"I am possessed by color. I need not go after it. It possesses me forever, I know. And this is the significance of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter".
Paul Klee, 1914, Diary from North Africa

I have painted since I was six or seven years old. At this time my biggest distraction was to paint and copy the still life's of Odilon Redon that I saw in a book, and the paintings of Iberê Camargo. One day my father acquired a Volpi. I took a wooden board and made a Volpian piece of work. It was sort of like this: an almost vertical line from top to bottom, slightly inclined with several converging lines making the shape of a fish's bones; all in red and cerulean blue.

At the age of 16, I entered the MAM [Museum of Modern Art] in Rio to study painting with Sérgio Campos Mello and drawing with Aluísio Carvão. Sérgio, a great and Dionysian person, was experimenting at that time (1974/76) with conceptual art. He brought his students many modern and contemporary pieces to be viewed and discussed - Hopper, Sheeler, Stael, Pollock, Rothko, the pop artists, the French, etc...

I covered my Volpian painting in white and in its place produced an urban landscape, a building against clear blue sky and all that man had planted - ducts, antennas, the shadows of the rooftops, etc… There was a touch of Italian painting, Carlo Carrá, Morandi, metaphysical painting and other manifestations of the time.

Carvão told me that I "knew how to draw". I was his youngest pupil; he called me "lad" and always showed my work as an example. His classes were silent. He liked us to draw a wooden baroque decoration, a banana - this was Carvão; white smock, blue eyes, like an angel.
I am an intuitive artist. I work exclusively with tempera, oils and watercolors. I had a brief tryst with engraving. I printed a few dozen tiny images in metal. All were unique pieces, directly tinted on the metal plates.

But my passion has always been color, matter. I never wished to disperse to other routes. Oil painting was the first technique I experimented with. The first tubes were given to me by the poet/painter José Paulo Moreira da Fonseca, a friend of my parents, a collector of Visconti and Batista da Costa. He even had a Delacroix, a tiny, nocturnal landscape. The reflection of the moon, a lake, a white cloud or anything that my boyish imagination may have invented.

Sometimes my father would drop me off at Palmeiras Street in Botafogo, at the studio of his friend Iberê Camargo. I would show him my paintings - watch the master at work. That was where I saw my first tubes of Blockx paint.

At the age of 18 I met at the house of João Cabral de Melo Neto the painter José Maria Dias da Cruz, son of the writer Marques Rebelo. João Cabral had several of my pieces. We were soon talking of Cézanne and Klee. Some days later I went to his studio in Laranjeiras. I took some paintings and drawings. We became friends for life. His analysis was always the deepest and most honest. In 1985 I met the poet Theon Spanudis and the collector Ladi Biezus. It was at the Arco Gallery, on the occasion of my first exhibition in São Paulo. Ladi was my first great collector. I was beginning to live exclusively for painting.

Intuition guides me. I do not rationalize while I paint. I simply breath, move ahead. I do not seek anything, sometimes I try to reach an unattainable coloring.

Color makes me think in a plastic manner. I am more linked to chromatic action than to formal structure. The knowing how to do is probably the result of repetition. To paint it is necessary to leap over the wall of dreams - move on to other views.

Sometimes in my work, references appear to Cézanne, Klee, Mondrian, Braque. At other times to timeless fabrics, the ancient cultures, a sort of evasion, a strange mixture of sources. Before the beginning there is always something. There is the mystery and the movement of the hand, the construction of the brushstroke and the unexplainable. Images emerge - fish farms with their imprecise architecture bathed by the blue of the sky and the green of the sea.

I also see the simple, clean buildings adorned by a plain geometry, chapels at the side of road; or the memory of a trip to Penedo in Alagoas. The immense São Francisco River, the washerwomen and their lines of colored clothing bleaching under the sun. I see many things. I seek approximation with what is real, with the African cloth or the fragment from Minas or the Northeast. I remember colored ribbons at the market in Recife and the snow cone vending cart on the beach in Piedade.

