An Interview with Artist Gonçalo Ivo

February, 2010

Gonçalo Ivo was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1958. He is the son of Brazilian writer and poet, Lêdo Ivo. Ivo took art courses at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro and studied Architecture and Urban Planning at the Fluminense Federal University where he received a Diploma in Architecture. He has been exhibiting his work since the late 1970s in countries around the world, including Brazil, France, Italy, the US, Venezuela, Spain, Algeria, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, and Japan. His work has been the focus of over 40 solo exhibitions. It may be found in numerous private, corporate and public collections, including: the Museum of Geometric and MADI Art, Dallas, TX; and in Brazil, the Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum of Bellas Artes, Rio de Janeiro; the University of Ceará, Fortaleza; and in São Paulo the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Gallery of the State, the Itaú Cultural Institute and the Moreira Salles Institute. Ivo divides his time between Paris where he works and has lived with his family since 2000 and his second residence and studio in Teresópolis, Brazil.


Julie Karabenick: You’ve said that your work begins with color.

Oratory
Oratório (Oratory), oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm (79 x 79 in), 2009

Gonçalo Ivo: For me color comes first—not a precise color, but more of the sensation of a kind of color, a certain intensity, a warmth or coldness, a radiance. Color has always been my passion.

African Fabric
Tissu d’Afrique (African Fabric), oil on canvas,
200 x 200 cm (79 x 79 in), 2008

Maybe this is my personal experience of what the Romantic artists called “inspiration.”

Naga Fabric
Tissu Naga (Naga Fabric), oil on canvas,
195 x 114 cm (77 x 45 in), 2008

Often my paintings are quite large because I want their colors to impregnate our senses, emotions, and thoughts—to carry us poetically to other places. I believe it was Matisse who said that two kilos of blue are bluer than one kilo of blue.

Oratory
Oratório (Oratory), oil on canvas, 200 x 400 cm (79 x 157 in), 2008

Ultimately, I may be trying to reach unattainable colors. To paint, it’s necessary to leap over the wall of dreams. Of course when you’re in the act of painting, many things influence the process. We’re always negotiating between our desires and reality.

African Fabric
Tissu d’Afrique (African Fabric), oil on canvas, 90 x 180 cm (35 x 71 in), 2008

Intuition guides me. I don’t rationalize while I paint. I simply breathe and move ahead.

Oratory
Oratório (Oratorio), oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm, (79 x 79 in), 2009

What enchants me is the act itself, the being there and making something that reflects my own way of experiencing the world.

Cloth from the Coast
Pano da Costa (Cloth from the Coast), oil on canvas, 97 x 195 cm (38 x 77 in ), 2009

For me, painting is like a trip on a train. When you’re inside the train, the most wonderful feeling is to look out at the landscape and forget about the departure and arrival. The pleasure is in the trip itself.

African Fabric
Tissu d’Afrique (African Fabric), oil on canvas,
200 x 150 cm (79 x 59 in ), 2008

JK: A rich variety of life experiences and sources influence your paintings.

GI: Yes, my work reflects the intersection of many sources. Sometimes references appear to the art of Cézanne, Klee, Mondrian or Braque, and at other times to the timeless arts of ancient cultures. My work may also reflect memories from my travels and from my childhood, my love for poetry and music. To me, that’s the beauty of creation—ideas come from everywhere.

Prayer
Prière (Prayer), tempera, collage and gold and copper leaf on canvas, 70 x 210 cm ( 28 x 83 in), 2008

To me, the moment of creation is linked to a certain enchantment, to a moment of evasion—the seeking out of another place or state of awareness.

JK: Your paintings most often have some type of geometric structure—for example, wide or narrow stripes of color or dense arrangements of small rectangles and triangles.

Kente Fabric
Tissu Kente (Kente Fabric), tempera and collage on canvas, 90 x 180 cm (35 x 71 in ), 2007

GI: I’ve found that color makes me think in a plastic manner. Most of the time, geometry possesses me. It’s simply something that I can’t control.

Cloth from the Coast
Pano da Costa (Cloth from the Coast), oil on canvas, 100 x 200 cm (39 x 79 in), 2009

As you can see, the geometry in my work is often irregular, even playful.

Cloth from the Coast
Pano da Costa (Cloth from the Coast), tempera on canvas,
97 x 130 cm (38 x 51 in), 2009

All around us there is geometry in nature. Our first experience of it might be the skyline.

Oratory
Oratório (Oratory), oil on canvas, 114 x 195 cm (45 x 77 in), 2009

JK: Your paintings often have a grid-like structure.

