Notes on the “Autobiography” of Raphael Galvez



The search for the right balance between creative impulse and technical mastery

In a conference given in 1938, Mário de Andrade stated that “craftsmanship is essential for a true artist to exist”. And he continued: “An artist who is not at the same time a craftsman […], an artist who does not know perfectly the processes, requirements, secrets of the material he is going to move, […] cannot make works of art worthy of the name”.

The idea that the artist and the craftsman are inseparable figures, since the true artist is at the same time a craftsman, is at the basis of Raphael Galvez's considerations about his career and his decisive encounters, as demonstrated in the autobiography published at the end of 2022 by WMF Martins Fontes, organized by José Armando Pereira da Silva. A loquacious craftsman about his own contributions and an artist with little eloquence about his own work, Raphael Galvez dedicates a large part of his autobiography to his training, to the workshops in which he worked and to the ateliers shared with several colleagues, giving particular emphasis to the technical processes that underpin sculpture. .

It is possible that the description of the emergence of his interest in this modality refers to a rather diffuse prototype in artistic historiography: that talent “fights early and urgently for expression” (Kris & Kurz). After attributing to a drawing by his maternal uncle César – who enchanted him for its perfection – the “alert” of his own “inclination towards art”, Raphael Galvez delegates to grandfather Gaetano the role of discoverer of his talent for sculpture. Attracted by the “almost gold-colored” clay, taken from the ditches of a City Hall project, little Raphael feels “the need to handle it, modeling dolls, flowers, houses and many other shapes with it”. A “very sensitive” craftsman, the grandfather admires the dolls that his grandson was molding and suggests that he study sculpture. Enthusiastic with the idea after the technique was explained to him, the little one manages to overcome maternal resistance.

Raphael Galvez's considerations on the discovery of his own vocation point to a mythological treatment. The conversation with his grandfather had led him to realize that it was an incubated dream, that his “single and supreme inclination was to make sculpture” and that dedicating himself to it was “something sublime”. The grandfather had taken off the veil that hid something that he wanted, but that was in the subconscious. The tone of the writing becomes emotional: “From then on, my life had only one reason for being, and that was to become a sculptor one day. Nothing else I wanted. All my will was conditioned to this art, which now, already consciously, I loved with all fervor and had become my true ideal”.

The link between the casual discovery of one's own talent and the mythological dimension is reinforced when one reads the description of the beginning of sculptural art: “From the baked clay doll, made with love, came the sculpture, which reached the sublime statue of Apollo (detto di Belvedere), which is the most beautiful vision conceived in the spiritualized way.”

Admitted to the wood carving and sculpture section of the Federal Professional School, Raphael Galvez became familiar with chisels, gouges and mallets and began to carve decorative motifs such as roses and daisies. To “conquer it more easily”, he studies drawing and models clay in the modeling section, but does not get the expected result and enrolls in the Lyceum of Arts and Crafts. Dissatisfied with the mechanical process of making sculpture taught at the institution and with the “routine of retouching vases, figures, planters and statues”, he is accepted into Nicola Rollo’s studio, installed in the Palace of Industries still under construction. It was at that moment that “the true life of an art student began, as everything was done with the purpose of really studying the art of sculpture”.

His first work – a copy of the foot of a life-size statue of Antonio Canova – is disapproved and destroyed by Nicola Rollo, which leads him to remake it in “enormous dimensions, to learn better and, at the same time, to show the master who had fully understood him.” Although it was an exercise, Raphael Galvez turns it into a meeting between the craftsman and the artist latent in him: “It was insane work, but I felt great pleasure and a great feeling of being a true sculptor. My colleagues thought my idea was really crazy, but I didn't care and I stayed firm, modeling that huge foot with his big fingers, whose nails were the size of my hand, and it was really with my hands that I modeled those nails of spectacular size”.

This initiatory test, which attracts the attention of Nicola Rollo, is the first step in the mythical construction of the figure of the apprentice as a virtuoso. The display of one's own virtuosity, whether as an ability to imitate the work of another artist or as manual dexterity, unfolds in two other emblematic episodes starring Raphael Galvez and the master. The first involves a technical error made by a trainer with the figure Il piano sulla lira muta of the funerary monument of the Luigi Chiafarelli family (1926), which had made it impossible to trim the formwork.

