Conversation with Luiz Camillo Osório
Luiz Camillo Osório
Published in the catalog of the artist’s exhibition at the XXIX Bienal de São Paulo, in 2010
— Daniel, let’s start at the beginning, with the 80’s. I have a lot of doubts about the meaning of Geração 80, about the way that it defined itself as a return to painting, its appeal to the pleasure of pictorial expression, colors and materials. As I see it, this amounted to a lowering of expectations regarding painting; as though it were just a vehicle for sensorial pleasure, with the implications of institutional accommodation and cynicism. As such, it seems to me a disservice to painting. Looking at your work what we see is precisely the extent to which your painting was becoming reflexive and critical, maintaining a strategic distance from the image and making use of elements that were increasingly conceptual and less sensorial. How do you see the legacy of Geração 80 today?
In Brazil Geração 80 was a reflection of the return–to–painting movements that were happening in Europe and the United States at the time. The difference is that they, as in the case of the Italian Transvanguarda or German Neo–expressionism, were based on the reappropriation and reinterpretation of specific traditions. Here, this new painting was connected to the atmosphere of freedom that came with re–democratization. The name itself refers to a decade rather than to a project or an approach. But as it was an idea that was in tune with what was happening, it was taken up and amplified by the press. And it stuck. Of course it was taken advantage of by young artists, but more out of naivety than anything else. In the beginning, what we had was a painting that, despite a certain vigor, was very dilettante. I realized that it would burn itself out quickly, which it did, but that it could at least give me time to think about what I wanted from painting.
— Due to the intensity of the materials and the sombre tones, your painting was initially associated with German Neo–expressionism, specifically to Kieffer (with obvious differences of course). Looking closer, emphasizing your somewhat ironic and even melancholic relationship with the image, it seems to recall, within the same geographical frame, Martin Kippenberger or even Richter. Would you agree? Talk a little about your relationship with the history of art and with contemporary painting.
When I started to exhibit my work it was rooted in expressionism. At this time the painter I looked at most was Markus Lüpertz. Under his influence, I sought to represent objects and images from my daily surroundings in an impactful painting that was economical with color. Although I enjoyed the process of producing these canvases, I felt that it couldn’t develop much further unless it was problematized. I wanted to look for something more, but I had no idea what. So in ‘87 I abandoned the brushstroke and started using a variety of materials. This was when I made the first prints off the floor of my studio. This created a certain appearance of Kieffer in my canvasses. But his work depends on scale and develops around historical references. This was not what I was looking for. By then I had already decided that painting would be my theme and the images should come from its universe. It was extremely hard because it was a very narrow band of options for someone who was beginning and I often felt there was no way out. At this time my favorite painter was Sigmar Polke. He was the one I most examined and re–examined during these years of excavation. I like Kippenberger; particularly the ease with which he moves between painting and works of spatial occupation. But he makes use of a comic irony that is also not my style. But Polke, despite being ironic, uses a great wealth of materials in his painting, so that you cannot deal with his images without knowing the material he is using. This interested me a lot.
— Let’s speak a little about Brazilian art. The arrival on the scene of Geração 80 represented an apparent break with the critical tradition of Brazilian art, which had gone through Neo–concretism, New Figurism and the Conceptual Generation of the 70’s. When one speaks of painting here, one does not see painters of the caliber of an Iberê, a Sued or even a Jorginho Guinle, who was closer by; all that had little influence on painting in Rio — influencing more artists from São Paulo, especially Fabio Miguez. Do you agree with this interpretation that there had been a certain erasure — at least discursively — of the history of Brazilian art on the part of Geração 80? Or was that not the case?
It is true that Geração 80, above all in Rio de Janeiro, was self–referential and disconnected from what was happening. I believe that the circumstances favored this. Everyone was very young. This critical tradition of Brazilian art to which you refer was happening in largely inaccessible places. At the time people were looking more outside Brazil than at the situation here. The chances of seeing a Flash Art painting that had barely had time to dry were greater than seeing Brazilian art in one of our museums. It was a little different in São Paulo, but I don’t think that the art school there was very stimulating either. Also, for better or for worse, the 80s saw the beginning of a process of professionalization of the visual arts on a whole new level. Art criticism became an option on university curricula. Exchanges between institutions and curators from overseas became more intense. At any rate, the only members of Geração 80 who survived were those who, in their own way, formulated their work on some level of contextualization.
— Perhaps it would be more apt to say that the survivors were those who managed to wring a poetic out of the pleasure of painting, a conceptual restlessness that honed itself formally. In other words, those who managed to transfer artistic thought into thought about the world. Art has to talk about itself and about the world; be at the same time pleasure and thought. This is an interesting perspective from which to evaluate some of your more recent work, in which you use self–referring materials — history of art books, pages from catalogues, invitations, folders etc. — and transform them into painting and/or installations. The walls of the CCSP and of the Bienal, or this last batch of paintings made with pages from issues of Skira. To what extent are you interested in the public knowing the origin of the ‘materials’, where the works came from and how they can exist on their own account?
