Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2019
Text written for the catalogue of José Bechara’s exhibition ‘Loose Ends’ at Simões de Assis Galeria de Arte, Curitiba – PR, 2019. Translated by Isabel Witt Lunardi.
Several critics have already observed that José Bechara’s paintings on used truck tarps invest in a direct relationship with time: his works are not on a blank screen; they do not emerge from zero. However, Bechara’s work does not investigate objective temporality, recognizable, socialized and socializing temporality. Hispaintings engender an abstraction that goes towards a past before history, defining itself in a kind oftimelessness.
The screens take us to the pre-human time of the earth, the time belonging to minerals, acids, metamorphosis,the first genesis. If it is still possible to talk about time, it will be a primordial time, that of materiality in gross condition. This is a work radically in touch with what is not human, with the inexplicable that we call vaguely of nature – the unintelligible and deep life of the earth.
Bechara’s works, however, are not talking about it; they do not address such issues; they do not have a subject: the abstraction of these works is mainly an accident. In order to reach matter, he plays a silent report. It is, then, to accept and at the same time to seek the raw event. The creator allows life to be greater than him, and from there he inquires about human destiny, without understanding it, in the night of time. I am tempted to say that Bechara works from an essential blindness.
I could be talking about chaos, perdition prior order, the haze before the laws. But it would be necessary to consider the fact that abstraction in Bechara’s painting is always guided by geometry and the order of evident and intricate arrangements: rigorous compositions, syntax, concentration, engineering of planes and spaces. We are, therefore, in the realms of method and discipline, as if abstraction caught the very birthof life, surprising this sort of organized miracle when water, fire, air and earth began to engender limits anddestinies of their own.
His art seems to be an explanation of fate: the fate of burning in contact with the absolute of matter. On the other hand, the gesture inevitably meets the limits of language, as well as the physical constraints of materials, with their inescapable insertion in time and space, history and art history. But here, instead of a dialogue restricted to the world of painting, we are faced with a broad project of touching the occult, the invisible. The overwhelming force of José Bechara’s painting seems to be born of this unreasonable desireto organize the fire in which it burns.
Perhaps, such thirst for silence and for the invisible has led the artist in search of transparency and, therefore, to glass. Glass is a material that curiously has no traces: it is averse to time, it has no porosity, it does notcompress the qualities for a bodily experience with the world, it is incapable of retaining the life it reflects,and which traverses it only as image. In that sense, nothing is poorer than glass, ignorant of what memory is.At first glance, therefore, this substance wholly invented by culture – false crystal, brilliant and pretentious,which can become the cheapest but also the most beautiful object – is entirely opposed to the pictorial work of Bechara. Therefore, it is necessary to carefully consider this process as an unfolding of tensions, as a problem in a network of problems.
We might see poverty in the choice for glass, opposing its presumptuous yearning for modernity. In Bechara’s poetic poverty is essential. His work option is scarcity. Beauty is in penury, not in abundance. Itis astonishing, at first glance, how much the work results from great efforts, from gestating bodies, acts,energies, diligence – prior to the artist himself (the worn canvases are the most eloquent example of this), it is striking that all this mobilization of forces seems to aim for the strength of the poorest – the moral austerity of having little, not the delectable minimalist luxury; the rude, the violent, the rough rather thanwhat is polished by taste, by patterns for satisfaction without difficulty and without daring. Poverty from amystical nature, I would say, such its communion to matter.
In this symbolic system, glass becomes strangely opposed to lightness. It always has a lot of weight. It suggests work, slowness, strength. It is installed as a problematic body. The glass, then, does not remind me of air but of water: it presents the unstable, incomprehensible quality of the water. The glasses in Bechara’s work are large still waters, threatening, suspended in time and space (even if they are on the ground), but alive, ready to respond to our eye.
This way, incoherence and even paradox appear as a planned result of a program, that is, of coherence. However, I think that before that, glass appeared in the network of problems of José Bechara also as a movement before consciousness, as the secret urgency of a lucidity that perhaps could not bear to loseitself in the splendid darkness of earth and fire – hence the demand for this other minerality: the liquid andstill light of glass surfaces.
If the ending of chaos is to be organized and man’s destiny was to distinguish himself from the world, Bechara, at each work, seems to remake the steps of our species. But where reason, knowledge, balance, and technical domination prevail, we are astonished by the burst of those elemental forces like dreams, restless gestures, bitter tastes, both corrosion and rotting trembling. And if glass comes from a quest for clarity,pacification, and measure, it also reverberates the primary reminiscences of glaciers, lakes, waterfalls andrivers.
The cargo truck tarps began to be used by José Bechara in 1991. On them, the earthy palette reigns: there is the dirty-gold-ferruginous color from the oxidation of steel, the orange-zarcon, the purple-brown knot,hazel areas interrupted by the red-fire; and also worn brown rough surfaces; they build compositions asimposing as they are severe. The color of Bechara is, above all, subjective, sensory.
