Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti’s work investigates the role of the natural readymade in sculpture. She speaks here about her first solo museum exhibition, “Mineral,” which is on view at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, New York, through November 16, 2014, and includes an installation of a field of handmade gemstones. Verzutti’s work can also be seen in a solo exhibition at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, on view through July 19, 2014, as well as the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative’s “Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today” group exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which is on view through October 1, 2014.
“MINERAL” is a group of sculptures that were made individually but are kept together as one family. Each piece in the group represents a geode or a gemstone. The role of geodes in nature seems to be purely aesthetic, as their shape and color are their most regarded features. So representing them was like making sculptures out of sculptures. I do this often—sometimes I quote known works like the Venus of Willendorf, and other times, like with the geodes, I find myself using nature itself as a found object.
I started creating these geode sculptures by making molds from the natural stones, similar to what I have done with fruits and vegetables in other works. For instance, Painted Lady, which is included in the “Under the Same Sun” exhibition, is made of casted star fruits, coconuts, and bananas stacked in the form of a totem pole. But this time I quickly moved on to making shapes directly in the clay, not depending on the real stones to cast from but inventing my own rules to create a different nature. I always try to find fertility in my practice, to have the feeling that the work will naturally grow from a small molecule of decision. For example, in “Mineral,” a simple repeated gesture of hitting fresh clay with my fingertips created a particular texture for the outside of the gemstones.
I often use paint or pigmented wax in the last stage of making the sculptures. That is a very enjoyable yet complex part of the articulation of the work. In “Mineral,” I seized an opportunity to exercise paint arbitrarily, motivated by the variety found in natural geodes’ colors and styles. In this group of painted sculptures I painted some stones with color fields mimicking Rothkos, with the same enthusiasm that I painted an all-gray surface quoting modernist functional housing in Brasília. Call Girl, a handmade bronze plate with rectangular depressions filled with red and blue Plasticine and exhibited at the Tang Museum, reminds me of the colors of Hélio Oiticica’s Metasquema and also of a makeup case I saw in an in-flight magazine.
I perceive sculpture today as something that can exist in domestic and public spaces but also in phone screens or embedded in human gestures. I believe sculpture does not need much order or space to pulsate. I made one of my first bronzes, Galapagos, an iridescent blue, birdlike arrangement of tropical fruits, in 2007. A friend bought it and placed it by the window in his kitchen on his farm. He then paired it with a dwarf statue that matched much of my sculpture’s size, temperature, and color. I considered that a happy ending for an art object, finding its profane companion for life.