José Gomes defines “the content of [his] work […] on the landscape, human action in nature and the paradox between human dependence on nature and their destructive actions. Starting from these premises, nature can only exist as a blurry indistinct element, the result of this reality.”

 José Gomes was born in 1968 in Espírito Santo in Brazil and now lives in Cologne, where he has exhibited since 2002 . Art professor at the Federal University of Espírito Santo from 1996 to 2000 and having worked with the Museu de Arte of the city, personal exhibitions were dedicated to him in Venice, Berlin and Dusseldorf. In 2021, a monograph dedicated to his work, “Over the Treetops” was published in parallel to his first participation at the Havana Biennial. Today, for sobering galerie, he presents exclusive drawings as well as compositions from his “Brincadeiras” series – to be translated as “games” or “jokes” – where impressions, variations and relationships to abstraction are confronted. “In Brincadeiras, everything I work on comes together on different levels” he explained in “Over the Treetops”, with his works to be understood as an exploration of nature as a motif and a search for the motifs of nature. To this end, José Gomes links photography and drawing, more specifically aerial cartographic views linked to geometric shapes drawn with pencil. He then operates a total association between elements derived from wood, through the raw material for support, paper for his photographic prints and graphite for his drawings. The wood itself is to be interpreted as the capital element of his work : this material acts as a memorial element, a direct reminder of pernambuco – also known as “Brazilian wood” – which gave the country its name. Now listed as endangered, it was one of the greatest exports of the Portuguese during the colonial period. Its scarcity is above all one of the most important manifestations of agricultural deforestation in the country, the sign of the end of symbiosis between man and the forest. The lost Arcadia that is Brazil is thus erased, kept only as a form recomposed by abstraction. The use of pencils of different hardnesses imply the very chthonic force of black, the color of mourning nature, going up in smoke. Graphite itself, a crystalline form of carbon obtained by combustion, refers to this mineral and telluric earth. To persist in this same critical process, José Gomes uses documentary photos archiving the destruction of the Amazon. These aerial photographs flatten and make the forest and its valleys geometric elements : Gomes particularly likes “playing with concepts, playing with facts”.

Outside our knowledge, these symmetrical trees may already have been destroyed by fire or monoculture. «I am interested in this element of the unique, when a variation of one and the same pattern is created during an individual transfer of a technologically produced image» explains José Gomes, as a disciple of the examination developed in 1935 by Walter Benjamin for whom “in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced.” Part of Gomes’ production is also intended to be modular, in particular “Brincadeiras °13”. He allows a personal arrangement for the viewer, engaging and encouraging him to change : if one of his polyptychs is fundamentally altered in the reading of its composition, it does not lose its plastic force. The drawn patterns evoke pictograms, such as indigenous or African body paintings. His associations between photography and drawing transcend pure graphics, through layouts where decoration develop a symbolic value as well as an aesthetic one. The question of the heritage of extra-European artistic forms in Brazil is thus integrated into the artistic corpus of José Gomes. The foreign art object is often understood as a mystified and exotic creation without taking into account its original use, while Gomes diverts this distorted process by avoiding the use of formal cult symbols. The modest or fearful silences of Brazilian history are therefore expressed by a mathematically regulated undertone. The work of José Gomes, in the footsteps of Eco-Art artists, merges aesthetics and information. Through a tacit contestation in order to promote a societal and political awareness of current ecological issues, he awakens the involvement of the collective. Research’s advances in the field of environmental sciences are to be understood in parallel as having allowed art as a new form of mediation, as an encouragement to the public to rectify and challenge behavior. Through his “jokes” and his “games”, the artist then reminds us that to be commanded, nature must be obeyed.

Lucas Gonzalez Poggi