Adriana Varejão (b. 1964)
Adriana Varejão (b. 1964)

Espelho D'Agua

Adriana Varejão (b. 1964)
Espelho D'Agua
signed, titled and dated 'A. Varejão Espelho D'Agua 2008' (on the reverse)
oil and plaster on canvas
43 3/8 x 43 3/8 in. (110.2 x 110.2 cm.)
Painted in 2008.
Artur Fidalgo collection.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
São Paulo, Museu Brasileiro da Escultura, Coleção BGA – Brazil Golden Art, 13-27 December 2012.

Lot Essay

Painting is my root, just as Brazil is.
—Adriana Vearejão1

Adriana Varejão’s paintings are akin to corporeal skins that challenge the conventions of of painting while serving as virtual palimpsests replete with cultural and historical memories intrinsically linked to the impact of the Baroque in Brazil. References to Portuguese terracotta tile or azulejos, Dutch porcelains, European travel paintings, colonial architecture, and the rituals of Catholicism reveal the artist’s ongoing interest in exploring the violence of colonialism and its legacy of expansionism, exchange, and racial miscegenation. Likewise Varejão’s ravaged surfaces may be seen within the context of postmodernism and the desire to reevaluate the very structure and meaning of painting.

A recurring motif in Varejão’s paintings and installations, references to traditional Portuguese decorative tile have appeared in the artist’s work since the 1990s and function as a key tool for the excavation of history. As Varejão states, “I am interested in verifying in my work dialectical processes of power and persuasion. I subvert those processes and try to gain control over them in order to become an agent of history rather than remaining an anonymous, passive spectator. I not only appropriate historic images—I also attempt to bring back to life processes [that] created them and use them to construct new versions.2

Traditional azulejos reveal a complex history of global exchange and convergence among the diverse cultures of the Americas, Asia and Europe spanning Moorish design, the ceramics of Seville and Valencia, techniques derived from the Italian Renaissance, Oriental china and porcelain, and Dutch painting. The Portuguese first adapted the use of azulejos for secular and religious architecture in the early 1500s under the reign of King Manuel I. However it wasn’t until the late 17th and early 18th centuries when the taste and demand for ceramic tile reached a fever pitch ushering in the Golden Age of the Azulejo. Brazil soon followed suit becoming its primary consumer in the Americas as profits from the gold rush created new wealth and with it an insatiable appetite for these exuberant Baroque decorative elements. With subject matter ranging from the allegorical, historical, religious and bucolic to patterns based on geometric forms and stylized organic motifs, azulejos are one of the most persistent visual remnants of Brazil’s colonial past and its reverberations continue to be felt today. Varejão seizes these powerful signifiers and in works like her monumental installation Azulejões (Big Blue Tiles) (2000), comprised of seventy tiles and the present Espelho d’Água (2008), depicts a virtual tidal wave in which the traditional blue and white azulejo is transformed into a potent symbol of water—a surging body that both seduces and envelops the viewer. The crackled, fractured surfaces and eroded edges simultaneously suggest destruction and transformation—no doubt potent symbols of transculturation and resistance.

“Varejão’s oeuvre is an anomalous, at times monstrous, presence in contemporary art, a complex investigation that eschews current dominant paradigms in favor of anachronistic sources that are figurative, allegorical, theatrical, excessive, and popular.”3 Indeed in works like Espelho d’Água, Varejão demonstrates her unique approach whereby she literally excavates the inner recesses of painting to reveal its fissures whilst simultaneously proposing new perspectives and breathing new life into the genre of painting.

1 As quoted in Louise Neri, “Brave New World: Adriana Varejão’s Baroque Territories” in exhibition catalogue Adriana Varejão (Brasilia: Ministério da Cultura—Lei de Incentivo à Cultura and Takano Editora Gráfica Ltda., 2001), 14.

2 As quoted in Adriana Varejao, in exhibition catalogue Ultra Baroque: Aspects of Post Latin American Art (San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2000), 105-06.

3 Louise Neri, “Brave New World: Adriana Varejão’s Baroque Territories” in exhibition catalogue Adriana Varejão, 15.

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