Body and image of Brazil

Image: Glaucon.


Commentary on the graphic work of Glauco Rodrigues

The graphic work of the painter, engraver and designer Glauco Rodrigues was the theme of the exhibition at the Caixa Cultural space on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo in 2011. 1950 and died in 1929.

Beginning with regional themes from his native Rio Grande do Sul: the gaucho in action in the countryside, and equally with images engaged in popular political struggles at the time, the constant Brazilian theme is an important guiding thread in the graphic work of the gaucho artist and in the aforementioned exhibition. Theme that encompasses both the regional and the national-popular aspects of his initial period of artistic development, as well as the projection and mediation or media construction of Brazil in the era of electronic images and mass culture in the second half of the XNUMXth century.

Indeed, in his mature graphic work, we could say that the artist re-elaborates in a new way the aesthetic and political question of the image of Brazil and Brazilian culture and, by this means, the question of the image in contemporary art.

Pop art is the immediate context or pretext for his resumption of figuration in the mid-1960s, after phases that echoed modernizing currents or styles and abstraction. A resumption that has as its background the formation of modern mass society and the new means of communication, that is, the development in the period of a new Brazilian society, made of (real and apparent) continuities and sensitive, intellectual, experiential ruptures, structural, etc.

The mature work of Glauco Rodrigues registers, through transformations in the image and self-image of Brazil in the period, the advent of mass society, of new means of communication in the construction of contemporaneity, a period of economic, social and cultural transformations marked by political crisis of the military dictatorship, through which the traditional elites and dominant groups with interests in the process of economic subordination of the nation sought, through dictatorial means, through the path of authoritarianism and institutionalized violence, to exclusively control and direct processes of structural changes in course, importing, therefore, the ideology of the Cold War internalized to justify the destruction of the incipient and immature Brazilian democracy of that time (any resemblance with the present day must not be a coincidence).

Strategies of hybridization, carnivalization, fertilization and clashes between the popular and the erudite, the urban and the rural, the past and the “present-future”, the national and the foreign, repetition and singularity, the original and the copy, amalgamations, pastiche, etc that characterized in popular music and theater, also in cinema and even in literature, the Tropicalism, are in their own way reflected, documented or represented in the engraving by Glauco Rodrigues in what the aesthetic and ideological context allowed, or even demanded, of juxtaposition or identification, both ironic and critical, of the opposite poles, the representation and even the fusion of dualisms real or imaginary, constitutive of Brazilian society and culture or cultures, in hybrid, ephemeral, precarious units, but sometimes with great poetic and renewing potential.

A “handmade” São Sebastião, modeled linearly, graphically, as if with a chisel, sinuous, languid and baroque, is represented against a flat background of strong colors in simplified forms, echoing some of the styles of pop graphic language, and drawing succinctly, characteristically the landscape of the Sugar Loaf and Guanabara.

Dance, carnival, the direct or indirect universe of mass poetics, television, cinema, printed images, everyday journalism, are some of the sources and themes of Glauco Rodrigues' engravings from the 1960s onwards.

These engravings portray, for example, the urban landscape of Rio de Janeiro and its transformations, in overlapping and temporal, stylistic and technological mixtures, through the historical chronicle in images that mix, reproduce, distance and approximate times, languages ​​and graphic techniques. miscellaneous.

And they also portray the “Brazilian man” in his specificity and in his characteristic types. More precisely, in the specificity of physical and racial types, movements, gestures, posture, in short, the represented body language. A feeling of familiarity emerges from the images of Glauco Rodrigues, an acknowledgment that it is precisely us Brazilians who are at stake.

Now, amalgams both fuse and distance their elements. On the clear and precise surfaces of these engravings, an effect of contemplation, of distance and a kind of “familiar estrangement” is given. Contemplation creates an “other” in which, paradoxically, we recognize ourselves, something of what we were and what we are as living memory, in the memory dimension of the present, and as figures in / of time and space.

The use of graphic and photographic sources in the creation of these works, the use of the language of engraving reflecting, superimposing in layers the changes in image technologies (from woodcut and lithography, to serigraphy and photography and their various relationships, mirroring, retakes , transformations, etc.) The Brazilian Dropper (1879) by Almeida Júnior, for example, from everyday sources, from mass culture, etc., duplicate in terms of language, aesthetic form and artistic procedures the hybrid contents indicated. The representation here mirrors and unfolds itself, and subtly questions itself.

What we call here the “body of Brazil” takes us back to some observations by Gilda de Mello e Souza in a famous essay on the work of Almeida Júnior (1850-1899).[1] The author saw in the São Paulo painter and his caipira types not only the familiar or “picturesque” representation of characteristic physical types, but the figuration of gestures, postures, what she called, quoting Marcel Mauss, “body techniques”.

Almeida Júnior knew how to portray the Brazilian caboclo, the caipira from São Paulo, in their own unique or specific body postures and in the details of characteristic gestures. In addition to the anecdotal, the external documentation of the landscape and physical type, clothing, local architecture, etc., it is the familiarity, the intimacy of the gesture and body expression captured and recreated by the painter that individualized his representation and added , thus, to the established pictorial language, an original note that recreated, in more or less subtle ways, the current artistic language, from a European source, keeping in mind the fidelity to the native theme.

It was an inflection of the norm, but in this case, crucial, as it determined a new language configuration from within the work, as Gilda Mello e Souza observed, or at least, an opening of possibilities for such.

We can say that the issue of Brazilian art in the example of Almeida Júnior, as examined by Gilda Mello e Souza, gained a different inflection: it appears in what we could call interstices or intervals of styles and ideas, even those “out of place”, arises from the materials represented, or, phenomenologically, from the things themselves, to the extent that, reverberating in the artist's sensibility, they forced him to adjust or modify the pictorial language or the stylistic norm to express an unprecedented experience.

It would certainly be too much to insinuate that we are entering the prehistory of Anthropophagy and Tropicalism here. And yet…

In the context of the late XNUMXth century in transition, the image of Brazil in Glauco Rodrigues' graphic work, on the one hand, becomes a body, something like, in its familiarity, an (almost) inert data or (almost) raw material of our particular experience.

At the same time, in these works, the body of Brazil is transformed into an image, announcing postmodernity and in it the issue of relationships, amalgamations, tensions and conflicts between image and experience: something like a kind of hybrid “society of the spectacle”. is Brazilian.

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher.

Revised and expanded version of an article published in 2011 on the extinct blog Malazartes.


[1] Souza, G. de M. (1974). Contemporary Brazilian painting: the forerunners. Speech, 5 (5), 119-130.

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