João Candido Portinari, founder and general director of the Portinari Project. Photo: Paula Giolito

The celebrated return of the panels War and peace to Brazil is, above all, the culmination of an exciting story of struggle for the memory of Brodósqui's genius. A struggle that was born from the restlessness of his son, João Candido, in the face of the terrible realization of the writer Antonio Callado, a great friend and biographer of Portinari, who in an interview with Ralph Camargo, in 1977, vented: “Segregated in private collections and bank rooms, Candinho becomes invisible. Will our greatest painter continue to be dismembered, like Tiradentes who painted?”.

Contesting Callado's sad prophecy, through the Portinari Project, became the great challenge of João Candido's life. In an interview with the magazine This Is People!, in 2003, the centenary year of Portinari's birth, he revealed to reporter Fábio Farah that, at 18, he was averse to the artistic environment he lived with his father: “I thought it was very boring. How I regretted later not having taken advantage of it!”

The “what” João Candido referred to was much more than compliance with social protocols. It was his father's own work and its raw meaning of the identity of a country he also loved, but which he abandoned to study Mathematics in France and pursue a doctorate in Telecommunications Engineering in the United States.

João Candido was always running away from his father's omnipresent shadow, but he was doomed to obsessively rediscover his numerous figures and defend Portinari's masterful work with all his might.

“I had a French uncle, Pierre, a great teacher of Mathematics and Physics. He helped me learn Mathematics when I was 12 years old and was a bit of my guru. A sort of alternative to my father. As a good Frenchman, Pierre only believed in France and convinced me to study mathematics there. At the age of 18, I was an intern at one of those Dantesque high schools in Paris and, later, I passed the competition at the National School of Telecommunications. I majored in engineering and went to the United States, where I did my PhD at MIT in Massachusetts. I received an invitation from PUC in Rio to return to Brazil, in 1966. It was a crazy period, as I was at the same time desperate for not coming to Brazil for a long time. I was also aimless in my own life. I received the invitation to return to PUC and help create the Department of Mathematics. More than ten years later, I had the idea of ​​doing the Portinari Project and asked for a leave of absence without pay. My friends would say in amazement: 'You are completely crazy! Drop a career like yours in mathematics to plunge into something absolutely unknown and without a future!' I really went against everyone's opinion”, he recalls.

Nostalgic for a country that he no longer recognized, he says that the “call” for the mission to deliver the so-called “letters” left by his father to the Brazilian people came from a museum dedicated to the artist-symbol of the Dutch people: “The drop d' water was a visit I made to the Van Gogh Museum, in 1978, that gave me a shock. But if I don't tell the precedents of this, it won't make sense. I returned to Brazil, and the country I love and for which I miss it was taken over by the military. I lived abroad for ten years, without having any friends to meet again – my friends were all from my beach soccer time, in Leme, who knows where they were! – and also had no political and historical awareness of the moment the country was experiencing. I studied a lot and nothing else. I was dealing with students linked to the guerrillas and that moved me a lot, because I came across an unrecognizable Brazil. My Brazil, from when I had left, with a very strong identity marked in me, practically didn't exist anymore! Something very melancholy. I remember that, sometimes, I would stop the car on a deserted street and cry with nostalgia for this Brazil that I carried within me and that I did not see outside of me. I remember an article by Celso Furtado in Estadão that the title was: About us. That was exactly the point. I arrived at the Van Gogh Museum with all this load I just gave you and I saw that four-story building looking like an anthill of people. Children, old people, poor and rich jostling each other. I already knew the museum, I had gone with my father when I was a child, and at that moment I stopped and thought: 'What are these people looking for here? Are you coming to get painting, in the intellectual sense? Compare styles and brush strokes?'. None of that, they were there to get an identity shot in their veins. They came out strong. Their identity was revealed in a poetic way, through the eyes and talent of an immense national artist. Then came the inevitable comparison: 'What about us in Brazil?' We also had a painter who did that, a painter who painted his people, his land and his soul. And where was he? Nowhere!"

