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Tomie Ohtake at Estação Consolação

3 Apr

Architect Ruy Ohtake’s work is well known – his Torrre Faria Lima and Torrre Pedroso de Moraes, housing the Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake, is a familiar Sao Paulo landmark. The locals know the lower tower in the foreground by another more affectionate name.


Foreground, inverted ziggurat and sculptural support in the shape of star fruit – known as Palácio da Carambola

More on Ruy Ohtake at  and  .

His mother Tomie Ohtake is an established Brazilian painter, represented in the collections of the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) and the Ibiripuera Auditorium, among others. Like her son, she uses bright areas and blocks of colour.

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

Entrance to theatre, Instituto Ohtake, architect Ruy Ohtake

Tomie Ohtake’s work is also on more public display. On a recent trip to Santos I used the Green Line, the Linha Verde or Line 2 of the Sao Paulo Metro. I was struck once more by the unabashed way in which Brazilian architects use exposed raw concrete in their work, alongside colourful tiling deployed with equal abandon. I have seen it in other settings.

Concrete and tile, Clube Paineiras do Morumby

Concrete and tile, Clube Paineiras do Morumby

The Metro stations use the same vernacular. See  .

Tomie Ohtake takes the language a step further. She has hung long shallow strips of primary-coloured tiling along the platform at Estação Consolação. The grey concrete is an effective foil for the colour, but more than that, the swooping shapes of the darker hues inserted from the top edge appear to dip as the slowing trains pull in, the uptick at the end of the shape reflecting the speed with which the train comes to a stop. She uses the kinetic aspect of her setting with refreshing playfulness.

Art advert ...

Overview for stationary passengers

The way the piece interacts with its setting even for stationary passengers is also an unexpected pleasure. You may not see the  colours swoop while standing on the platform, but the reflection in the steel pedestrian strip shows the work in a different light. The subtle and playful use of colour, shape and light enlivens the drabbest grey. You begin to understand why Tomie Ohtake has achieved her respected status, and how art can animate the urban built environment.

P.S Here’s the yellow panel in more detail, a beautifully realised colour balance.

Detail, tiled panel

Detail, tiled panel


 ... and the art itself

Platform Estação Consolação

James Concagh Irish Brazilian

28 Mar

James Concagh left Ireland and the UK many years ago to find fortune and favour in Brazil. An artist and teacher, he is thoroughly acclimatised to the Brazilian way of life – but note the title of his exhibition: Within a Narrow Landscape (Dentro de um Estreita Paisagem). Paulistanos will recognise the description – Sao Paulo has undergone rapid ‘verticalisation’  in recent years. It feels like you’re living at the bottom of a cold concrete canyon here, especially on overcast days. The urban environment can take on a dystopian tinge.

Pillars / panels / set piece

Pillars / panels / set piece

Concagh makes a study of urban textures and effects – rough plaster and wood, graffiti-scored walls, the coarse weave of the raffia bags used for commodities like sugar – incorporating them into pieces at first glance bleached or drained of colour, abstracted like the city itself. In his introductory text curator Gavin Adams uses words like ‘Kafka-ian’ and ‘Sisyphean’. The critic from radio station Alpha FM calls the show ‘existentialist’. It dates from 1994 onwards.

First impressions of the show revolve around its theatricality. The plaster and wood pillars are beautifully placed and lit, the paintings exude a calm, meditative air. The L-shaped gallery, formed of raw concrete with a pool of giant carp and water plants behind a glass-panelled wall, match Concagh’s work closely. Adams and MuBE Director Renata Junqueira have created a sympathetic showcase.

The artist at the vernisssage

The artist at the vernisssage

The halo effect of a MuBE show is considerable. The Museu Brasileiro da Escultura is a prestigious gallery, as much at home on Avenida Europa as the Lamborghini dealership a few doors down. Its low, raw concrete bunker challenges and sets off the art on display outside – currently a commission of brightly-coloured temporary mural art catches the eye, in the same way that a burnt-orange Lamborghini stands out in a city where almost all cars are black, silver or white. I have mentioned before that passers-by regularly photograph these 3D objects.

Even fully saturated colour doesn't do it justice

Even fully saturated colour doesn’t do it justice

At the private view friends, family and fellow-artists and -expats congratulated James on the show.

Though more subtle than the lacquer of a supercar, it’s not as miserabilist as the critics suggest – the panels are playful, with artfully-coloured toes at their plinths, the monochrome paintings are not really that, especially under gallery lights, and the multiple layers of some of the works are dazzling. Even abstraction dances in and out of view – James described one ‘white’ painting as the view from an aeroplane window, and suddenly the city was spread before me, its arterial roads and rivers laced into the ground, then obscured again by cloud. Flying in to Sao Paulo elicits a sense of awe which Concagh begins to capture.