The obstinate apprentice ignores Rollo's order to throw the figure away and works on it for two weeks: "I started to scratch it centimeter by centimeter, without spoiling the appearance. freshness of modeling the figure. Only a little piece of a square centimeter came out, more or less, because I had to hit the chisel cut perpendicularly on the surface of the figure and make the pink shirt shiver, which, by the way, was very thin, making it even more difficult to highlight that little one. square of a square centimeter [...]. When he returned after sixteen days, he found the figure completely scarlet and retouched. Nicola Rollo said: 'What you achieved, Raffaello, was a real miracle', and he was very pleased and he paid me many compliments, and exclaimed: 'New trainer never again; from now on, all my works will be shaped by you, my dear Raffaello, both the form and the reproduction of the model'”.

Converted into “a jack of all trades, for making frameworks, for kneading clay, for assembling sculptures, for sketching sculptures or for covering them with wet cloths so that the clay does not dry out”, the young Raphael Galvez participates in an undertaking even more surprising. When the Revolution of 1924 broke out, Rollo, who was working on the model of the Monument to Bandeirantes, moves to São Roque with his family, losing interest in work. Without worrying about the risks he ran, Raphael Galvez went every day to the Palácio das Indústrias, where the revolutionary forces were entrenched, to fulfill the “mission of preserving Rollo’s work, wetting it well, so that the clay don't dry up." With the end of the fighting, Rollo returns to the workplace and learns of the assistant's heroic deed. Unfortunately, Raphael Galvez's effort was in vain, as the sculptor had to vacate the Palácio das Indústrias and take the groups of figures to a shed near Ipiranga, where they were probably destroyed.

Defined by José de Souza Martins as an index of Raphael Galvez's “conception of work and devotion to work”, the 1924 episode is not corroborated by Nicola Rollo. As Tadeu Chiarelli recalls in an article dedicated to the book, the sculptor claimed to have lost the model of the monument, as he was unable to moisten his work in clay on a daily basis. If, with this possibly fictional episode, Raphael Galvez wanted to highlight his own technical virtuosity as a “mark of artistic completeness” (Kris & Kurz), one cannot forget that this issue seems to be central to his conception of work, going beyond the sculptural field . Martins captures this characteristic of the artist very well, when he considers the episode of the lunch offered to Ciccillo Matarazzo at Rollo's house as “one of the great and revealing moments” of the book. The meal “prepared as a work of art” is consistent with the meticulous pursuit of technical perfection that acquires stylistic connotations in the artist's vivid evocation.

The care with which Raphael Galvez presents the technical processes of the sculpture is also used in the description of his culinary skills, summarized in a pasta dish. The entire elaboration process is detailed down to the smallest detail: the use of “great macaroni” and Italian Parmesan cheese; the choice of a good piece of hard meat stuffed with various spices; diluting the tomato paste with water and preparing the sauce; the cooking of meat and pasta; the “artistic” presentation of the delicacy, arranged in layers and accompanied by the meat, cut “in slices of three millimeters”. If there were any doubts about Raphael Galvez's proximity to the conception of virtuosity as a mark of distinction, it would be enough to pay attention to this excerpt from his autobiography: “The smell that came out of that sauce when it was being made went through the backyard, even reaching neighboring houses. The maids and even the bosses claimed that it whet anyone's appetite, and asked how my recipe was, because they weren't capable of making the same”.

If the artist learns the complex sculptural process from Rollo, however, it is from the young Júlio Guerra,[1] a student “pure and sincere, somewhat primitive, but without vices”, who learns the true meaning of art. Guerra's drawings put him in contact with a “spontaneous and free” artistic manifestation. He understands that the “wisdom” acquired from Rollo did not allow the work to bear the imprint of his inner being, his self, his personality.

The description of this discovery is made in an emotional tone: “That alerted me a lot, I started to be more careful with my work, participating more with the spirit, with the sensitivity, and abandoning the cursed wisdom acquired by the materialistic gymnastics of training, where it is It's the hand that makes and not our sensitivity./ It was a lesson I learned: that sensitivity is better than technique, that love is creative, and that work with flaws, but sincere and pure, is better than perfect work technically, but that says nothing about our I, our person./From then on I freed myself from that acquired wisdom, and, when I started any work, my concern was no longer perfection, technique, but my spiritual participation , putting something of myself into my work; and also, in observing the model, to look for the character and spirit of that model”.

