May 18, 2017 - Oct 29, 2017

Iberê Camargo: IN THE DRAMA

Iberê Camargo Foundation

Today, 21 years after the opening of the Foundation created in his name, Iberê Camargo still remains a relative enigma to researchers and admirers of his work. His biography and artistic career form a grey area, in which the indelible plastic quality of paint allows us to sense the dramatic charge that washed over both spheres of his brilliant passage through the 20th century.

Iberê Camargo: IN THE DRAMA reveals a facet of the artist that is barely known to the general public and which rarely sees the light of day, remaining only in the dim memory of those who enjoyed his energetic and sanguine company.

This exhibition shows not just elements and works that indicate Iberê’s close connections with characters from the dramatic arts, but also reveals content that ranges from the radiant to the more sombre, characterising the artist’s work in a figurative and powerful way, to an extent that their echoes seem sometimes to reverberate around the solid and implacable walls designed by the architect Álvaro Siza.

Paintings, panels, photographs and studies, and even clothing resonate with the dynamism of an artist who, despite seeming at times morose, turned his painting sessions and Saturdays in his home into moments of illustration, intimacy and diversion, revealing a spirit in turns curious, restless, attentive and tormented. Iberê was always an actor performing the act of painting.

A synthesis of the dramatic charge present in Iberê’s biography and artistic career, O Delírio (Delirium) is a gouache work that presents the public with the face of the dreams and nightmares that fill our nights, but also our lives, in unpredictable ways, which at the end of the day are always absurd.

In 1962 Iberê made a series of drawings and studies for a panel and tapestry based on the legend of Boitatá. The commissioned work was made on a Formica panel to be installed in the building of the Insurance and Capitalization Workers Syndicate of the State of Guanabara in Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian writer João Simões Lopes Neto (1865-1916) dedicated his work to the legends, tales and stories of his home state of Rio Grande do Sul. His book Lendas do Sul (Legends of the South), which includes the legend of Boitatá, was published in 1913.

To the Tupi-Guarani, Boitatá is a snake of fire, and the legend revolves around this creature. On a pitch-black rainy night the land is flooded with darkness. Water floods into shelter of a huge snake and the creature goes in search of food: it feeds on the eyes of animals.


Its skin is so thin that all the eyes inside its body leave traces of light wherever it goes. The animals’ eyes cannot sustain it and the snake weakens. As time passes it becomes boitatá, the snake of fire that explodes with light. And the night is over.


In 1960, Iberê produced 8 panels based on the legend of Salamanca do Jarau, which he gave to Luiz Aranha, his friend and patron from the start of his artistic career.

The legend of Salamanca do Jarau is included in the book Lendas do Sul (Legends of the South), written by João Simões Lopes Neto and published in 1913.

Teiniaguá is a Moorish princess who has been turned into a lizard by the Red Devil of the Indians, Anhangá-Pitã. With the body of a lizard (salamander) and the head of ruby-coloured precious stone, the princess enchants men. She is fated to live in a lake at Cerro do Jarau in the south of Brazil.


Salamanca do Jarau tells of this person as part of the traditional Spanish legend, about the Iberian influence in the colonisation of Rio Grande do Sul and its neighbours Argentina and Uruguay, and the origin of the Gaucho people.


In 1986 Iberê Camargo saw a performance of Jean Genet’s The Maids, performed by Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz at the Terreira da Tribo Theater in Porto Alegre. The play inspired him to produce a series of gouache works in collaboration with members of the theatre company, who acted as models in his studio.

The French writer, poet and dramatist Jean Genet wrote The Maids in 1947. The play is a key work of the Theatre of the Absurd, a theatrical genre in which the storyline takes unusual directions.

Synopsis of the play: Claire and Solange are sisters living in the house of a Madame. While their mistress is away the maids enter the Madame’s bedroom and use her clothes and accessories to stage a murder, taking turns to act out the parts of Madame and maid.

"[...] This decanting of form in many waters, this in both words and lines, in painting, it's a purification, a synthesis that leads, as it were, to a transfiguration that is beyond appearance. It's important to find the magic that exists in things, in life. Otherwise, it would just be a visual witness of a phenomenon within reach of anyone. I think the painter has a capacity, let's say, to see beyond the model. At one point, the model no longer matters, he who was so important for painting structure. Another picture appears that is no longer in the studio, it's another space." [1]

Iberê Camargo

A series of drawings, costume studies and set designs commissioned from Iberê in 1959 for a staging of Heitor Villa Lobos’s Ballet Rudá. The performance did not take place.

