João Câmara and Jorge de Lima

John Chamber. Solstice gouache on paper 100 x 70 cm, signature inf. left


Commentary on the first two volumes of the “Brazilian Artists” collection by Edusp

Currently, the reflection on the conditions and possibilities of art, of presenting the unpresentable or naming the formless, goes through the evaluation of modern assumptions and processes. This is one of the results of the discussion about the postmodern, regardless of any positivity one might want to attribute to the term.

Artists also include reflection in their work; deliberately articulate references as a tactic to suggest that invention no longer necessarily proceeds from the avant-garde strategy of affirming novelty and questioning the truth of art. They dedicate themselves to their “little work” (it is Diderot who speaks through Lyotard's mouth), choosing their references or referring to themselves, indicating it as a kind of psychoanalytic elaboration.

Recent studies, usually in the form of academic, historical and critical works, are gradually lifting the silence on aspects not contemplated by the modernist vision, which includes and excludes productions projecting backwards and forwards valuations derived only from avant-garde calculations. Today, it is clear that much was left out of the hegemonic avant-garde projects that, it should be said, for being exemplary, were deservedly exalted.

But it is indispensable, at least instructive, to go through Brazilian art with a fine-tooth comb to verify the different references that acted in the drive for modernization, without the need for legitimations. Occasional works that study the artists of their time are the ones that best contribute to rectifying the outline, already widely drawn, of Brazilian art.

Edusp's “Brazilian Artists” collection responds to the lack of specific works on artists from different eras. Exquisitely edited (with cover and graphic design by Moema Cavalcanti), the first two volumes are dedicated to a controversial artist and a poet who doubles as a painter. Therefore, a contemporary artist who comes from the clashes of the 60s and a modernist, a consecrated poet whose plastic work is almost unknown.

Almerinda da Silva Lopes reconstructs João Câmara's trajectory, highlighting his peculiar imagery of political, mythological and amorous content, dismantling his far-fetched metaphors, the atmosphere of energies, protests and blockages. She unravels the narrative character of the figurations that, in the artist's formation, arise from the interweaving of literary culture, familiarity with the Northeastern popular imagination (in which narrativity is constitutive), historical and mythological interest, in addition to a great artistic erudition.

Strongly referenced in erudite and popular sources of painting and engraving, Câmara's figurations refer, in an immediate approximation, to a “realism”. This, however, in line with contemporary experimentation, is understood by Almerinda as an effect of recent translations of mannerist procedures in the treatment of themes, techniques and articulation of images in the manner of fiction.

Câmara, who jumps from Almerinda's analysis, crossing painting, historical events and testimonials, criticism and history, is the cultured and sarcastic artist who, far from the great centers of production, develops a mythology deprived of a strong allegorical significance, in that individual obsessions, political criticism and popular imagination are reinterpreted according to references drawn from the pictorial tradition: Masaccio, De Chirico, Picasso, Grozs and Bacon, for example.

Playing with ambiguity, articulating styles common to dramatic iconography (as noted by Gilda de Mello e Souza), with the variety of registers of gestures, always hieratic, political, amorous or mythological signs compose a symbolism made of sequences that results in grotesque monumentalization of love, of the family, of bourgeois morals, of politics. Thus, its pretended realism is actually a representation composed of excessively detailed and ornamental images.

Huge images, mechanically disarticulated and rearticulated, represent the human body as constructed by prostheses, alluding to the functioning that presides over historical facts: paralysis. The effect of this technique is the proposition of the binding of history, with the critique of consecrated meanings. Working with leftover images and feigning verisimilitude, Câmara composes the conflict between perception and representation.

Perhaps in this we can find the resistance that his work aroused in critics and artists, at the Salão de Brasília (1967) and, afterwards, at a time when Brazilian artistic production was almost entirely marked by conceptualism. But this does not explain the political censure he was subjected to, certainly due to the fact that his paintings made fun of the powers that be, a certain construction of the idea of ​​nationality and morality.

Câmara's “poetic project”, detailed by Almerinda, plastically translates the dialogue between past and present. Aggressive, João Câmara's painting breaks the boundaries between narrative structure and formal structure, staging the fable that elides the distinction between truth and fiction. Due to its intellectualism, says the author, it is anti-classical; for the plastic play is mannerist or “neo-baroque”. Its intellectual realism, not visual, is what makes the painting a narrative on the plane: “Composition without perspective or depth, flat colors without transparency, distorted, fragmented and mutilated bodies, staticity of the figures, narrative character”. In narration, the aesthetic game becomes interpretation, as “addicted to storytelling”, Câmara is an apocryphal interpreter of Brazilian life.

Another is Ana Maria Paulino's procedure for highlighting the “plastic charge” of Jorge de Lima's poetry, photomontages and painting. Without actually constituting itself as an internal and external analysis of the poet's plastic work, it prefers to unravel plastic in poetry and poetry in plastic through recurrent themes – childhood, memory, dream, life, death –, tensioned by delirium dreamlike and imagination.

The parallelism he establishes between painting and poetry recalls that of the ancients, encoded in the “ut pictura poetry” by Hora: “Poetry is like painting; one captivates you more, if you stay closer; another, if you go further away; this one prefers the penumbra; the former will want to be seen in full light, because it is not afraid of the critic's penetrating gaze; that pleased once; this one, repeated ten times, will always please”.

Evidently forgetting the rhetorical uses of these ideas, one can retain resemblance, a priority operation in representation, although Ana Maria does not see a simple adaptation of one system to another, since in modern dust the poetic and the visual are integrated in a way less obvious way. In any case, the primacy of meaning is emphasized, mainly because in both of Jorge de Lima's manifestations the surrealist poetics is evident.

In the poet-painter, says Ana Maria, everything alludes to a transcendent state, to a suspended time, to that point of the spirit, as Breton said, where the distinctions between real and imaginary, past and future, life and death dissolve. Illumination and ecstasy cross the boundaries of a regulated life, opening the space for imagination and dreams, the time for memory.

In the photomontages, constructed with scraps of memory, the fantastic and the dreamlike, the use of collage stands out, rare in Brazil at that time. In the canvases, no precise style is identified, ranging from the academicism of portraits and still lifes to the expressiveness of religious motifs, in which modern constructive procedures appear.

Several references are manifested there: Ismael Nery, Chagall, Magritte, Dali, De Chiricco, Max Ernst. The general tone of the paintings is the sensation of stability generated by the treatment of volumes and colors (white, blue, blue-green, water-green, gray, shades of pink), generating well-architected, solid constructions.

Finally, Ana Maria associates the emergence of painting in Jorge de Lima, from the beginning of his poetic production, in the use of verbal tenses, which make the images dynamic and in the plastic taste manifested in the graphic care and in the illustrations (by Segall, Santa Rosa, Flag and others). But, above all, in addition to painting being present in the daily life of his incredible office-studio, it is denoted by the depressive crisis of the late 30s; through painting he seeks to save himself from time, memory, remorse. In painting, says Ana Maria, “it makes up a universe”, also remade in words.

*Celso Favaretto is an art critic, retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and author, among other books, of The invention of Helio Oiticica (Edusp).

Originally published on Journal of Reviews no. 9, in December 1995



Almerinda da Silva Lopes, João câmara. Foreword by Annateresa Fabris. São Paulo, Edusp, 228 pages.

Anna Maria Paulino. Jorge de Lima. São Paulo, Edusp, 116 pages.



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