S�o Paulo

Luiz Zerbini

Fortes D�Aloia & Gabriel | Galeria

The uncanny character of the latest show by São Paulo–born, Rio de Janeiro–based Luiz Zerbini was artfully revealed by both its title—“Trepanações e outros artifícios” (Trepanations and Other Artifices)—and the arrangement of the works. Six paintings, some hung unstretched on walls painted black, created a dialogue with small bronze sculptures on the floor that depicted bones or other parts of the human body. Among these were several pierced skulls, alluding to the practice of trepanation, an age-old surgical procedure to exorcise evil spirits; today it is still (although rarely) practiced, particularly in certain subcultures, as a means of attaining a higher level of consciousness. These objects lay on delicate platters made of Portuguese mosaic stonework—the decorative paving typical of Brazilian cities, perhaps best known from the famous calçadão (wide sidewalk) along Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach. Similar stonework also adorned the concrete blocks anchoring ropes that stretched up to the top of the wall, where they held paintings hung like tapestries.

Since his participation in the groundbreaking 1984 exhibition “Como vai você, geração 80?” (How Are You Doing, ’80s Generation?), Zerbini has examined the Western pictorial legacy by addressing issues specific to the medium of painting. Balancing figuration and abstraction, narrativity and compositional structure, materiality and opticality, his practice is synthesized in this exhibition. The acrylic-on-canvas triptych O suicida alto astral (Upbeat Suicide), 2006, was one of the highlights of the show. The left-hand panel, a sort of prologue to an oneiric story, shows a number of leaves covered with insects and a small self-portrait in dark glasses, with the words CRAZY OLD MAN/LUCKY SUICIDE, BELIEVING IN LIFE BUT STILL A SUICIDE/TRUMPET-TREE/ANT-TREE/SLOTH’S BANANA/THE GAZE AND THE SPIRIT inscribed on his chest and above his head; in the center is a representation of a trumpet tree, indigenous to the Brazilian rain forest, whose fruit feeds the sloth; on the right, geometric patterns evoke the architecture of ’50s Rio de Janeiro. Uniting the three sections are holes in various areas of the canvas, tropical colors (metallic green and light brown), and the overlapping of different scenes.

Other paintings here included Queda d’água (Waterfall), 2007, and Pedra redonda (Round Stone), 2007, whose explanatory names (the latter refers to a site in Itacaré in the southern part of the state of Bahia) contrast with their abstract imagery. But a particular standout was Minha última pintura (My Last Painting), 2007: Playing on hagiographic accounts of great artists, Zerbini has created a painting to reflect the true magnitude of his practice—literally. In the absence of direct illumination, this dark, shiny, textured monochrome reflects the gallery space, including the other works, and the viewer. Echoing Zerbini’s earlier paintings, the work defies rationality, appealing instead to the beholder’s emotions. Perhaps it has no better interpretation than the artist’s own words: “It is a Velázquez, my Meninas. It is whatever you want it to be. It is silent, poetical, and reflexive. It transforms the I into you. It is interdisciplinary and contradictory. It is the scene and the setting. It is painting in movement. It rests the eyes. It is the proof that blue comes from black and not vice versa. It is subtle, imperceptible.”

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.