I am a painter by vocation. My painting is an act of devotion. I am currently working on a new series. It is as if it was a prayer. I have baptized it Prière [Prayer]. These are horizontal pieces in tempera, gold leaf and collage (popular Chinese prayer papers). When finished they remind of musical scores, interminable litanies or fugues and variations. They are my visual psalms. In each Prière there is the search for color, or rather, for a chromatic rhythm. They also bring a sensation of the mobility of form, plane and space within a shallow depth.

I am also working on a series of objects. I began them in 1984. At first they remained on the plane of the wall. But then I began to work on all surfaces. I also began to calcinate these wooden objects. Some become almost impossible to paint as, once burnt, they border immateriality. They are almost pure pigment (tobacco black). On others I accept the marks left by time. These are objects I gather by chance on the shores of Brazilian beaches or on the banks of the River Seine.

I do not think of these objects as sculptures. It is not mine the preoccupation of form in space. For me these are chromatic registers in space and time.

Looking at the time that has passed I realize that in these last years I have accumulated some series of work. In each series I research the possibilities and limits of painting.

I work on several paintings, objects and watercolors at the same time. I do not seek conclusion of a piece. As I have said, I do not believe in the rationalization of the pictorial thought. What enchants me is the act, the experience itself, the being there doing something which translates my singular manner of seeing, perceiving and expressing the world.

In my last temperas I see the lessons of the years, from my experience with watercolors - I think of knowledge as a result of accumulation.

I work from transparency to absolute opacity; a pendulous system of expressing color.

In oil painting, the color appears softer, due to the refraction of light on the layer of linseed oil. In these paintings matter was always an important factor. Always present, the brushstrokes function as voice. They build the words; give the prayer its cadence. These are mostly large format paintings in which pictorial matter has a strong density. Faithful to Braque's lesson, I construct my painting as a building, from the bottom up, in successive layers.

I am a "pictorial animal". The studio is my space. In it I feel free as time does not exist. My painting is not the illustration of my feelings.

I work with what is real all the time. Even the subjectivity and the ambiguity are real. For years I have been working on a series of paintings I call Rios [Rivers]. Just like the geographic feature, my river is perceived in its linearity, running from one edge to another. Its matter is almost always rough as the high waters left by successive tides. Its extension is composed by horizontal stripes of color, sometimes lines which appear, disappear and return once again to the surface.

In recent work of this series I have made collages with cotton fabrics, satin, carnival paper ribbons, a wide variety of paper. Then I work with tempera in successive layers on each stripe. Other times I leave it as it is. It is the "river" which transforms on the stretched fabric under the strong midday sun.

There are other series such as Bandeiras [Flags], that I made at first in 1983/84. I took it up again two years ago. They seemed to converse with the Asafo or Kente fabrics and banners. Some in indigo blue made me think of the bubus of Senegal or the fabrics of the north of Africa. This continent has always been present in my imaginary. Whether in music, or in the manner in which I view some of Volpi's paintings (when he leaves pre-renascence and expresses a hidden ancestral quality).

There is the series Fête Africaine [African Party]. These are paintings where the gesture of drawing appears in evidence. These paintings sprung from a small piece from the youth of Georges Rouault that I saw in Paris in the beginning of the 1980's.

There is also an extensive series which I finished some time ago in which an image of a tree emerges in my work, an evident allusion to the place where I set up my studio - there are others such as boats, still life's (which I have shown little), fabrics from the coast - African fabrics which crossed the ocean and can still be seen today in the procession on August 15th in the city of Cachoeira in Bahia. They all end up communicating for, as I like to affirm, the brushstroke is my calligraphy. And one of the possible keys for entering my painting. It produces the work, oscillating between being the element which induces color and being an agglomeration of pigment, pure matter.

Gonçalo Ivo
August/2006