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  • José Bezerra

    José Bezerra (born 1952, in Buíque PE). José Bezerra was born in 1952 in the city of Buíque, in upstate Pernambuco state, where the arid sertão borders on the transition region known as agreste. His father was an agricultural worker and then, on Saturdays, he would work as the local barber. José was a farm worker, a jockey at improvised horse races, a manual worker, a carreiro and so many other activities which being poor requires. He killed animals for food, felled trees to make firewood, things that now make him unhappy and which he is always trying to atone through his works of art. Some ten years ago, José had a dream in which he was called to carry out the work he does nowadays. He should become an artist. From that point onwards, he started to look at the wood that surrounded him, something he had never done before, and also to make interventions on them. José does not sculpt in a traditional manner of acting upon a block of wood to establish a defined form. He tries to envisage a figure which is already insinuated in the wood – normally the wood of the umburana tree (Amburana cearensis) with its trunk, branches and roots – and bring them to the surface with the gross intervention using a hunting knife, a rasp, a chisel and a wood saw. The whole of José Bezerra’s family also handles wood. Nowadays, José censures the others for excess work, which he calls “smoothening the wood”, making it free from rough patches and also well shaped. The reason for this contrariness is precise: “it is there that the wood disappears”. So, for him, it is a case of achieving a certain figure while, at the same time, maintain his association with the raw wood he set out from and the instruments and gestures that have acted upon it. As the artist says, “it [wood] takes a lesson from us, and we also take a lesson from wood”. This decision gives his sculptures an uncommon intensity. Normally José works with twisted logs, typical of the local vegetation, like the umburana. This irregular aspect, slowly bringing together the copperplates that mould it, produces a notable result. The oscillating definitions of the figures blends in with the twistedness of the wood, and this relationship means we can see shapes that seem to struggle to emerge, in the midst of the tussle between plant materials, on the one hand, and the rough and parsimonious sculpture interventions, on the other. From here comes the unique expressivity of his works, which seems not to derive from the conflict between individual passions and the avarice of the world, as is current, but rather from a reality which, split and disturbed, shows an internal conflict which delays the definition and appearance thereof. His animals, bodies and faces do not have the sweetness of much of what is termed Popular Art, made of affection for and familiarity with the materials, which come out from his proximity with handicrafts and also the need to get the most out of wood, clay or stone through the use of rudimentary techniques. On the contrary, the acts of doing and appearing seem to mutually estrange themselves, even though they may reach unity at the end of the process. As they neither can nor want to submit the wood, the gestures of José Bezerra need to transform it while, at the same time, dragging it in the whole time. This tension helps one to understand why the apparent strangeness of his figures has an organic relationship with his artistic procedures, which gives them a surprising degree of efficiency. Animals are a constituent part of many of the figures which this artist has sculpted. These are domestic pets and also animals native to the region, all of which being very familiar to José: dogs, armadillos, herons, sloths and ant-eaters. His choices steer clear of imposing animals or those charged with symbolisms, such as tigers, eagles or snakes. However, these simple themes lead to unexpected solutions, as they practically transfigure the current idea that we have of them. And it was this appearance that José brought them into the world, in an attempt to remedy “the evils” that have been left behind. His Socó, representative of a bird that feeds on fish and lives close to rivers, lakes and mangroves, shares with the actual bird only the beak, which menacingly advances upon the observer. Its apparent aggressiveness does not depend only on the exaggerated size. The trunk curve used by the sculptor gives the work a dynamics which turns the beak of the bid into the culmination of a forward and upward movement, without which a much more ironic effect would be produced, close to Giacometti’s Nose. In addition, the light strokes with a carving knife intensify the invasive aspect, on bringing together the gesture that intervened in the trunk and its natural configuration. To the threating look of the bird corresponds an appearance of panic which empowers it. The hollow eyes, if I see things correctly, are an explicit expression. of his terror, of the view of something that has blinded it. If the simplicity and conciseness present in many of José Bezerra’s sculptures have a Brancusian element, the tensions that cut across them definitely moves them away from the lines of the Romanian artist. Initially the Dog would have the opposite configuration. Sculpted in a more regular and stable trunk, almost contained in the limits of the wood, would reveal, in its own insertion in the material, something from the loyalty shown by dogs, of their loyalty to the wishes of others. However, the artist takes this subordination process so far, and leads the animal so completely to narrow limits, that an inverse pressure, from within, causes a latent reaction from the animal. Its trunk has been carved with wider cuts, and spacious surfaces are a feature thereof. In the case of the head, which is so much more related to the natural irregularities of the wood, show a harshness which is opposed to the wish to control. This path leads to the mouth of the animal, which is even less regular. The domestication process leads to its opposite, and then we are inches away from a mad dog. The deformations and the stressful and distressing expression. of José Bezerra’s sculptures often border on the comical, another aspect always present in his work. The figure with the leg raised, for example. There, the body has a somewhat schematic representation, common to many of his works: an emphatic head, a neck which is also a trunk, two legs which stretch lengthwise out of proportion, the lack of arms, and also the dearth of details. Here, however, the contours of the branches that were cut by the artist led to a dynamics construction – like a dance step, a ritual or a hop – which is rare in his work. The left foot, raised and also much shorter than the right foot, counterbalances the significant verticality which extends from the end of the other foot up to the head. Its movement imparts lightness on the figure, and also frees it from gravity which has been enforced by the strong element of ascensionality. (It is a shame that José Bezerra never managed to solve the layout, which led to the use of a base outside the sculpture itself). Its curvaceous format incorporates into the leg a melody which makes it dance in a Matissian manner. This all considerably reduces the raw presence of plant materials, detaching it from the ground and also soothing it down. The carefully carved beak of the figure betrays the pleasure that goes through it. However, let us not get this wrong: the human