In front of his canvases, we feel an atmosphere of color. Colors that have unmistakable temperatures. Our eyes recognize the dry smell of solitude, when the colors are dense; our eyes could touch them, as if they were colors-textures; our eyes recognize them as color-matters; as if ours eyes could gather them they become colors-things: saffron, amber, charcoal, lime, india ink, cinnamon, chamois, brick, thunder, blood, honey, magma. Our eyes feel: dust, earth, wind, rain. Colors that remind us of horses: bay, sorrel, palomino, chestnut. But there is also green from oxidized copper, which makes the canvas a smooth, slightly blue, electric sharp skin, hitherto the most eloquent presence of air in Bechara’s poetics.
From 2002 on leather has been used as surface and material, enabling another formidable experience. What color is this? The color of sex? Of abandonment? Of old papers? Of ruins? Of trash? Of death? Fear? They are very violent and disturbing canvases showing how painting can still be a vigorous experience. Theyexpress how color should be thought beyond scrupulous scientific, descriptive, and normative principles.It is important to state that these leather screens do not deal with the mass slaughtering of animals, the breeding, the sale, or the various problems surrounding livestock issues; this kind of realism is suspended (just as truck tarps do not talk about trucks or roads), as well as any judgment; such works bring to the eye/ spirit a sacrificial matter, that is, which refers to the victim’s immolation as a solemn offering. Once again,Bechara’s work appears to be drawing closer to rite.
I am speaking of color, therefore, as a synesthetic experience: perception and subjectivity. And in the vast domain of stimuli, associations and wandering, the painter’s colors followed in that same search for light that, in 2008, would take him to the use of glass. So, after ten years, there were incredibly luminous, exciting colors. The earthy dark was torn by irregular lines of phosphorescent colors, which evoke the trembling light over water but exhibit a quality as sparkling as musical. They are intense color rhythms, vibrations,resonances, flows, markings, circuits.
Not by chance, the series is named “Creatures of the day and the night”. This taste for contrast, for tension,for the vigorous clash between light and dark can send us to an inclination that we may call Baroque, a trait certainly present in Bechara’s poetics. I think, however, that something more interesting, still within thescope of the baroque, happens with the use of color in this series: instead of working with flat surfaces,what becomes important now is depth, creating a suggested space, or, more than that, a space in constant development. Would it be ephemeral? Above all, there seldom is a whole concept that has been designed in advance.
Before seeing his most recent work on glass, I think it is worth mentioning briefly that Bechara often soughtto inscribe in these vitreous paintings some of the dim and ferruginous matter of the other canvases. Thus, hosting the heat and the earth against the cold and the liquidity; density and opacity against transparency and brightness; the disturbance of living matter against the rigidity of accuracy. This process of tensioning the opposites to a maximum degree is similar to the irruption of geometry and phosphorescent and synthetic colors in the earthy, mineral darkness, engendered in the canvases of organic nature. On the other hand, inserting in a glass surface everything that contradicts its impermeable nature – inscriptions of our limit against time and death – bring us back to the furious matter of the world.
Bechara kept his research in constant progress and realized that the glass itself – without any direct inscription on its surface – is able to depict pure matter even better. Thus, the glasses are arranged by a project that inserts variable intervals between them and that ends up by operating something that is mainly of the nature of the sculpture: the construction of emptiness. The color, then, passes through those surfaces in a sophisticated work of architectural syntax, arranged in space and thereby obtaining a perfect unity. The result, however, remains within the scope of painting, not only because of its frontality but also becauseBechara is still seeking to explore the relations of color and light on flat surfaces.
One of these great paintings, entitled “Teresa”, alternates transparent and frosted glasses, composing acanvas where colored smudges appear to levitate. But Bechara takes advantage of something recent in the course of his work: neon lighting. Although this type of lighting characterized – especially in the 1950s and 1960s – the modern, technological, and industrialized world, these splendid transparent tubes were product from manual labor, performed in small workshops by craftsmen requiring aptitude and creativity. There were never machines or large industries. As is still the case today, neon lighting is manual labor, coming from breath and imagination. By incorporating this objects, Bechara ends up emphasizing in his work a decisive element: air.
So, if the glasses seem to contradict José Becharas’s symbolic system at first glance, a closer look will recognize that everything remains linked to the body, to memory, to the flows of permanence and deterioration andas always, to a frank eroticism. If breath is at the origin of the illuminated tubes, keeping present the body that created them active, there is also air in between the glasses.
Leading investigator of darkness and weight, inspired by the places where minerals and roots secretly live, the artist seems to have taken yet another courage: to keep building forms of light, air; the furious matter of the world, but now, there is the glimmer of a morning by the ocean; the perfect gem of color made of pure light.