O tempo e a gravura no espaço
Explaining what is wood engraving to a child can be fairly simple. The engrave would be that artwork carved in a wood surface, metal or fabric, and later, printed, acquiring form in all these different mediums. In the long-winded changes that have became the Brazilian portuguese language in the digital era, transmitting continuity’s sense, thus, a gravure is its own replication and its current state.
An engrave is not created drawing on a paper with a ball pen or with nankeen or any tool, but through a direct transferring process, the sketch image gets inscribed on a surface that allows texturization.
The artist starts engraving or carving in a surface that isn’t paper. The transference occurs when the paper sheet, in contact with the carved surface, is pushed one against the other, moving the image from a hard media to a more fragile and light one, the paper.
Among the perks of producing this kind of artwork, the main one is the quantity of impressions that can be made. The artist decides how many times to repeat the process, and that is taken as editing or mass production. At last, they get signed and numbered by the author. Copies may be made, so many people could have a copy of that same artwork. After the printing process, the mold would then be disposed.
Considerably one of the most used techniques throughout the centuries, not only to produce art but as a way of spreading texts and images for political and communication purposes, many of the changes throughout the years were embedded into the language, fact that makes this graphic technique fairly much more complex than this simple article describing it. Therefore, a long time ago, the way to to explain the engraving process took a whole new sense, in the face of the graphical language, printing and reproduction innovations.
In Brazil, the technique is established in the middle of the 20th century, after other modernist trends had already been incorporated, between the 1940s and 1950s. That overlaps with foreign artists arrival in Rio, São Paulo and Salvador after the 2nd World War. These scholars and artists brought visual techniques, new sense and social themes that added to the technique’s propagation.
With workshops installed in Rio’s MAM and in Sao Paulo’s MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna), independent studios started to open out across the country. The language had disseminated. Highlighting in this case the artworks from the Austrian artist Axel Leskoschek (1889-1975), included in this exhibition, that have influenced the Polish-Brazilian artist Fayga Ostrower’s (1920-2001) own artistic initiation. Fayga Ostrower, on the other hand, headed Rio’s MAM Workshop and was crucial in the visual language’s diffusion and also in the development of artists that attended her classes at the Theory of Arts course, which she lectured for sixteen years in Rio’s Museu de Arte Moderna.
The popularity among artists and collectors, very fond of the engraving technique, and its increasing presence in Brazilian art of the 20th century became at least peculiar, because of its high development rate as hybrid language at the end of the same century.
To illustrate its relevance, our first important participation in Venice’s Biennial, in 1958,was the occasion that Fayga Ostrower was awarded with the event’s engraving prize, further consolidating its importance and spread as a platform or traditional language. Its definition at the time is not really important, because of its increasingly popularity in current days.
Seduced by new electronic and digital medium’s possibilities, generations of artists are now noticeably gaining interest in engraving, refreshing the technique.
Being important in political activism, art collecting and diffusion, the language has unique melding perks, like in photography. So many known collections started with a modest copy of one of them. Thus, among us, the technique contemplates two hundred years as graphic technique and less than hundred as experimental artistic activity. Visual language is a domain open to procedural, technical and conceptual experimentation on the early 21th century.*
Engraving is a silent gesture in which the only sound heard is the sharp tool’s friction, that drills as it would dissect a piece of wood or metal plate. The artist extracts the material’s guts with this gesture, making the engraving’s mold (wood, metal or stone), an artwork by itself, that glows with creative intensity on its surface, forging forms, shapes and lines.
Recently acquired by Fundação Marcos Amaro, the Guida e José’s Mold Engravings Collection will be introduced in the exhibition “O Tempo e a Gravura no Espaço – Sala Negra”.
Its an unique collection, easily considered the most substantial of its type in Brazil. Organized by the blibliophile José Midlin (1914-2010), passioned about books and his wife, Guita (1916-2006). The selection, that gathered 450 engraves, expresses the couple’s engagement and concern on collecting the period’s artistic production.
This collection is the heart of the exhibition, that assembles a selection of engraving molds, showcasing the gesture’s drama spread over the wood, from artists like Renina Katz (1925), Djanira (1914-1979), Mestre Noza (1897-s.l.1984), Oswaldo Goedi (1895-1961), among others. After being painted, they endure as wood chunks darkened by paint and time. Now exposed in dialogue with other artworks in the same collection, they seek in this mixture, their current time in a political perspective.