being who enjoys music to the point of moving shall fall... Much smaller, the left foot shall not be able to support it. Its freedom is also its weakness. Strangely enough, to me it does not appear that the sculpture just makes you laugh, just like this. Something in this clunky figure arouses friendliness. To smile, yes, perhaps. However, it is so similar to our tough daily situations that we would not be able to distance ourselves enough, just to laugh. When he talks about his artwork – and José Bezerra also composes music, the artist emphasises the role of imagination in what he carried out. Thus, the importance that he assigns to the act of seeing pictures in trunks and trees which he finds around his farm finds in imagination an element which moves his pieces away from simple realism, of which it transports any fantasies that may pass through his head to the clouds in the sky. For José Bezerra – with the above examples making this clear – the act of seeing means opening the natural material, wood, to new possibilities that push it away from a lazy self-identity, as also a merely instrumental use. Rearticulation. The nature that can be deduced from his works presents an intense life, an inexhaustible yet tormented energy. The summary action upon wood — which often has a division into facts which reminds one of the strokes of Cézanne —, the constant memory of its vegetable origin, and also the intensity of its figures give the work an appearance of an incomplete and unfinished movement, as if there was an aspiration to a continuity which would take it beyond its contours. This is not just a desire to return to Earth, to make up with a life that had been interrupted. José Bezerra distributes his sculptures around the land area which surrounds his house, all directed to the ranch where he works and sings. That set of works, voluntarily fragmented, through the diversity of the work, produces an entireness that creates a second nature for the artist, transfigured by his look and conceptions. Once again, Brancusi comes to mind. With great accuracy and precision, William Tucker noted that “Brancusi evidently considered his studio to be the ideal environment for his work as a whole. The base played the part of the studio, a as means in relations with individual work. Where the sculpture is polished, the base is coarse; where the sculpture is compact and organised, the base is loose and free; where the sculpture is concentrated, the base is expansive”. Knowing that his works would separate, Brancusi found in the bases a way to maintain the dialogue between them. José Bezerra has not yet sufficiently established a way to showcase his works. He sometimes supports them by the ground and other times buries them. Similarly, however, the complex that he gathers in his Yard strengthens the dynamics that by-passes individual works, and helps to better understand the concept of nature, whether intuitive or not, which the author wants to offer for people to see. Arranged in dialogue between them, the sculptures of José Bezerra is reminiscent of the descriptions that Euclides da Cunha makes of the region around Canudos, in the first part of his classic work Os sertões, “The Earth”: “(...) trees bare of leaves, with twisted and dry branches, revolted and intermingled, firmly pointing to space or stretching flexibly along the ground, not unlike an immense arm gesture, of torture and agonising plant life...” Indeed, the view that Euclides da Cunha presents in his book lays out a disturbed nature that seems to anticipate the armed conflict at Canudos. In a revealing excerpt, Augusto Meyer writes: “He is the one who dramatises everything (...) Even in the most important geological panels of the beginning, he presents the landscape as something not complete or finished (...), but rather as a product of gigantic convulsions”. However, I feel that the ambition of José Bezerra is, at the same time, more modest and more historical than that of Euclides da Cunha. The angular expressiveness of his works – made more significant by the joint layout – does not plan to create a troubled form of cosmology which makes the sertão and its regional reality the new representation of realities throughout the world. The conflict which moves it arises from the understanding that the very medium which made a decisive contribution for the appearance of his work – this region where the productive contact with nature maintains a connection with the city that does not threaten it with extinction – is about to be razed to the ground through the rapid changes in the economic relations of the country. In addition, I am convinced that the sculptor has an intuition matched by few, when it comes to the sheer extent of the tragedy which now grips the whole planet, and the threats to Nature on a world scale. José Bezerra lives in a particularly attractive part of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, the Catimbau Valley – an ecological reserve – with relief that is like a small canyon with abundant yet wild vegetation. Therefore, the artist here is not talking about an immediate and close reality. It seems to me that he is worried about the perception of a process which could destroy an environment where he lives with difficulty and which is yet his place, from where he extracts his identity and also his art. So, even though his work may have a close relationship with the environment, it is, to a certain extent, in opposition to the same environment. The touching expression of his work does not talk about a bucolic nature and its enchantments: it talks about its imminent destruction, So, after all, what does José Bezerra see when he pays attention to his surrounding vegetation? The issue of pre-existence of figures in rough matter has had a long history through art, from Michelangelo to Brancusi. For Michelangelo, conducted by a divine furore, this was a matter of stripping matter of its weight and roughness, leading it to the spirituality of shape. Much less a Christian, Brancusi just tried to make use of the materials that were cut, as happens in some versions of the Turtle, the Rooster, the Witch and the Youngster’s Trunk, which contributed towards the formal economy that was a characteristic of his work. Regarding this issue, José seems to follow his own path. It is not just a case of establishing an analogy between a root and an animal. His look seems to be constantly accompanied by an apocalyptic feeling which is transported to his sculpture works, which helps to understand the emphasis which is given to imagination as part of his work process. José Bezerra belongs to the poorer strata of our population, and works with techniques that bring him closer to the primitive art and with themes close to those of rural life. All these aspects conspire so that he may be included as a popular artist, a dubious and limiting concept, even after modern art restored a statute that they had never had before to the marginalised forms of art. This is not the place to extend this discussion. As I see it, José Bezerra is simply a Brazilian artist with great strength and currency, and this is a result of the issues underlying his work and also the impressive way in which they are made visible. To limit his work to the popular “ghetto” would just mean its pacification and reduction. José Bezerra does not even know how to read. However, there is a lot more clairvoyance and subtleness in his work than there is in those – and there are so many of these – who confuse art with erudite knowledge. Rodrigo Naves, 

