The artist León Ferrari, who arrived in São Paulo with all the energy of his 56 years, was certainly a man crushed by the bitterness of an irreparable family loss and carrying the drama of the leaden years in Argentina (a circumstance in which we also lived here).
But he was a being loaded with an unusual ability to communicate, who said he did not feel like an “exile” in São Paulo: always open to meetings, discussions about art, contacts with others. Immediately, in the houses where he lived on Rua Carlos Sampaio, Alameda Lorena and even in his studio on Rua Amalia de Noronha, he welcomed everyone who approached him.
He soon attracted a diversity of friends and artists, many younger and with whom he would exchange his concerns and investigations: Paulo Bruscky, Ana Carreta, Hudinilson Junior, Bené Fonteles, Arnaldo Antunes, the composer Conrado Silva, myself, Ana Beluzzo, Walter Zanini, Leonor Amarante, Jean Claude Bernardet, in short, everyone knew him and shared with him the moment in which we lived.
In a very particular way, the artist duo Regina Silveira and Julio Plaza, who attracted him with their innovative experiments, León starting to use mechanical forms of graphic reproduction with heliographs, letterset, and video-texts.
I had great satisfaction in providing her first exhibition, among us, at the Pinacoteca do Estado in 1978, when she was director of that entity.
At the same time, Ferrari developed his works in sculptures, very thin filaments of steel that he manipulated manually, producing sounds as in the concert later held at the Pinacoteca do Estado, thus opening a new direction for his endless experiments.
Restless, he influenced and was influenced by several generations of creators with whom he lived during his years here, a familiar personality in the artistic environment, both with his conviviality and with his works and the open spirit to our reality, which is that of the entire continent.
He said that he knew that art cannot bring about a social revolution. But he recognized that every grain of sand “has its importance, it has the possibility of talking about things that have no words” (1982, interview with Adriana Malvido). This permanent positioning is its perennial contribution.
León and I met in 1977, when we were taking the metal engraving technique course at Romildo Paiva's studio, in Vila Mariana. Soon after, in 1978, I made and exhibited my series Dead nature, denouncing political torture in Brazil, and from there we became great friends. Every week I had lunch at her house, on Rua Sampaio Vidal, and Alicia started giving me Spanish lessons. A long friendship was established there, in the various São Paulo addresses in León that followed: I have great memories, especially of the spacious studio in Pinheiros, on Rua Amalia de Noronha, where there were great meetings with many artists.
In the early 1980s I won the Fulbright Scholarship and moved to New York. León and Alicia visited me in 1982 and lived in my apartment in Manhattan, on East 30th Street. I remember that it was a time when we were experimenting with various ways of technically reproducing different images, and we would often go to the Franklin Furnace to photocopy them. . After León and Alicia returned to Argentina, I visited them in Buenos Aires and also got to know the different addresses where they lived, including the famous house on Reconquista Street.
I donated several works by León to the Pinacoteca, which today are worth millions. We happened to be together also in Venice during the Biennale, and we had breakfast together at the famous Hotel des Bains on the day he won the Golden Lion.
A little story to remember León today, who left us seven years ago. The work Planet, now in the MoMA collection, was made in São Paulo, during the exile of almost the entire family. He did this in 1979, when he had already completed three years since he had resumed the welded wire he had used until 1964. A year later, and in open rebellion against the system, in search of other ways to challenge the order of the world, León stopped producing visual works. and began to write works. Words of Others, from 1967, is as epic as the famous American bomber with Christ. But back to Planet: León exhibits this work at the Espaço Alternativo gallery, Galpão de São Paulo. “When the work arrived” – León told me on July 24, 2004 – “it was so big that it couldn't get through and they had to break down the door to put it in the gallery”. the diameter of Planet is 130 cm. I saw this stunning sculpture the first time I traveled to São Paulo, at MASP. It was loud in the hallway opposite the elevator. When I curated the retrospective [organized by Giunta at the Centro Cultural Recoleta, in 2004], we brought to Argentina many of the sculptures that León had left in São Paulo when he returned in 1991. In the retrospective, it reverberated in the room where the drawings and sculptures were. wire. The most intense room, the biggest room.
In the photo, León is seen at one of his concerts, probably during the 14 nights he performed at Sesc, in 1981. The year 1979 was also when he wrote his first text on artifacts for drawing sounds and when he undertook the plans with the who would make their projects. In retrospect, the rooms of his sculptures and drawings were much more representative than the two small rooms that unleashed the barbarism. But the news doesn't stop at the subtle or the abstract. Nor the fury that reproduces the violence that the image defies. Your absence is felt.
