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A Modern Hero

The image kept in memory is that of Roberto Burle Marx on the terrace of his house, standing in front of a canvas, completely given over to the act of painting. Looking around and seeing one of his most beautiful gardens, thought-provoking plants, pictorial associations. Hearing his baritone voice singing Schubert. This moment stolen from the artist's abyssal dive revealed a solar genius there, an entire man, a transgressor with the freedom to create. He said that “the plant is alive while it changes. It enjoys the property of being unstable”. Roberto was looking for crossings. We were facing a modern hero. The painter, landscaper, designer, set designer, jewelry collector and environmentalist left us his work with one of the complete expressions of the 20th century. From the programs outlined by Modernism, but with his own perspective, original and peripheral, he proved to be a man committed to the spirit and technique of his time, involved in projects and interventions aimed at organizing and transforming the environment, harmonizing man and nature.

His rigorous training in the disciplines of drawing and painting began at the Degner Klemm school, at the age of 19, when he lived in Berlin. There he had contact with the painting of Picasso, Matisse and Klee. And it was under the impact of a Van Gogh exhibition that he decided to become a painter: "It was so impressive that he made the choice for me". At the same time, in the greenhouses of the Botanical Garden of Dahlen, you are enchanted by the exuberant Brazilian flora. The synchrony of these discoveries permeated his life and turned into forms of expression of his art: “I do not want to make a painting that is a garden. If I make a garden, I don't want to do painting”. However, painting was for him a way of thinking and planning his work. The formalizations articulated in the painting unfolded for his work.

Roberto tells us that gardening, at the beginning of his professional life, was a sedimentation of circumstances, as he uses nature as a material for his plastic composition, according to the aesthetic feeling of his time. It was the way he found to organize and compose his drawing and painting using less conventional materials.

At the School of Fine Arts, then directed by Lucio Costa, which he joined on his return to Rio de Janeiro, his teacher is the expressionist painter Leo Putz. A few years later, he worked as an assistant to Portinari on the murals of the Ministry of Education. His beautiful realistic works, of flowerpots and human figures, are from this period.

From the 1950s, abstraction began to appear on his canvases, or as Clarival Valladares - a critic of his work, who accompanied him throughout his biomorphic archetypical life – prefers to call, “with a motivation in the intimate structure of elements targeted in natura. Ant mimetic drawing and painting, although originated from the living texture”. His intense desire to create the voluptuousness of artistic expression has since then given an intense rhythm to his work, pulsing living matter, in the forms of consciousness. He alternated the supports, now painting, then drawing, printing, making tapestries, with the drama of black and white and the color, structures of aligned lines, aspect of light, structure of spiral boards.

Lucio Costa, making an analogy to Roberto, the musician, the painter, speaks of his paintings as " organized space and volumes, in modulated cadences or are opposed and clashed with syncopated and heroic confrontations". Joaquim Cardozo pays homage to his drawings in a poem: “The interior of the material flows, operates. It presents multiple visions to the eyes. The lines appear and fall apart. There are sudden polygons that change color quickly. There are quadrilaterals of rough paint between bundles of long, radiating strokes, amidst pure white, neutral inks, deep blacks”. Roberto Burle Marx works incessantly until his death, leaving us an extensive work with enormous significance and the magical sensation of having had the privilege of watching and enjoying the creative work of a singular genius.

by Isabel Duprat


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