Curator, Director, Artist. Foto: Denise Andrade

Curator ………….. Director …………. Artist      Foto: Denise Andrade

He’s put together a gripping portrait of the landscape he alludes to in the title, finding beauty and drama where one might see only drab grey constructed verticals. After his ‘white’ and his ‘raffia’ phases, I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll turn his hand to next.

P.S. James can be contacted at

His work is also available at Juliana Benfatti in Jardim Paulista.

More of his work in this exhibition at

P.P.S. James hasn’t let the grass grow under his feet since this post was first published. A commission from CPTM, an urban transport organisation in Sao Paulo, is resulting in a new mural at the Metro station Dom Bosco in Itaquera, in the eastern zone of Sao Paulo. He is working with CPTM employees to execute the work.

Preparations at the mural site

Preparations at the mural site

It is to be unveiled by the Irish Consul-General in Sao Paulo. More at

And from the Irish Times at

Decor Deb Berman

17 Feb

Deb Berman is a New York artist working in traditional media such as paint and paper, and also in performance – sometimes both. See her Human Canvas project here  and here

from Human Canvas project, Sao Paulo

Her father, John Berman, is a musician based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Here’s a few snaps of Deb painting a quick-sketch mural for the practice room of the Banda Choro Blue, the Brazilian band for young people which her father runs through NGO Choro Blue  For more about the band, see

Brushwork begins

Brushwork begins

The sun comes out

Here comes the sun

Clouds come rolling in

Clouds come rolling in

Music chase those blues away

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Make you smile again

Look, a cloudscape

Look, a cloudscape with music

The artist at work

The artist at work

P.S. Here’s the evidence that music is in Deb Berman’s heritage as well as her art. At Pizzaria Corleone, Rua dos Pinheiros 317 in Sao Paulo, one Friday night in February …

She sat down to sketch ...

… she sat down to sketch …

 ... and she stood up to play!

… and she stood up to play!

Gildo Zampol Escultor

11 Feb

The public cemeteries of Sao Paulo are grand affairs, with imposing gates, lush planting and acres of memorials. The work of monumental masons is impressive, while some of the sculpture is strikingly effective.

Masonic temple in miniature

Masonic temple in miniature

I’ve written before about the Cemitério São Paulo on Rua Cardeal Arcoverde  with its wealth of works by nationally and internationally known sculptors

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Túmulo da família Forte or Túmulo do pão by Italian Brazilian Galileo Emendabili

On previous visits I have been drawn to one piece in particular, not as striking as works in more recent styles, but sculpted with breath-taking virtuosity.

I look more closely.

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Every structure and surface handled with assurance

White marble, classically the sculptor’s material of choice, appears often here.

Granite an effective foil

Polished granite an effective foil

(Sao Paulo can be tough on that choice, but …

100-year old maiden

100-year old maiden

… outside fairy tales, alternatives are limited.)

Angel in a box

Angel in a box

Metal fares better, one reason why it predominates. In the first half of the last century, that difficulty was less obvious, so if you could afford it, marble was a good choice in the effort to perpetuate the memory of your family. Its expressive possibilities were – and are – enormous.

Pietà religioso

Especially apt for the innocence of childhood – and a more manageable size –

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” … and  flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

– white marble also suits the purity of angels and young maidens.

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Her scroll bids the deceased sleep in peace, “Dorme em paz

The floral arrangement looks odd, suspended or implanted like that … Back to the angel which had caught my eye originally. It was signed.

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with address – Rua Cônego Eugênio Leite – and telephone number

The lettering – so much of its time – and the address – literally the approach to the Cemitério – piqued my interest. I looked around.

 Rua Cônego Eugênio Leite 1138, ex-monumental mason's yard

Rua Cônego Eugênio Leite 1138, ex-monumental mason’s yard

There were more white angels, especially along the approach from the gates to the chapel of rest. Whether this heavenly host had been summoned to outshine one another or whether it was that they were there simply because the plots were allocated at around the same time I could not be sure. But I began to discern a style I could recognise.

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Her gaze beyond this world

Beautifully articulated feathers, flowers and foliage.

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She processes demurely

The treatment of the feet – one forward, sometimes showing only the toes.

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A more pensive gaze

The gown decorated with open-work trim. Fabrics precisely modelled.

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” … as the flowers of the field … “

The drapery convincingly, sometimes daringly modelled.

She feels the breath of heaven

She feels the breath of heaven

And a signature device: a hand or a foot floating free, without visible support, suggesting the aetherial nature of angels.

2013-01-27 11.45.52 Stitch

[Composite photograph – zoom in]

Perhaps I was seeing imitation, or a ‘school’ of sculpture, but some of these details showed what I thought was the one ‘hand’, both in conception and in execution. A playful, assured hand.

Confidently modelled

Confidently modelled

The back of the work suggests rock and feathers, but details hair in full, worked seamlessly into one view which reads convincingly. Drill holes are left in the rock’s crevices, matching the open-work motif of the decorated gown.

