Interview, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2007
In Blefuscu, published by Dardo – ds, Spain, 2008
GF: The House, created at the Faxinal das Artes in 2002, along with the House series that was to follow, belongs to the long tradition that relates architecture to art, although it also speaks to the nature of painting and sculpture. As Bruno Levi points out in his writings, size is one element that sets apart the three arts of architecture, sculpture and painting. Painting can, of course, suggest various dimensions by using perspective, a graphic representation of depth for example, but it is ultimately no more than that, a suggestion. Sculpture as a medium is characterized by the three dimensions but it nonetheless leaves humans out, – although in face of its most recent transformations I am no longer sure if we ought to call it sculpture – humans have been introduced into this space; and, as to architecture, described as “emptied out sculpture” by Levi, humans enter its interior, live in it, etc. In your work, which combines elements of sculpture, painting and architecture, this inner space, this emptiness, the dimensions of which cannot be defined but only experienced, is what is hidden, taken away, undone. It is made virtual. One can think of the emptiness of the house but the emptiness is invisible.
JB: I know that it is there, that it exists, because it holds within it a specific event, but I have no access to it. It is an abyss.
GF: In other words, we do not know if there is a kitchen, a bathroom, bedroom in your house… like that funny song by Vinicius de Morais about the house that no one can enter because there is no floor…
JB: It is a ghost house. A house, a nest, is the place of protection, of safekeeping; it allows someone the opportunity to take refuge… from what? From our surroundings, from threats from outside… but the truth is that the House speaks to us of threats from within, and not from outside… It is true that in the work process, I would have this relation with architecture in mind, yes. In fact, its relation to architecture is something that has always been present to me while I work, build the project, and even during its conception. Only it was more as a mode of confrontation than as an approximation. In other words, I approach it from its rough side, not merely as a way to touch on architectural issues, but I relate to it through confrontation, and it includes eviction, generating vulnerability, producing a non-place…
GF: To empty out emptiness itself…
JB: … to give emptiness corporality, to give it a solid body. Emptiness, in general, is defined by the fact it can be filled in. At Faxinal, I had been invited to paint, but I simply could not do it, (looking back I can understand it now…) and work only began when I looked through an empty window and thought of that empty window as geometric effect, and how that emptiness had to be filled in. In fact, what I am dealing with now with the House Project, in this new series of small scale sculptures, is with empty solids. That is to say, emptiness is solid, it is matter.
GF: Your work reminds me of Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees set in the 18th century: a Baron’s son rebels against his parents by going up a tree and refusing to ever come back down, because “he who intends to observe earth carefully must keep the required distance” . Your work, in a certain way, makes this inner threat explicit, and also places it at a certain distance, forcing us to reflect on it.
JB: The baron – I have not read the book, but I will – provides us with a marvelous solution: he did not need to, as much as I did, call attention to the fragility of this thing, this solid bodied thing, that is this familiar notion of home that makes us believe that it is, (which in fact it is), a human invention designed to keep in it all that one is and all that one has.
GF: That is what is brought to the fore in your work, which is also proof of the growing failure of the public space. Even the internet, allegedly public space, is inside the home…
JB: This house, this home, this thing invented by man is useless …and that is what is expressed in this work. The House acts much like the mermaid’s song that is beautiful and yet draws you to an abyss. It is not a place of comfort, like most people think, it is in fact quite hostile. I am not just thinking of the hostility that is unleashed from throwing furniture out and offering up emptiness. I think of the tragic quality that this emptiness can have, it is nightmarish, disturbing. It is not just a question of looking at the house and saying: – it has nothing to do with me, because it is hostile to me. More than that: it is the feeling of vulnerability, of being left with no protection. That of being subject to a force from within that expels us into a public space.
