Over the Treetops
Text by Dr. Carla Cugini, Managing Director of the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst at the Ludwig Museum Cologne:
Synergies and Areas of Tension
In his most recent works, entitled Brincadeiras (Games) José Gomes firmly continues his artistic oeuvre. At the same time various strands of his interests, regarding both contents and those of a formal aesthetic nature, come together here, as he himself says: ‘In Brincadeiras everything I’ve been working on to date comes together on different levels’ – from the intensive confrontation with printing, drawing and objects, from playing with series and variation, to his interest in figuration and abstraction.
In Brincadeiras José Gomes combines drawing with a special printing technique; he creates works that are simultaneously characterised by repetition and difference, he brings the motifs of the indigenous cultures together with the subjects of nature, its destruction and its preservation, so that multifaceted, powerful works emerge from these areas of tension that assign viewers a participative role.
However, Gomes goes a step further in his Brincadeiras than he did in his ink and acrylic drawings preceding the Abgrenzung (2017) series. In those drawings he combined figuration and abstraction by drawing geometric shapes over or next to paradisiacal plant studies, which, because of their yellow colour, come across as pictorial irritants or warning signals. In these works, Gomes already transfers the concept of nature drawings into our modern, technologized world: among his visual sources are drone images created over the Brazilian jungles in order to document their destruction. José Gomes finds these sources online, thanks to his intensive research – and he now possesses an archive of countless such pictorial documents.
In Brincadeiras the artist also uses drone images, which he prints out – and this is new – to bring them together with his drawing. The sections of the drone images he uses, which were largely taken in Brazil, depict idyllic jungles, but also jungles that are already undergoing machine logging or that are on fire. Gomes has these images printed in laser quality, before transferring them on to paper using a special technique. He applies nitrocellulose thinner to the laser prints and then presses them on to white paper – meaning that a manual print follows the machine-made laser print. He frequently uses the same image several times so that the sections of treetops repeat themselves, depending on the artwork. Sometimes these are shown in different intensities of colour – they have a grey tinge or seem veiled as if by fog, other times as if the sun has picked a particular spot and is illuminating it. The colour variations come from the transfer of the laser print on to paper and are randomly created, thus a process of particular suspense for the artist: ‘I’m interested in this element of the unique, when a variation of one and the same motif is created during the individual transfer of the technologically produced image.’
The treetops form the background of the pictures on top of which Gomes draws precise, often large geometric shapes or sections with a pencil. Depending on the intensity of the drawing, he produces a gentle grey or an intense, dark, deepening black with the pencil’s graphite. The forms and lines sometimes cover the entire surface of the picture; they are unmissable and depending on the colouring, very dominant. Sometimes the formal repertoire is easy to recognise globally – large, rectangular black areas, for example, that are reminiscent of football pitches. Other forms and patterns come from the art of body painting, ceramics and weaving, from jewellery and the rituals of the indigenous peoples of Brazil – they are not references to abstract modernism, as we might be tempted to think. The artist finds these visual sources in publications, which he researches in the inventories of the National Library, in the Museu do Índio, among others.
José Gomes executes his drawings in such a way that they look strikingly similar to a print – we must look very closely indeed in order to spot that that they are in fact masterfully executed, precise drawings. This effect is intentional, because in Gomes’s mind prints and drawings have the same value: ‘Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction has influenced me greatly since my studies, when I started focusing on printmaking and accepted the idea of a reproduction as a unique specimen. The text is still very current to me, particularly with regard to the concept of my work.’
In the final step José Gomes attaches the paper works to industrially produced, three-dimensional wooden structures that are available in certain standardised formats in painting supply shops. This gives the paper works an object-like character and the artworks often come in several parts (usually two to four). The artist does not prescribe how the elements are to be put together – he leaves this up to the viewers. Depending on how the individual wooden objects are put together, a different image is created. As a result of this playful participation by viewers, Gomes makes it clear that he wants to give his works an inherent opportunity for change. ‘In diptychs and polyptychs the work can be grouped in different ways, which transforms its composition but maintains its plasticity. A drawing without a frame, without passe-partout, without glass. Playing with the concept. Playing with the facts,’ says Gomes.
As beautiful and enticing the compositions seem, this playing with the facts is equally as serious and unfathomable. The Brincandeiras draw our attention to our paradoxical treatment of nature, they remind us where we as humans come from, and from what diversity of cultures and skills. They allow us to determine for ourselves what the composition should ultimately look like, cheerful or sinister, depending on how we put the elements together. And they encourage us to view every variation as a unique opportunity for change.