This passionate defense of spontaneity is attenuated in the profile of Douglas Morris, in which a fair balance is established between creative impulse and technical mastery. Having verified that his friend had all the requirements of a good artist – “love, devotion, dedication and detachment” – Raphael Galvez advises him to acquire the necessary technical skill. The “beautiful, clean and perfect drawings, with an exuberant spelling” resulting from this advice had a catch: they were more made “by the wisdom of the technique than by the emotion felt at the time of the focus of the subject and the emotional psychological moment, and the impact that a scene or an object that nature transmits to us”. Their perfection awakens in Galvez the idea of ​​the “stamp”, as they did not bear the marks of “errors” or “regrets”, having as their characteristic a “naked observation”, devoid of interpretation.

Lesson learned, Morris finally arrives at the result sought by his friend: a drawing endowed with “repentance and personal originality, interpretation and emotional vibration”. This lesson had as its starting point the praise of error, considered by Raphael Galvez “the most sincere action of man”. Error is beneficial, pure and true when it assures artists the possibility of being “spontaneous, free, true and sincere”, when it allows “repentance, going back and leaving for other paths”.

If Rollo, the “Master”, and his idiosyncrasies – the uninhibited use of a loincloth to work, which scandalizes the “matrons and girls” of Alameda Joaquim Eugênio de Lima, and the Countess Maria Ângela Matarazzo and the Mother Superior of the Chapel of São Roque during the visit to the Jardim Paulista studio; interest in continuous motion; the habit of not proceeding with work begun; the disillusionment with art that he tries to convey to his closest student – ​​occupy a considerable space in Raphael Galvez's memoirs, but it is in Alfredo Volpi that he seems to project the image of the modern artist par excellence.

An introspective painter, Volpi is seen as “an initiate who created his beautiful expression out of nothing, which has nothing to do with exhibitionism, but has a cosmic simplicity that conveys something sincere, something true, something pure”. A landmark in “initiatory painting, which emancipates itself from archaic, technological, artificial, methodological and lying wisdom”, the artist works with “the naturalness of an ox chewing the cud for food”. Focused on capturing everyday life, Volpi is the patriarch of the “dynasty of São Paulo painting, which was born with him and which established itself in its foundation of truth, sincerity, simplicity, purity and love”.

Written in the mid-1980s, with the aim of being published, as attested by the cover design and the two notebooks with its sculptural and pictorial production, the Autobiography de Galvez not only provides information about the artistic circuit he frequented, made up of marble shops, shared ateliers, involvement in professional associations, meetings that were more or less decisive.

It also allows us to enter a provincial São Paulo, which was scandalized by the “original and extraordinary” nudes of Flávio de Carvalho, to the point of requesting the closure of one of his first exhibitions held in a building on Rua Barão de Itapetininga. Or that Tarsila do Amaral was the opposite of women from São Paulo, “beautiful, religious, conservative and boundlessly conformist”, who “dressed more to cover their bodies well, hiding in any way any possibility of showing their nudity – this all imposed by a tradition and a severe education of their ancestors”.

To this bourgeois and provincial city, in which “conservatism was mandatory”, the artist contrasts the solidary city based on neighborhood ties, embodied in a neighborhood like Barra Funda. It is with emotion that Raphael Galvez evokes his sister Dolores' godfather, who welcomed the family's carijó rooster; the “Santa Esmoleira”, who healed the neighborhood children with prayers and potions; the shopkeeper Aristodemo Fornasari who, not infrequently, donated goods to the most needy or gave twice as much food as was requested and paid for; engineer Antônio Ambrósio, “a bit arrogant and a bit proud, but a good man”, who decides to give several of his children's garments to the Galvez family after coming across little Raphael's darned jacket countless times.

The status of grandson of the “convinced socialist” Gaetano Dazzani is revealed in the indignant account of the cancellation of Montepio to which his mother was entitled as the widow of a Light & Power employee. As father Raphael Galvez Claros was a member of the Sociedade Beneficente dos Empregados da Light & Power, after his death as a result of an accident at work, mother Clotilde Dazzani would be entitled to a lifetime quota of thirty thousand reais per month and to medical consultations and medicines for all the family. The benefit, however, was canceled unilaterally in exchange for an indemnity of six hundred thousand reis, considered negligible by the widows.

The grandfather came to look for the directors of the Italian newspaper fanfulla to protest against the measure, but they “cowarded […] because Light & Power was a very powerful company, which was carefully protected by the government of our country, which submitted to its demands”. The press in general “did not listen to the complaints of these victims and the crime of exploitation of that society was consummated”.

