Plínio Palhano

Interview granted to Lilian de Carvalho Soares and Ceci Medeiros, Plastic Arts students at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, in April 2004, as a research on Pernambucan Art History.

How and when did you awake to art?

I´ve never been worried about that. Both life and art are one. So I did not have time to awake for art. What in fact happened was a first contact with literature involving art as history and lives of the most remarkable artists. These historical views sparked my interest for art.

What support did you receive when you decided to be a painter?

I think that when a youngster is interested in producing something connected to art, he has more will than support - this is enough for his whole life. However, the most important are the coteries the youngster forms together with other companions who idealize for themselves the same route. In doing so, the youngster finds support in the most experienced colleagues. In my case, I looked for older painters like José Cláudio, Francisco Brennand, Montez Magno and companions of generation as a basis for my path as an artist.

Which were your influences?

My strongest influences were in the material I drew from my readings. I was spellbound by what the great international artists had achieved by forming movements, schools, styles, etc., and, of course, by what happened here in Brazil, as well as by what had been conquered at the Modern Art Week, in 1922, and all of its outcome which led to several offshoots within the Brazilian and Latin-American arts up to the present. Among these worldwide movements with influences in Brazil, Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Neo-Expressionism, as early as the 70s, were the ones that influenced me most. As to the local artists I would quote José Cláudio and Francisco Brennand.

What school do you belong to?

I have been regarded as an Expressionist, what pleases me, for my goal in life and in art is to be an Expressionist.

What was the use of taking Fine Arts?

Above all I am an autodidact. The importance I attach to my brief stay at the College of Fine Arts is for the contact I had with materials and companions of the same generation as Carlos Montenegro, Gil Vicente, Flávio Gadelha, among others. I did not care about those technical formalities preached by the professors I respected and admired but, sincerely, I was not at ease with the rigor of the line at the drawing classes. I prefer what they study nowadays at the Colleges of Fine Arts. These Colleges represent both a greater freedom for the youngster to study and determine his way and a hamper: I am referring to the wide range of possibilities and influences found in these Colleges. As I see it, we are going back to the academicism we had discarded in the late XIX century and in the early XX century, as if inevitably the artist - mostly the young artist - had to go through this curriculum: to take a master´s degree or a DMA degree.

Tell us about the participation of the artist Piedade in your studio.

We had no intention of setting up a studio. Piedade read an interview I had granted in 1977 to the Diário de Pernambuco newspaper about a series I was painting which had the nude as its subject-matter. She craved for closer ties with me, we met and exchanged views. As my studio was in Rio Doce, I invited her to sit to me, she agreed and I painted a large series. Afterwards, we invited other models and painted together - not only the nude, but also landscapes. All of this took place for a brief, free, without schedule and spontaneous stretch. In fact, we had our studios: the two of us often painted individually.

Comment about art in Olinda and Recife at the outset of your career.

Olinda and Recife together have always formed one of the greatest artistic hubs in Brazil. In the 70s, it was one of the most remarkable because of its large number of outstanding artists. The south-east hegemony has always been visible on account of its economic strength, but if we summon up the artists, we see that there is plenty of them in our region. It was also easier to observe these facts in the 70s, as well as venues for exhibitions, salons, etc. Despite the political bluster, those were years of great artistic excitement.

Make a comparison between the local artistic movements at the outset of your career and today.

Today the youngest artists are extremely connected to the form in a more radical way than in my day. They think and do their paintings in clump. It is a new aspect. The question of artistic individuality is at a low. There is also a very strong influence of curators on them, making them dependent. Anyhow, this is the best moment for the young artists as they have the opportunity and the power to transform a lot of things which must be changed. The curator, for instance, ought to look to art and pass the artist´s conception to the public, not to be the creator and interpreter of his conception. The curator should be the invisible participant on an exhibition, different from what it is today: the artist hardly shows up because the curators´ names come first. All over the world they are giving these problems second thought and defining a role fit for the curator. Unfortunately, it will reach Brazil too late, as usual.

Is there a reason for being a plastic artist?

To be an artist is to be born with a different way of seeing. One is just born an artist.

Have you ever thought of shrinking from being a plastic artist?

It would be very difficult. I´ve never thought of that.

What encouragements make you choose the series of your work?

They turn up by chance, without forethought. One also has to add the milieu and the purpose to the lifespan of that encouragement. After turning out a series, I enter into a process of study, perhaps to be able to understand what has taken place.

You have participated in a collective studio. What have you got out of it?

The collective studio is one of the most interesting experiences for an artist. But he has to be at one with its staff. Regarding myself, the experience, when I was young, was very positive, I consolidated friendships. Yet, there was a lot of polemics - what was real nice - on art. There comes a time when each participant goes about his duties, which leads to a natural distancing, remaining the remembrance of an unforgettable acquaintanceship.

Tell us about the studio´s participation in the foundation of the Associação dos Artistas Plásticos de Pernambuco (Plastic Artists of Pernambuco Association).