GF: With respect to the complexities of the issue of human habitat, your work also questions the role of art in architecture. Of art as created in communion with architecture, and the later stage when painting and sculpture take on independent existences, just as paintings astride easels, break away from architecture, to eventually return inside homes, to be hung on walls and yet refuse re-integration. In contemporary art, this relation has many aspects, but is nonetheless responsible for situations in which elements of architecture are incorporated into works of art. In the case of Brazil, there was a certain disjunction between the peak of modern architecture, (that culminated in the building of Brasília, the nation’s capital), and neo-concretism (that came out of the tradition in concretism) making both movements therefore, contemporary to each other. With respect to Brasília, this relation, epitomized by the work of Bruno Giorgio, is true of modern artists in general. On the other hand, despite the reference to constructivism, artists that belonged to the neo-concretism movement in Brazil developed an entirely unique relation with architecture, one that is no longer the dissolution of art in this space. Hélio Oiticica, for example, develops the notion of penetrability, in particular in his Cães de Caça, 1962, a work that is much like an architectural construction, but is an artistic construction that relies on the experience of emptiness. In any case, there are a number of experiences associated to architecture, such as Denis Oppenheim’s transfers of gallery floorplans, Lygia Clark’s A Casa é o Corpo, Cildo Meireles’ Cantos, etc. Or still, Joel Schapiro, his tiny houses in large spaces… Leonardo Vilela, a young Brazilian artist has also been working on a very interesting project that takes the apartment floorplans from ads plastered on to Rio de Janeiro street lights… A work that although I am not entirely familiar with it, I feel touches on the very state of man in the world and the state of art itself, – where it is located: No paintings will come out of his “houses”.
JB: They are houses without paintings…
GF: And where would they go, the sculptures, the other pieces, the artwork?
JB: Into other work perhaps… These houses do not spawn any paintings because the initial project, ever since the first one at Faxinal, is built on, or better, uses two distinct channels, or vectors: one that is form and another that is symbol. The first impulse to propel The House was the possibility of building, of producing, a geometric sculpture with the elements at hand. The household items that belonged to the house where I lived and they needed to be geometric, such as tables (themselves a combination of vertical and horizontal axes), and that is how it went. I even went as far as considering, but stopped short of adding paintings. A table for example, is already sufficiently impregnated with memories, of human presence. I do not need the ash trays, the framed photos, the whiskey bottle. Tables are impregnated, as are sofas, chairs. It is part of their nature. By adding on other objects, instead of getting closer I would be moving farther away from my original impulse. The House would lose in terms of its economy. And it would mean opening up new levels of discussion.
GF: Very true… the work is a provocation, of the place of emptiness in art… All is suspended in this transfigured habitat… You use furniture in your work that is extremely bare, practically archetypical, which also grants them a certain sense of timelessness. At your show at the Paço, (the imperial palace in Petrópolis) however, you used antique furniture established a relation with the surrounding architectural space.
JB: …because I was helped out by a friend, Plínio Fróes, who owns an antique store, Rio Scenarium. Sincerely, it was a coincidence, When the truck-full of furniture arrived, I realized that there was an unexpected relationship there, relating the period of the furniture and the palace that I had not planned for, but that was present nevertheless. The result was good, I think. As I said, had I added in a bookcase and books, or 15 paintings sticking out the windows, I would’ve opened up a new set of interpretations that I think would go beyond the scope of the work, its essence: to extrude elements that belong to the human landscape, the landscape of the home, but keeping it to the essential in terms of form, which is this bare furniture, that you mentioned.
GF: The House was your first venture in to sculpture. Adriana Herrera has quoted you in a piece she wrote on your Miami exhibition about the impossibility of painting in Faxinal, because you were “far from my studies, my city, it was being away from my own memories… Incapable of creating anything, I doubted myself as an artist”.1
JB: Yes, it was my first venture into sculpture. Large scale sculpture in a real landscape. When I arrived for the 15 day internship, I had canvases, an entire roll of paper to paint on, painting materials, etc, at my disposal. Yet by the tenth day I had still not drawn so much as a line. I started to panic, asking myself if I were indeed an artist, or some sort of a charlatan, who was I fooling? On this tenth day, as it turned into the tenth night (since I was sleepless), I isolated myself at another housing unit that was scarcely furnished and lost myself in thought. Why could I not paint? And the answer that came to me was: “Because I am far from my studio.” What I am about to say may sound silly or commonplace, but it is the truth: I work with errors. More than that, with failure. It often happens that I leave the studio happily going home with the feeling that I have begun “something”, that there is the chance that… Chance that what? I do not know, but it is something that will make me… and I go back to the studio the next day in high spirits… only to find something that in fact, did not work out at all. It is very frustrating. But this experience of defeat is very rich. It won’t kill me, I will not give up. Then there are other feelings, anger, fury, well not fury, too poetic I would not indulge myself that way, but anger. Anger, the stuff of which is very important for me. At Faxinal, however, there was none of that, actually, it was all quite smooth for me at the time. First because it was a marvelous meeting, with 100 artists from all over the nation, many that I had heard about but had never met. I took – at my own expense –, my family, my wife and daughters along with me because it was going to be a long time away from them. But I was away from the thick and the solid layer of dust that is error. That had been left behind at the studio. Like my friend Bretas says, the difference between good and bad painting can be a single stroke. One needs to be surrounded by the things that did not go right. And at Faxinal, there was no such chance, there were no dirty paintbrushes, but a heap of brand new ones…
GF: …Paintbrushes or steel wool?
