Brazil’s contemporary artists are making waves internationally—we introduce the names to watch.
IT IS A COMPLEX ISSUE to determine a nation’s aesthetic, or the common drivers in artists in a continental-sized country such as globalised Brazil. However, over the course of the 21st century, art made here has filtered into important museums and exhibition spaces around the world and amplified its reach to beyond the inner circles of the art world’s curators and connoisseurs. From the Guggenheim and MoMA in New York, to Tate Modern in London, the Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, art from Brazil is gaining ascendance. Commercial galleries worldwide are also wanting a slice of the cake—White Cube in Hong Kong showed Beatriz Milhazes’ colourful arabesques earlier this year; and the Driscoll Babcock Galleies in New York lined its walls with a retrospective of Modernist Judith Lauand, spanning works from the 1950s to the 2000s at the beginning of the year.
According to recent news from Latitude, a platform dedicated to promoting Brazilian art galleries abroad, works by Lauand were snapped up by the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, while Elizabeth and Richard Hedreen sought out pieces for their modern and contemporary collection based in Seattle.
The international market for Brazilian contemporary art first fired up in 2011. Christie’s saw a record hammer price of US$1.7m for Parede com Incisıes a la Fontana II (2001) by Adriana Varejão. That was trumped by the Sotheby’s sale of Beatriz Milhazes’ Meu Limão (2000) for US$2m in 2012, reinstating the latter as the market leader for living Brazilian artists. Latitude also monitors local art market trends. A recent survey highlighted that since 2010, the average annual growth of the primary sector of the market has been above 20%. International collector confidence in the market is noticeable, based on a perception of high quality, a solid local collector base, significant art fairs and the tradition of the São Paulo Biennial, which is the second oldest in the world after Venice.
A large portion of the credit for the growth of the domestic market goes to its art fairs, SP-Arte and ArtRio, which host local galleries, and international giants such as Gagosian, David Zwirner and White Cube. The latter now holds a permanent space in the country, in a warehouse in São Paulo—a good indicator of a healthy nascent market, since they also have a space in Hong Kong, where the local edition of the Art Basel fair flourishes. The Brazilian fairs embody, in their different settings, the lifestyle of the cities that host them.
ANA ELISA EGREJA
Blending fantasy and excess into hedonistic visual voyages
Arguably one of the foremost painters of her generation, Ana Elisa Egreja’s repertoire is defined by fantasy and excess. Her endeavours over the course of just under a decade, in primarily large-scale canvases, are the result of avid image research, dexterous technique and an obsessive drive to find subjects that will allow her to hone her skill. Idyllic images of sunsets and landscapes; iconic landmarks; animals—from flamingos and parrots to pigs and monkeys; patterned wallpaper and tiles; stained-glass windows; living rooms, bedrooms, staircases and, more recently, abandoned and dilapidated interiors, upholstery, cushions, curtains and carpets are procured on the internet and kept in an enormous image base.
“I describe my painting process as being related to collage,” she explains. With an arsenal of sources to choose from, Egreja’s artwork is about uniting subjects taken from the internet, then subjecting them to her imagination and compulsive attention to detail. It’s a fantastic, harmonious, but stifling world that she describes with her work. “The images I portray only come together when I unite them on the canvas,” says the artist. People are absent from these hedonistic visual voyages that echo the colours and textures of Matisse and Ingres, Jan van Eyck and Vermeer, only to reach their conclusion when they are somewhere closer to the theatrical profusion of information also found in Hieronymus Bosch. Her recent work represents a departure from previous obsessions. Here is one in a series of small- and medium-format still life paintings, in which she explores how gatherings of fruit, plants and objects appear through textured glass. “The technical challenges of portraying light and form under these conditions have led me, for the first time, to set up my subject in the studio, before painting it. However, I still don’t paint directly from life, but from a photograph I make of it and edit on the computer and from which I then paint my final subject—which of course, also changes as I paint it.” The process has moved her a step closer to abstraction and Egreja has created a set of visual codes and conduct that sets her apart as a painter.
Represented by Galeria LemeRepresented by Galeria Triângulo
Utilising degradeable materials to create artworks that change
Daniel Lie is a new kid on the block. Since his residency programme last year at Red Bull Station, a hub and platform for emerging artists in São Paulo, his work has gained visibility and recently earned him representation at his first commercial gallery. “In my work I have built on traditions and rituals, such as face-painting, performing and dressing-up that I acquired while part of an underground creative collective called Voodoohop,” he explains. This collective occupies temporary spaces in Brazil and abroad to organise cultural events and hedonistic parties.
Lie is creating a singular body of work that explores time and space as central themes. His hanging installations bring together industrial materials balancing together, such as ropes, hooks, bolts and plastics, with tropical plants, fruit and crystals, in ephemeral constructions that touch on qualities associated with performance. The artwork only begins to ‘happen’ when he finishes assembling it. “I abdicate control and leave the natural elements to rot during the course of an exhibition,” he says. These effects of time are noticeable to returning visitors not only through the changes in appearance, but also in space, as the structure may reconfigure due to the redistribution of weight as matter decays.
