José Bernnô | from 19/05/2016 to 30/06/2016

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Calcined Matter

Marco Giannotti

Those who had the privilege to meet José Bernnô certainly would define him as a solar personality. I was his teacher and above all his friend. In the year of his death, he had spent New Year's Eve with my family. In days of strong heat and rain, his main entertainment was teaching my children how to make kites. Nothing more consistent to someone who always enjoyed color high in the sky. Whoever had the privilege to know him also know that he was a hotheaded person, like an emotional volcano about to explode.

He does not become an artist in the classroom, but in the borough of Limão. It was there that he discovered he could combine the automotive painter experience with the canvas painter. Doors would close at 6pm and the artist awoke at dawn. No wonder that his most cogent statement on life was in his own workshop. Bernnô knew how to combine his contemporary concerns to community spirit. Always participating in activities of his neighborhood, he produced allegories for the samba school Mocidade Alegre. The painter from the borough of Limão, reminds us of Volpi, the painter from the borough of Cambuci. Both at the beginning of their careers would paint decorative frescoes. The ceiling of his room in a housing project, take us to dreamland of Italian painting and its grotesque.

The paintings selected for this exhibition are the record of a strong personality. Immediately we see paintings of intense chromatic surfaces intersected in an excruciating way, exacerbated and provoking. Bernnô knew how to make alchemy between oil painting and alkyd resins used for automotive purposes. While studying at the School of Fine Arts in São Paulo, he even made custom paint for cars. Maybe that's why his palette reminds us of the time when cars still had color: yellow Brasília, blue Corcel, beige Variant etc. He knew how to thrill color: we can see in his paintings a fragment of distressed yellow, elsewhere a passionate blue and in another corner a saddened orange. The pictorial matter appears to have gone through a calcination process to be subjected to the intense heat of a kiln. Geometric shapes are reconfigured in the process and take an organic, rocky appearance. Allude to the magma, which, as it cools in contact with the earth, has liquid shafts of various shapes. The figures seem to emerge from the volcanic matter.

Evoking a painting based on the surface may sound like modernist jargon. But the fact is that Bernnô makes this motto his reason for being. If we seek a reference, certainly the work of Clifford Still is fundamental. His large-scale paintings, with an imposing chromaticism, organic forms that collide, influenced many artists of abstract expressionism. Perhaps his most important contribution to this group has been the "all over", a composition that breaks with the classic relationship of figure and ground. The paint is revealed as a continuous space where the frame appears as a cut of a wider place. Intuitively Bernnô assimilated these characteristics in his work. He is not an artist who seeks a refined tonal painting as Paulo Pasta, artist and senior lecturer very important in his training. Indeed, perhaps influenced by his early painting, where the rougher surface was made to excavate the hidden matter. A blue trace touches on a red surface. But instead of evoking a distant past, these are colors of the world, posters, cars, and appliances. There arises a paint based on the surface of the screen, in an obstinately manner. We do not have access to the weft of the screen, as a coating immune to water and new marks of time effectively calcined it. Although the glaring colors lead us to think of Van Gogh, the painting is not made with brush strokes that carry pure color fresh out of a tube of paint. The gesture hides the laminated surfaces.

His paintings resist the word, denote to a certain brutalism that makes us think of the red-painted structures that support the MASP (the Art Museum of São Paulo). They are placed in the space without shyness. As in reinforced concrete, they exhibit the marks of the casting process. Crusts emerge from this magma. Curious alchemy in which the oil painting loses its optical appearance and acquires mass, thanks to alkyd complements. The construction process is very similar to the bonding process, compositional method that is crucial in the way of articulating images from the twentieth century. In an important moment of his training he came to paint on unassembled cardboard boxes. In this case, the cutouts are grouped randomly and create a greater sense of unity than the sum of the parts. Chromatic fields assume a figure of aspect almost by chance, so that we come to imagine geometry back to meet with the world space. For this reason we find neither straight or perfect square lines in his painting. The vertical stems that appear from time to time remind us of the posts eroded by time and are about to fall after a thunderstorm. The horizon marks do not lead us to the sublime world; they are as simple marks made with enamel in a machine shop to avoid dirt. Bernnô thus celebrates the richness of the ordinary world, where anyone can participate, go into his workshop and have a beer.

Everything seems a little out of order: line, color and raw material. The beautiful comes from this estrangement created between the popular and the erudite. In this sense, the exhibition that opens at Galeria Estação seems very appropriate, because just there the Brazilian folk art is displayed alongside relevant artists of our scene. In Bernnô’s case, a comparison with another popular artist would not fit, as he seeks to incorporate these two different worlds. A singular figure, he tried to reconcile the opposing worlds of the North Zone and South Zone of São Paulo.

Once Eduardo Sued said that the problem of the yellow is that it is a very cheerful and open subject, but soon becomes an uncomfortable visit to ones house. Bernnô coexists nicely with that color. When we see a yellow in his paintings we feel a special pleasure to evoke his solar personality. Few artists actually learned to use so well that color in a city like São Paulo. Although gray is the most awarded color in our city, the fact is that we have a city permeated by red hollow bricks, the lime powder on the facades, the broken tiles, the colorful posters placed precariously on the avenues.

Taught in schools, the color looks an immaterial phenomenon, a virtual prism released in the dark. However, the color is actually connected to its material environment. In modern art the choice of certain techniques is an expressive act, in which pictorial matter becomes expressive. At the end of the nineteenth century, the introduction of dyes and pigments created from chemical processes produced a huge transformation in the painter's palette, which now contains more and more artificial colors. The colors applied in painting distance themselves increasingly of local color, as signs that form an autonomous language. The searches for a new pictorial composition made artists support their works in chromatic theories such as the ones by Goethe, Chevreul, and Ostwald. The artists seek certain ideal measures that would reveal a hidden nature, ideal, supreme. The colors for the artist are rather abstractions of our spirit. There arises an airtight symbolism, far from the representation of nature. Much of the chromatic experiments were carried out with colored pieces of cloth or paper. Not coincidentally, the glue comes effectively as an artistic practice in the twentieth century. The doors open to an abstract painting guided by a chromatic geometry, grids and circles. The figure and the surrounding space are built from several chromatic planes; brushwork and color merge into expressive gesture. In this case, the colors effectively play an active role in the pictorial space, as the interaction between the fields provides an expansive sense of the color. In this detachment process in relation to "external reality" the painter often identifies with a being that is able to create or to destroy in the following moment. In Fact, Balzac’s  “The Unknown Masterpiece” - one of the favorite stories of Cézanne, accurately describes this phenomenon. Frenhofer is a painter who goes crazy in seeking the masterpiece, but only manages to portray a small female foot in the middle of a bunch of spots. The painting becomes an abstract wall; there is no depth, just paint applied on the screen surface.

We may note here as both the artist from Cambuci as the Limão neighborhoods absorbed the uniqueness of modern painting with a lot of property, but with radically different notes. Both draw attention by the rustic appearance of their buildings. If one makes us think of walls subtly washed, the other takes us to the harsh surface of the concrete. Youthful, vibrant, cheerful and sometimes taciturn, the fact is that Bernnô paintings clash for its uniqueness. We see similar painting being done in São Paulo. Neither figurative nor completely abstract, not dated or out of time. They resist the weather and continue to vibrate. A true romantic, Bernnô brought life to the limit. A life of a hallucinating pace and, who knows, continues to travel like a comet about to cause earthquakes when colliding with other planets. But what really matters now is that through these paintings we can witness fragments of an intense life.?


Galeria Estação