31/05/2015 | Serafina - Folha de São Paulo - Sergipe born artist who exhibits in Venice says compatriots do not value art

Gabriela Longman via Serafina (Folha de Sao Paulo)
Nossa Senhora da Glória (estate of Sergipe)

In the city of Nossa Senhora da Glória, in the state of Sergipe hinterland, some people think he is voodoo practitioner; some think he is a millionaire; others that he just does not fit well. "It's the one who makes puppet, right?, asks a domino player on the sidewalk of the main avenue of the city. With the affirmative answer, he informs: "I think he's abroad but go there and talk to his wife."
Cicero Alves dos Santos, better known as Véio indeed had been abroad. When he received the reportage of Serafina, the artist had just returned from Venice, where he opened a solo exhibition sponsored by the Italian fashion house Marni. Until November, alongside the city’s Biennial, 109 wooden sculptures made by him occupy a former abbey from the 12th century in Punta Della Dogana, on the edge of the Grand Canal.
In 2012, he had already exhibited at the Cartier Foundation in Paris. But international recognition does not make Véio want to leave Sergipe. He likes the fresh milk taken directly from the cow, the food with flour and the ranch on the edge of the road where he lives. "If they come to tell me to live there [in Europe], I will not. I do not want any of those palaces. They live surrounded by water. And I am a hinterland, man," says the 67 man, surrounded by his wife, Maria and the dogs in their simple home.
Nossa Senhora da Glória is a two-hour ride from the state capital Aracaju, crossing the wild and small towns such as Itabaiana and Ribeirópolis, the BR-235 and the SE-175 highways. At the entrance of the farm, a sequence of colorful sculptures line up on the dirt ground. It is in a small house-workshop in the back of the property, where he carves his gigantic animals, human figures and small scenes, gathering a collection of nearly 10,000 pieces.
"But here, no one cares about art. If each of my pieces were worth a political vote, there would be politicians lining up the front door," he says. "In Italy, people wanted to know everything, but it was difficult to talk using an interpreter. Communication was truncated."

Since 2009, Galeria Estaçao, in São Paulo, specialized in folk art, represents Véio. During one of his visits to the city, the director of the Cartier Foundation, Hervé Chandès, was presented to a number of artists, including Cicero. A few months later, the Sergipe born artist would be invited to join the collective "Histoires de Voir" (View Stories) in the French institution. Some pieces of art were purchased and became part of the permanent collection of the foundation.
"It's part of my job to make people understand the difference between a popular artist and a craftsman," says Vilma Eid, owner of Galeria Estaçao. "Sometimes, a craftsman does make a special piece, but an artist as Véio is different: there is a consistency in language throughout all his work."
It was during the Paris show that Consuelo Castiglione, founder and designer of Marni, was introduced to the artist's work and thought he had everything to do with the colorful, graphic, spontaneous identity associated with the label. She then hired Stefano Rabolli Pansera, the Milanese curator based in London, to go to Sergipe and choose the pieces to the Venetian exhibition, an event commemorating the label’s 20th anniversary.

Enforcing the nickname he earned at the age of five - for his appreciation of elderly people stories- Véio (which means “old”) is a backcountry enthusiast. Besides his own sculptures, he keeps at home a collection of objects of traditional daily life of the frontiersman: smithy artifacts, shoe making and kitchen objects that he has been purchasing over four decades.
"This is a "chuculatera “ he says, showing a kind of pot. "Gonzaga honored this object in music." And what one misses the most after "progress" came to the area? "Honesty. If a man gave his a word, neither paper nor notary’s office were needed"
Not everything, however, was simple in those bygone 1950s. As a child, he fled the group's play and all by himself he would make small sculptures with beeswax. When caught they would say he liked to "play with dolls" and called him effeminate. The hinterland has its quirks.
Véio did his work without knowing what art was and what it was to be an artist. "The backwoods is farming. Whoever in the backwoods was not farming was lazy," he recalls. He first showed his work in a TV commercial for Banese Bank (National Bank of Sergipe): he went to the bank’s headquarters in the capital Aracaju, sent in for the CEO and offered his face and one piece of art for a regional TV ad free of charge. Done deal. After 90 days in the air, many people in the state of Sergipe already knew who he was, which helped him get small exhibitions here and there.
In the 1980s, during a regional art event in São Paulo, the then Minister of Labour Almir Pazzianotto saw his art and praised as "ceramic from Sergipe." Véio was keen to intervene: "I'm sorry that it is not ceramic but timber and I am the one who does it.” And right from there he got an exhibition in Brasília, the capital of the country.
"Cicero Alves dos Santos is not only one of the greatest living Brazilian artists," wrote the art critic Rodrigo Naves. "Perhaps we are before an artist who, by his breadth of vision finally broke down the watertight division between art and popular art."
He carries his life reconciling the practice of small-scale agriculture and livestock with the making of art –he only sells what he wants when he wants. "I was never employed by anyone. Whoever has a boss has obedience, and in art, no one can demand from you" he says. In São Paulo gallery, his works today are sold between R$ 8,000 and R$ 45 thousand.
Showing the old trunks arranged on the ground, he say it is from the very natural forms that the inspiration is born. "That, to me, is gold. With this, I create saints, just not the miracles." For each piece he creates, he makes sure there is a story for it and his interpretation. The backland did not become the sea, but Venice came a little closer to turning into the backland.

Galeria Estação