Lie held three exhibitions this year in São Paulo. “I decided to make the most of this opportunity and triangulate them—I’m keen on triangles and the number 3—so that together they created a united voice.” The first, at Oficina Cultural Oswald de Andrade, had the intention to explore death. The second, at Centro Cultural São Paulo, his largest installation to date, was centred on life. The last of the three “collapsed the natural course of time and delved into the past. I retrieved autobiographical references and explored my family history and heritage.” Lie’s smaller artworks are emotionally charged amulets and trinkets that serve as mementos of a cyclical existence. Instead of capitalising on a striking and lush contemporary tropical aesthetic, Lie unites artificial, organic and mineral elements in order to expose the fragile nature of life.
Represented by Galeria Triângulo
Working across many mediums and environments for his alter ego Fancy Violence
Rodolpho Parigi’s work cannot be defined by or confined to any single medium or material. It is his fascination with the act of transformation that drives the impulse to produce paintings, drawings, collages and environments for performances of his alter ego, Fancy Violence. To date, just under a decade into his career, there are three distinct, yet related phases in his production. Large-scale, explosively colourful geometric paintings propelled him into the art circuit early on. Exquisitely crafted drawings and collages of fantastic anatomies and situations followed. More recently, he created his Fancy Violence alter ego, who brings together elements of the previous two in a burst of energy, out of the two-dimensional plane and into the world.
The body, human or otherwise, is an important element in all of his artwork which explores its structures, behaviours, porous boundaries and uncontainable fluids. “These are not average bodies, these are the bodies of metamorphosis,” he says. His most recent production unites elements from previous series in large-scale works depicting bodies in an unidentifiable stage of transfiguration. Suspended in time, these are the bodies of possibility, more powerful than anything they could finally become. Whether the primary focus is on an iconic reclining body reminiscent of Ingres, or a collaborative painting with Jorge Kaufman—“I invited Kaufman to paint this with me because of his particular technique in portraiture”—or a visual cacophony of geometric shapes, organic forms and figures, or an impeccably constructed rendering of an imaginary insect, the transformative power of the process of metamorphosis is the constant.
Fancy Violence’s performances have, over the course of the past couple of years, given life to facets of Parigi’s drawings and paintings. She has also stimulated a new typology of objects—high-heel shoes, a potato pierced with razors—that also exist beyond the act of performance. “My work is not autobiographical, but I like to say it’s self-referential,” he says.
Represented by Galeria Nara Roesler
Sculptural works using mundane materials, such as concrete
Inextricably tied to the location where he is working on any given project and rooted in his training as an architect, Lucas Simões has built a body of work over the short course of five years that is centred on transformative experiences and materials. Influenced by architectural creative mechanisms in which process is a means to an end, Simões aesthetic has changed considerably since he began making art, although his intentions and purposes are still anchored in the concepts of transformation and meaning.
So far, this has had three types of ramifications: sculptures, site-specifics and interventions on printed matter, such as maps, books and photographs. The latter, arguably the least innovative of the three, are also his earlier works. "They are visually very striking and a lot of people still associate me with these types of artworks", he comments. He creates distortions through layering, slicing, burning and smudging, transforming the original sources by destroying part of them in order to construct an often eerie and harmonious beauty, in the process imbuing them with new meaning.
Simões has also constructed sculptures and site-specific experiences that build on the architectural principles of scale, proportion and harmony as they explore the possibilities and qualities of mundane materials such as concrete and paper. "I am very interested in the qualities of concrete, such as its weight and the way it reacts to gravity and time," says the artist. In a series of works from 2013 he explores the ambiguity of the architectural model, a preliminary construct that expresses the potential of what materials and ideas could become, yet thrives on that never happening, for when it does it no longer exists as an idealised form. He touches on the fact that very often a building is made without enough consideration of how it will be used and how it will fare with time.
In his most recent exhibition Recalque Diferencial, Simões presents geometric cement wall-pieces embedded with piles of thin sheets of paper that clearly highlight contrasting yet complementary textures, weights, contours and colours—as well as referencing the relationship between an architectural project and its building—and a site-specific piece inspired by research on brutalist architecture. He explains that he began looking into this while living in London, where this architectural style thrived, but exhibited the work in Brazil. "The concrete floor piece was built to be walked on, and slowly cracked and was broken by visitors throughout the exhibition period. It is a commentary on the unfulfilled promise of an architectural style that was supposed to represent stability and longevity. Many brutalist buildings today, as a result of time and gravity, are damaged. The name of the show comes from an engineering term for the cracks that appear in a building as a result of its reaction to gravity—its movement and settlement in the ground." Perhaps Simões' work can be understood as shedding light on the fact that constructing things for people without figuring them in the equation is a contradiction in terms, as is building things to resist time. The best way to survive, the message goes, is to adapt and transform constantly.