da menor importância Rodrigo Bivar

24/02/2024 - 22/03/2024

To write or discuss the work of Rodrigo Bivar (1981, born in Brasília, lives and works in São Paulo) is to bring to the surface words, signs and themes that go beyond the repertoire commonly found in discussions of visual arts or in the media that promotes it. Such evidence makes the identification of a poetic universe, simultaneously plastic and literary, more speculative and imaginative, linking the everyday spontaneity of prose in the public sphere in constant confrontation with the world.

Perhaps in this distancing from a vicious debate is a good point to observe the artist’s body of work, especially this new set of paintings developed after the period of physical suspension that we experienced over more than two years of the pandemic. Placed in dialogue in the exhibition space, these paintings present a more expansive condition of the work. They prompt us to weave some signs in the confabulation of narratives that can be constructed by observing each painting or even in the thread that connects each of them in a large speculative web of what everyday life presents to us.

As such, it suffices to pick one of the larger paintings and contemplate. I choose, for example, the work “Peixaria” (2023) and ask myself: what will this couple do? Will they have a Sunday lunch, or is it just a choice for a home-cooked meal in the middle of the week? Did the artist have any criteria for their presence to evoke the desire to stage them? And why is the recording done from behind, from the side, in an imprecise movement of receiving a bag with fish?

Faced with a series of questions that arise, depending on which work we look at, a prior one seems essential: were these captured scenes imagined in their entirety, or did the artist reproduce a moment he had recorded in his day? I can answer: Bivar in recent times has turned to daily photography, as a refuge from the ordinary world, continuously observing the life that surrounds him. I dare say it’s almost like a record of the artist’s solitude, away from the manufactured immediacy of the internet in the age of social media. He seems to create small obsessions with moments that generally go unnoticed, seemingly insignificant. It’s always an attempt to capture the other, probably the one who now only observes us through a social media avatar. It is a recording activity, however, diametrically opposed to the intentionality of what we are accustomed to classifying with the term “instagrammable.” It is by no means an imagistic repertoire that conspires with the new and good practices of contemporary art or the all-powerful force of photojournalism. None of that. It is simply the expressive force of a scene, one of the most ordinary scenes to which our gaze no longer pays attention.

At this point, one of the numerous points of interest that permeated our conversations in recent months is the desire to recover for our views and dialogue the triviality of what we see in cinema, that of ninety minutes that best touches our bureaucratic lives of survival, which we constantly try to escape. In this case, we can mention the filmography of the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki: an artist who has always worked with uninteresting light conditions, impoverished food dishes, characters without extended or grandiose discursive practices, tearing performances that do not bow to theatrical expressiveness, the representation of degrading or uninteresting areas like the outskirts of London or Helsinki. All of this does not make his cinema more or less human, but it confronts us embarrassingly with the feasible reality of everyday life – from losing a job to the hardships of a new love. We could talk about many other cinematic initiatives, such as the narratives of Jim Jarmusch or the visual and socio-political research of Chantal Akerman. And still, speaking of recent movies, why not the delicacy of “Aftersun,” a cinematic gem by the young Charlotte Wells?

It was with this long and spontaneous exchange of references that the idea of a “scene painting” occurred to me. I see Rodrigo’s pictorial practice as an exercise in scene, linked to a larger plot over which we have no control, nor do we know where it is located between document and fiction. Unlike what is seen at various times in the history of painting, there is no indication of representing a historical passage or denouncing a social situation. Every action represented resorts to the repertoire of references that we all keep in our everyday experience. That is, there is no novelty!

It seems not to be a painting with a desire to legitimize the grand history and aesthetics of a time. What it represents has a more intimate relationship with the spontaneity of the real. Each of the anonymous people represented is stripped of pride or any sign of immodesty. The painting configures the gaze at the common man, that common and anonymous person we encounter every day on the street. And this representation of the character is never given by the frontality of what is observed, given the tradition of the portrait itself. What is seen is something sketched askance by the painting.

The very movement of the brushstrokes indicates a gesture that escapes what is observed in frontal rectitude or from what is usual cinematic framing; almost like he constructs a fragment of an oblique scene. This is what we can notice in the girl in a swimsuit on a beach, as in the painting “Areia” (2023), or even the man standing reading a pamphlet while holding his two dogs in any public square, as outlined in “Panfleto” (2023). Others, without any hint of drama and almost always in a possible diagonal movement, denote a transitory passage; a momentary pause for a possible transit between two points; the interval rest in front of a day’s work; the change of environment or a transitory wait for boarding a taxi or Uber. These are the scenes we see in “Represa” (2024), “Vaso” (2023), “Cigarro no terraço” (2023), and “Enquanto isso” (2023). All of them are pictorial works that emulate or maintain proximity to the human scale of the viewer.

Overall, in my view, Bivar’s paintings are of few and rare words. It is reiterated that there is no clarity of representation that can be translated into a premeditated textual discourse or induced by the heat of the themes that seem to circumscribe and create a layer of protection and valuation of art. I venture to say that each of these paintings, isolated or interdependent in an exhibition space, can induce in text or discourse the use of figures of speech, as we attribute rhetorical qualities to the painted situations. Therefore, in this aspect, there is a literary quality of the visual work.

