José Antonio da Silva

José Antonio da Silva
Bienal ? Ta ?, 1981
Untitled, 1990
Untitled, 1974
Sheep in the rain, 1980

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José Antonio da Silva
1909, Sales de Oliveira | SP - 1996, São Paulo | SP

José Antônio da Silva was born in upstate São Paulo, son of the oxcart driver Isaac Antônio da Silva, and it was only when this great 20th century Brazilian painter was 37 years old when he first had room to create. Before this, he had a tough struggle to survive never-ending hard work. The mobility and instability of life as a worker on the land are mirrored in the endless travels of his father, and himself later, over the countryside. Taking meals to his father on a farm; haymaking with a hoe in hand; stripping coffee berries from the trees; digging earth with a spade; delivering sleepers and railroad tracks; cutting sugarcane and molasses extractor in a sugar mill; attending in a small store on the edge of the forest; bargaining for forest land to plant coffee and cotton; raising donations for a spiritist center in the city of São José do Rio Preto, São Paulo State. He told me when I was doing and essay about him in Mitopoética de nove artistas brasileiros (1975), and already married with five children, Silva built a ranch on the banks of a creek, where he “would chop trees” for the landowner. On this ranch began to do pencil drawings, and wallpapered all the walls in his home with them. After other heavy jobs, he finally settled in São José do Rio Preto as waiter and chamber boy. That was when his life took a turn for the better. In 1946 he sent Boizinhos, an oil painted on flannel, with two other works to São José Culture Center contest and won first prize. On the jury no other than critics Lourival Gomes Machado, Paulo Mendes de Almeida and the philosopher João Cruz Costa. His artistic carrer was then meteoric, and in the 1950s he was already participating in the São Paulo Biennial. Forty years living in São Paulo countryside left strong marks in Silva’s painting. The landscape prevails, where man appears toiling on the land, or at leisure: playing viola, dancing at parties, participating in religious or pagan festivals. He often address the universe of the sacred, painting Stations of the Cross, saints and extraordinary crucifixions. He also expressed the urban, with no embarrassment: Rio-Niterói Bridge, Boxing match, his various works portraying soccer is witness to this. Self-portraits and portraits of his own folk are also highpoints of his work. The portrait of his parents (MAC-USP, 1955), of D. Rosinha (MAC-USP, 1957), his Auto-Retrato Livre de Mordaça (Private Coll, 1978) reveal through his free brushstrokes, vibrant, building with color, the spontaneous expressionism and transport with which Silva creates. He is, however, a remarkable draftsman, showing the same spontaneity and immediateness of paiting in his drawings. The Biennials and then his international circuit opened up to him the universe of the elite culture, where he concentrated his admiration on Volpi, Djanira, Picasso and Van Gogh, who he called Vicente. Silva composed country music and left LP recorded with his compositions, and another called Como me fiz artista (How I became artist), in 1966, in which he describes to us, in a dynamic and immediate way as in his paintings, “the discovery and suffering of the artist”, essence of his view of the world. He also wrote a number of books, in a delightful narrative style: Romance de minha vida (MAM/SP, 1949), Maria Clara, Alice (1972), Sou Pintor, Sou Poeta (1981), Fazenda da Boa Esperança (1987), all illustrated by himself . In the preface to Alice, Antonio Candido writes that he found there “traces that mark Silva’s admirable paintings”, emphasizing the principal: “the portrayal of life at a creative rate”. Rubem Braga also wrote about his work in Três Primitivos (1953). Pietro Maria Bardi included him in Profile of the New Brazilian Art (1970). In 1975, the same year when I published my first essay on his work in Mitopoética de nove artistas brasileiros, he set up a studio in the city of São Paulo. In 1976 publishers Helmut Kruger/Kosmos published José Antonio da Silva, with a text by Theon Spanudis. In 1978 Carlos Augusto Calil produced the short film about the artist and his work Quem não conhece o Silva? (Who doesn’t know Silva?). In 1984 he was part of the Tradição e Ruptura exhibition of the São Paulo Biennial Foundation. Roberto Pontual included him in Entre Dois Séculos – 20th century Brazilian Art in the Gilberto Chateaubriand Collection (1987). Dawn Ades inveted him to be part of the international exhibition Art in Latin America (1989). On his 80th birthday, he had already been paid homage by various local governments in São Paulo State , the Museum Of Contemporary Art of the University Of São Paulo (USP) held a retrospective of his work, which won the top prize in 1990 in the category awarded by the São Paulo Art Critics’ Association. The tributes paid to him from both public and private sectors continued until his death in 1996 in the city of São Paulo. In 1999 Olívio Tavares de Araújo published Silva, about his overall work.

Little Dictionary of the Brazilian People’s Art – 20th Century, by anthropologist and poet Lélia Coelho Frota

Galeria Estação