Alfredo Volpi (Brazilian 1896-1988)
Alfredo Volpi (Brazilian 1896-1988)

Fachada (No. 1342)

Alfredo Volpi (Brazilian 1896-1988)
Fachada (No. 1342)
signed 'A Volpi' (on the reverse)
tempera on canvas
23¼ x 23¼ in. (59.1 x 59.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1970.
Galeria de Arte Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro.
Acquired from the above.
CD-ROM, O. Tavares de Araújo, Alfredo Volpi: Vida e obra, São Paulo, Logos Engenharia S.A/APK/Sociedade para Catalogação de Obra de Alfredo Volpi, 1997, no. 1342.

Lot Essay

The son of working-class Italian immigrants, Volpi trained as a bookbinder and painter-decorator before finding success as an artist. Self-taught, he worked through the 1930s in the company of São Paulo's Grupo Santa Helena, a loose affiliation of modern-minded artists whose paintings emphasized proletarian themes treated with a subdued, pictorial realism. His work began to shed its figurative elements by the mid-1940s as it entered into dialogue with São Paulo's emerging concretistas, for whom his clean geometries and use of primary colors formed a suggestive point of departure. In his paradigmatic paintings of the following decades, Volpi cultivated an intuitive and idiosyncratic practice within the rubric of "geometria sensível," transforming everyday motifs--façades, flags, arches, sails--into simplified geometric shapes. "His synthetic style, pared down almost to a mere outline of real life . . . is transubstantiated into the abstract and foregrounds the function of paint in his themes," critic José Geraldo Vieira wrote at the time of the II São Paulo Bienal (1953-54). "[His] solutions are not formulas but constructivist rhythms, visual associations, at all times distilled to an essence, spare and dialectical."[1]

Volpi's first façades date to the late 1940s, but the series crystallized over the 1950s as he explored myriad iterations of the modular grid through different permutations of color. In these works, he distilled ready-made, architectural shapes--doors, windows, and the iconic feast flags--into all-over abstractions. The present Fachada, likely dating from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, displays the chromatic complexity characteristic of this period. "These late façades come forth as the most colorful in his entire production," curator Olívio Tavares de Araújo has noted. "All hues taken into account, the façades may boast even sixteen colors so closely integrated that, at first sight, the viewer does not realize that actually there are more than six or eight colors."[2] Here, Volpi draws upon the luminous materiality of his medium, traditional egg tempera, to probe subtle harmonies of color: taupe warms to mauve and amaranth, each quadrant testing the range of tonal values through chromatic contrast (green, black, orange) and consonance.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1) José Geraldo Vieira, quoted in Olívio Tavares de Araújo, Volpi: a música da cor (São Paulo: Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 2006), 266.
2) Tavares de Araújo, Volpi: a música da cor, 262.

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