GI: Yes. Thinking back, when I was young I spent my vacations by the sea in northern Brazil. There you can see fish traps—currals de peixe—an ancient way of fishing found in countries around the world. Perhaps the grids in my work were originally inspired by seeing these structures.

fish trapsfish traps
Fish traps along the northern coast of BrazilFish traps

JK: In this painting from the late 80s, we can see a kinship to these fish traps

Untitled
Untitled, oil on canvas, 125 x 195 cm (49 x 77 in), 1987

At that time, I painted a lot of monochromatic surfaces divided in an archaic drawing style using charcoal or oil paint stick. These divisions in space were meant to be a poetic commentary on the fish traps.

Untitled
Untitled, oil on canvas, 130 x 195 cm (51 x 77 in), 1988

JK: And the theme of fish trap structures continues in recent work.

FIsh TrapsFIsh Traps
Curral de Peixes (Fish Traps)watercolor,
36 x 29 cm (14 x 11 in), 2003
Curral de Peixes (Fish Traps), watercolor,
36 x 29 cm (14 x 11 in), 2009

GI: Looking back, I realize that I’ve accumulated a number of series of works. In each series, I feel I research the possibilities and limits of painting.

JK: Let’s look at another series. You’ve said that you’ve always been touched by the landscape.

GI: There’s a strong connection between the things I paint and the visible world. When I work I’m often looking for a personal landscape. I’ve been working on a series based on rivers—Rios— since 1987. Back then my wife, Denise, and I would watch the Brazilian cultural channel late at night. One memorable program featured great rivers of the world.

Black River
Rio Negro (Black River), oil on canvas,
170 x 117 cm (67 x 46 in), 1994

And I recall as an adolescent going with my uncles to the mouth of the São Francisco River—a very large river like the Mississippi—and crossing it in a small boat. There at midday I saw laundresses laying their colorful fabrics along the riverbanks.

São Francisco River
Rio São Francisco (São Francisco River), oil on canvas,
80 x 80 cm ( 31 x 31 in), 1989

The Rios series recalls these beautiful fabrics washed at the riversides. The rough surfaces in these paintings suggest high water bands left by successive tides.

São Francisco River
Rio São Francisco (São Francisco River), oil on canvas, 97 x 195 cm ( 38 x 77 in), 2005

This ongoing series has proved to be fertile ground for experimentation with color, texture and materials.

Sâo Francisco RiverZaire River
Rio São Francisco (São Francisco River),
tempera and collage on canvas,
46 x 33 cm (18 x 13 in), 2004
Rio Zaire (Zaire River), tempera and collage
on canvas, 
46 x 33 cm (18 x 13 in), 2004

For example, in recent works from this series I’ve made collages using cotton fabrics, satin, ribbons, carnival paper and a wide variety of other papers. I work over each stripe in layers of tempera.

São Francisco River
Rio São Francisco (São Francisco River), tempera and collage on canvas,
114 x 195 cm ( 45 x 77 in), 2009

JK: As we can see, the physical qualities of your work—the paint handling, textures and experimentation with materials—are very important to you.

Gonçalo Ivo painting
Gonçalo Ivo in his studio
(Photo: Arquivo Pinakotheke)

GI: I really believe that the work of the hand has the same importance as the work of the mind. In fact, I think they are one. The brushwork and the traces left behind its passage are unique—like DNA.

Flag for a Clear Day
Bandeira para um Dia Claro (Flag for a Clear Day), oil on canvas,
120 x 250 cm (47 x 98 in ), 2005

JK: We can see the textural richness of your work in a close-up of the above painting.

Flag for a Clear Day detail
Bandeira para um Dia Claro (Flag for a Clear Day) detail

GI: Yes. Sometimes I like to use very rough surfaces. Faithful to Braque’s lesson, I construct a painting as a building—from the bottom up—in successive layers, working from transparency to opacity.

JK: And you frequently add a variety of materials to your paints.

GI: Back in the 80s, I didn’t have access to all the acrylic mediums that are available today. So I used a lot of colored sand that I collected on my trips to the far north of Brazil. I also used charcoal powder from the fireplace in my studio. Today I use acrylic mediums. In the large Oratório painting below, there is a marked texture in the large central area where I used marble powder, limestone and acrylic mediums in the early layers. These were followed by oils.

Oratory
Oratório (Oratory), oil on canvas, 250 x 550 cm (98 x 217 in), 2009

JK: In addition to working extensively in oils and tempera, you’ve worked in watercolor since your childhood. And as a young man, you taught watercolor classes at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio.