"It is true that the great tropical epic of Villa-Lobos, exuberant in characters (sensual women and warriors dominate the first and second acts) and environments (sometimes jungles, sometimes magnificent Pre-Columbian palaces) was turned inside out by Iberê. The explosion of Amazonian colors has won scary tones, one of the most important characteristics of the painter". [2]

The Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) wrote the Symphonic Poem and Ballet Rudá in 1951. This two-act musical composition is an historical representation of the races of the New World.

The composer considered Rudá, the title of the work, together with the God of Love in Marajoara mythology, to symbolise this idea in all the pre-Columbian civilisations of the New Continent.

In 1992 Iberê, recently diagnosed with cancer, produced the series Tudo te é falso e inútil (Everything is False and Useless to You). The works in this series feature recollections of works produced previously, such as the spool pictures, now appearing as evidence of a time, frozen in the memory and announcing the end.

Tudo te é falso e inútil [...] take their title and inspiration from a poem by Fernando Pessoa, Vem, Noite antiquíssima e idêntica (Come, Oh most ancient and identical of nights). In this poem, the night, wise and eternal, that saw the gods come into being, smiles because ‘everything is false and useless for you’.” [3]

“Come, ever attending,
Come like a mother,
Most ageless nurse on tiptoe, you who sat
At the bedsides of gods of faiths now abandoned,
You who saw born Jehovah and Jupiter
And smiled because to you everything is false and useless.”

“The palette of colors is also reminiscent of the symbolic hues of night: blues and the silver-white of moonlight. The twilight of a spent day, the twilight of life: these works allude to an existential indifference which the painter revives in worn-down figures who smile with all the bland innocence of a newborn. However, in their smiles we do not see the wisdom of night but rather the blank grin of the alienated. The material things, becoming watery. The figures appear deformed, against thick backgrounds, like palimpsests, overwhelmed by ancient traces of bicycles, carts and mannequins, all from Iberê’s repertoire of symbols.” [4]

“In the painting, which is considered to be the synthesis of his work, we have the fundamental landscape of his work, an indiscernible place in the background of the painting, but with the unmistakeable presence of a reddish star, the monumental and imposing human figure, which was always present (but not always visible), and finally a still life, a table with objects. But it is an impossible table, on which a variety of spools struggle to remain stable. It is a dynamic still life, denying the nature of a genre marked by stability and motionlessness. A restless still life, observed by a passive, inert spectator, with reluctant motionless arms and indifferent to the dynamic setting, both internal and external, of the surroundings.” [5]

Iberê had an 8 mm film projector and collected films to show to friends in his studio. Before the film there was a western series (mostly silent and featuring Chaplin, Tom Mix, Ken Mayanard, Elmo Lincoln, John Barrymore, and other stars), wich was his favourite programme. In 1989 some of the films in his collection, such as silent-movie series, inspired him to make a series of drawings.

In 1992 Iberê was involved in the filming for Renato Falcão’s short film Presságio. In one of the scenes the actor Manuel Aranha plays the part of the leading character in Luigi Pirandello’s play The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, while Iberê draws him. Working on the film led to a series of gouache works which the artist donated to the campaign for prevention of AIDS – An Act of Love and Life.

The Italian author and playwright Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) wrote L'Uomo dal Fiore in Bocca (The Man with the Flower in his Mouth) in 1923.

The one-act play tells the story of a man who finds himself in a critical situation, which leads him to become more aware of the prosaic situations of daily life.

Credits: Story

Iberê Camargo: IN THE DRAMA was on view at the Iberê Camargo Foundation in Porto Alegre from March 13–October 29, 2017. The exhibition was curated by Eduardo Haesbaert, with research and assistance by Gustavo Possamai.

This online version of the exhibition does not include all of the documentation included in the original presentation.

Organized by
Gustavo Possamai

Larissa Fauri

Bibliographic references
[1] Lisette Lagnado, Conversações com Iberê Camargo (São Paulo: Iluminuras, 1994) 28.
[2] Daniela Name, O sonho latino de Iberê e Villa-Lobos: guaches inéditos feitos pelo pintor para "Rudá", balé que o maestro nunca montou, vão a leilão (Rio de Janeiro: O Globo, jun. 1999) 1 p.
[3] [4] María José Herrera, Iberê Camargo: um ensaio visual (Porto Alegre: Fundação Iberê Camargo, 2009) 18-19.
[5] Paulo Gomes, Iberê e seu ateliê: as coisas, as pessoas e os lugares (Porto Alegre: Fundação Iberê Camargo, 2015) 64.

Every effort has been made to acknowledge the moral rights and copyright of the images in this edition. The Fundação Iberê Camargo welcomes any information concerning authorship, ownership, and/or other data that may be incomplete, and is committed to including them in future updates.

© Fundação Iberê Camargo

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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