I have recently been invited by my gallerist Rafael Lacerda to attend a feijoada in Carlos Vergara’s place, a wide atelier/house situated in the neighborhood of Santa Tereza, Rio de Janeiro. The meeting took place on Saturday, March 17th, gathering a group of curious artists to do a somewhat unusual and fascinating deep-dive into one of the most exciting contemporary Brazilian artists, and somehow reaching out the sacred intimacy of his own working and living places.
Vergara took the group on a guided tour past a series of rooms, packed with artwork of all types, from varying times in his career, combining several different unusual techniques that demonstrate all the artist’s versatility: photographing, sculpting, drawing, painting, engraving… Carlos Vergara is that rare type of person who will gather a small crowd around him while telling tales. In a short time span, he will throw several unusual stories about his travels and life experience, together with a series of wit aphorisms one could easily carve on wood and hang on the wall.
Quite simply put, he told us what all of us artists are probably seeking: trigger surprise. “If the artist can cause that sigh (‘ah’) from its audience, the goal will have been achieved”. And then, went on with all his several smart insights, filling our Saturday with wisdom: “the concept of art involves seeing through, revealing those subtle aspects not immediately visible. Art is our trail, it is an indelible sign of our existence”.
The wide house where he lives and works was actually a school many years ago, told me Vergara himself. That is why there were those many rooms, aisles and open spaces.
At one point, Vergara showed us some huge totems, shaped like long, tall iron baskets: “the garbage collectors on my street are very generous, they bring me all these leftover Carnival customs, a reminder of those delirious days now gone”.
Outside, we could contemplate a series of parts of the demolished Frei Caneca jail, which was situated not far away from the artist’s atelier. Vergara told us the day he knew the demolition would be happening, he ran down there to take pictures and get remaining stuff from the old building, like some heavy thick doors and bars of the cells that made up the jail. Vergara recalled the prison had been built during the Empire, well over one hundred years ago: “it was a crazy place, a jail made up for the black and the poor”.
By visiting the atelier and seeing so many of Vergara’s works, one will notice a technique he has used a lot throughout his life: by pressing paper, fabric, cloth and cotton (that will be stretched into canvas) on dirty, dusty or pigmented surfaces with textures, the artist is able to capture the ‘essence’ of different places he visits, a technique he compares to Jesus’ holy shroud. The use of Brazilian pigments from Minas Gerais he used on many of his works goes back to baroque artist Mestre Ataíde, hailed by Vergara as the first Brazilian to actually apply pigments from our country in his work.
Vergara finished the pleasing promenade with a provocation, of course: “artists aren’t shit more than anyone, they just have more time to spend”.