Saturday, June 29, 2013

Juarez Paraiso

There is next to nothing available in English on this influential and important twentieth-century Brazilian artist. So I am posting this mini-biography that will provide the template for an entry in  Oxford University Press' forthcoming Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin Biography. This material was researched and co-written with Lara Chavantes as an undergraduate research experience at the University of South Florida.

Juarez Paraíso (3 September, 1934 - ), painter, sculptor, engraver, muralist, art critic and professor, was born Juarez Marialva Tito Martins Paraíso in Arapiranga, Bahia, Brazil.

Juarez Paraíso was the third child of an African-Brazilian father, Isaltino Concécio Paraíso, and a mother of European Portuguese descent Eulália Martins Alves Paraíso. At the age of five Paraíso moved with his family from the small country town of Arapiranga, Bahia to his mother’s hometown of Rio de Contas, also in Bahia. For four years his father worked as a teacher and principal at the local public school. In 1943, the Paraíso family relocated to the Bahian capital of Salvador enduring a period of financial hardship until Paraíso’s father found work as an accountant and school teacher, providing the family with some stability. Paraíso’s early interest in the arts manifested in his appreciation for comic strips and books, whose characters and scenes he reproduced with pencil and paper.
His enthusiasm, talent, and the encouragement of family and friends led Paraíso to enroll in a course at the Bahian Institute of Fine Arts. At 17, Paraíso was subsequently admitted to the Escola de Belas Artes (Fine Arts School) at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, where he refined his technique and specialized in painting. Paraíso made his artistic debut in 1952 at the II Salão Universitário Baiano de Belas Artes (II Bahian University Salon of Fine Arts), going on to exhibit and win several awards in regional and national expositions. After graduating in 1956, having been selected as the top student at the school, Paraíso was offered a position at the Escola de Belas Artes as a voluntary professor, a post which later matured into a full-time position. At this point, while teaching drawing and design, Paraíso began to deepen his study of sculpture.

Juarez Paraíso. “Formas”. Xilogravura, 72 x 48,5 cm.
A young adherent to Bahia’s modernist movement of the 1950s, Paraíso actively followed developments within Salvador’s artistic/academic circles. Paraíso developed an avant-garde style as a matter of course, a style art critics refer to as “cosmic” for its ethereal nature and loose abstract patterning. His style, techniques, and approach to artistic education often ran afoul of the classical standards still espoused by the conservative Escola de Belas Artes. His unconventional art also made him a controversial public figure. In 1960, his rebuffed demands for curriculum revision and the firing of his senior modernist colleague Maria Célia Calmon led Paraíso to break with the school. Three years later, he returned as a professor and helped launch a period of academic and structural renovation within the school. With Paraíso at the forefront, this “second generation” modernist movement in Bahia embraced the analytical power of abstract art to move beyond the regionalist themes that he believed hampered the earlier generation of modernists, allowing Paraíso to pursue what he envisioned to be an international or universal art in Bahia. Paraíso at this time held an influencial position as the lead art editor of the cultural magazine of the Bahian government, the Revista da Bahia. Meanwhile, most of his own productivity at this time explored the possibilities of “abstract informalism” and emphasized the power of the sinuous line and its relationship to form and human emotional experience. 

pen on paper, 1965
89,5 x 60 cm
Taking these preoccupations to the public through his art criticism and into the classroom grated against the conservative cultural policies of the Brazilian military government in power after 1964. In 1968, Paraíso was arrested and jailed for 30 days for refusing to remove ten “subversive” artworks from the II National Bienal of Visual Arts in Bahia. Paraíso was Secretary General of the exhibition. Paraíso had also publicly criticized the recently-passed Ato Institutional Número 5 (Institutional Act Number 5), a decree that curtailed Brazilians’ civil rights, suspended judicial due process, and imposed preliminary censorship over the arts and media.

During the 1970s, Paraíso’s artwork seemed to reflect this experience as it took on clearer political dimensions and social criticism. Incorporating a variety of Afro-Brazilian and Christian imagery, his art expressed the racial nuances, religious syncretism, and even gender relations within Bahian culture. During this decade, Paraíso applied himself increasingly to engraving and aquatint. In 1977, his insights into Bahian culture and his friendship with writer Jorge Amado earned Paraíso the role of Pedro Archanjo in the cinematographic adaptation of Amado’s novel Tenda dos Milagres. The character Pedro Archanjo was a literary symbol of both Afro-Brazilian tradition and social and racial injustice.

Film still of Tenda dos Milagres, with Paraiso on the left as Pedro Archanjo

Paraíso’s oeuvre was characterized by its dynamism and versatility. He continually experimented with a variety of mediums, modified or invented others, and innovated techniques in order to resolve artistic problems. He created in a vast array of art forms - drawings, paintings, sculptures, illustrations, engravings, installations, photographs, mosaics, murals and digital art. His works similarly featured elements of different traditions, ranging from cubist lines to baroque and organic shapes, although the sinuous line is perhaps the closest he comes to an artistic signature. 

Partial shot of mural outside Bahia's Museum of Geology
He is perhaps best known for his public art commissions that can be found in diverse public places across the state of Bahia, such as the sculpture-mosaic mural outside the State Geological Musuem, the 1979 sculptures situated in the public park, the Parque Pituaçu, as well as various murals in hospital reception areas, cinemas (several of which were later destroyed by new owners), apartment complexes, and government buildings such as the 180 square meter mural on the outside of the headquarters of the Bahian Secretariat of Agriculture, Irrigation and Agrarian Reform. His artistic legacy continues to play a role in defining Bahian regional identity as well as having made an important contribution to Brazilian art, Latin American art, and the art of the African Diaspora. Throughout his life, Paraíso served the Escola of Belas Artes as Head of Department, Course Coordinator, and School Director. Paraíso oversaw several major exhibitions, salons and biennials in Bahia, directly influencing Bahian cultural politics. Paraíso had four children, Leda, Amanda, Amon and Lirian. After serving at the Escola de Belas Artes for 42 years, Paraíso retired from academic life in 1995.

Midlej, Dilson Rodrigues. “Juarez Paraíso: Estruturação, Abstração e Expressão nos Anos 1960.” Tese de mestrado, Universidade Federal da Bahia, 2008.

Paraíso, Juarez and Claudius Portugal. Juarez Paraíso: desenhos e gravuras. Salvador: Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado, 2001.

Portugal, Claudius Hermann. Juarez Paraíso: um mestre na arte da Bahia. Salvador, Bahia: Assembléia Legislativa da Bahia, 2009.

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