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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Emiliano Di Cavalcanti

Imprensa, 1954, Emliano Di Cavalcanti, mosaic mural, Sao Paulo, as seen from the street.
There is a tendency among those who write about art, and especially those who read about art, to think, subconsciously at least, that all art revolves around the Euro-American axis. On the periphery of this almighty rotation we may occasionally add work and artists from Australia, Canada, Mexico and China. Yet, in so doing, we leave out, not just the art of a huge number of other countries, but whole continents. I'm as guilty as anyone in this neglect. For example, with the exception of one Colombian artist (Fernando Botero), I don't think I've written about any other South American artist. Except for the ancient Egyptians, the same probably holds true for Africa. I've written about Indian art (as in Native American) but never about art from India. I've also been neglectful of Japanese art and woefully negligent in writing about Pacific Islander artists.
Imprensa, 1954 mosaic mural, Sao Paulo, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti.
A South American Picasso?
Emiliano Di Cavlcanti, Self-portrait, 1943
In recompense for this grievous sin, let me tell you about the Brazilian artist Emiliano Di Cavalcanti. A couple days ago I wrote about Soviet artist, Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka, who was a Communist. Emiliano Di Cavalcanti was one too. (At least, no one can say I've neglected the "commies.") In fact, Di Cavalcanti went to jail twice for his political beliefs and activities. After deposing their emperor in 1889, the Brazilian "Old Republic" oligarchy was rather touchy regarding political insurrectionists, and not without good cause. Di Cavalcanti was out of the country during much of the 1920s, studying in Paris, but around 1925 returned in time to help install the military dictator, Getúlio Vargas, who remained in power until 1945 when he was duly elected president for another nine years (he committed suicide in 1954). With a more friendly government in power, Di Caavalcanti set about working, painting, and exhibiting in an effort to bolstering his career. He also worked with other Brazilian artists and writers such as Anita Malfatti, Oswald de Andrade, Mário de Andrade, and Guilherme de Almeidato to legitimize Modernism in Brazil.
Women with Fruit, 1932, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti
Di Cavalcanti's earliest
published work, 1922.
Emiliano Di Cavalcanti was born in Rio di Janeiro in 1897. He originally studied to be a lawyer but like so many artists, couldn't stand the grind of such left-brained studies. Moving to Sao Paulo in 1917, Di Cavalcanti began to paint and illustrate, exhibiting his first work in a book store around around 1918 while also doing illustrations for Fon Fon magazine (right). He married his cousin and began working with a group of revolutionary young artists like himself, the kind who got him arrested. His painting exhibited elements of Symbolism, Expressionism, and Impressionism. Once freed from jail, Di Cavalcanti thought it best to get out of the country.
Portrait of My Wife,
Emiliano Di Cavalcanti,
(his second wife).

Gravitating toward the Euro-American art axis I mentioned earlier, Di Cavalcanti took his career and a new wife (the artist, Noêmia Mourão, left) to Paris. During this and his later French excursions, Di Cavalcanti met all the big names in Modern Art--Picasso, Matisse, Georges Braque, Fernand Leger, and others. He also studied and copied their style introducing elements of Cubism and Picasso's Classical Period figures into his work. Di Cavalcanti's second trip to Paris ended rather abruptly in 1940 when he found it prudent to hastily flee the Nazi occupation, leaving behind quite a number of his paintings in the basement of the Brazilian Embassy (where they were not seen again until 1966).
Women Relaxing before a Mirror, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti--his Brazilian style.
Back in in his homeland, while the rest of the world fought and killed each other, Di Cavalcanti found himself the preeminent artist of his country. He also found himself torn between the native content of his work (mostly mulatto women) and the Modern, European influences he'd picked up abroad (and had strived to introduce to Brazil). His mosaic mural, Imprensa (Press) (top) from 1954, is representative of his mature European style. His style during the war years fluctuated broadly all over the stylistic spectrum from Cubism to near realism. This divergence made his work highly salable at home and reasonably acceptable abroad in international exhibitions, but continued to daunt his striving to become the quintessential Brazilian artist for most of the rest of his life.  He died in 1976.
Mulatas and Doves, 1963, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti


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