Sunday, September 19, 2021

Luiz Zerbini | Art Basel Artwork in Focus

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Luiz Zerbini, ‘Maxixe’, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160cm (63 x 63in). Copyright Luiz Zerbini. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.Artwork in Focus: Art Basel 2020
Luiz Zerbini, ‘Maxixe’

For the duration of Art Basel’s second Online Viewing Room, Stephen Friedman Gallery is highlighting one work every day from its virtual booth. Each focussed newsletter offers a closer look into the artist’s process and the themes raised by the selected work. Over the next four days, the gallery will be sharing works by Yinka Shonibare CBE, Denzil Forrester, Marina Adams and Leilah Babirye.


Inspired by the Atlantic and Amazon rainforests, ‘Maxixe’ conveys the immersive and seductive quality of the Brazilian landscape. Titled after an energetic dance known as the ‘Brazilian tango’, the painting is a vibrant whirl of colour and form. Juxtaposing abstract shapes with areas of pattern that evoke flora and fauna, this work reflects Brazilian artist Luiz Zerbini’s ongoing interest in the relationship between nature and humanity in and around Rio de Janeiro. “I think it’s a reflection of the place I live,” he explains. “Rio de Janeiro has a huge forest just inside of the city. Everything is mixed. It’s an urban landscape, but it’s really full of nature.”

For this new painting, Zerbini uses the quadrangular grid as a primary structuring device. An emblem of Modernist thought, the grid is typically associated with the static, antinatural and systematic. By incorporating curvilinear shapes and expressive patterns derived from organic forms, Zerbini transforms the grid’s tight squares into lenses in a kaleidoscopic vision. This dizzying combination captures the intoxicating sights and sounds of the Brazilian city, the mosaic pavements and façades of tower blocks surrounded with verdant life. Waving, foliage-like forms and dense patterns interrupt the rectilinear grid and lend the composition a natural rhythm that recalls the movement of water or trees swaying in the breeze.


In a career, spanning over three decades, Zerbini has developed a complex visual vocabulary rooted at the intersection of figuration and abstraction. He first emerged within the generational (and global) ‘return to painting’ of the 1980s, centred in the Parque Lage School of Visual Arts, Rio de Janeiro and subsequently defined by the landmark exhibition ‘Como vai você Geração 80?’ (How Are You Doing, 80s Generation?, 1984). ‘Fire’, Zerbini’s second solo exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery will open in late 2020. This follows Zerbini’s acclaimed solo exhibition at South London Gallery in 2018 and a major presentation in the group exhibition ‘Trees’ at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, in 2019. At Fondation Cartier, Zerbini transformed the main gallery into an urban jungle, combining a large-scale herbarium — complete with a living fig tree — with hyperreal paintings of the rainforest and symbols of Brazilian modernity.

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