I understand this contextualization as something connected to means of expression. It is not possible to develop a form of painting while remaining oblivious to its history. It was like that in the 80’s too. I think that this interpretation of the option for pleasure that was made at the time corresponds to a simplified reaffirmation of the vocation of art. We were in a new environment, the result of the achievements of movements such as Neo–concretism, which made the passage from the modern to the contemporary, where things are more fluid, mixed and less dogmatic. At that moment I can see the painter’s desire to go back to painting the landscape. Only now that painting contains the achievements of Modernism, above all the idea of the support ceasing to be a neutral element in order to become physically active in the composition of the work. The Skira works, or the series with bricks made out of recycled art paper, have to do with this. The relationship between the material used and the work produced is what articulates the painting that I want to do, and evincing the origin of the material is a component
of the work. The work done in watercolors is an extension of this too, because, while it is not a collection of residues, it does represent the real dimension of the space it was made in.
— At MAM, I’ve just finished an exhibition of Cristina Canale — whom I consider one of the great painters of her generation —, and another featuring several artists, yourself included, which I called, half jokingly, half seriously, If painting is dead, MAM is a heaven, trying to show some of the possibilities of painting today, from the most traditional, like Eduardo Berliner’s oil on canvas, to the most heterodox, like those of Gustavo Speridião and the fractured portraits of Jarbas Lopes. I always ask myself about this expanded field of painting, about its installation potential and the various procedures used by the artists to produce paintings. Without wishing to dwell on the means of expression, whether it is or is not painting, I ask myself what exactly makes someone paint today, in what way painting can still seduce — for those who do it and those who see it. I think there is a gaze that belongs to painting and that opposes the speed of contemporary life. Do you think this exists? Do you consider yourself a painter?
I agree that the problem is not to define the limits of painting, but how it manifests itself today. I think a work that I recently bought by Rodrigo Matheus is a good example. It is a notice board with a dark blue lining, lit with a cold light and more or less randomly punctured with a whole lot of needles. I like him because he deals with the idea of representation with great poetic force. It is a response — perhaps unintentional, but that doesn’t matter — to the discussion about the limits of pictorial language. I think there is an environment in painting that is irreducible and which includes the idea of representation, even of something non figurative, such as a field of color, for example. Depending on the materials and their arrangement, we have a painting. Today the possibilities of expression are more varied. Painters range from the more pictorial, in the traditional sense of the use of materials and procedures, to others who, like myself, don’t have a single tube of paint in the studio. The intention is no longer to defend the autonomy of painting. That is not an issue. The means of expression have a natural beginning in the way we relate to the world, we draw and we sculpt before we even learn to write. Today the forms of expression are more numerous and complex, but this original quality remains and it is that which prevents art from succumbing to the speed of contemporary life.
— I will return to an earlier question that I think is important to understanding your development: What is the importance of the Parque Lage School of the Visual Arts? Yours was perhaps the first generation to come out of there after Gerchman changed its name from the Institute of Fine Arts in 1975 and Breitman, at the beginning of the 80’s, brought the school closer to the market. Looking back, how do you see your education? What was the role of the school in the definition of the artist?
I didn’t know the School of Visual Arts during Gerchman’s day, but it seems to have been very in tune with the time and how I imagine an art school should be. The idea of a school as a place where artists are formed is a mistake. I think its role should be to supply technical knowledge and information. Parque Lage always seemed to me more of a discussion and meeting center than a school in the normal sense. My experience there was largely that of meeting people. I entered at the time when Rubem Breitman was the director. I was a student there for a very short time, but it was where I met friends with whom I set up my first studio immediately afterwards. I also started to teach at the end of the 80’s and I was completely unprepared for that. But this was the time when perhaps I learnt most.
— Are you the kind of artist who uses the studio rubbish bin a lot or are you one of those who like to hang on to ‘unfinished attempts’ for possible future developments? Which is fuller in your studio — the rubbish bin or the filing cabinet?
It is true that I accumulate things in the studio and it takes me some time to figure out what to do with them. It is a kind of probation period during which I try to find some relevance in the use of these materials, or decide to throw them out. The relationship between what I am representing and the material used to do so lies in a shadowy area over which I do not have a complete hold. There has to be a lack of control, a certain lack of knowledge, for things to happen. Since the beginning, the idea of the shroud interested me as a metaphor for painting. Now I’m using art books, leftover catalogues and exhibition invitations. In these materials, unlike in the prints, there’s an erasure of the information that was originally there.Back