JB: Paintbrushes, which I also use. I have many in my studio… some fine ones I use sometimes to make drawings for example, like the series Externo e Interno [1995-2004] that has always been with me. At Faxinal then, this was a further complication. I thought the most honest thing to do was to produce something that depended exclusively on what I had at hand. Since I was in that situation it just felt it would be a bit much, insulting even, to ask for more canvasses, more paints… it did not work out, I will do it over… If I am naked, I will try and work naked. I thought of the landscape, the people, the fog that, most nights would carpet over the little streets entirely, and swallow the houses of the other artists… “this is the matter that I need to transform, reorganize, give a new face to”. This experience has to do with the origins of my paintings – used truck tarps, steel in transformation, its oxidation: to deviate certain materials from their own destinies. I was sitting at a table, and suddenly I was aware of the fact I was perched atop a geometric construct, a combination of vertical and horizontal lines. A full body, palpable, concrete. Looking straight ahead of me… nightfall against the window panes, not yet full night, that has to do with non-places, with that which has not yet come to be… That was when I wrote the only thing to be produced in 100 meters of Canson paper: “Fill in the voids”. And I projected the very table I had just been sitting on, through the window. By so doing I destroyed the table and the window as they had once been, undoing the path that had been between me and the night. The window had ceased its existence and its function, and the table was no longer a table for the same reason. If there was a work of art it was right there, in that act.
GF: The Faxinal seems to have been unique in terms of art in Curitiba, both for its huge budget, certainly by our standards, and because of the importance it had in the trajectories of a few artists, such as was true in your case. I would tend to agree however, with many of Curitiba’s artists and critics that it was yet another case of one single huge event with no thought to continuity, and the lack of policy for the arts. Very little came out too, in terms of information,2 for example, on the various events that took place there, such as conversations between artists, critics, film screenings… I would like you to tell us a little about this experience.
JB: The meeting at Faxinal was conceived by Agnaldo. Every time I meet an artist who took part in Faxinal we express a great desire to see it held once more. Faxinal, spelled with an x, means harvest. Faxinal do Céu was a work site of COPEL, an electricity company based in Paraná State. When the hydroelectric came to an end, the government was left its housing quarters, 300 chalets, in a magical, isolated place, a 5 hours drive from Curitiba, no big or even medium-size city near it. Someone had the brilliant idea of not tearing the place down, and instead, giving it new use. There was a third person who thought it ideal for more sophisticated activities. Faxinal was soon famous as a “professor’s university”, since a number of meetings in education were held there. That is in any case, what I was told. The government spent some money to improve the housing conditions, built two lecture halls, fully equipped with translation booths… And all that took place away from the great centers, in the interior of Paraná, neither in São Paulo nor in Rio de Janeiro. The problem is not money, it is really a question of there being a strategy and policy. As to continuity… The current government of Paraná, for example, has not lifted so much as a finger to see this project through into a next phase. I have no news of anything comparable to it in South America. It was one hundred artists from all over the nation, not twenty lucky ones. It brought into a place of greater interaction people who had seen little interaction. The event was high quality, it was unique, a rare occurrence. The interactions and conversations were intense. One cold night, for example, there was a talk about the creative process. Do you know who gave the lecture? Paulinho da Viola, with his guitar. The drama, the daily tragedies we go through as creative artists is the very same one that you go through, Gloria, when you are writing. Now when I arrived here at your home, I was taken aback by the number of things you had assembled for us to talk about. We all deal with what no one had asked to exist.
