Rio de Janeiro

Jarbas Lopes

Carioca is the familiar term for inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro and an adjective associated with time-honored manifestations of Brazilian popular culture like Carnival and the samba. But the word also signifies a kind of open, sensual, pleasure-oriented conviviality. It is this type of congenial social and cultural experience that has set the tone of A Gentil Carioca since it opened in 2003 in one of the city’s typical working-class neighborhoods, a zone of traditional small businesses, originally Arab and now with a strong Chinese presence. Merchants and buyers mingle at the doors of an endless array of bars and shops in which things of every sort can be found, including many of the materials used by artists like Ernesto Neto, whose atelier lies in this district and who runs the gallery along with Laura Lima and Márcio Botner.

This exhibition of work by Rio-born artist Jarbas Lopes was a perfect example of the gallery’s open attitude. Under the title “Pintura em Família” (Painting in the Family) the artist added to his own drawings a set by his eighty-two-year-old Aunt Judith, done during innumerable family get-togethers and presented here hanging from a clothesline in a rear room whose mat-covered floor reinforced the domestic atmosphere. Another area was left free for visitors to do their own drawings on the wall, fulfilling the meaning of the show by transforming it into an expression of an intimacy and collaborative spirit that spreads beyond the space of the household to that of the gallery and the surrounding district. At the opening, which in accordance with the gallery’s custom became a festival that went on well into the night, the artist’s family gathered to greet visitors and sing folk music in a circle fueled by calf’s-knuckle soup and rum, traditional popular fare.

The aunt’s drawings, in the best naïf tradition, represent flowers and plant motifs, with a notable degree of stylization. Likewise, Lopes’s “Cicloviaérea” (Aerial Cyclist Road), 2001–2004, was seductive in its simplicity. The drawings are small (11 3/4 x 7 7/8 inches), done in ballpoint on paper, with the persistent mark of the lines allowing us to feel the intimate physical presence of his hand. But these are not elementary sketches or the mere fruit of spontaneous intuition. Their compositions, dividing the space of the sheet into distinct areas of unequal dimensions and seeking rhythms appropriate to these spaces, show a sensitive plastic awareness. The same can be said of Lopes’s use of color, despite the limited palette available to ballpoint, and of form, where abstract matrices merge with figurative references and words. In each drawing a harmonious balance is disturbed and animated by the intrusion of written or figured representations of the frenetic, urban world that is ever watching us, especially in a city as alive and luxuriant as Rio. One abstract composition grows shapes that look like the eyes of an animal. In another, a bicycle is profiled against the trees and sun in the background, with a record player spanning the foreground. In the three rectangles of a composition à la Rothko we read the simple greetings, “Good day,” “Good evening,” and “Good night.” The communitarian bent of A Gentil Carioca thus strikes us as aptly served by an exhibition whose humble, familial sensitivity is most touching.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.