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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 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

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

Pinacoteca Sao Paulo

16 Jul

The view from outside the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

Standing outside the Sao Paulo state art gallery, it’s as though the city is trying to make a point of its own about art: this enormous mural on the side of a nearby building seems to say “Art is everywhere, not just in there!” as the groups of guided children are escorted in.

The building itself, once a vocational school for the applied arts, has been ‘made over’ sensitively, and houses a fine collection of painting and sculpture, as well as putting on a programme of events, and an education programme. The cafe is decent too.

The restored Pinacoteca building

On the day we visited, an American flautist was setting up the sound equipment for a piece in which she used a delay to repeat her phrases so that she could accompany herself, on a quartet of flutes of different sizes. It made for a mesmerising sound, echoing across the glass-roofed interior and around the raw brick galleries.

Flautist and delay, Pinacoteca Sao Paulo

The gallery is set in the park of the Jardim da Luz, better known as the haunt of drug users and prostitutes than for its 19th century function as a botanical garden. Nonetheless it is a pleasant public space, complete with gravelled walks, statuary, pools and fountains, and an elegant art nouveau bandstand. On the day we were there, the group of men at its base were absorbed in their dice game. You had the impression that all the aspects of its heritage were still in full swing, except perhaps the music.

Playing in the Jardim da Luz

People sat on benches in the dappled sunlight, enjoying the relative quiet and fresh air, walking with their young families, or taking a break from work. The mature planting cast cooling shade over it all.

Mature bamboo in the Jardim da Luz

Across the road, the iconic English-designed Scottish-built Estação da Luz rail and metro station geared up for the home time rush. Ironically, the Museu da Língua Portuguesa language museum now housed on its first floor was not signed at all. Another time perhaps …

Human Canvas photo post

15 Jul

MASP Modelo Papel

Deb Berman is a New York artist. On a recent visit to Sao Paulo, she mounted her Human Canvas piece, a painter’s version of Gilbert and George’s ‘living statues’ previously seen in Brooklyn and in Philadelphia, outside the Museu de Arte Sao Paulo (‘MASP-y’). It’s an open invitation for passers-by to paint on the human canvas of her white clothes and skin. She was concerned that they might not participate. Just try to stop them! When you compare them with US passers-by (, you may agree with me that Brasilians are indeed visually inventive.

More on this, and other Brasilian posts, at

Final preparations: the blindfold goes on

First Brasilian passer-by

The first brush strokes

A crowd gathers

An ‘illustrated man’ adds his touch

Delighting young and old

Alongside the red uprights of MASP

360° art

Art and attendants …

… with well-known graphic

Work in progress …

… from all angles

White on white

Blonde side

“Here I am alongside that woman being painted. Take my photo!”

Left hand blue

Eye on the city

A poppy blooms

Right arm …

… and left

Left thigh …

… and calf …

… and right …

… and right

Both feet

Flora and fauna

Sketch of MASP

Human canvas observer

Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo

“Look, a painted lady!”

Delighting old and young

Paint and canvas

Eyes on the canvas

Painting and photography

Lizard basking in the sun

Last of the red


Evening breeze

The blindfold comes off


And here!

Human canvas



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