The artworks of Laura Lima (1971) and Rodrigo Andrade (1962) are not engravings. Their approach arise through visual expression, attained on Laura Lima’s sculptures and Rodrigo Andrade’s paintings.
The wood matrices, sometimes can be gloomy, weighted in different senses, other times could be just engraved wood that can be perceived as sculptures, other times are aesthetic remnants of the great dark bird, as the darkest night ever pictured, which is shattered in the exhibition room’s floor. Like an engrave printed on the venue itself.
Paying homage to Oswaldo Goeldi, the artist Nuno Ramos (1960) engraved in a bas-relief over a white marble tombstone, the image of one of Goeldi’s engravings, bathed in dark oil, producing the shadows that marked his engravings. Goeldi and Nuno Ramos are artists that radiate a literary density, a feature that can also be observed in Rodrigo Andrade’s paintings, in Wesley Duke Lee’s etchings, and in sculptures from Laura Lima, Zé Carlos Garcia, Iberê Camargo, Siron Franco and Tunga. These can be observed in another room of the Fábrica de Arte de Marcos Amaro’s exhibition cycle, in the exposition “O Tridimensional na coleção de Marcos Amaro: frente, fundo, em cima, embaixo, lados”.
Forged by Laura Lima with Zé Carlos Garcia (1973) co-authorship, “O Pássaro” (2015/2018) is a sculpture made by black feathers that simulate a dead bird on the floor. Displaying a great tragedy, the bird resembles a living landscape, etched into the room’s corner. The sculpture lies among death and life, such is the strength and turmoil presented in the exhibition’s room.
It seems like it came to life from one of the exhibition’s molds, for its dark nature. Conceived in black plumage, it lies inert in a corner, spreading loose feathers on the ground. The shape of the overlapping feathers brings up graphic textures resembling a wood engraving, now expanded in the room.
As if its wings were covered in oil pastels sticks drawings, with several black ink layers that render substance and outline the torn bird on the floor. It produces strange allurement, displaying fictional inquisitiveness, abstract condition between life and death.
The engraved paintings of thick ink layers on canvas from Rodrigo Andrade resemble more engravings’ molds displayed in the exhibition, for their layer mushy thickness prevailing the same darkness of the covered in paint wood engraving frames. Its like engraving without the need of replication. A snowfall landscape among two world wars.
The other painting is a waterfront city night view. Tackling the same dark mute aura, now as a night view, but as disruptive as the one that can be seen in the snowy landscape.
In the wood molds clipping, the spotlight is of the wood sculptured sets by Mestre Noza (1897-s.l.1984), Pernambuco native artist that lived in Cariri, countryside of Ceará and is best known for his Cordel printed sculptures and illustrations.
Noza sculpted and engraved the Via Crucis in wood, a fifteen engravings series collection, whose first edition was published by Robert Morel (1922-1990), introduced by the Ceará’s artist Sérvulo Esmeraldo (1929-2017) at Paris, in 1965. In addition, he’s forged the “Vida de Lampião” collection and the “Doze Apóstolos” (1962). The molds holds the artist’s simple visual resolution, yet with strong, impressive religious drama.
Renina Katz got a substantial representation in the Coleção de Matrizes e Gravuras, with her first engraves about social themes, that may be have been produced around the 40’s and 50’s, portraying Brazilian’s Northeast drought scourge and manual labor in both countryside and city. Saving strokes and lines, the artist achieves maximal expression on her artwork.
The exhibition “O tempo e a gravura no espaço – Sala Negra” throws light on this mold collection, that was influenced by José Midlin’s book “Loucura mansa”**, an idealist writer in love with Literature and Arts. He perceived the relevance in safeguarding these matrices, that in other circumstances would be forsaken, without any artistic value. The molds that have lost their production purpose hold, without any judgment, the artist’s touch. They carry the engraved strokes. Trademarks of a renewed piece of art in time, from the carver’s hand detached memory.
Fundação Marcos Amaro’s Curator
* The concept and ideas introduced in this content were extracted from “Sobre a gravura brasileira”, text wrote by the masters of masters, the artists and teachers, Evandro Carlos Jardim and Cláudio Mubarac. The article was published in “Gravadores Brasileiros Contemporâneos” touring exhibition’s catalogue, assembled by Galeria Casa da Gravura, at São Paulo, in August, 2007.
** “A Loucura Mansa” of José Mindlin is a text collection, put together by Cristina Antunes and Nádia Batella Gotlib, published by EDUSP, in 2014.