"Volpi paints volpis," Willys de Castro used to say simply and admiringly of his friend, an artist whose work bridged the Brazilian avant-garde movements of the 1950s and 1960s and the popular iconography of his working-class background. The son of 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 he came into contact 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.
Volpi's first fachadas date to the late 1940s, but the series crystallized between 1950 and 1955 as he experimented with different scales of geometry and changing permutations of color. In these iconic works, known as "period façades," he distilled ready-made, architectural shapes--doors, windows, rooflines--into all-over abstractions. Mário Pedrosa declared these early fachadas "a first-rate artistic event" and "an original creation," praising their "rigorous abstract composition involving the lyricism of [the] vivid, singing colors of small-town working-class homes." The present Fachada is more plainly descriptive than other examples from this series, but its rustic familiarity belies the formal rigor of its structure. "My problem is one of form, line, and color," Volpi explained, and his fachadas reveal a deep engagement with the tones, textures and materiality of color: here, a lush, verdant green serves as a framing device for washes of blue, from cornflower to cobalt, and highlights of red, gray, and white. Volpi's use of the traditional egg tempera technique imparts a mellow, luminous cast to the organic geometries of the home: still-visible brushstrokes move in every which direction, inflecting architectural angles and curves with the patina of age and craft.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Mário Pedrosa, quoted in Olívio Tavares de Araújo, Volpi: a música da cor, São Paulo: Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 2006, 258.
2 Alfredo Volpi, quoted in Tavares de Araújo, Volpi: a música da cor, 260.