The consolidation of the Association was a collective effort of artists. We from the Espaço 190 took part in its Board of Directors, with Fernando Guerra, in a certain span, as its second president. Our will aimed at forming a political force in order to influence institutions and secretaries of culture. Through this class organization, we, for instance, succeeded in passing a municipal law, still in effect, which laid down that every building in the city housed a work of art.

What about your styles and their reason of being?

Style is the natural way the artist constructs his art. It is a kind of calligraphy, a way of speaking. A style can only be determined after long years of practice. I do not strive to create a style, I let it come up in due time. I have always been dealing with different languages, perhaps I have kept the same style in all of them.

How did you get to know the painter José Cláudio?

I met José Cláudio on account of our neighborhood: the two of us lived on the same beach - Rio Doce/Olinda. In 1976, my father, his fellow citizen, presented him to me. From then on, we became close friends. I used to hang out his studio. As he already was an artist considered worthy of high regard, a name in the local culture, I sought to make the most of his know-how and experience. During that span, I painted and read a lot about art, history and criticism. We traded points of view on painting and its unfoldings.

What are your "scars" and how did they exert influence on your work?

I do not believe in personal scars as forces that have influence on a private work. The scar I have is much the same the one all Brazilians carry: the scar of living in a backward country where culture is not taken into account. When a country reaches a debased condition like this, the cultural influences from the court are increasingly strong and here we receive them as if they were exerted by enlightened ones. Fortunately, today there is also a stalwart tendency to respect the cultural differences. The Euro-American hegemony, in my view, is increasingly withering in front of the greatness of the African, Asiatic, Latin-American and Oriental cultures. The art I do seeks to be above this scar in an independent way.

What does the artistic doing mean to art? What about the artistic doing nowadays?

The man left the caves - where the artist found a magical formula by representing his big game - to reach a technological world that motivates the artist to follow a range of ways. The artist either revives, with a contemporary vision, that immeasurable past or tries to harp on the string of the novel: a utopia. Maybe the contemporary artist will find more substance if he ties that past - which is tradition - to new materials to construct his work. There is a vast number of languages fit for the most diverse visions of the present-day art.

Does the market have any influence on art?

The art market is one of the most representative aspects of art. Yet, the market is crammed with deformations. In the XIX century, for instance, the academic artists met with a ready market, on the other hand, the Impressionists, at the outset of their forays, were sent to the sidelines of that market. Currently, one of those Impressionist works, even the least expressive, is worth millions.

Many works by contemporary artists have been overestimated and afterwards they have gone into decline. A great deal of ingenious works have not been prized by the market at once, as if there were two worlds: that of the artist, which might be or not valued and the one of the market, which might value a certain work for a time and make it good for nothing after that period. Time is the most competent art appraiser, as well as it consolidates its historic value. But thinking in an objective way, a market in which one may have one´s worthy means of livelihood is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, in Brazil the market is still feeble, needing a lot of factors to solidify it. USA, England, France and Spain compose one of the greatest art markets in the world today and it is not by chance that they are the countries where the best plastic arts events take place. I am sure that both the art and the artist cannot exist without the market, however conceptions and values change every century.

What is the use of art?

This is one of the most difficult replies which has been given again in every period of human thinking. Art has served the religions, the totalitarian states and the tyrants. But the level it must reach is to induce man to think independently, without the help of other sciences or philosophies. We are at this stage. To justify the creation we turn to knowledge outside of art, we almost quit the endless possibilities art itself may offer. Art is knowledge, a specific one, but a great many people forget it.

What do you think of art as a medium of communication?

Since the cave paintings man has searched for entertainment and communication with his milieu. These days, we are inserted into this communication regardless of the artistic language, because it forms part of the needs of our century. It would be impossible, nowadays, to exclude it from the communication.

Is there any group feeling among the plastic artists?

I think so. Even with the artistic differences, the plastic artists get together in a first objective: taking part in the contemporary creation and needs they have as artists. In Brazil, we must copy the Spanish artists who defend common interests in their relationship with the art market, agencies and the state: they are a force in negotiations aiming at the turnout of their goals.

What importance do you attach to polemic in art?

Apathy in art is unthinkable. Polemic is of utmost need for the development of art. Without discussion, there would be neither successful movements nor artists who stamped their marks as creators and thinkers of art. Polemic is like the wheat harvest: only the essential endures for ever.

What about the influence of the social on your art?

The artist necessarily does not have to represent the social on his art as, in similar fashion, he cannot run away from a reality which is given in his creation: whenever the art is true, it reflects the social milieu. The way we take part as artists is also reflected in the social milieu and may interfere in our work regardless of our decision.

What is the purpose of your art?

Every artist has high regard for his art and it could not be otherwise. Yet, it would be wiser to be aware that only with our best wishes, our communication will not range beyond our public. Art has to be true. It should not be a pastiche of other truths, mainly the ones imposed by the metropolis. We have to believe that many times the small truths we pluck out of our backyards may represent huge deeds.