Maria Bonomi, impure engraving

Maria Bonomi, The inventor, lithograph, 60.00 cm x 60.00 cm, 2000.


Commentary on the career and work of the artist

Recently, amid abundant reasons for sadness and apprehension, I had the joy of receiving two important books from Maria Bonomi about her trajectory as an artist. One of them is Maria Bonomi with the engraving: from the middle as an end to the middle as a beginning (Rio de Janeiro: Rio Books, 2021), by Patrícia Pedrosa, which is the result of the researcher's master's dissertation, defended in 2016 in the Graduate Program in Visual Arts at the School of Fine Arts of UFRJ, under the guidance of Maria Luísa Tavora; the other is fundamental The dialectic Maria Bonomi (Neuchâtel: Éditions du Griffon, 2016), by Mayra Laudanna, a professor at the Institute of Brazilian Studies at the University of São Paulo (IEB-USP) who has been developing critical work dedicated to printmaking in Brazil for some time.

Maria Bonomi was born in Meina, northern Italy, in 1935, the daughter of an Italian father and a Brazilian mother. She came to Brazil as a girl, due to the Second War. My first contact with his work took place at the end of the 1990s, as an urban experience (by tactile and optical means, Walter Benjamin would say), when I was still living in São Paulo: the long-awaited opening of the Jardim São Paulo Metro Station (neighborhood of my childhood and youth) presented the panels in concrete – construction of São Paulo – made by the artist. Later, when I started my doctorate in the Graduate Program in Literature at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), in 2011, I resumed this contact, now primarily through study.

Based on questions that arose during a course on Clarice Lispector, taught by Raúl Antelo, I was interested in establishing certain aesthetic affinities between the writer and the graphic artist – between spelling and engraving, the line on the page and the furrow. in wood, the word and the image –, in addition to the well-known friendship that they maintained for many years. (In his biography of the writer, Benjamin Moser notes that they met in 1959, in Washington. At the time, Clarice Lispector accompanied her then husband, Maury Gurgel Valente, in his diplomatic life. Maria Bonomi, in turn, was part of an exhibition at Pan-American Union and was chosen to participate in a dinner at the White House in honor of foreign students. Through Alzira Vargas, she met the writer, who lent her an outfit for the event).

I would say that Maria Bonomi's work with engraving has as its principle a kind of disobedience or transgression: it is like a rigorous, demanding exercise, of accepting in language itself an excess that always pushes it outside of itself; which is, after all, a way to go further, but through a resumption, a return to the principle of one of the oldest and most popular languages ​​of art. For, on the one hand, the overflowing of the limits of engraving, which we see notably in the work of Maria Bonomi, situates her production in the expanded coordinates of contemporary art, which was tensely prepared by various protagonists (artists, institutions, critics and the public) at least since the end of the 1950s, in several countries.

Nevertheless, it is at the same time an overflow that recovers the aesthetic force of printmaking at its most elementary point, linking it to manual production and the gestures of the pulsating body, to the sensitive resistance of materials and supports, to the senses and to the drifts of forms. , finally, to what, being absolutely archaic, reappears in the present making of art as resistance to the disciplinary and evolutionary rigors of modernity. (In Clarice Lispector's writing – to resume the aforementioned affinities – this potency averse to chronological linearity gained, among other formulations, the expression instant-already, sort of search and replacement of the limit of meaning that guides the narrative of Jellyfish, book published in 1973).

The anachronistic force to which I am referring is highlighted in Patrícia Pedrosa's book as something vital: “the fruitful element of the woodcut is the immemorial gesture of engraving, the gesture that unites the drawing and the incision, the line and the furrow, the conceptual and the labor, the hand that creates, the tool and the material, creative work”. It is thus, in the maintenance of this untimely character, each time original, that we see the artist's journey extend to printmaking, since the mid-1950s, reaffirming its language through an opening to what, a priori, would not be typical of printmaking. In a word, it is an impure engraving, which is refined and strengthened not in spite of the impurity, but with it. In this way, a work that is, essentially, subtraction is raised to a power without end: “I start to thin out. That is, removing the large areas that will be the whites, as woodcutting is subtraction. Think about what stays and not what you put. […] Knives, gouges, buris are used to write down each phrase”, declared the artist in 1966.

With Livio Abramo, Maria Bonomi learned to deal with the woodcut without the idea of ​​a previous drawing or an illustrative purpose, arriving at the work “for the value of the instrument, the line, the cut, the attack on the wood”, as the artist stated in a statement from 2004. Then, there was experimentation with folding the matrices, with greatly enlarged dimensions and display forms that contradicted the shyness of size and exposure on cabinet-tables, which then conditioned the engraving.

Just as there was, from the studies with Seong Moy, in New York, the exploration of colors, transparencies and overlaps (escaping statism and the strict contrast between black and white); in addition to the creative and compositional use of the matrices themselves, which soon – around the 1970s – became objects with a life of their own, questioning the public and generating unforeseen relationships with spatiality, in an intense dialogue not with the principles of sculpture (the volume solid), but with the planes and transits of architecture (the construction of space). (In her room, Clarice Lispector exhibited the matrix of The Eagle, with “the saliences and recesses of the dark magnetized wood”, she wrote in a well-known chronicle of 1971, published in the Newspapers in Brazil, about an exhibition by Maria Bonomi at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro).

As we follow in detail in Mayra Laudanna's book, these drifts – which were reinforced with trips to Europe, China, the Amazon, as well as in collective actions, etc. – attest to how the artist’s graphic thinking, the cipher of her poetics, embodies printmaking in a variety of ways: from scenography and costumes for theatrical plays, to objects in cast metal and, more recently, installations.

Furthermore, and more than anything, I would say, these drifts inform the importance that public art should assume in his work. In her doctoral thesis, presented in 1999 at the USP School of Communication and Arts, Maria Bonomi wrote: “The urban space is the matrix of a larger, multifaceted intervention, which will have a material result with spiritual and social functionality”. That is, in a public work, which involves countless participants in its planning and execution, to later come to integrate the most diverse flows of the city, in places that oscillate between permanence and passage – in a public work, in short, the the bet is on agency, on a propositional horizon of new forms of life in common: “the person who passes by will be modified by what he sees”.

This openness to the public translates a political and ethical position: in fact, the large panels that occupy subway stations in São Paulo and the Memorial da América Latina can be thought of as the amplification of a critical and questioning gesture that accompanies the artist throughout her work. over time. Thus, if in woodcuts from the 1960s and 1970s – as Parole, The Eagle, showing gums e horror ballad – Maria Bonomi elaborates her resistance to the dictatorial regime (in 1974, after a lecture at a museum, the artist was detained for two days, being taken to the DOI-Codi on Rua Tutóia for interrogation), in the impactful panels in cement soil, clay , bronze or concrete – like future memory e Ethnicities (Latin America Memorial, 1989; 2005-08), Paulista Epic (Estação da Luz, 2004), in addition to the aforementioned construction of São Paulo (Estação Jardim São Paulo, 1998) – we are interrogated by a collective memory that is also resistant in its poignancy, a memory that is difficult to appease in the confrontation that it establishes between the past, the present and the future.

I conclude these brief notes a few days after the resounding demonstrations that took to the streets of dozens of cities across the country against the death policy of our current government. Amidst the abundant reasons for sadness and apprehension, this public intervention is also a reason, perhaps not for joy, but without a doubt for courage, for insistence: a breath of fresh air. I appropriate the artist's proposition: that the urban space be the matrix of an even greater, multifaceted intervention, which has a material result with spiritual and social functionality.

* Arthur de Vargas Giorgi Professor of Literary Theory at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).


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