    Source: “José Bezerra” catalogue | Sculptures”,2009 of the Galeria Art Gallery.



    2013 José Bezerra | Sculptures,Culture Center Matarazzo | SP - Brasil 
    2012 - 2013 Janete Costa “A Look”, Janete Costa Museum, Niterói | RJ Brazil 
    2012; Mix Max Brasil ,Tropenmuseum Junior, Amsterdam – The Netherlands 
    2012; Histoires de Voir, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris - France
    2012; Stubbornness of Imagination: Ten Brazilian Artists, Imperial Palace, Rio de Janeiro | RJ - Brasil 
    2012; Stubbornness of Imagination: Ten Brazilian Artists, Tomie Ohtake Institute, São Paulo | SP - Brasil 
    2010; José Bezerra| Sculpture , Celma AlbuquerqueGallery, Belo Horizonte| MG – Brasil 
    2010; Brazilian Art beyond the System, Estação Gallery - São Paulo | SP - Brasil 
    2009; José Bezerra | Sculptures, Estação Gallery - São Paulo | SP – Brasil 
    2010; José Bezerra | Sculptures,SESC - São Carlos | SP - Brasil 
    2010; José Bezerra | Sculptures,SESC- Bauru | SP - Brasil 
    2010; José Bezerra | Sculptures, Paulo Setubal Museum Tatuí | SP – Brazil;


    Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris – France, 
    José and Paulina Nemirovsky Foundation, São Paulo – Brasil; 
    MAM – Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro |RJ – Brazil; 
    AfroBrasil Museum, São Paulo | SP – Brazil; 
    Pavilion of Brazilian Cultures, São Paulo | SP – Brazil; 
    São Paulo State Pinacothèque, São Paulo | SP, Brazil; 
    SESC São Carlos| SP – Brasil; 
    SESC - Belenzinho, São Paulo | SP – Brazil; 
    Tropenmuseum Junior, Amsterdam – The Netherlands; 

    2013; José Bezerra| Sculptures – a catalogue of an exhibition at the Culture Center Matarazzo – Brazil 
    2012; Janete Costa, A Look, Janete Costa Museum, Niterói | RJ 
    2012; Histoires de Voir, Fondation Cartier Pour l’art contemporain, Own Press – France 
    2012; Stubbornness of Imagination – Ten Brazilian Artists, Martins Fontes Press, Brazil 
    2010; José Bezerra| Sculptures – a catalogue of an exhibition at the Estação Gallery – Brazil 
    2010; José Bezerra| Sculptures – catalogue of an exhibition at the Celma Albuquerque gallery– Brazil 
    2010; Brazilian Art beyond the system – catalogue of an exhibition at the Estação Gallery, Brazil, 
    2010; Pavillion of Brazilian Cultures: Pure Mixtures, Terceiro Nome Press – Brazil, 
    2006; Pernambuco made by hand, Sebrae Pernambuco Press, BrazilJosé Bezerra
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    José Bezerra vive no Vale do Catimbau, no sertão de Pernambuco, região, segundo pesquisadores e arqueólogos, considerada o segundo maior sítio arqueológico do Brasil, tanto pela quantidade de pinturas e inscrições quanto pelo valor histórico. É respirando esta atmosfera que o artista produz suas esculturas, exibindo-as ao redor de sua casa, uma aldeia de seres em madeira que encantam os viajantes que por lá passam, entre os quais Zé Celso Martinez. O artista faz questão de sublinhar o papel da imaginação em sua arte. "Assim, a importância que atribui ao ato de ver imagens em troncos e galhos que acha pelos arredores de seu sítio encontra na imaginação um elemento que afasta suas peças de um realismo singelo, de quem transpõe para as nuvens do céu os devaneios que lhe vão pela cabeça", escreve Naves.

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