Painting contaminated by the world dust

Felipe Scovino
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2014
In the catalogue of the exhibition José Bechara, 2014 – Simões de Assis Art Gallery, Curitiba, PR, Brazil.
In Brazil, along the second half of the 20th century, the Constructivist tendencies legacy was a constant with many variables. The generation that settled down after the Neoconcretism end had influences both from the Pop art and the conceptual art, though it had created a very creative and unique language without the renouncement of the geometric abstractionism in any degree, just like the cases of Antonio Dias, Carlos Vergara, Cildo Meireles, José Resende, Rubens Gerchman and Roberto Magalhães, for example. Other esthetic researches, like the ones of Mira Schendel, Paulo Roberto Leal and Raymundo Colares, had more proximity to the Constructivist tendencies, there is no doubt, and they built up a new and broad condition for this research. The works of these three artists created an organic and fluid pictorial surface.
It was a new understanding on how Constructivism tended more and more to a discourse on the sensorial. José Bechara and part of his generation – Carlos Bevilacqua, (the first works of) Ernesto Neto, and Raul Mourão – broaden this current by working with metal – steel, iron or copper – in a harmonic and organic way as material for sculpting or, just like Bechara, for a pictorial material. One thing that always called my attention in his work was the fact it substitutes the white canvas for a dirty and dusty surface impregnated by history, the used truck tarps. This is the first step for us to understand the organic aspect – which is a cliché expression that, in this case, gains power by its new validity – of his work and how form creates a new variable for this geometric sense in Brazilian art. The artist superimposes time sheets by the oxidation of the material. Bechara includes the oxidation slowdown as a condition for the appearance of the random. The changes that occur – markings, textures and stains – weave a volume, color and texture superposition. At other times, he divides the tarpaulin in a portion marked by the oxidation process, and other one by the marking that was acquired by that material for its road use. Lines are constructed at random, signs of memory, passing in a poetic gesture to be incorporated as painting.
Moreover, the artist makes use of the grid, symbolic element of the Constructist painting genesis (see the Russian Constructivists and Mondrian) that in the post-war gains distinct reinterpretations (from Robert Ryman to Agnes Martin, passing by Gerhard Richter and Lygia Pape) as a real and precise possibility of creating an illusory perspective. According to Dan Cameron, “the grid slowly developed a device used to help creating spatial illusion to a system that was imposed on the space itself.” The grid declared the art modernity by helping it to conquer its autonomy and “partly” to turn his back on nature. For Sennett, “the belief that people can expand infinitely spaces – by a grid layout – is the first step to neutralize geographically the value of any specific space.” In Bechara, the grid appears as a transforming act. First of all, because the lines bounding it are crooked, dirty and wrong, just like the entire surface of the tarpaulin. There is another order for this geometric, minimalist and precise composition. His works are covered by a polluted, violent, urban, noisy atmosphere, in which chaos and order are mixed up. And that is exactly why his work is extremely real and alive. Somehow, speed and dynamics that were part of the history of those tarps are transferred to the compositions created by the artist. The grid also, at certain times, seems to advance on one viewer and withdraw from other, as if what mattered was making visible the figures constructed randomly by the oxidation process and its own crooked and precarious lines. This is the cry of a defect, of something that went wrong and can make Bechara’s works too human. By using what is already given by the tarp – scratches and stains -, the artist creates a new repertoire of strokes and lines that masterfully balances past (history and memory) and present (the new meaning of painting – and why not drawing? – and the very idea of gestuality).
In his latest series, Bechara enhances the appearance of the grid, because his composition becomes more closed and presents successive layers that, by superimposing themselves, “erase” the tarp “skin”. The plan, however, becomes even more dramatic, as if it were possible create drama to a layman only and solely by the intersection of vertical and horizontal lines, and that is how the poetic outbreak transforms the banal and the ordinary into a magical and charming event. It becomes dramatic by the inability to denote what is the figure or background, because the perspective turns into an illusory experience. Oxidation, however, is still present and creates graphic and color interference zones that continue to transform these works into a kind of construction site area. It is a successive process of decanting (by applying the emulsion on the tarpaulin, the oxidation derived from this process needs to rest for action) and enchantment. Bechara is a tireless artist, because on there are recorded, on the tarpaulin, his strength, his participation, his research on materials and techniques; as a biological experiment, we watch the forces and presence relation that the copper or steel emulsion, the use of steel wool, and the corrosion derived from this process carried out on the tarp surface.
His sculptures do not constitute another phase of production in relation to the paintings as they are relevant and related dialogues. His most recent series of works, Swarm or Studies on the proximity of hangings (2013-14), makes clear that approach. It has a intermediary role in this rapprochement between the bidimensionality and the air. They are wooden boxes whose interior is formed by overlapping with small intervals of glass panes. On the panes, it is done an application of spray paint of different colors, which, as a brush, prints a free and precise geometric shapes set. In the bottom of some of these boxes, there are cut wooden boards that accentuate not only the constructivist legacy in Bechara’s work but also the research on color and flatness that is so important to his production. In the creation of an optical and illusory relation, these works seem to launch into space the lines and fields of color, making them dance through the glasses.
That formation of a drawing in space is what creates a dialogue between his paintings and sculptures. Especially in Graphic Sculptures series, the tridimensionality belongs more to the air than to the earth. And this image exists mainly due to the fact that Bechara balances the full and the empty, the inside and the outside. The volumes filled with air make us see those forms as graphic structures suspended from the paper, having the space as their habitat. Even as sculptures, they are on the borderline between bidimensionality and tridimensionality. One factor that helps us understand this blurred boundary is how the artist continues to investigate the color. These tridimensional monochromes elevate the color that was in the paper plan or in the tarp to the surface. They create suspended graphic forms that equilibrate themselves minimally, conveying a sense of precariousness and instability, between the balance of emptiness and another one filled with great chromatic charge. They do not seem to occupy the space in a vigorous and heavy way, as they land on it. There is a feeling that the weight was removed from those structures, and they simply and decisively gained lightness and rhythm that leads them to infiltrate and occupy that area in a sequential manner. On the other hand, the Open House series brings up a chaotic and disorganized speed. It is important to report that, in this experimentation of the space, the house is a common archetype in the artist’s work. However, this is a house that wants to be emptied, as we can see in the concerned series, because, while it seems to want to be occupied by emptiness, it expels what it contains or what was being held in private. The two series of sculptures are in a conflict zone, because, in this Dionysian and hostile image of a sculpture that is created in the whirlwind of chaos, the artist wants to demonstrate that “the emptiness is solid, is a material.” This is emptiness that appears as a character in a tragic plot.