There are more cues which suggest the work of one hand – supporting rock and base modelled with assurance, easy integration of  a section for inscription, a preference for shoulder-length curling hair …

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2013-01-27 10.28.48 - Copy

2013-01-27 11.45.52 - Copy

2013-01-27 11.54.41 - Copy

2013-01-27 11.52.50 - Copy

We may be seeing the sculptor’s tendency to favour a particular style – like Modigliani, for example, or the Pre-Raphaelites – or perhaps a favoured pair of models. Or both.

Gildo Zampol worked in bronze, marble and other materials, on monumental and domestic scales. His son Antonio Carlos Zampol continues the work of sculpture, and of conservation and restoration of his father’s work, based in Taboão on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.  See   and

What impresses me is that Zampol was able to use his evident mastery of technique in the service of artistic expression. This funerary angel is a portrait, an archetype, and a spiritual ideal, which stands comparison with the best of representational sculpture. Long may it stand!

Pensive angel

Pensive angel

Miguel Morois, Brasilian sculptor

23 Oct

In Salvador da Bahia, the strength of the Brasilian  visual culture is even more evident than usual. The historic Pelourinho centre is crammed full of baroque buildings – town houses, churches and institutions  – with a wealth of colour and ornament to dazzle and delight the eye.

Town houses, Praça da Sé

Ordem Terceira São Domingos Gusmão Church, Largo Terreiro de Jesus, Pelourinho

Museu de Arte Sacra, Rua do Sodré

The interiors of the churches are heavily ornamented – in some cases to excess – the traditional crafts and the popular arte naif mode are well represented, and fine examples of high art, including wood carving, abound. You can understand why an artist might want to live in such a visually rich environment.

Interior of São Francisco Church, Praça Anchieta

Fabric craft shop, Rua das Laranjeiras

Art shop, Rua das Laranjeiras

Carved jacaranda railing, São Francisco Church, Praça Anchieta

Forty years ago, Uruguyan sculptor Miguel Morois moved to Salvador da Bahia, and stayed. His work is displayed and sold at the Hotel Casa do Amarelindo in Pelourinho in Salvador. It’s a carefully restored nineteenth century town house which demonstrates the visual acuity of its owners.

Entrance to the hotel

Miguel carves and paints figures in wood of the gods or orixas of the candomble religious tradition. This work is medium scale – the figures stand 30 to 40 centimtres high – and they make good use of the bright colours traditionally associated with the various gods. More on them here

This is the Archangel Michael, who weighs souls and defeats Satan

They stand comparison with the best of church statuary.

Saint with skull, Catedral Basílica de Salvador

Xango, god of thunder and of justice, and Iemanja, goddess of the sea and of families …

… in their setting at Hotel Casa do Amarelindo

Saint George / Sao Jorge?

Ibeji, twin child gods – in Yoruba culture, a carving can stand in for a dead twin

At Hotel Casa do Amarelindo, it’s not just the menu which offers a feast. More at

View from restaurant to orixas in foyer

Sao Paulo Angel

29 Jul

This image is on a traffic control box at the corner of Rua Joaquim Antunes and Avenida Reboucas in the Pinheiros bairro in Sao Paulo. The combination of monochrome photo-stencilled image, language (“No-one is safe”), the patina of street life – scratching, spray paint, ‘tags’, weathering – and the strength of the three-colour composition itself make a compelling street art work. Traffic control boxes are regularly used for photo-stencilled and for painted works – see for more examples of street art – which make good use of the size and location of this street furniture. Although graffiti and street art can attract censure and indeed removal here in Sao Paulo – just as the work of Banksy can attract such attention in the UK – one senses that Brasil has a sneaking respect for this strongly developed art form. And am I the only one to detect a sardonic comment on the vogue for ‘angel’ images currently playing in alternative Western culture?

Trophy Towers

19 Jul

Torrre Faria Lima, on the Sao Paulo street of same name, and the low-rise Torrre Pedroso de Moraes (on that street), are the work of Brasilian architect Ruy Ohtake.

The two towers

The taller tower includes a heli-pad, as do quite a few office blocks in Sao Paulo. The low-rise went up first, and is known locally as the ‘Palácio da Carambola’ for its star-fruit-shaped supports.

Torre Pedroso de Moraes in the foreground

The low-rise tower houses “the Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake , a tribute to one of the most important contemporary visual artists and the mother of Ruy.” Commercial space is currently leased to a Brasilian international law firm.

Offices of Demarest & Almeida Avogados

The sleek tower sits somewhat incongrously in its surroundings, in the vanguard of the blocks marching down Avenida Faria Lima. More on Sao Paulo skyscrapers at

The towers in context

The towers are undeniably striking in their use of colour, all too rare in the usual modern tower block.

Vivid Brasilian colour

The link with his mother’s work in colour can easily be made.

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

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