Sculptor João Monteiro and the Brazilian way of being

by Jacob Klintowitz

The shapes of João Monteiro sculptures have the appeal of an authentic natural gesture made in the air. One can infer from the look of the sculptures that they were designed in space and, manipulated by the force of some unknown technology, became tridimensional outlines and drawings. Newborn shapes. Alive and dynamic organic elements. There is no doubt that these sculptures can give the impression of spontaneous, effortless gestures, but, talking about art, the conquest of spontaneity is only achieved through extreme hard work and dedication. It is a rich and revealing paradox, though its comprehension is difficult for excessively practical people. João Monteiro´s work has an oceanic twist. It is a continuous, associative creative process, in which one shape is originated by another, in a permanent unveiling. In this fountain, even by definition of such procedure, all things are connected to all things, there is an entanglement, one body for doing and being and there is nothing on his studio and his activity, in his work, that is disconnected from the whole. In that case, the artist’s path is structured by certain themes and figures and this is his universe, his world and inside it belies his concentration. The threadlike aspect of many sculptures favors the reading of the spatial design, and enables in the visitor the playful and involuntary action of imagining. Many may even discuss with the design and the hollow spaces to create within themselves a more personal and unusual image, a true meditation. Other sculptures, that use plates to organize the plans, fragmented shapes, keep the unity in the light of the structure of the rhythms. Whatever the path chosen by the artist, the threadlike shapes or the fragmented shapes, it becomes evident that Josão Monteiro’s sculpture tends to be monumental. Its vocation is to be public art, and this is due mainly to the internal proportions of his sculptures. It is like the artist created models and the scale is the city. It does not matter the shape and the dimension of the sculpture, since what we face, most of the times, is the monumental.

João Monteiro lived in France for almost three decades. This absence from his home country made him worry about the Brazilian identity. And his thoughts on the possible national identity conducted him to think about the Brazilian body, the ethnic composition of the population, the cultural aspects, the territoriality, the national soul. It is the search for the specificity. There is where the artist is involved in the reflections of distance and in the search of himself.

Sculptor João Monteiro de Cunha Salgado Neto speculates about the parameters that form his being in the world: “...I was born in Vila Monumento (Monument Village), in São Paulo, the capital of the state of São Paulo, from an old family. This cannot be denied and it defines myself.” It is a self-definition focused on the positive and the concrete. Another option could be: “I am not a bureaucrat, I am not a dictator, I am not racist, etc. ad infinitum, and whatever is left is what I am”. Or a self-definition not by identity, but by identification: “I am energy, as is the galaxy in which I live. I am an illuminated part, as the whole is illuminated”.

This type of reasoning and felling of identity that João Monteiro has also serves as basis for one of his themes in art, the Brazilian body, the body flexibility of an athlete, the swing of the mixed races, the tradition of being Brazilian. From all these points of view and these vaguely anthropological pillars he presents his sculptures directly beneficiated from the classical Greece and, nowadays, referenced by the work of Swiss Alberto Giacometti and the memory of his Brazilian master, FAU professor, refined sculptor Caetano Fraccarolli.

My art

by João Monteiro

Along so many years of study, for which the collaboration of friend, painter and professor of Fine Arts in Tolouse Jean François Marze – a lover of the music of colors - was extremely relevant, I learned that while in men´s retina the rods are predominant, in women´s the cones form the majority of structures, thus making them (women) more well equipped to sense color. As a matter of fact, along all these years I have met many great colorists from the stronger gender and good designers from the weaker, a.k.a. men. And even if my weird unconscious will, that made me always chose the harder path, has led me to so many inglorious battles with the pallets, although I have had a few victories, shape has always imposed itself in everything I have done and the tridimensional appeal has never lowered its guard, ending up playing the main role in my activity However I am convinced that such struggle was not in vain, since for a sculptor it is very important to know colors. I dare to think that for a great painter, knowing sculpture is even more important. It is exactly in this transition from plan to space and vice-versa, from real to paper –in a study- and from paper to execution – in a project – that one can develop an authentic aesthetic thinking. Alberto Giacometti repeatedly said that for sculpting as well as for painting the foundation is in drawing. Following a simple chronological order it becomes clear the correlation of the older sculptures with the paintings and drawings from the same period and the passage that has been materializing from that Giacometti-evoked expressionism (as long as curves and movements were dominant and so were the lessons from Rodin and Michelangelo) to a sort of drawing in space so well purified and synthetic that all plans are suggested instead of materialized. The technological instrumentation joins the classic armory with software for 3D design dedicated to architecture as well as the search for new materials and new technologies capable of helping in the execution of large dimension shapes destined to stand the time…in all senses! We will see here in addition to the monumental group “A Ginga Canonizada” (The Sanctified Swing), projects and mockups of monuments to Brazil, from its early scratches to their final vector versions suited to contemporary fabrication methods.

I think the small bronze pieces representing players in full swing will be the highlight of this section as the preparatory studies for larger pieces, with the objective of becoming public art and its dialog with the landscape and with the architecture. It seems interesting to think about the interaction between the computational and optical instruments (computers and cameras) and the traditional practices of today. How and how much to use of them so they do not become barriers to the development of the aesthetic thinking, for which the participation of the body in the handling of materials, moving around in real space and acting simultaneously with reason and emotion, is essential.

Many will try to jump steps and will end up not developing a more precise perception of shapes in space, which is the very result of the manual labor that includes the conflict between tools and materials. I do not hesitate to confirm that I owe my success using cameras an computers to my previously acquired and solidified experiences, but I still need to work with real matter, my eyes and my hands.

Back then, on my second year at the Fine Arts in Paris, when hyper-realism was booming, I second guessed the trap and refused to use photographs even as documents to support the elaboration of a drawing or a canvas.

The camera replaces the brain in the task of de-codifying and re-codifying the 3-dimensional space in the support plan. But not without disadvantages, since it is merely a distant mockery of our eyes, as is the computer for our brain. The use of photographs disturbed the composition and even the comprehension of the shapes, specially of such complex shapes as are the movements of human bodies, the main scope of my work.

Nowadays I sometimes start the sculpture directly in the computer and only after I materialize the mockups for the pieces consisting of polyhedral or glazed steel tubes with the help of the computer. Today it feels richening the conflict between the sensitive experience of manually molding and the rigorous ordination of plans made by the machine – definitely a useful tool for those who have developed a plastic thinking.

What I wish to show with this exhibit is the unceasing back-and-forth from real to virtual; from conception to matter; from plan to space. Therefore I suggest a few computers to the use of the audience.

The ideas, the sketches, the clay, the wire, the welding, the computer, the new technologies and materials… Little by little a Brazilian iconography is born as a new way to conceive and execute monuments in line with the contemporary landscape.