José Claudio,
José Cláudio, "Viva Zé Pereira", 1971. Photo: Flavio Freire / Courtesy Galeria Nara Roesler

Looking in the rearview mirror, José Claudio da Silva's artistic repertoire stands out due to the achievements obtained over more than seven decades. At the age of 90, the artist exhibits around 150 works, including paintings, drawings, stamps, which occupy the entire Nara Roesler Gallery, in Sao Paulo. The extensive exhibition, carried out with tenacious re-readings and disciplined encounters, achieves the feat of bringing together three longtime friends, and it all starts when the critic and art historian Aracy Amaral pass the New Year's Eve in Recife and goes to the artist's house, as he does whenever he is in the city. “I enjoy being with José Claudio, listening to his life stories,” he says. Upon returning to São Paulo, she receives an invitation from Nara Roesler to assume the curatorship.

A prodigy of energy and method, Aracy, close in age to José Claudio, rolls up his sleeves and takes to the field. He mines works in museums, private collections, galleries, within a temporal arc between the 1950s and 1990s. Curating an exhibition transforms the intermediate critic into an author, through the process of selecting the works and analogy between them. Aracy's logic is the logic of accumulated knowledge. Without stumbling, he finds finds like the expressive series Line Adventure (1955), worked with ink on paper, belonging to the MAM SP collection; Symmetry (1982), erotic/sensual dance developed on the ground, with Matissean touches, and the reinterpretation of works by Almeida Júnior, among many others.

José Claudio’s journey is made by the passion for his territory, the same passion of the “situated man” named by Gilberto Freyre, this exemplifies his participation in the Ateliê Coletivo, directed by Abelardo da Hora, and which took into account the struggle of the oppressed people. , highlighting rural and urban activities from the daily life of the worker. He knew he was stepping into a minefield because he knew the famous phrase of Pernambuco modernism: “regional as an option, regional as a prison”. 

The work of the Mexican muralist Rivera was also an inspiration for the group that is already starting to make public art. For Aracy, José Claudio was born to paint at the Ateliê Coletivo, when he was a young man and enthusiastic about the artistic atmosphere of the place. As the artist has already repeated in several interviews, he considers the Ateliê a watershed in the history of Pernambuco painting. 

Motivated by a renewing impulse, José Claudio was looking forward to the life of an artist and, when he settled in Salvador, from 1953 to 1954, and met Mario Cravo Júnior, Jenner Augusto, Carybé and their works, he changed his life. A restless spirit, the artist then goes to São Paulo where he works as an assistant to Di Cavalcanti and attends the Escola de Artesanato do MAM SP, under the guidance of Lívio Abramo. 

José Cláudio's relationship with the capital of São Paulo goes back a long way. Aracy highlights the period in which he collaborated with the Literary Supplement from the newspaper The State of S. Paul, under the guidance of Arnaldo Pedroso D'Horta. The work of the young José Claudio, at that moment, is at the same time on the border of some art movements that he does not ignore and in the technique developed by him with original gestures. 

At this time, the delicate designer emerges, attentive to the ink line that, according to Aracy, surprises in the discipline assumed in his multiple observation of exhibitions and biennials. The works show a certain influence from the work of Lívio Abramo, Grassmann, or from the linear, almost abstract, abstraction of Pedroso d'Horta. 

At the insistence of friends, the artist applies and is accepted in the ª 4 São Paulo Biennial, in 1957, he receives the Acquisition Prize, in addition to a scholarship from the Rotellini Foundation, in Italy, where he lives for a year and travels to several countries. This was the first of a sequence of his participation in the São Paulo event, where he was at 5th, 6th, 7th and 18th editions.

José Cláudio, untitled, 1968; ink on paper from stamps
José Cláudio, untitled, 1968; ink on paper from stamps. Photo: Flavio Freire / Courtesy Galeria Nara Roesler

In the 1960s, among various poetic experiments, the series of ink stamps on paper was born. “These abstract compositions with a rich diversity of pure graphic poetry lasted from 1968 to 1969”, comments Aracy. In the book Stamps – José Claudio the correspondence between the artist and Walter Zanini about the concepts of this experience and the critic's praise from São Paulo to his work are cited. 

At the turn of the 1970s, José Claudio made the series Stories from a Stamp and develops an instigating “artist's book”, in which he mixes his work process, stamps, drawings, magazine clippings, paintings, collages and texts. A work that bothers for creating a pact with the reader, suppressing interlocutors.

Continuing with the feat of arriving at a multiple and singular work, in 1975 José Claudio accepted the invitation of his friend scientist and musical composer Paulo Vanzolini, director of the Museum of Zoology at USP, to make a trip from Manaus to Porto Velho, aboard the garb, a laboratory boat. For this endeavor, he once again has the support of Renato Magalhães Gouveia, a gallery owner and friend, who gives him a roll with dozens of meters of canvas. 

This expedition resulted in a collection of 170 species for the collection of the São Paulo museum and, for the arts, around 100 canvases inspired by vegetation, fauna, riverside characters and everything else he managed to capture on each day of travel, including the dishes with fish they tried. José Claudio was commissioned by Vanzolini to write a diary that resulted in a detailed report, transformed into the book José Claudio da Silva – 100 Canvases, 60 Days & a Travel Diary: Amazonas (1975)

When he returns to Recife, his work is flooded with colors and sunlight that bathes the city, with some canvases showing scenes from the carnival. In this moment of tonal freedom, the work Ze Pereira, an allusion to the group that drags revelers through the streets of the city, with its huge doll that turns 100 years old. 

Nu is a genre of painting that is born in the academy. José Claudio makes a series with naked women he met in brothels in the city. Aracy says that the purpose of these visits was to paint the characters who worked there, and each of these paintings bears the name of the girl portrayed. Still from this period, he pays homage to his wife with the painting portrait of Leonice (1971), and eight years later immortalizes his gallerist friend on screen Nara (1979) 

In the 1980s, José Claudio immersed himself in the universe of Almeida Júnior, re-reading the paintings the annoying (1898) model rest (1882) and Saudade (1899), in which he portrays a girl dressed in black reading a letter. In Zé Claudio's version, the woman is also naked reading the letter. In these works, the artist from Pernambuco practically eliminates the depth of the pictorial plane and simplifies the shapes with a geometric tendency.

So many curiosities permeate this exhibition motivated by the respect that Nara Roesler has for the artist. "I owe my work as a gallery owner to José Cláudio. His work touched me deeply and awakened in me the desire to be like a translator for the artist”, says Nara.

With it, the gallery owner says she learned to look at the simple things of everyday life. See the beauty of the colorful clothes that the washerwomen put to dry on the banks of the streams, the rays of sun between the leaves and the dance of the coconut trees. The taste of ripe mango and the smell of cashew, the sunset skies in Olinda and all the beauty contained in life. “So, this exhibition is a tribute to the 90 years of my master, this talented artist who taught me so much”, concludes Nara.

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