GF: Wilson Coutinho in one of his first reviews on your work “Beauty in the remains”, “O Resto como Beleza”3, talks about the notion of a “diverted ready-made” in your creative process. And as a matter of fact, contrary to Du Champ’s method, you state, the role of the retina, of visual events, of the visual impact in the choices you make… and your use of oxidation brought about by the stains on the tarps…
JB: Well, yes, there is too the issue of the visible, of what we see. A while back I had once stopped at a gas station in low spirits (because of a problem I had at the time, having left the Parque Lage) and was filling up to take to the road for a long drive, something like a ten hour drive. And there at the gas station was a truck driver, and he had taken down the tarp off the back of his truck and was hosing it down. The more he watered it, the more the wet part stood out against the dry one. He was doing it very quickly and I had no idea what was going on, I was practically abandoning my car to walk directly up to him and ask him to stop –”Stop! No, go on, just a second”. He was a little perplexed, he did not know who I was… when he stopped I had a few seconds to take in what was going on. The wet part was more homogeneous because there was a film interposed in between the light and the surface of the tarp – that was the water. It made the surface darker and more homogeneous; it diminished the contrast between the stains that had been left on the tarp by ropes and other things that pressed up against it. The tarpaulin itself acquires, over time, a grayish lead color, stained a much lighter color. It was like seeing an 11 x 8 meters large painting. I had to think quickly since the man wanted to continue his washing of the tarp. Just like it was to happen later with the table and the window, there was something going on that I was not quite aware of. But it was something… a painting reversed, about to be begun from its end point. A painting that hinged much more on my gaze than on hand movements. It was nevertheless, a painting, because there is a point at which your gaze will tell you: Stop! Your eyes give out instructions. This dark tarp is useless I thought, but the one that is not yet wet, that one! I had to think quickly… I paid the man 20 Reals for him to stop washing it and allow me to take a look and examine the difference, the quantity, of that which I would later call “visual events”. A used truck tarpaulin is like a field that encompasses a number of events.
GF: You paid a man 20 Reals for him to stop washing the tarp and then you started to exchange…
JB: I began looking right then and there for truck drivers in the streets around me, but none of them wanted to sell, because they needed the tarps. The only way to get the used tarps would be to buy a new one and exchange with them for a used one – which in itself was a certain amount of effort. So this is what I do: I buy a new tarp, a brand new, pristine tarp, with no other mark on it than the brand of the manufacturer. It is orange. When I give it to a truck driver, I give him something that he needs in exchange for something he does not need, but that is useful to me in a different landscape. No longer the landscape of the open roads, it goes somewhere else. My work begins at gas stations, or at truck coops.
GF: You began your work at a point in time that we could call post 80s generation, with the return to painting established even if questioned, but absolutely up-to-date. This contextual horizon is part and parcel to your process4.
JB: The first shake-up, shock— I had in life was to see Rembrandt’s The Bather. I must have been 14 at the time, and when I was around 18, I was in London and saw it again, I think at the National Gallery. It came as a surprise, I had no idea I was going to see it. It was unsettling. Later on, as I was involved with painting The Bather brought me another revelation: size. Much the same thing happened with Morandi, that I had only seen in reproduction. The Bather is only a few centimeters tall, she is munute, mignon, marvelous…and yet to me, who had seen it in reproduction she was a woman of average height, a meter sixty centimeters… it felt, for a few seconds, that had fainted while standing… I went through the same thing when I saw Velasquez and Goya, and later with Malevitch, when at a retrospective at the Met, that left me quiet for a few days. It was very clear to me that I had had a life changing experience. And so it was. Not so much that it led to a change in my painting, but a change in my behavior. Perhaps this experience was related to painting in that it had to do with changing scales and size, which perhaps relates to the Rembrandt’s Bather and to Morandi’s bottles. Today I also make sculptures, and feel completely entitled to place the two media in relation to each other. At the 2004 Duas margaridas e uma aranha (Two Daisies and a Spider) exhibition at the Tomie Othake Institute, I placed two large size paintings, 4 by 6 meters each, at a right angle to each other, from a series that had been commissioned by Rio de Janeiro’s Modern Art Museum along with the spider a pyramid shape furniture-based installation.