Here are a few words about León: León Ferrari was a dear friend, he had a strong presence in the Brazilian artistic environment and was supportive of the struggles for democracy in Brazil, being himself and his family a victim of the brutality of the Argentine dictatorship. I remember the episode in which the artist Alberto Cedron was threatened by the presence of the military in São Paulo and León Ferrari organized a group of intellectuals and artists to protect him, preventing Cedron from being kidnapped and taken to Argentina.
I met León Ferrari a week after he arrived from Argentina to live in São Paulo. My friend Miguel Briante, Argentine journalist and writer, one of the founders of Página12, in a phone call told me: “You have to know this man”. I never lost sight of Leon and his work again. Here he continued his work, which gained citizenship in the history of Brazilian art. Over sixty years of artistic production, he lived against the flow of the system, until in the 1970s he was thrust into the hells of the Argentine dictatorship, which took away his son and daughter-in-law.
I wanted to understand how Ferrari transfigured other temporalities to criticize the present, as in the series Readings from the Bible started in 1983. My last conversation with him was on this topic, in 2012, in his studio in Buenos Aires. Exploring this subject requires analytical imagination. His collages mix masterpieces of art with Christian religious iconography, oriental erotic prints and confront them with contemporary episodes such as the Vietnam War, or Esquadrão da Morte na Baixada Fluminense. Léon Ferrari is one of the rare artists with the authority to face an authoritarian system. Wisely, he gave motivating examples to get out of any fascism that tries to destroy democracy. He and his work pulse in libertarian hearts.
I met León Ferrari shortly after his arrival in Brazil. He came to me at ASTER (a study center he had just founded together with Walter Zanini, Donato Ferrari and Julio Plaza), because he was interested in an engraving orientation that would allow him to print his writings without inverting the text, as was possible with photomechanical resources. and photographic matrices that were in common use in the lithography studio that I coordinated at that center. León then made those engravings and became a regular visitor to ASTER during the three years that this center was in operation. We soon became very good friends, I visited his house and got to know some of the previous works he had in the studio. One day León brought to ASTER a photocopier he had made on imported cotton paper, with amazing graphic quality. His discovery ended up triggering, in the ASTER group and in similar artists, a veritable avalanche of experimentation. In a short time, an exhibition was organized, which Julio Plaza called gerox (mixture of “gravure” with “xerox”), organized by Poesia e Arte and shown at the Pinacoteca do Estado, which, under the direction of Fabio Magalhães, was a place attentive to the movements anti-all of artists in this period.
León Ferrari's curiosity for the possibilities open to expression by the available graphic media, more precisely the non-traditional ones, was one of our many affinities and bridges of contact. Almost simultaneously we made heliographs, an ephemeral graphic technique, due to the progressive fading that suffers from the light, but which allowed large-scale copies, with specific qualities, from a matrix made on a transparent support. León was also one of the participants in ARTEMICRO – a “portable” and traveling exhibition with microfilmed works, organized by me and Rafael Franca in 1982. He was also my partner in the small display to see microfiche, together with the Videotext sector organized by Julio Plaza for the 16th Bienal de São Paulo in 1981, which had Walter Zanini as curator.
It was on this occasion that I dedicated the work to him. Them and the Others (For León Ferrari). The dedication is not only in the title, but in the direct remittance to León's work, both for the chosen figuration and for the visual ordering – and even for the humor. In the work I used those small figures of executives from the Letraset sheets that were his trademark, with the intention of accentuating the differences between the world of power - the world of "Them" - and the much stranger figures of the "Others", extracted from of the art world.
For me, León Ferrari was a mixture of magician and boy, always enchanted by the particular universe of images and objects that he poetically associated, often to mount absurd or irreverent speeches. I was an unreserved admirer of provocative anticlerical narratives, which from the 1980s onwards he assembled with a double dose of irony and perversity – but always with an enormous competence of language. Once, Aracy Amaral told me, to this day I don't know if seriously, that León was the only artist she knew who still dealt with religious themes, even in the attacking position and against the secular purposes of religious art.
Now that León Ferrari is irrevocably no longer around, we can only think that he lived a rich life, with setbacks and many victories, and left behind a powerful body of works that will never cease to provoke our imagination.