In a room loaned by his friend, professor and president of the Rui Barbosa Foundation, Américo Jacobina Lacombe – a space described as “almost a police station, like that with a clerk, chief and only” –, with used furniture, “in black rosewood”, donated by Itamaraty , João Candido founded the Portinari Project in 1979.

Initially anchored by documents from his father and others he inherited from his mother's collection, Maria, an enthusiastic and devoted memorialist of her husband's work and life, João Candido found great welcome from partners who were fundamental to the great successes he would achieve. The extinct airline Varig, for more than ten years, subsidized the trips made by the project, to more than 20 countries.

Rede Globo began a four-year campaign, with daily exhibitions of vignettes asking for information leading to works and documents. An essential arm of this action was also the support of the Post Office, which dedicated the easy-to-memorize Postal Box 500 to the project to facilitate the flow of information. Like Varig and Itamaraty – the latter being fundamental for actions abroad – all partners have made their subsidiaries into branches of the Portinari Project.

The days of Fundação Rui Barbosa were brief. In 1980, João and his team were definitively welcomed by PUC-RJ, and the research and discoveries undertaken by them would show particular facets of the country itself and of a rich historical period.

“The documents we found began to speak more about the life than the work of this painter, a man who played a role within his generation, which went far beyond painting. Clarival do Prado Valladares, an important art historian, used to say that Portinari was a center for capturing and radiating the main aesthetic, artistic, cultural, social and political concerns of his time. We are talking about the same generation as Mario de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Graciliano Ramos, José Lins do Rêgo, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer, Jorge Amado and many others. A brilliant generation. By collecting all the documentation and cross-referencing these documents with the works and with each other, we built a large base of information, capable of illuminating the Brazilian historical, cultural and political process from the 1920s to the 1960s.”

In 1980, the carioca broadcaster provided the Portinari Project with another rich experience: the production of a Globo reporter dedicated to the painter, directed by none other than Eduardo Coutinho, the greatest documentary filmmaker in the country. Coutinho was taken by the idea of ​​ignoring the predictable testimonies of intellectuals, artists, art critics and historians, and set off with João Candido and cameraman Dib Luft to small Brodósqui, Portinari’s birthplace, in the interior of São Paulo, immortalized and made universal. for their brushes and their colors.

“As soon as we had the first meeting to discuss the program, Eduardo said to me, emphatically: 'Look, João, we're not going to stay in Rio interviewing politicians, artists and intellectuals, no. Let's go to Brodósqui, because that's where the key to the mystery is.' And what was that mystery? The great mystery of this small town being the birthplace of a boy who was born in conditions of extreme humility and became the great painter Portinari. We had a photograph of my father, aged 9, at school – few people know, but he only studied until the third grade of primary school –, a poor boy, with 11 brothers and all of them worked on the coffee farms. We decided to go to Brodósqui myself, Coutinho, and a third friend, who was also a fantastic guy, Dib Luft. We found schoolmates, portrayed in this photo, who at the time were over 80 years old and made beautiful reports. This is a divisive moment, because it was precisely there, when my father was 9 years old, that a group of itinerant artists who lived by decorating little churches in the cities of the interior passed through the city and called my father to paint some stars on the ceiling of the chapel. It was the first painting-related thing he did in his life. We found another old man who also did these works with my father, and he was categorical in stating that: 'Sick to learn art, Candinho was the first to arrive and didn't even go out for lunch'. At one point, he says that he also did everything he could to help artists and that, for him, there was no difference between painting and sculpture. It was all the same art. An incredible statement, as he answers the mystery pointed out by Eduardo. These people, despite being poor and very humble, had great sensitivity and intelligence. My grandfather, for example, arrived in Brodósqui, formed a music group, named him Carlos Gomes, and the first drawing my father made was, precisely, a portrait of Carlos Gomes! These people came from a country with secular traditions. He brought in his blood the Italian artistic sensibility.”