GF: Painting is, then, your reference point. And how about before joining Rio de Janeiro’s Parque Lage school in visual arts?
JB: Just before that I was trying to get out of a marriage… I had studied economics at the PUC University, but did not get my degree. I had gotten into undergrad very early…
GF: But you already had your drawings then…
JB: My math notebook had nothing but drawings in it…
GF: Like we were saying a little while ago: When you became an artist it was during a period in which painting was making a comeback. It was also a time when art was growing in Brazil, with many new galleries opening up, a more vigorous market and larger editorial space…
JB: Today, more than ever before, it is possible for an artist to live off his or her work. This space we take up, all of us, galleries, artists and critics is a much larger place today, there are more agents, more individuals… Private collections are going public. The trend among collectors, instead of donating works to museums, is for them to open up their own collections to the public, editing works, hiring curators, teachers, etc. Gilberto Chateaubriand’s collection, associated to Rio de Janeiro’s Modern Art Museum and João Satamini, associated to Niterói´s Contemporary Art Museum are priceless.
GF: And what can you tell me of how you relate to curators and critics? Criticism has been undergoing profound transformations over the past few years. Newspaper reviewers for example, who, despite being associated with certain aesthetic lines, did in the past have a degree of independence, while critics who write for exhibition booklets today, I would say, are quite another story…
JB: It is another medium
GF: … and a different readership altogether…
JB: But nevertheless, still an exercise in criticism.
GF: I grant you that, an exercise in criticism, but, say, one that is less distanced from the artist. To begin with it is the artist that invites the critic to review his work. You yourself begin your work during this period of transformation. In 1987 the great newspaper columnists waned.
JB: By the time I started out I was already dealing with what is happening now. Our landscape is wider, criticism finds perhaps greater variety of media. Today there are more schools of criticism and curatorship, such as Bard College in New York. To be a curator is an exercise in criticism. When you select a specific group of artists to approach a specific issue, you are exercising criticism with exhibitions as the media. That is something that brings me great joy, because I have conflicting experiences in relation to my own work through criticism. You may perhaps accept my work as a field that has a certain quality, while another critic perhaps, will not. Your answer, whether of acceptance or rejection, will bring about a critical posture. This is what work lives of, crises. It is not something that is, it is something that may or not be.
GF: When you decide to edit a book and invite specific authors, the procedure, lets say, is of a sort of introduction, which enters the art world in a particular way. For example, in the case of our interview: I read a number of reviews of your work, each one with unique approaches, accentuating specific events or notions. Apart from that, each critic has his own universe, for example, if he is interested in Lacan he will probably bring this relation to the fore, etc. How does this reflect on your work? In my view there is something genuine when artists search for that relation and establish this kind of dialogue. It is a kind of dialogue that is part of our contemporary world- the catalog is edited at the same time as the exhibition opens, the work of art presents itself along with its review.
JB: I need criticism. This book, for example, is a space in which my work exists, work that exists in the studio and outside the studio, in books and in critical writings. It is something that is quite important for me, since I work very much alone. Agnaldo Farias says he has great affection for artists because they spend the entire day trying to invent something that no one asked them to, and are forced to stand up for it. I can carry out my work, but I cannot consider myself satisfied for having created it, even if it seems good to my eyes, if it seems reliable, even if I see in it a certain measure of strength. I need it to rise to other challenges, other spaces, and the space of our criticism, the one that examines, delves, is important.
GF: Recently you spoke to me about how theater people you know were surprised at the intimacy that is present between the artist and the critic, an intimacy that is not there in the theater world.
