Há coisas entre nós que
não dizemos em voz alta
25 September – 30 October 2021
Galeria Kogan Amaro São Paulo
Alameda Franca, 1054 – Jardim Paulista, São Paulo
Art and “Reality”
“What a beautiful picture! It looks just like a photograph…” These words of praise are often part of viewers conversations in museums and exhibitions. The naïf perspective is an easy target in the aesthetics realm. Although honest and true for the person who shares it, this idea – which approaches art upon its resemblance to “reality” – is, itself, the death of art. Brought down to the function of mimesis, strictly speaking, artistic representation would be relegated to a lesser role, since now, more than ever before, it could be substituted for quality digital photo retouching resources through softwares that make image even closer to reality (or to whatever reality is assumed to be). Worse, the idea ignores the fact that photography is also an interpretation, as well as any hyper realistic outbursts upon which we might stumble every now and then.
Caught between two poles – figuration and abstractionism – stands part of the debate on the arts. Sure, the issues are more complex. Caravaggio and Ingres, for instance, are both figurative painters and, in many ways, stand on opposite sides in what concerns to method and purpose.
When in a notorious article Monteiro Lobato attacked Anita Malfatti, all he did was to focus on the so-called gap between those who created “pure art” (such as Praxiteles and Rodin) and those whose production was more similar to that of mental institution inmates. It’s true that many have claimed the writer’s anger was directed towards a subservience to foreign avant-gardes, instead at the modernist brushstrokes of the 1917 exhibition. The fact is, he has placed the Greek sculptor of the famous Aphrodite of Cnidus and the French sculptor of Balzac’s statue as members of a team united by similar artistic ideals. What would Praxiteles tell Rodin? There’s no way to know that, but it’d be only logical to imagine it’d be a worse review than that of Lobato. The “pure art” team would find it hard to act like it in the field.
I don’t think it can ever be said enough: all art is interpretation, and figuration is one of many aspects of conceivable subjectivity. Classical Greek sculptors and designers of million-dollar flying mobiles are subjective interpreters of a world and a perspective. The view upon the artist’s style must also consider the audience ever-changing appreciation. Creators styles change, and so does the perception on them. At its peak, the classical Hellenic art at which Lobato and his entourage marveled was covered in flashy colors. Many aesthetic layers would have to be removed so Mount Pentelicus’ white marble could acquire the classic sobriety presently praised. All art is interpretation and every perspective holds a history.
Artist Bruno Passos was born in Marília, São Paulo, in 1985. Stemming from a start in Design and Fashion, he has focused on the domains of painting and sculpture. A key moment of his career has been the work with Scandinavian painter Odd Nerdrum (1944), whose influence on his work has been decisive. However, Bruno has also often evoked the ascendancy of masters other than the Nordic. Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) brings humanness beyond academic beauty or the salons’ decorative arts to the table. Like Daumier, Bruno doesn’t want to make art to match the curtains. The creative fauve of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) also hovers over Bruno’s inspiration, albeit toned down a notch and more reflexive. Also likely is the idea of Matisse in a stressful day, while gazing at Great Wave by Hokusai (1760-1849) as it attempts to sink fragile little boats.
The Artworks or… The Things In-Between Things
As he self-proclaims, Bruno is the “in-between-things” painter. Between what’s visible/ordinary in the world and what the artist’s gaze captures, lays the subtle flow of “in-between-things”. They turn up in many supports, ranging from oil on canvas to marine plywood. Bruno experiments. In some sculptures, a knife can be employed instead of the chisel. Brutal? In other paintings, hatchet marks can be spotted. There’s an energy-packed aestheticizing barbarianism to it. Acrylic paint, with its bold outlines must be in dialogue with the sober and Eastern ink. No method is permanent, since he’s not working with things, but with the continuous flow of “in-between-things”.
The author travels around Brazil hinterlands in a quest for new sources. He differs from the “people and nation” project, since he’s not a folklore anthropologist. Bruno’s country is immersed in what the artist has called a “brutal universality of senses”. His works cry out against today’s standardization, against the “flattening” of reality created by the rhetoric of personal branding. He craves what’s pulsating, repelling, appealing, shocking. Bruno is enticed by the self. His canvas make Instagram stories seem even more like Dorian Gray pastiches. Whatever social media conceals, he brings to light. It’s like the anatomy lesson of Dr. Tulp, by another one of the masters who influence our artist: Rembrandt (1606-1669). Like Dr. Nicolaes Tulp showing his Flemish students every muscle fiber, every nerve, Bruno shows the raw pulse of life in his paintings – a vibrant anatomy lesson. Not the world as seen through enhancing filters, as in social media. All this lit by a light made not of the plain and simple addition of white. The light comes from whatever tone which may dialogue with the shadow’s rough-thickness.
We know neoclassical painters spent a good deal of their time concealing the roughness of the surface so that, in the extreme smoothness of the canvas, an ideal mathematical order would shine. Bruno is not there. His work currently displays more intentional unevenness then it did a few years ago. Paint overlaying and mechanical interventions create an embossed and three-dimensional aspect, a different way of broadening the perception of the canvas. Bruno pictures the building and the scaffoldings of what’s feasible within his conception. Architect/construction worker who likes what’s revealing and hates what’s concealing.