Über den Wipfeln / Over the Treetops / Sobre as Copas
"Artistic plea for the primeval forest and the recognition of its inhabitants with their irreplaceable culture"
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Environment, development, violence, the fate of humanity and the planet are some of the themes José Gomes addresses artistically. The content of his art focuses on the landscape, man's actions in nature and the paradox between his dependence on nature and his destructive ways. The scientifically investigative aerial photographs taken by drones and satellites of forests before and after clear-cutting are transferred to paper and coated with layers of graphite in geometric shapes - a graphic treatment of and with nature.
From the foreword by Bernd Melzer:
This book Over the Treetops is a plea for the primeval forest and the recognition of its true masters with their irreplaceable culture, who are powerless in the face of the exploitation of a foreign domination that has spread over them as states. It should remind us how much we ourselves, despite all our distance, are relevant to the system and can influence the future of the forests.
From the introduction by Ralf-P. Seippel:
José Gomes is a draughtsman, an observer who depicts the world around us with the finest of strokes. With pencil and paper he refers to the world and its constitution. Beyond mere depiction, he sensitises us and, in this group of works, Über den Wipfeln (Above the Treetops), directs our perception to the forest, more precisely the primeval forest and its dramatic transformation. The preoccupation with the forest is often described as a romantically transfigured German theme; José Gomes globalises this view of the forest. He uses aerial photographs of the primeval forest as the basis for his over-drawings. These over-drawings visualise the encroachment and encroachment caused by human hands. The delicate fragility of the ecological biotope of the primeval forest becomes clear in the contrast between individual, amorphous natural form and serial indigenous geometric formal language.
José Gomes was born in 1968 in Cariacica, Espírito Santo, Brazil, Brazil. There he studied fine arts at the Federal University of Espírito Santo. Between 1992 and 1999 he took art courses with renowned Brazilian artists and theorists such as From 1996 to 2000 he taught as a professor at the Federal University of Espírito Santo. In 2000 he organised and and curated the 1st International Print Exhibition Vitória at the Museu de Arte do Espirito Santo (MAES). From 1994 to 2005 he dedicated himself as a member of the Varal printmaking group exclusively to this technique. Between 2004 and 2005 he studied with AR Penck at the D̈usseldorf Art Academy. He has lived in Cologne since 2005. His works have been shown in numerous exhibitions in Brazil, Latin America, Germany, Spain and the USA.
The book from Kehrer Verlag is published to accompany the exhibition and can be purchased at Galerie Biesenbach. You can also reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Bernd Melzer, Ralf-P. Seippel
Texts by Tereza de Arruda, Carla Cugini, Bernd Melzer,
Designed by hackenschuh com. design, Stuttgart
Hardcover, 29 x 24 cm
128 pages, 65 colour illustrations
German, English, Portuguese
After the end of the trees
Galerie Biesenbach shows the series "Over the Treetops" by José Gomes
by Hanna Styrie
The poetic title "Over the Treetops" is to be understood as bitter irony: This exhibition at Galerie Biesenbach has nothing whatsoever to do with romantic glorification of nature.
In a current series, the Brazilian José Gomes is much more concerned with the deforestation of the rainforest in his home country and its dramatic consequences. Drone and satellite images from the internet serve as the background for drawings by the artist, who has lived in Cologne for many years and trained at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. These drawings are inspired by the traditional body painting of the indigenous population or by the shape of the aisles cut during deforestation. In 2019, Gomes began the cycle, in which he criticises the merciless exploitation of nature and the increasing constriction of the habitat of local tribes.
In the exhibition, the works are hung chronologically according to the date they were created, and a closer look reveals the changes: At first, the green canopies of leaves still seem impenetrable, then they gradually thicken and one can make out piled-up tree trunks.
More and more, the colouring changes from green to a dark red, indicating the ferruginous earth that dominates the pictures after deforestation. Gomes himself uses mainly natural materials in the series: paper, graphite and wood, onto which he applies the works.
He covers the aerial photographs with precise graphic drawings that visualise the encroachment caused by human hands. In doing so, he makes use of a diverse repertoire of forms that also draws from the sign language of the indigenous people.
Gomes confronts the politically and ecologically explosive theme with a playful artistic realisation. Most of his pictures are arranged in blocks of two or four, which can be arranged in a variety of ways and surprise the viewer with their complexity of form and content. Anyone who rearranges the works is inevitably sensitised to the changes that are recognisable in them.