JB: It is true that I often note how some friends of mine who belong to the theater are surprised with the closeness between my work and that of critics. And not just theater. But also people in music, cinema. There are a few issues here. Criticism in our field is more interested in examining the context, the field in which a work of art comes about. It is not just a question of passing judgment, not just a matter of taste, or whatever. Also, painting is very old by now, it is a long standing relationship. I will tell you something I believe in deeply: I do not think that our work is at all committed to being right. If I put something out there for the public, and the public likes it, great. It makes me happy because the work communicated itself somehow. But it can communicate entirely the opposite way. My (our) relation with criticism is different. .. it is complementary in nature. Not quite complementary, but it is a second environment in which the work exists. It exists for me in the studio; then as an exhibition, for the public; then at a third mode, for the critics. It is a space that will, in its own way, produce clashes that the work must weather… Both the artist and the critic, and, I include the public too, are in search of the same thing: a poem.
GF: Today, whether in the art world, in film, theater or music, etc, there is the popularizer who plays the role of the go-between. The mechanism is one and the same, although results vary. There is, I believe, a basic difference: the film or theater reviews that we read in newspaper columns is basically judgmental, in which different technical aspects are evaluated, say an actor’s performance, staging, lighting, etc. He got this wrong, that right… This is true for a number of reasons, among them the drastic reduction of art columns in newspapers and the predominance of so-called cultural journalism, over, as we mentioned before, art criticism, that migrated to exhibition catalogs and developed a relationship with artists that is one of companionship, testimonial and monitoring.
JB: It is very complex. A theater critic that goes to a play and says that an actor did not do well… theater is recreated at each show. One night an actor may not be at his best, but it does not mean that other performances are not better or worse. Criticism freezes time that is unstoppable, changes every day. In our case, whether through companionship or not, criticism is more based on reflection, by inviting readers to think about the event that originated that piece of criticism. But we cannot include in this discussion superficial critical pieces that pass judgment in less than 20 lines (that is, if not in three lines), and seem to be at the service of a public that needs to be quickly informed of whether something they did not go to see was good, bad, or a bit of both. We do not see ourselves as trying to satisfy a specific public. The arts try to ask questions of its public.
GF: Investigation into form is a part of your work, of your poetics. You have this heightened care, this interest in what you call visual contingencies, the visual circumstances in which a piece of art comes into existence. At the same time as you develop this investigation into form, it is allied to a process that unfurls between order and chaos, exterior and interior, memory and time…
JB: I build my work with an approach that combines informalism and formal rigor. When I obtain a truck’s tarpaulin, 11 x 8 meters, with almost infinite visual occurrences I create a section and the signs that were lost are now limited to a smaller field to the size of 2×3 meters for example. These occurrences are thus imbued with new value because of the distances, the size involved. When intervening in the space with rigorous vertical lines, that are undergoing an oxidation process, for example, what I do is to offer a sort of constructive grid. I am neither interested in the chaotic space, nor in formalism per se, but what results from this clash, this confrontation, that is a space constituted by the simultaneous existence of both events. Both terms equated.
GF: In your work there is an interest in formal rigor and titles that derranjent, as the French say, that disarrange, that disorganize, introduce noise. Examples of beautiful titles such as these are Paisagem Doméstica (Domestic Landscape) or Não me lembro o que dissemos ontem (I do not remember what we said yesterday) [Fotografia Frontal, 2002, or “Ok, ok, let’s talk”, 2006. Actually we could consider a history of art just following the thread of how works are given titles and the respective transformations, such as for example, abstract works given “no title” and those named “composition”, etc. The title brings out, to a certain degree, the great conflict present between form and language, time and space. It can be a way into a piece of art, or even, to the contrary, to demand visual attention…
JB: My impulse towards art is wholly formal, but that is not enough. It is by attaining a certain distancing from the work, something that I would like to see happen, that it create poetic connections with daily life, with men and women. That interests me greatly. You asked just now about my interest in form. Of course I am thinking about form, but only as far as it is related to dramas of human existence. Sometimes a title will help me make this clearer, to go beyond the formal to the symbolic, such as human experience of the home, perhaps one of the most powerful experiences touched on. Ok, ok, let’s talk speaks of two people, of complicity, of love but also of solitude… it is at the same time very formal.
GF: What role do you give photography, as art work, especially in the case of the series A Casa, The House series or Open House?
