizing and publishing this book, that the drawings that I have produced over the past 20 years are at one and the same time letters about things I have done and also autonomous pieces. This is something I rely on to bring together the body of work in this book that I classify in different categories; among them drawings made for a project, drawings at the service of a final piece, a problem that you also touch on. Well, even these drawings are autonomous to a degree, this double quality is an issue that transpires in the book. Now, as to how to identify this duplicity is not all clear to me; it is fine to say that “from modernism onwards, etc…” During the time I produced the drawings, (or if you prefer, during which I drew) I used to see them as a separate area of my daily work, which, in the begining, when I had just left the Parque Lage, was painting. And I used to draw, let’s say, silenty, as if I “wrote”, and “noted down”ideas and while I was doing it, I thought. It was for myself, and for no one else, for no ulterior purpose beyond drawing itself […] and this used to offer me, as it still does, great freedom. It has only been in the last few years that I became more confident in investigating drawing, in exhausting my possibilities in this area. To finish up, I don’t think that it is a way to display, decipher, the relations and connections in my work, but it is a path to approach the body of my work in painting and sculture.


I think that the José Bechara’s work, as Fátima Lambert writes “develops around precise concepts that translate the centrality of art in relation to life, in a sense that I would dare to say, is practically that of ‘survival’. Thus emerge productions around the series The House (Casa)  for example, the paintings called Cadernos rápidos, Mercúrio and Paramarelos. To abide in, to be in […], on the one hand, and, on the other, to reaffirm  abstract and cognitive fields through writing, drawings and objects able to channel it, are priviledged domains that synthesize the cohesion of the aesthetics and thought of a Brazilian[6] author (as an artist)”. A type of expansion of the already expanded fields that are the practices of sculpture, drawing, painting and installation. A work of art today exists as a symptom of continuated expansion as we can see in artists such as Franz Ackerman, Tobias Rehberger, and José Bechara as they evoke a randomic and deambulating disposition between sculpture, drawing and painting.

 Nicolas Bourriaud wrote, in a brief essay entitled “relational aesthetics”[7], that artistic activity is not constituted of an immutable essence, but of a play in which form, modality, and function, evolve according to social settings and historical period. Critics evoke the notion of time and space to understand a work of art in a global world. He notes that art critics are charged with the task of studying artworks in the present, exchanging information with artists, studying their motivations and acting as intermediaries with the public. Borriaud makes a complaint, stating that modern criticism has reached a point of relative exhaustion, having been emptied out the aesthetic criteria of content, drawing on judgment handed down from the past that we continue to apply to current artistic practice. Which is illogical, since “novelty is no longer valid criteria, except for among those outdated detractors of modern art who retain of the hateful present only that which their traditionalist culture taught them to find abominating in the art of the past.” In order to create more efficient tools and more adequate points of view, it is important to aprehend the transformations that are happening now in the social world, to capture what has already changed and what continues to change. How can one understand the artistic behaviors manifest over the last two decades and their respective ways of thought, if not by taking part in the same situations the artists participate in, this is the question posed by Bourriaud. It posits that it is only through sharing experience that it is possible to arrive at a possible answer. Alied to an intelligent obstinacy, artists must experience their artistic reveries, float like a soap bubble, or throw “darkness overturned, in boxes, boxes, profound, profound as if not longer of this world”.


Paulo Reis

Lisboa, janeiro 2010



[1]          C’est que les hommes ne se comprennent qu’à mesure qu’ils sont animés des mêmes passions Stendhal. Oeuvres de Stendhal‎, v. 28.

[2]          Dardo, n. 9. Santiago de Compostela: Dardo ds, 2008.

[3]          “Cézanne – Picasso, deux maîtres face à face“. Musée Granet, Aix-en-Province, França, 2009.

[4]   Emails exchanged with the artist.

[5]          Heirich Wölflin. Conceitos fundamentais da história da arte. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1989.

[6]          Maria de Fátima Lambert. In José Bechara – essa “cinza das horas”. Available at

[7]   Nicolas Bourriaud. Esthétique relationnelle. Dijon: Les presses du réel, 1998 (Estética relacional. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2009).