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José Antonio da Silva, presentation:

It was during a year-end gathering of friends and colleagues in the art market that the idea of organizing a solo exhibition for the artist José Antonio da Silva was born. Throughout the conversation, names deserving of a fresh perspective in the art market and whose place in Brazilian art history needed revisiting were discussed. Among the names mentioned, José Antonio da Silva emerged, an artist that, in the opinion of all those present, deserved a new wave of visibility.

First noticed in 1946 by a group of intellectuals during a collective exhibition in São José do Rio Preto, in the interior of São Paulo, José Antonio da Silva had a long career as a painter and draftsman. He had already exhibited his works in important national institutions, such as the Pinacoteca of the State of São Paulo and the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), as well as at major international events, with the Venice Biennale being one of them. Furthermore, he made an unparalleled contribution to national thought through his artwork, presenting works full of powerful social criticisms and portraying themes that are still relevant today, such as deforestation, forest fires, and the unbridled expansion of agriculture in the country.

There is no doubt that José Antonio da Silva deserves to be featured in a weighty exhibition that accounts for the breadth of his production and the richness of his imagination. It should be a beautiful and impactful display showcasing the works from his prime, allowing a new generation of collectors to admire and delve into the magical universe painted by this artist.

By presenting our collections of the artist's works side by side, we believe that we have gathered a significant and representative body of his work, developed between the 1940s and 1970s. This catalog, meticulously prepared with great care, aims to serve as a reference and a record of José Antonio da Silva's important artistic legacy.

Cacá Nóbrega and Paulo Kuczynski.

The Splendor of Rural Life:

The pictorial work of José Antonio da Silva developed during the accelerated transition between rural and urban life in the São Paulo interior in the post-World War II period. This environment is deeply ingrained in his emotional, formative, and existential experiences, from which he never distanced himself. The powerful imagery of his canvases first piqued the interest of intellectuals concerned with the problems of art, for without a modern and urban sensibility, one could not truly appreciate and admire the artist's work.


The "discovery" of his work, so to speak, is credited to three intellectuals associated with São Paulo modernism: Paulo Mendes de Almeida, Lourival Gomes Machado, and João Cruz Costa. Without them, he would likely remain unknown or restricted to the status of a local artist. The rural life he painted, which was condemned to vanish, was gradually absorbed by urban or semi-urban expansion, not only due to people's migration in search of new horizons but also because of the inexorable spread of new lifestyles—the so-called "progress." José Antonio da Silva bestowed extraordinary artistic dimensions upon the aspects of this simple rural life, which seemed limited and even dismissed.


It is with modernity that the so-called "primitive artists" acquire value, become recognized, appreciated, and are inserted into the history of art, as was the case with the famous Douanier Rousseau, a painter greatly admired by Picasso. Just as in expressionism, the "primitive" is only valued if it's authentic. It's something that can't be adulterated, copied, or falsified; extreme conviction gives value to the work. This explains José Antonio's admiration for Van Gogh, one of his favorite painters. Not by chance, his appreciation occurred concurrently with that of Volpi and by the same individuals, the same group of intellectuals and collectors, some of whom are still active today—a convergence, like many others, between the modern and the "primitive."


José Antonio da Silva's painting is a mode of representation that corresponds to the simplicity of life. However, it is not a simplification. In his works, the world is in constant action, alive, in a circular motion. In his paintings, one scene follows another, almost without interruption. It's the visual inventory of his rural existence that made him a painter and fulfilled his existence. It's not just the precise observation of the subject from within, but the original and imaginative solutions that stand out in his works. Each of his canvases presents itself entirely, whether it's a landscape, still life, or portrait. From there, a lively, animated, varied world arises from which José Antonio was an attentive observer, commentator, and preserver. Lifestyle, habits, landscape, work, religiosity—all these elements left an imprint on his work. Even his name encapsulates the truth of his painting—a genuinely rural, Paulista, and Brazilian name. He painted his world, the one that was disappearing before the relentless march of progress: the mud-and-stick house, the ox cart, popular celebrations, primitive farming, and everything else that was referred to as the "countryside." José Antonio da Silva painted it all; not one.

The popular everyday life is what fits into his paintings; he didn't intend to go beyond that. The artist knew how to open new directions and how to repeat himself without becoming boring. The world appears uninterrupted in his canvases. They convey a diverse animation, distinct from the insipid life of the metropolis, more varied, and, one could say, more fun. José Antonio da Silva could effortlessly transition from common subjects, such as the portrayal of a flower vase, to subjects of which he was the sole recorder. However, it's the shared worldview that characterizes all his art. In other words, it's not merely a record but a recreation of lived existence. Not content with being a painter, he also devoted himself to writing. This blend of simplicity and ambition characterizes José Antonio da Silva's work and persona, and it is reflected in his books and paintings. "I am a painter of rural life," he said; the essence of the artist resided in what he painted. He was indeed a painter, but his work is also the poetry of rural life.

Animals, as expected, are present and recurring in many of his paintings, those typical of rural surroundings: the ox (The Oxen, 1952), the dog, the omnipresent vulture, and the menacing snake (Snake and Dog, 1949). Life unfolds in the small houses, a tiny urban nucleus situated between the city and the countryside. Festivals (St. John's Festival, 1960), the circus (At the Circus, 1960), and religious faith (The Miracle of Saint Genevieve, 1949) coexist alongside everyday toil (Milking, 1948; The Woodcutter, 1953; The Herd, 1956). Sometimes bucolic, sometimes lyrical, the representations on the canvases offer no room for nostalgia. Occasionally, a simple landscape, the forest and a river (Untitled, 1948), emits a magical atmosphere as if it conveys the intimate life of nature. In other instances, the tragic battle between the forest and agriculture, deforestation (Clearing, 1949), still done manually to make way for planting (Coffee Plantation, 1971; Cornfield, 1961) — these are the significant moments of rural life that José Antonio managed to endow with splendor.


Nevertheless, the "rural life" he painted was condemned to disappear. It can be asserted that, in a way, José Antonio da Silva's painting blossomed with the end of the rural culture, which his art also authentically documented — even if the artist didn't perceive it as necessary to record and preserve, it eventually happened.

José Antonio da Silva began painting as an adult, likely motivated by intuition (due to a lack of formal art education), and yet, he created an incomparable body of work. He had limited means, but he extracted the maximum from them. He entirely framed the subject and from that entirety, he began observing the details arranged and figured with care.

This unique combination is one of the indistinguishable characteristics of his work, whether it's a landscape, a flower vase, or a portrait. His worldview aligned with traditional genres, and not the other way around. Nothing escaped the artist, and yet, he repeated the same theme multiple times with unforeseen variations — part of the painter's calling, which he embraced somewhat excessively, as some have claimed; he, himself, even abused false modesty.


As a recognized painter, he could expand and display his ego without the natural shyness of a countryman.

José Antonio da Silva called himself a "painter of rural life," which he truly was, without realizing he went even further, much beyond the circumstances that might have limited him. Modern eyes recognized in this artist the plastic inventiveness of great painting.

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