JB: It all began as a record, in response to the need to make something ephemeral permanent. For example, the series of color photographs that belongs to the Frontal, that you mentioned, was taken at Faxinal. The photographer was Dedina, my wife. She took almost 300 photographs, of which I chose ten. What criteria led me to the final ten? Aspects of my work that I pursue through painting. Photographs that record something that interests me, but also express certain distances in the visual field, color, weight… It was much more than merely recording. I selected what seemed most in tune, that most met the criteria of a pictorial composition – that is no longer limited to photography and goes beyond it, because it follows the experience that I bring to it as a painter. Of the Frontal series, for example, there are five or six photographs that I chose because they had a white sky area – which is not necessarily the sky, could be a parking lot, I am really uninterested in the sky – but there is a relation of color, of dividing up space, of a play with weights in the visual field. There are also important photographs by Vicente de Melo and Silvio Pozatto.
GF: And as to drawing?
JB: Drawing is my diary.
GF: It is quite surprising to see how there is a formal relation established between works such as series Externo and Interno (Inner and Outer) from a few years back, with the House series. Cadernos rápidos, (Quick Notebooks) 1999, are also very interesting. They are very unique drawings.
JB: The drawings of the Série Externo e Interno were created before Quick Notebooks but were exhibited later. I have been working on drawings such as these for quite a while now, but had never found a place to show them. Like I mentioned before, work exists inside the studio, and outside the studio. Outside the studio they must exist under certain conditions, in my opinion. And the conditions had not yet come about for the Inner and Outer series, since they are small, and it only really works as a diary… Quick Notebooks was created all at once, it took six months to be created, the idea was, to take an essentially two-dimensional work and transform it into an experiment in installation.
GF: In the exhibition at the Paço Imperial, it was transformed…
JB: Perhaps… it is so light, paper, that it comes unglued from the surface, and once it unglues it is no longer two-dimensional, it moves. It is iron… and floats like butterflies, flapping wings…
GF: The Inner and Outer Series on the other hand, seems to be prescient of the sculptorial experience, it seems to be there, hovering over us, even though we are still in a pictorial setting…
JB: It is funny that you should say that, because I have been doing these drawings for a long time. Perhaps there was a real need for it, not through drawing, nor painting, but as something further that would ease my way into the field of sculpture. I was already doing drawings, and I did not really understand for what purpose, but there was this need I was responding to. Perhaps it was in a way, a balance between what I created through painting and a certain silence after the painting was done… as if I had stopped to sleep. It was my sleep. I sleep-drew.
GF: Now you return to painting…
JB: Glória, as an artist I go into a studio today and I have before me a series of small sculptures in the making – not photography, that is something I can pick up again in the future, but it will take me a while yet and I am not motivated for that right now – but certainly, painting, installation and sculpture and drawing are the four media that are permanently colliding inside the studio, and now that is where I am… I have no idea what will come out of this.
GF: You began your production at a time and in a context in which the regulating standards of art were being re-examined. Some of the strongest criticism aimed at the generation of the 1980s accused it of discarding art history. In my view, however, this may have been one of the contributions of this generation of painters, by revealing to us how very fragile the notion of a linear history is, etc. Today, for example, the great museums look for other ways to present their collections, free from the obligation of following stylistic sequences or genealogies. More than that, museums such as the Louvre, for example, have shown a series of interventions by contemporary artists such as in 2005 with Tunga and now Kieffer, both incorporated to the permanent collection. The Eva Klabin foundation is also an example of this procedure. As a well known and respected artist, how do you relate to Art History?
JB: First of all thanks for your kind words, which describe me in a way I frankly am not all aware of, it seems to me that there is still quite a way to go. It is Art History that has brought me where I am now, not in the sense that I have made history, but in terms of the stuff it is made of, the events, the accumulated experiences. It has helped me become an artist. But perhaps it is no longer possible to interpret this linearly, in terms of progress. One powerful aspect of creation is that of inaugurating new possibilities. This is part of all our work, as artists, curators, etc. So the Beaux Arts Museums are now including contemporary art shows, new media, etc. Ultimately, however, that is not something that moves me and my work.
GF: How do you see your work in terms of issues such as art/life, art/politics, art/context?
