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Antonio Dias (1944–2018)

The Brazilian artist Antonio Dias, whose paintings and sculptures viscerally challenged the authoritarian regime that ruled his country for over two decades, has died at age seventy-four. While Dias’s early canvases mingled Nova Figuração (New Figuration) with graffiti and comic book influences to address urban violence, censorship, war, and Brazil’s former military dictatorship, his later works moved toward a style of abstraction that was less overtly political. Critics often drew comparisons between Dias’s aesthetic—which at times borrowed colors from commercial imagery—and the American Pop art movement, but Dias resisted the association. “I always protest when I’m accused of being Pop—it’s not my party,” he once told the New York Times. “When I first saw American Pop, I said ‘O.K., it’s nice, but it says nothing inside it. Its images are like any other images.’” 

Antonio Manuel Lima Dias was born in 1944 in Campina Grande, Paraíba, Brazil. Following a move to Rio de Janeiro with his family in 1957, Dias began working as a draftsman and graphic designer, eventually visiting the studio of modernist artist and engraver Oswaldo Goeldi at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes. His work as a graphic artist included designing an album cover for Gilberto Gil, a musician who was part of the Tropicália movement, for whom Dias was an important figure. Dias then resettled in Europe in 1966, one year after he won the painting award at the Paris Biennale and displayed work in the group exhibition “Opinião 65” (Opinion 65), held at Rio de Janeiro’s Museu de Arte Moderna. After living in Paris, he then became based in both Milan and Brazil and, in the 1970s traveled to India and Nepal to study papermaking (Kaira M. Cabañas reviewed an exhibition of Dias’s paper works for Artforum’s December 2015 issue).

Dias’s work was included in Tate Modern’s 2015 exhibition “The World Goes Pop,” which provided an alternative history of the Pop art movement. “I was young and I aimed to produce works that were completely different from anything that I knew,” Dias said of his early works in an interview with the gallery. “I feel that they were the first steps of a staircase that I am still climbing today.”