here is no fixed point from which to look at the work of Farnese de Andrade. His work, now reviewed on display at Almeida and Dale Gallery, not only contains a unique plastic and symbolic power, but also makes the history of Brazilian art more complex and interesting. Serving as a counterpoint to the official narrative, which sweeps under the rug any expression that escapes the idea of an abstract vocation in mid-twentieth-century Brazil, Farnese’s art deals with interdicts, phantoms, and archetypes, and brings out an uncomfortable subjectivity. As Denise Mattar, who is responsible for the selection of the almost 100 pieces in the show, his works “frolic in the bowels of the unconscious, and so fascinate, enchant, frighten and disturb.”
Dense, the exhibition spans a wide range of research and moments of the artist’s production. It seeks to illuminate the importance of its graphic production, little seen in the last decades but fundamental in its trajectory. For most of his career, Farnese was more valued as an illustrator and engraver, and it was not until the 1990s, and especially in the 21st century, that his three-dimensional production acquired an undeniable prominence, overshadowing other forms of expression. And yet, such a valuation was not enough to get him out of the way. It is curious that, despite being considered one of the most fertile Brazilian artists and has been revisited in several exhibitions, studies and publications (with emphasis on the encouraged book edited by Cosac Naify in 2002), it has been kept in the shade when it comes to recount the history of Brazilian art, being unjustly absent from important historical reviews, such as the 24th São Paulo Biennial, for example.
Such forgetfulness is often explained by the fact that his work presents a certain mismatch in relation to what was done hegemonically in his period of performance. He faced what Denise Mattar defines as “dictatorship of abstraction” and a vigorous resistance to forms of expression more linked to a figuration close to Expressionism and Surrealism. What supposedly brings him closer to authors who preceded him, like his master Guignard (whose indications secured him employment as an illustrator in several publications when he moved to Rio in 1946 to cure himself of a tuberculosis). However, the drive force of his work, the ability to deal with the torments and intimate agonies (not only his own but also of modern man in general) makes him closer to the contemporary art developed by succeeding generations than of his contemporaries.
Instead of considering the two-dimensional and three-dimensional productions of the artist as watertight blocks, Mattar’s curators try to smash the boundaries between languages, illuminating and putting into dialogue some of the most striking moments of this trajectory. “One thing is contained within the other. The Farnese of the 1990s are contained in the Farnese of the 1960s, “she argues. Leaving aside a rigid chronology, the visitor is presented to families of works, to moments marked in their trajectory. He always has before him an artist who seems to be constantly testing himself and his plastic, symbolic, metaphorical possibilities.
The oldest works of the exhibition constitute a nucleus disposed more at the bottom of the gallery. Here are the compulsive and intricate designs he said he did to “call sleep” and were called “Obsessive”; a well-behaved copy of the erotic phase he developed in the late 1960s; and one of three drawings, called “Censorship”, in which he makes an acid and ironic comment about the period of repression and gives an answer to the confiscation and destruction by the military of the works that he had sent to the 2 nd Biennial of Bahia two years earlier. These pieces guaranteed Farnese the Travel Prize at the Modern Art Hall of 1970, taking it to Europe, where it remained for the next five years.
Two other important sets of two-dimensional works were panned by the show. The first of these is composed of 24 paintings made between 1963 and 1980. In addition to demonstrating his versatility – “he did everything at the same time”, Denise says -, this huge panel highlights some of the artist’s interests as a fascination with the sensuality of the human body (not just homoerotic) and their ability to reinvent ways of making art. In these cases, for example, he develops a particular technique, which he calls “transformed paint” and which consists of the application of watercolor mixed with a secret chemical on the wrong side of the already painted canvas, transferring to the work color spots and seductive forms , on which it had only partial control. The second is a set of monotypes made from objects found on the seashore or in landfills in the early 1960s and soon to be incorporated into their three-dimensional collages.
Started in 1964 and produced ceaselessly until his death in 1996, these pieces that gather wormwood; doll carcasses; saints of popular devotion; objects collected in antique shops, garbage or on the streets; shells found at random or images inherited from an uncle photographer form the body of the exhibition. They are embalmed in a resinous environment, enclosed in oratories that they adopt at the time they live in Barcelona, protected by glass beads or sheltered in the hollows of the traditional wooden troughs used in the popular cuisine of their native Minas Gerais, these compositions at the same time agonizing and seductive times – of an impressive formal preciosity – seem, as Mattar says, to “paralyze time”.
The themes are recurrent. There are annunciations, dives in affective memories related to paternal and maternal figures, a long series of works titled “We come from the sea”, and other fields of research to which it returns in an obsessive and compulsive way, as in an effort of purging and organization internal. There is something lugubrious, nostalgic, in this return to the past, that reopen wounds, leave feelings on display. As Charles Cosac well defined in the opening text of the catalog, “he fed himself nostalgia”.
And it infects us in this process. His pieces put to the flower of his skin emotions that should be buried, especially in a country that bet on the univocal way, redemptive of an art of right angles and abstract symbols, leaving behind their feet of clay, their wood gnawed by termites, a strange sensuality and his beheaded saints. In telling his stories, marked by terrible collective memories like the drowning of his two brothers some years before his birth and by a depressive state marked by several crises, Farnese echoes in each of them in a subjective way. However, it inevitably stirs intensely with feelings that go far beyond reason.