The sacrifices made by her mother to ensure the family's livelihood after her husband's accident multiplied with his death and little Raphael is witness to endless work, which occupied her day and night, “in constant eagerness to earn our sustenance and pay the rent for the house. With a few words, the adult Raphael sums up a life of deprivation: “I went to school and came back, and my mother was always working; I would go to sleep and, when I woke up, I would see my mother at the sewing machine to get the dresses ready for the customers who were always in a hurry”. The Galvez family's living conditions improve with the growth of the children who start working in adolescence: Dolores learns the ajour stitch and collaborates with her mother; Thereza dedicates herself to making women's hats and machine-pressed buttons; Júlio takes a job at a paper bag factory. Raphael, on the other hand, helps with the household chores and takes care of shopping at the grocery store and at the butcher shop.

This hard discipline forges a resistant temperament, which is not ashamed of its own social condition. On the contrary, the adult Raphael concludes the autobiography with a note of pride: “My life was one of poverty and always without any abundance; however, misery never bothered me. I was always happy, waiting for better days, which I don't know if they came./ My food for the spirit was always plentiful and abundant, and I never denied this food to anyone. […] In my poverty I was always rich, very rich in intimate freedom. The chains of impositions never held me; my ambitions were always spiritual; the materials never existed. […] I loved this life even with all its mishaps, thinking only that it is too short”.

When organizing the volume, José Armando Pereira da Silva structured it into five thematic cores – Family and childhood; Training; Work in workshops and ateliers; Personalities and friends; and Conclusions – to give greater coherence to the “flow of thoughts and memories”, done in a “colloquial way”. The organizer corrected inaccuracies and errors detected in events, names and dates “already distant in time”, but was careful not to interfere with certain evocations: “Some memories of Raphael Galvez may not match the official account in detail, but are interpretations his, are the images that he kept or were transfigured in his memory, and that was how they were kept, without worrying about comparing them with other sources”.

In view of this assertion, the decision to exclude the artist's considerations on the Week of Modern Art from the volume seems strange, due to its “opinionated” aspect, which “contradicts the links manifested in another chapter, with artists participating in the Week: Anita Malfatti, Brecheret, Di Cavalcanti and Tarsila”. As idiosyncratic as they might be, they would allow a fruitful confrontation with the official historiography, clarifying how a participant in a “minor” version of modernism saw the “majoritarian” manifestations and some of its main exponents.

One of José Armando Pereira da Silva's great successes was to open each nucleus with self-portraits, painted in 1927, 1943, 1963, 1947 and 1980, to “fix states of mind”, since they cannot be considered “narcissistic manifestations”. Another objective led the organizer to make this choice: “to prove the artistic quality he has achieved in this genre in which the artist challenges himself as subject and object of representation”.

The notebooks of sculptures and paintings prepared by Raphael Galvez allow readers to get in touch with a little-known work, which denotes several dialogues with tradition and modernity, tensioning the scope of Brazilian modernism and inviting a less prejudiced look at artists and groups that contributed, in their own way, to the task of renewing the national visuality. the imposing statue The Brazilian, displayed in one of the corridors on the second floor of the Pinacoteca do Estado, can be a good starting point for a conversation with the multifaceted work of Raphael Galvez, sometimes more classical, sometimes close to certain expressionist tendencies in sculpture; sometimes Cézannian, sometimes almost abstract in painting.

*Annateresa Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Visual Arts at ECA-USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reality and fiction in Latin American photography (UFRGS Publisher).


Raphael Galvez. Autobiography. Organization: José Armando Pereira da Silva. São Paulo, WMF Martins Fontes, 2022, 750 pages.


ANDRADE, Mario. “The Artist and the Craftsman”. In: _______. The Dance of the Four Arts. São Paulo: Livraria Martins Editora, 1963.

CHIARELLI, Thaddeus. “Petit maître” (21 Dec. 2022). Available at:ão/conversa-de-barr/raphael-galvez>.

KRIS, Ernst; KURZ, Otto. Legend, myth and magic in the artist's image: a historical experience. Lisbon: Editorial Presença, 1981.

MARTINS, José de Souza. “Raphael Galvez's modernism on the inside of life”. In: GALVEZ, Raphael. Autobiography. São Paulo: WMF Martins Fontes, 2022.

SILVA, José Armando Pereira da. “The vocation of Raphael Galvez”. In: GALVEZ, Raphael. Autobiography. São Paulo: WMF Martins Fontes, 2022.


[1] Author of the controversial statue of Borba Gato (1963), Guerra is also responsible for the creation of black mother (1954), located in Largo do Paissandu, and the panel homage to the arts (1968) at Teatro Paulo Eiró.

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