José Antonio da Silva
A vida não basta (Life is not enough)
11.02 – 26.03 / 2017
“Art exists because life is not enough”
“I admit that I am an artist pure and true. I´m a creator and I have to paint the world whether I like it or not. I feel my soul stir within me.” These words sum up José Antonio Silva´s struggle to get started as a painter and his aesthetic quest, which led to diverse work: Dionysian, solar, pantheist, fauve, naïf, which the public can now see from 11 February at the Almeida & Dale Gallery in the José Antonio da Silva show – A vida não basta (Life is not enough), with curatorship by Denise Mattar.
The exhibition brings together 50 works spanning four decades of art output from the late 1940s through to the mid-1980s. The selection charts the growth and diversity of the oeuvre of the artist who produced over 5,000 works in his lifetime, making him the most prolific artists in Brazilian history.
Born in Sales de Oliveira in São Paulo´s hinterland, Silva began drawing as a boy using raw materials sourced from the countryside, such as leaves and fragments of sand and coffee sacks. From a humble background, he had little formal education and began working at a young age to help his family who could not understand his artist streak – regarding it as crazy.
Having married at 21 years of age, Silva moved with his wife and children to São José do Rio Preto, where he undertook a variety of jobs from waiter to gravedigger. His struggled for survival did not stop him from drawing and painting. In fact, it fueled the creation of a life beyond that which he lived.
His discovery as an artist came to pass in 1946 when taking part in a contest promoted by the House of Culture in his hometown São José do Rio Preto. Although not winning the competition, Silva caught the eye of art critics Lourival Gomes Machado and Paulo Mendes de Almeida, who saw in his work a genuine expression of Brazilian rural culture.
This discovery spelled a new life for Silva. In 1948, the artist had his first solo exhibition at the newly inaugurated Domus Gallery, and took part in the I International Art Biennial of São Paulo in 1951.
The artist then became immersed in two worlds: that of his roots – rural, poor, harsh – and the arts world – sophisticated, cosmopolitan, diverse, full of ideas and different esthetics. The experience would mark his life and work forever.
The saturnine nature of the rural landscapes of works such as the Caçador e Casebre (Hunter and Shack) and Paisagem rural e trabalhadores com enxadas (Rural Landscape and laborers with hoes) both from 1948, and domestic scenes – O médico da roça (The countryside physician)(1948) and Flagrante de adultério (Flagrant Adultery)(1950) – which in their way revealed the hardship of a father of six children struggling to survive, was slowly diluted over the ensuing decades, giving way to new techniques and a more joyous and diverse palette of colors. Fields planted with banana trees (1956) and the Cotton Fields series of the 1970s illustrate the artist´s new palette and technical evolution, after coming into contact with works by artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso. The Cotton Fields reveals the peak of his technical development with the use of the pointillism painting technique.
In 1950 and 1960, now influenced by other artists with whom he had come into contact, da Silva created works of a religious nature which revealed a strong dramatic character, while the waters series which continued up until the 1980s have a rich poetic character. Two works clearly reveal this identity: Casa com bois na chuva (House with cattle in the rain) (1953) and Igreja na chuva (Church in the rain) (1982).
In the 1970s, experiencing his chromatic explosion, the artist created a series of works depicting Rio de Janeiro including the Corcovado (1976), Guanabara Rio (1979) and Rio-Niterói Bridge (1992).
“José Antonio da Silva is an artist with unusual creative ability and imagination. The exhibition includes a selection from his oeuvre. There are over 5,000 works in all, testament to his ability to fantasize and his creative drive. Life for him was not enough. He needed another life. And he found this in art”, explained the curator Denise Mattar.