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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tarsila do Amaral

Abaporu, 1928, Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu
Art is not monolithic. That is to say, we can't talk about art as if it were some kind of rotating planet without grossly distorting the fact that every major nation on this planet has its own art, or is, at least, in the ongoing process of developing its own "brand" of art indigenous to that particular nation and its people. Moreover each nation's art is not born fully developed but follows a predictable pattern of development much as a baby becomes first a toddler, then a young child, followed by preadolescence, puberty, adolescence, young adulthood, and finally, maturity. If you want to follow the analogy into doddering old age, you're invited to do so but realize that, as with every analogy, this one tends to break down if overextended. Our country, the United States of America (better known as American art) followed that same course in the years after our separation from Great Britain. We really didn't reach maturity until the advent of the 20th-century. Until then, like children growing up, we tended to imitate our parents (England, but also Europe in general).
 
El Pescador, Tarsila do Amaral
We, as Americans, are so self-centered with regard to art that we seldom notice all the other "art children" growing up around us--nations whose colonial childhood came a few decades after our own. Like children, they have been as much influenced by their peers and/or older siblings (us) as by their parents. The smaller the country, the more difficult this growth into a mature individualism becomes. South America is rife with just such cases. Shortly after these countries gained independence. the impressionable young artists went sailing off to Europe (usually France) to imitate their "parental" culture. Consider it a kind of "homesickness" if you like, but once exposed to this foreign influence, many come to realize that what the went in search of was not superior to what they'd left behind. Each went back home after a few years, wizened, but also disheartened that those they left behind had not matured artistically as they had. Only then did they come to realize that they were, themselves, the means by which their nation's art would reach maturity. A little over a year ago I wrote about the Brazilian painter, Anita Malfatti, Her life and times were similar to that of her friend, Tarsila do Amaral.
 
Elegant, pretty, and glamorous, as seen in her photos and
self-portraits, Amaral brought all those qualities to a
very tired, conservative Brazilian art world.
Though Anita Malfatti was slightly younger than Tarsila, she made the obligatory breakaway flight to Europe (Germany, actually) nearly ten years before earlier and suffered much more for it upon returning than Tarsila, who headed off to Paris in 1920. Tarsila do Amaral studied at the Academie Julian. She spent just two years there, returning to Sao Paulo in 1922, whereupon she met Anita Malfatti for the first time. Malfatti had been exposed to German Expressionism. Tarsila had absorbed Cubism and Futurism. Their art was nothing alike but their goals were identical--to roust Brazilian art out of its colonial conservatism into the world of Modern Art.
 
Portrait of Mario de Andrade,
Tarsila do Amaral, whom she
later married.
Both young women (Tarsila was born in 1886, Malfatti in 1889) had studied first in Sao Paulo, though probably at different schools in that Tarsila's family were wealthy coffee growers, while Malfatti was not quite so fortunate. Only when they met, along with Menotti Del Picchia, and the brothers Mário(right) and Oswald de Andrade to form the Grupo dos Cinco (Group of Five) did they come to the full realization that they were to be the ones destined to bring Brazilian art to maturity.
 
For her part, Tarsila (even then known by her first name only) briefly returned to Paris where she embraced the more esoteric elements of Cubism before returning home, where she blended Cubism with the native culture with which she'd grown up. While in Europe, Tarsila found that European artists in general had developed a great interest in African and primitive cultures as inspiration. This led her to utilize her own country's indigenous forms while incorporating the modern styles she had studied. While still in Paris at this time, she painted one of her most famous works, A Negra dating from 1923. The principal subject matter of the painting is a large, female, Brazilian native figure with a single prominent breast. Tarsila stylized the figure and flattened the space, filling in the background with geometric forms (below, left column, third painting down).

A broad assortment of Amaral's work, mostly from the 1920s.
In search of her own style, Amaral emphasized that Brazilian culture was a product of an importing European culture. She and others in the "Group of Five" called upon artists to create works that were uniquely Brazilian in order to "export" Brazilian culture, much like the native hardwoods of Brazil had become an important export to the rest of the world. In addition, she challenged artists to use a modernist approach in their art, a goal they had strived for during the Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art) several years before. During this time, Tarsila's colors became more vibrant as she rediscovered the colors she had loved as a child. She had been taught before that they were ugly and unsophisticated. Furthermore, around this time, Tarsila developed an interest in painting the industrialization she was seeing in and around Sao Paulo and its impact on society.

During the 30s and beyond Amaral's paintings began
to take on social themes.
In 1926, Tarsila married Mario de Andrade as the two continued to travel throughout Europe and Middle East. She had her first solo exhibition at Paris' Galerie Percier in 1926. The paintings displayed included São Paulo (1924), A Negra (1923), Lagoa Santa (1925), and Morro de Favela (1924). Her works were praised as being "exotic", "original", "naïve", and "cerebral", as critics commented on her use of bright colors and exotic tropical images. Paris loved her. Sao Paulo...not so much. In 1929, Tarsila had her first solo exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, followed by another in São Paulo. In 1930, she was later featured in exhibitions in New York and Paris. Her marriage to Andrade ended in 1930, also bringing an end to their collaboration.

in 1932, Tarsila became involved in the São Paulo Constitutional Revolt against the Brazilian dictator, Getúlio Vargas. She was seen as leftist, and was briefly imprisoned in that an earlier trip to Russia made her appear to be a communist sympathizer.
The remainder of her career Tarsila focused on social themes such as Segundo Class (below), from 1931, and Operarios (above) from 1933. Segundo Class depicting impoverished Russian men, women and children as its subject matter. In 1938, Tarsila settled permanently in São Paulo where she spent the remainder of her career painting Brazilian people and landscapes. In 1950, she had an exhibition at the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art, where a reviewer praised her as "...the most Brazilian of painters...who represents the sun, birds, and youthful spirits of our developing country, as simple as the elements of our land and nature..." Tarsila do Amaral died in 1973 at the age of eighty-seven. Her life was a symbol of the warm Brazilian character combined with an expression of its tropical exuberance.

Segunda Classe, 1933, Tarsila do Amaral





































 

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