JB: I do not use my work to make direct or indirect commentary or call attention to the dramas of daily life. It is not, say, the core of my work, but I hope that at a certain point it does connect to human experience in its most varied forms, especially that of urban life, although it is not a prerogative of my work. Politics and the dynamics of cities interest me greatly. One part of me hopes that somehow, my work touches on that, or includes it.
GF: When did you set up your studio?
JB: I began at Taylor Street, located in Rio’s Santa Teresa neighborhood, this was back in 1991, I was straight out of Parque Lage (the school of visual arts). It was a collective, a shared studio, with Venosa, Luiz Pizarro and Daniel Senise. Daniel and Pizarro were already on their way out, there were other people there too, some I remember, others I don’t. Raul Mourão was there too, I am really fond of and admire his work. Then the studio got a little cramped, there were lots of us there. I needed an emptier place, and bought another one, this was 1997, with Venosa and Courtney Smith. I have been there to this day. It is the best place in the world! It is such a beautiful place, on Cândido Mendes Street, with a view of Guanabara Bay. The bay, ships and planes coming and going… I have seen that landscape every hour of the day, I have slept over, I have worked for three days straight there… I have seen night turn to lead there, turn to silver at the break of dawn…
GF: Your experience of the international circuit has been quite ample. There is, and we know it, a very significant difference between what would be entering Art History – and the art produced in nations of the periphery such as Brazil, which is always a chapter in itself- and becoming a part of a circuit that is now booming.
JB: Well I would not say that I have such wide international experience. As to your question, it is true that joining the international art market is quite different from entering art history – one is very distinct from the other, although they are paths that can intersect. Today it is easier for our work to travel around the world, via institutions, international galleries, art fairs, published materials, and this is true of my work, but it guarantees nothing in terms of the history of art. To even consider such a thing, as far as I am concerned, would be at the very least a wrong turn, I certainly do not think about it. That is a game that is in the hands of more powerful centers, located at another hemisphere. My commitment is with daily life at the studio. The permanent object of my desire is to produce one work at a time.
GF: And what of the pressures of the market?
JB: I have no problems with the market whatsoever. It is a field endowed with certain characteristics and that is that. The market may ease certain things as long as one does not bow to its conditions. It has more to do with the circulation of art work that with production per se. The market is complex, and it moves, in my opinion, towards better things. If it assimilates what I do, great, if it does not, too bad. There is this great thought I once heard about artists, that they are like weeds. Sometimes I have money left over, sometimes I am in debt, and on that account I sometimes ask myself, what if everything goes wrong, what will happen to me? I will go on being an artist, because nothing will stop that. I am heir to no great wealth, I do not live off property, I devote myself daily and exclusively to my studio and for that reason I need galleries to sell my work. What I find interesting in terms of market pressure is the pace, the speed at which things happen. It relates to what we were saying, for example, about private collections that go public. Brazilian collectors, young Brazilian collectors are hiring curators for their collections, which may be open to the public. This is change. Before there was the artist and his work, a museum here and another one there…now the art scene is much more dynamic. I could be an artist anyway, in a desert, with cactuses and lizards, or in the Amazon forest… The only thing to stop me from being an artist is myself, if one day, let’s say, I decide to become a cook, or a lion tamer…what do I know. My desire with respect to my work is born of the work itself.
- Adriana Herrera. “Proyecto A Casa de Bechara”. El Nuevo Herald, Miami, September 24th, 2006.
- See: Agnaldo Farias. “Faxinal das Artes”. In: faxinal das Artes. Curitiba: Museu de Arte Contemporânea do Paraná, 2002. Exhibition book. Reed. in: Glória Ferreira (org.). Crítica de Arte no Brasil: Temáticas Contemporâneas. Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 2006.
- Wilson Coutinho. “O Resto como Beleza”. In: RioArtes, Rio de Janeiro, 1996, n.22.
- See Luiz Camillo Osório. “José Bechara: processos e desvios” and Agnaldo Farias. “O sumo da violência” both in A Casa. Rio de Janeiro: Francisco Alves Editors, 2006.
Glória Ferreira is an art critic and independent curator. She studied at the Sorbonne (France).