Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Dasartes magazine, 2011 (press)
What to paint after the “return to painting”? How to do it? One response is found in the work of José Bechara, (Rio de Janeiro, 1957) currently being shown at the Lurixs Gallery and at the Museum of Modern Art, both located in his native Rio de Janeiro. Bechara’s latest works belong to a series first begun in the late 1980’s, when the painting bubble was bursting. His works on canvas (which drew growing attention in the decades that followed) employ raw materials that are, at first glance, rust and its crusts. At closer analysis however, there is another decisive agent present in the execution of these works: time. An element that opens a door to other issues launched by this new perspective on painting.
In fact, it is not merely an incursion towards a new approach to the language of painting that Bechara’s work offers us, especially in the context of the 1990’s. It is at the same time an intuitive attempt to synthesize the material qualities inherited from the previous decade of painting, while assimilating echoes of experimentalism in art from the 60’s and 70’s, when painting was “rediscovered” by the public. Bechara’s paintings, after all, through gestures in which hands take no part, incorporate simultaneously a sense of impermanence and of the transformation of matter; his method is the appropriation of something elusive, despite (or perhaps because of it) something that escapes our definition: whether arrested in an instant or dissolved in an imprecise moment in time. Nor does Bechara seek to cancel the artist’s action, neither express a chosen asceticism – quite to the contrary, his work is a rebirth of visual splendor, a surprise to his audience born from delicate materials, but there is nothing fragile about its aesthetic presence.
Similar issues have been reverberating in Bechara’s more recent works, such as the series introduced at the 2002 São Paulo Biennial. He used leather skins of slaughtered animals as support, their iron brandings on display, and placed on them delicate silver butterflies. It’s a work of disconcerting poetry: poised on top of death’s tactile tracks – time cruelly ended – the frozen image of new life, butterflies just emerged out of lethargic cocoons. “These works are inhabited by metaphors”, said Bechara at the time.
Metaphors and memories are ways in which individuals effectively handle time, they release time from the realm of abstraction and make it corporeal. We see this taking place in Bechara’s work. In his series A Casa (The House) the subject matter present in his paintings is transported to his sculptures and installations. It is a genre of continuity that is not expressed through corresponding forms or visual depictions, but via the concept of accumulation as a guiding thread that runs through whatever it is that is being accumulated and reinvented.
In A Casa, the goal is cram a house (in 2004) or a white cube in a gallery (in later versions) full of things, its surroundings overflowing with objects. Thus we have accumulation not only of time, but also of space. Is there a way to distinguish one from the other? Going beyond the concept of transporting objects from daily life into the world of art – a practice that has become a trait of modernity – Bechara’s series is imbued with irony about the very shaping of Brazilian space, forever caught indecisively between mythical vastness and the habit of building through agglomeration*.
In other words: an excessive exuberance that desires to contain all, even at the price of pilling everything up to the point of creating a great formless mass, where there is no space left for memory. In more limited scope, it suggests a visuality that is almost clumsy, one that, in a relatively short period of time, moved “abruptly” from easel to unknown scale. A Casa is this environment, its mood is indecipherable, while it is prone compulsively to keep, who knows what, perhaps itself. Because each piece of furniture, like the canvases Bechara purchased from truck drivers, has a story. It matters little whether they are themselves irrelevant or filled with glory. The important question is, how do they mix together, how do they develop a new identity in Bechara’s anti-monument, given that its greatness is proportional to the confusion, anti-celebration and disorder that they elicit, jumbling up the well oiled world of a typical middle class dream.
Bechara’s installation, who knows, may take the metaphor beyond this notion of storage, and reach the very bones of Art, its rationale, as seen in collectors and in museums, born to store, watch over, retell. This disordered voraciousness however will not grant us a way out of our own difficulty to “fit” in the contemporary world: a little gadget contains a house in it – books, music, a computer… Who knows, perhaps in a few years it will be no more than another forgotten item looking for its own cramped spot in one of those installations? Bechara’s irony touches on the one scale that is undefined to us: the minuscule house that with half a dozen objects becomes a master of the world; and the tiny world that, entering the house, explodes it.
Guilherme Bueno, Dasartes editor
*Translator’s note: “… o hábito do puxadinho”. Here the author notes the Brazilian habit of building add ons or annexes, the puxadinhos, to buldings and residences. Since it belongs to the theme of agglomeration, I preferred not to explain too much and risk breaking the impact of image the author created.