GI: Each medium has its own meaning in my painting. I think of my watercolors more as chamber music, while a large oil painting is more like a symphony.

OratoryOratory
Oratório (Oratory), watercolor,
31 x 22 cm (12 x 7 in), 2008
Oratório (Oratory), watercolor,
31 x 22
cm, (12 x 7 in), 2008

JK: As we can see in the Oratório paintings above and the Rios paintings below, you often work on a series or theme in several different mediums.

GI: The medium often affects how a series will develop. Right now, I feel that I’m free to work on all my series in any of the mediums and techniques that I use—watercolor, tempera, oil, collage, and so on.

Nordestino RiverZaire River
Rio Nordestino (Nordestino River), watercolor,
35 x 24 cm (14 x 9 in), 2009
Rio Zaire (Zaire River), watercolor,
35 x 24 cm (14 x 9 in), 2004

JK: In many of your watercolors, we see the complex geometric structures that you often use in larger works on canvas.

VolpiShadow of the Colony
Volpi, watercolor, 23.5 x 17 cm (9 x 7 in), 1989Sombra da Colônia (Shadow of the Colony),
watercolor, 23.5 x 17 cm (9 x 7 in), 1989

And at other times, you depart from a highly geometric structure.

GI: I firmly believe that there is a hidden geometry that underlies all the organic structures in the world.

The GardenLa Vie en Rose
Le Jardin (Rue de Liège) (The Garden [Liège Street]),
watercolor, 37 x 31.5 cm (15 x 12 in), 2002
30 Ans ou La Vie en Rose (30 Years or La Vie en Rose),
watercolor, 37 x 31.5 cm (15 x 12 in), 2001

JK: You’ve worked in watercolor in sketchbooks since the early 80s.

sketchbooks from 1999-2002
Three sketchbooks from 1999-2002

GI: Yes. I’m much freer when painting small watercolors in my sketchbooks. They’re important because I think they’re part of my daily reinvention as an artist. My sketchbooks are also like diaries of images, secret thoughts that I don’t need to share with anyone. And I can make these small watercolor sketches in airports, on trains or after a day’s work in the studio.

JK: You also make painted wooden objects.

Objects Installation
Installation, National Museum of Fine Arts,
Rio de Janeiro, 2008

GI: I’ve worked on a series of wooden objects since 1984. I make them from chance findings from along the shores of Brazilian beaches or along the banks of the Seine.

Object
Objeto (Object), tempera, gold leaf, nails
and oil on wood, 60 x 20 cm (24 x 8 in), 1989

Initially these pieces were like wall reliefs, but later I began to work on all their surfaces. I also began to burn these objects in the fireplace in my studio. Some become almost impossible to paint as, once burned, they border on immateriality. Most of the time I try to control the burning as if I were painting an object—it’s not a chance process.

Object
Objeto (Object), tempera on burned wood,
40 x 20 x 7 cm (15 x 8 x 3 in), 1989

I don’t think of these objects as sculptures. My concern is not with form in space. For me, these are chromatic registers in space and time.

ObjectObject reverse side
Objeto (Object ), tempera on burned wood,
20 x 30 x 9 cm ( 8 x 12 x 4 in), 2005
Objeto (Object ) reverse side

In the objects below, I tried to preserve the cracks and grain of the wood. I worked in very transparent color. The gold leaf reminds me of old master work from the Middles Ages.

ObjectObject reverse side
Objeto (Object ), tempera and gold leaf on wood,
35 x 40 x 7 cm (14 x 16 x 3 in), 2005
Objeto (Object ) reverse side

JK: And the use of nails in the object below?

GI: The nails bring to mind those used in African masks and statues. To me, making these objects feels like a kind of magical ritual.

ObjectObject reverse side
Objeto (Object), tempera on wood,
30 x 11 x 20 cm (12 x 4 x 8 in ), 2005
Objeto (Object) reverse side

JK: Some of these objects, like those below, seem to confront the viewer, perhaps as figures.

GI:Yes. These objects have a certain poetic ambiguity that I enjoy.

ObjectObjectObject
Objeto (Object), tempera on
burned wood, 160 x 19.5 x 19.5 cm
(63 x 8 x 8 in ), 2007
Objeto (Object), tempera on
burned wood, 150 x 20.5 x 20.5 cm
(59 x 8 x 8 in), 2007
Objeto (Object), tempera on
burned wood, 148 x 21 x 21 cm
( 58 x 8 x 8 in), 2007

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