Don’t come looking for a decorative comfort zone. The work’s titles are a step towards uninstallation. A good example of this is Bruno’s portrait of his loved one in which he employed a delicate and almost Raphaelesque centering, and has named it “Harpy”, the mythological woman-faced monster who’d steal food and attack people with its eagle claws.
Nature occupies an unknown position in the creator’s current production. “Eu já não estou mais aqui” (I’m Not There) makes the water flow over a quasi-phantom who dissolves in it without losing its instinctive fear. It’s a vigorous original waterfall, a water bleeding that tries and irrigates an entity who’s incapable of producing “S. Freud’s notorious Oceanic feeling” (1856-1939) – the complete dilution of consciousness into a greater whole. Yes, “Há coisas entre nós que não dizemos em voz alta” (There Are Things Between Us We Don’t Mention Out Loud), as illustrated by another one of the canvases. Contemporary loneliness may be the most dramatic of all.
All sculptures display a trait of humanity as seen unromantically, with no cruelty, perfectible yet unperfect. The liquid metaphor recurring on the canvases hits the face emerging from the tide. They’re realistic instant pictures unretouched by Photoshop. They look like new versions of Michelangelo’s schiavi (1475-1564). Then, the sculptor wished to make the human being emerge from the raw material, owning its place in the world. As of now, everyone has freed themselves from matter and acquired a peaceful, almost meek, aspect. I feel it might have emerged there, from that mixed media, the human post-all: post-pandemic, post-liquid modernity and post-human. There’s a formal brutalism and unsuspected tenderness to the poses devised for the three-dimensional figures. While Caravaggio wanted to show a Medusa on a shield who’d shock the viewer, Bernini (1598-1680) sculpted a Damned Soul to eternalize the terror of someone sentenced to hell and Camille Claudel (1864-1943) has materialized the hopelessness of abandonment, Bruno Passos does not purport anything catechetical, dramatic or seductive. What would we be like if we weren’t for others, but for ourselves, and in our own selves? His sculptures help answering this question.
Lastly, Bruno distrusts rationality and does not get to formulate a romantic alternative to the rule of reason. It works in the arts like Blaise Pascal does in philosophy, distrusting the greatness of the brain and approaching the inconstancy of appearance.
In past decades, the challenge lied on scandalizing the bourgeoisie, shocking it, and finding a place under the sun of publicity through scandal. The “épater la bourgeoisie” motto is replaced by “scandalize your apparent orderly convictions, whether you’re proletarian or bourgeois”. Take off your masks, wash your face, ignore constructed dimensions and observe. If you get upset, it’s not because you’re a bourgeois, but because you’re human in a hall of mirrors. Dare to look! Risk seeing yourself. Try and be.
It’d be interesting to report how I’ve met Bruno Passos. Like I do almost every week, I was going to a concert at Sala São Paulo. Bruno stopped me and invited me to go next door to see his exhibition. I was touched by the artworks, particularly by the image of a senior black man, looking stern and solemn, against a red background.
A few weeks later, he began to paint my portrait. Bruno sat on the floor, while I sat on a bergère. Gallons of coffee flowed in Saturday afternoons of art and figurativism discussions.
Suddenly, after many sessions, Bruno “blanked”. He wasn’t happy with what he was seeing. He might not have been able to capture the “evil” that had initially driven him. My luciferian features might have been diluted in all the coffee. The picture didn’t go any further.
Sociability has thrived. I’ve attended Bruno and Camila’s world by visiting their apartment. There were soirées in my place. Then, they’ve moved to Serra da Mantiqueira. Ultimately, I’ve visited them at their new address, in Itu. The collection here displayed was being gestated there. Like my evilness, the picture rests unfinished. The friendship has survived both events.
Leandro Karnal (Professor at UNICAMP / Writer)
About the artist
Stylist by training (UEL), Bruno had his work recognized as one of the participants of the visual identity of SPFW (2009), later exhibited at the Venice Biennale, was also selected for the Brazilian Design Biennale (2013) and, as a stylist, made appearances in Folha de São Paulo, Vogue and Valor Econômico.
Bruno had his first contact with painting late, at the age of 27, after an epiphany, that was when he retired from Fashion and began to dedicate himself entirely to painting where, early on, he collected awards and selections in the most traditional salons of national classical painting: SBA of Piracicaba, SAV of Vinhedo, SBA of Limeira, among others.
Following this, he was the first Brazilian accepted to be the apprentice of Swedish painter Odd Nerdrum (MET-NY, National Gallery-Oslo, Gothenburg Museum), his artistic residence (Norway 2016) was successful and, in 2017, he received another invitation to return and be the assistant of Nerdrum in his largest physical work, “Opening of the Prisons”. The Scandinavian experience opened new directions for him, of which we highlight the invitation for a Solo Exhibition at the Secretariat of Culture of São Paulo (2018) and the current one-year artistic residence at the FAMA museum in Itu.
Bruno conducts seasonal expeditions to the corners of Brazil, from where he extracts input for his paintings of latent and non-obvious Brasilidades. His focus is to subvert the academic technique so that it becomes a source of sensory stimulus to the viewer, stimulating emotions by examining what it is to be Brazilian and what are the characteristics that constitute this dentification. His works are part of collections in France, USA, China, and Brazil, and last year he was considered by the Norwegian magazine Sivilisasjonen one of the three greatest classical painters today.