José Bechara’s oxidized geometry

Carlos M. Luis

El Nuevo Herald, Miami, EUA, 2004



If it is true that not all paths in modern art lead to abstraction, it is also true that abstract art has paved the way for numerous forms of expression in painting. And the work of Brazilian painter José Bechara is proof of it.

The principal dilemma in abstract art, a drastic change in our way of seeing, is present in José Bechara’s oxidations, leading us to a re-positioning on the nature of painting itself. Here, in this art of his, a new element emerges, a new form in as much as artistic substance, as Joseph Beuys would have termed it. To put it another way “a transfiguration at the zero of form” as Malevitch had already attempted it. But if the Russian painter took the subject to its utmost reduction on an all white or all black surface, the Brazilian painter adds a substance, oxidation, generating its own transfiguration in great canvases such as Núpcias (Nuptials) or Série Mercúrio (Mercury Series) I & II, the oxidation process aided by different pigments bringing out an appealing contrast among the different areas of the painting. This is what we see in a large work such as Nine Females where he introduces cowhide leaving an impression that is not without of a hint of eroticism. The divided canvas produces a collage effect, the composition of the topmost areas akin to a pentagram, while the other areas preserve the tenuous colors of animal skin, suggesting, at the same time, the female body.

But it is through oxidation, in my opinion, that his interrogation of matter is driven to the extreme.

We already know that abstract art consists, above all, in drawing the object away from our field of vision until it is turned into pure absence. In abstract art, it is starting from this absence, this zero, that the artist will give shape to an alternate reality, helping emerge a writing of the invisible. In Bechara’s case if we attain ourselves merely to his structures we will see that they are not that distant from the so called Neoplasticism of the 1920’s. The composition of his works is based on a strict economy of lines, squares, rectangles, etc., that fills spaces according to the ideal of purity that Neoplasticism compared musically to Bach’s fugues. But his search does not end there. The purity we see in the works of Mondrian, Theo Van Doesburg, Vantongerloo and others is subjected to the added transgression of oxidation. That is, in my understanding, where José Bechara opens a new pathway for abstract art.

Instead of looking to color as the outcome of a composition begun in pure form, Bechara attacks the surface of the painting, creating new artistic substance through the oxidation process. Neither visual effects with fields of color bound in the manner of Mondrian, neither a canvas submitted to manipulations of the so called “brute art”. This artist attacks surfaces imbued with an alchemist’s dreams: that of witnessing a transfiguration. The alchemist ends his search on finding the philosopher’s stone, while for Bechara his goal is a creation of artistic nature.

More than a dream therefore, the artist’s craft-like process plays with a series of elements to generate a pictorial effect. But as generally happens, these effects allow for different ways of seeing. For some, that is what they remain, simple effects, while to others the fact the oxidation makes its appearance as a means of expression leads the way to other speculations. A process that is one with other processes of poetic or even metaphysical connotation. To resort to a word dear to alchemists, is Bechara’s process not similar to that of the nigredo and its fires- the one alchemists use in the death and rebirth of matter? It is doubtless that one of the many options that modern art brings us is an open door to speculation through which we may “make our balls of colors fly” as I heard Lezama say so often, when he gave free reign to his imagination. Bechara’s action over matter converts him therefore into the agent of a primordial vibration that leaves imprinted on canvas, the marks of its passage.