The voluminous discovery of documents and the finding of important sources would require the project to develop an oral history program, largely influenced by the work of CEPEDOC, at Fundação Getúlio Vargas. To the delight of João Candido and his researchers, traces of a country built by other great men, forgotten in the smokescreen of our turbulent history, appeared intertwined in Portinari's rich life trajectory.

“We met incredible people, who had lived with him and who were also extremely important to Brazil, but who have fallen into complete oblivion, such as Celso Antônio, a great sculptor, who participated in the fantastic adventure that was the construction of the building of the old Ministry of Education and Health, which today is the Gustavo Capanema Palace (the same place where Portinari was laid to rest, in 1962, and where War and peace have been restored, as of 2010). A rich interdisciplinary experience bringing together architects such as Lucio Costa, Niemeyer and Reidy; landscapers such as Burle Marx; painters such as Portinari and Guignard; and sculptors, like Bruno Giorgi and Celso Antônio – whom we found, poor and completely forgotten, living in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. We did what must have been his last interview with him. Celso died two months later and his testimony was moving.”

More than three decades of research, supported by science and technology, have given the Portinari Project the impressive mark of 30 located and cataloged works, and more than XNUMX documents gathered. Hard work, which even cost police incursions into favelas, in search of forgers, but which enriched and continues to enrich the action that João Candido is most proud of, the Access Program, which seeks to bring the messages to the greatest number of Brazilians of peace and social harmony so dear to Portinari.

In 2003, the high point of the celebrations for the centenary of the painter's birth, João and his team carried out what, until then, was their most notable feat, the publication of the catalog raisonne, the most complete source of reference on an artist's work, something he had planned from the very first days of the project. “As early as 1978, it was written down in my notebook, where I organized my first ideas. Around here, only the greatest experts had any idea what a catalog was. raisonne. We had no experience trained in Brazil on a job of this nature. This is the first catalog raisonne south of the equator, not only in Latin America.”

In the text in which he presents the Projeto Guerra e Paz, João Candido uses the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in Duino Elegy, to define how he feels each time he achieves his successes: “If the archangel behind the star were to come just one step towards me, my heart would burst”.

The biggest visit made by the “archangel behind the star” to João Candido began to be rehearsed at the end of 2007, when he learned that the UN headquarters building in New York – another great modernist adventure, designed by Le Corbusier, and a group of architects that included Oscar Niemeyer –, would undergo extensive renovation and would only reopen in August 2013.

João Candido was faced with the unique opportunity to glimpse the return of War and peace to Brazil and also to promote the tour of the two monumental works around the world. The panels were donated as a gift from Brazil at the inauguration of the UN in 1957, in a ceremony in which neither Portinari nor Niemeyer could participate, due to their involvement with the Communist Party. America was then at the height of violent McCarthyist paranoia.

Obsessed with the symbolism of the work, Portinari shortened his own life to bequeath to humanity the universal message of War and peace. Severely intoxicated from overexposure to the paints, he hemorrhaged in 1953 and was banned from painting by his doctors, “forbidden to live”, as he put it in an interview after his lethal diagnosis.

Ignoring all the warnings, Portinari put in more than four years of studies and nine uninterrupted months to manage the 280 m2 of War and peace. He would die five years later, leaving an unprecedented work. A giant mirror of the country, shattered into more than five thousand pieces, as João Candido attests.

“When he paints Brazil he is also talking about war and peace. He never paints Brazil without passion. He always has the drama and the poetry, the lyrical and the tragic, the fury and the tenderness. Every time he paints Brazil, Portinari passes on ethical, human and social messages, which reach their apex in War e Peace. The panels carry a message that goes beyond Brazil, crosses borders and goes to all humanity. The age War and peace São Paulo will have a big impact. There will be elements that did not exist in Rio: a longer exposure time and almost 200 original studies. Not even my father can see them in their entirety, as they were always scattered in private collections. It will be a big and exciting event. Then we will go on the international tour, which will start in 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of my father's death, and will continue until 2013, when the work should return to the UN, and we still haven't had time to think about it. Our chip hasn't fallen yet!”.

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