For the Galeria Estação Art Gallery, nothing could be more representative than commemoration of the gallery’s 10th anniversary with an exhibition and a book by Cícero Alves dos Santos, also known as Véio (Nossa Senhora da Glória, Sergipe, 1948). After all, ever since it first opened the art gallery has worked towards the dilution of the frontier which separated popular artists from the Brazilian contemporary art scene. Véio is an important result of this effort.
Nowadays, art critics such as Rodrigo Naves, who signs the texts of the exhibition and the book – issued by the Martins Fontes publishing house -, Lorenzo Mammì, Paulo Sérgio Duarte, and many others, have shown more and more interest in this production, as has the international circuit. Véio has just returned from Paris, where he participated in the exhibition to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cartier Foundation, together with other Brazilians such as Adriana Varejão and Beatriz Milhazes. The Sergipe-born artist was not the only artist on the Galeria Estação portfolio to have been selected, as this exhibition also had the presence of Zé Bezerra and Nino; this trio had already participated in another exhibition at the French venue back in 2012.
With a total of 45 works represented, the exhibition Cícero Alves do Santos: Véio brings recent works, that were carried out between 2013 and 2014, both large and small. In the larger exhibits, tree trunks, branches and roots have an important presence and Véio intervenes only occasionally, sculpting or painting, to make more explicit the figures and the shapes that he envisages in those natural elements which he calls ‘open woods.’
As Naves points out, with the plant aspect of the material strongly highlighted, the use of intense colour surprises, on showing an artificial and pop feature, while also reinforcing the natural phenomena in the trunk, the root or the branch. “As the colours do not have that much importance in the formal definition of the works, these help, first and foremost, to stress the irregularity of the volumes that they cover, without hiding their organic and plant origin.”
As Naves also stresses, in the case of small works, through carvings made with pen-knives on small or very small pieces of wood, which are known as ‘closed woods’, the artist makes the figure take up the whole wood unit, through the shapes into which the pieces of wood are transformed, in a way that hardly allows any view of the original wood. “In the works of Cícero – a rural person, or sertanejo, who managed to buy a small forest reserve exclusively because of his preservationist concerns -, the harmful consequences of humanity’s domination of nature are made visible in the very scale of the objects: the higher the degree of human intervention, the less shall be the strength and the power of the beings resulting from it; this, even though this aspect could bring out their aesthetic grandeur”, the critic adds.
Like many people from the same region, this sculptor was given his name in honour of local religious personality Padre Cícero, while his nickname came about because he liked to eavesdrop on the conversations of older people. A self-learner, Véio admired popular culture ever since he was a child, when he started to craft his first works using beeswax. The intense relationship with his environment made the artist create, beside his studio in the backlands of the Brazilian state of Sergipe, a “Backlands Museum”. Many of the objects that have been brought together in this museum bear witness to the battle between the rural people and nature. These include leather hats, domestic appliances, rudimentary machines, clothes and accessories that are part of the lives of the sertanejos.