Rodrigo’s visual literature and his circuit of themes are the ultimate expression of what is most ordinary in each one’s day and night, also illuminating the times and hardships that make us traverse life. There is a fearless sense of confronting, in a momentary agenda with those who observe it, what often, these days, would be non-issues. Ironically, these are the things that make us survive. Better yet, it’s not a circuit but a park square of themes that engage in dialogue and direct confrontation in the gallery space.

Moreover, this intentional desire to present the public sphere in the form of a large square with benches, paths, and other noises that dignify the very idea of a park, the most well-known remnant of public space we have in the contemporary city. It is in this territory of negotiating the primacy of the public that composes the setting for each framing presented in his 13 paintings of the exhibition. This resonates again when we look and circulate through the space of Galeria Leme. I would highlight a large painting from this exhibition, the work “Vitamina D” (2023), in which we see a lady sitting outdoors, on a wooden deck. It is one of the public spaces that best reflects a negotiated playful coexistence: the beach over a wooden deck designed by Lina Bo Bardi, in the context of Sesc Pompeia.

Consequently, it is noticeable in each work that the territory of action is the street, but the territory of the senses is the body of each one that passes there, just like each of the characters suggested by the artist in his oblique scene paintings. In so many back-and-forths in exchanges with Rodrigo Bivar, I could not help but underline some poetic points of contact between his painting and the romanticized imagination of one of the great American writers of the second half of the 20th century, Philip Roth. In a more general sense, Roth was an author capable of laying bare characters who, in many cases, are stripped until their real vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and deviations of character are reached. It is as if there were no longer any room for the extraordinary.

In that classic bar conversation with the artist, an evident connection with Roth’s novel “Everyman” came to mind. Basically, throughout its almost one hundred and fifty pages, the author constructs the life story of an average American who traversed the years in search of a certain promise of temporary peace and happiness, guided by the most mundane desires. Like this main character, his fiction can be approached to the supposed stories of each of the characters that Bivar presents to us. In this sense, the point of confluence lies in the ultimate strength of the vitality of each person in this earthly life: survival in the face of the darkness of impending death. Each of his represented characters fosters the life of an ordinary person, coupled with their missteps. It is in this swift current face to face with the facts of everyday life that pleasure and terrible, pain and beauty, right and wrong reside. Therefore, perhaps what bothers or seduces us most in the artist’s painting is precisely this strange familiarity that follows the observation of each scene whose unfolding we do not know but that we already imagine we have seen.

* * *

Basta quase nada [Just almost anything]

E eu já quase não gosto [And I almost don’t like it anymore]

E já nem gosto do modo que de repente [And I don’t even like the way that suddenly]

Você foi olhada por nós[1] [You were looked after by us][2]

Caetano Veloso, in “Da maior importância”

Certainly, what Rodrigo Bivar proposes to us as a painting goes in the opposite direction of the spectacle of literal images and captions on social media. We are increasingly trained to normalize the disposable nature of consumption as a norm, or rather, as essence. And this is ingrained in all the media we access daily. The press itself has been hunting for an audience and clicks for more than a decade, giving shallow prominence to celebrity journalism and the like. A specific case, a kind of watershed for our press, seems to be the first link between Caetano Veloso and Bivar’s painting.

“Caetano Veloso Strolls through Leblon and Parks the Car.”[3] It was with this very long title that a journalist published an article on the Terra portal in early March 2011. In it, only a sequence of images of Caetano Veloso crossing a street in Rio de Janeiro after Carnival is publicized. In the main photo, there is a sideways look or even a presence, as if looking around and making sure that it is the right time to cross the street. There is no information beyond the literalness in the captions or images. This publication has since become a curious case in the news industry that took over this advertising, not journalistic, idea of “content production.” No matter what it is: what matters is to activate a myriad of viewers, each in their solitary screen life.

During a visit to the artist’s studio, I couldn’t help but realize this image when observing the work “Enquanto isso” (2023), a scene very similar to what the paparazzi sold to the news portal in a post-Carnival. Despite the laughter we shared when we realized such a similarity, it seemed important to underline this mirroring of the ordinary, almost circular between Veloso’s candid photo, the caption that reiterates the image, the photo Bivar spontaneously captured on the street, and the subsequently constructed painting. It’s as if we witnessed a vicious cycle, the same one that ordinarily feeds us in our days. And if we looked at this similarity and made an exercise of activating this scene we saw in the recent past? Of course, we would find astonishing similarities. The only real point of divergence is the countless presence of anonymous people passing through this situation.

It is in this observation of the other that we find comforting and disturbing elements at the same time. There is a continuous negotiation with the other when we are not at rest; even the dream is dominated by this dialogical instance with the other. Coincidentally, this is the monologue of the song “Of Greater Importance,” composed by Caetano in the 1970s. The song is melody, but it is also literary text. This text can also be a cinematic passage. And why not a painting of a moment? It is assumed that the song reflects on a flirtation or a lived exchange between two characters. It is also from this exchange or flirtation that captures us when we look at each of these paintings.

In a certain sense, the final thrust of this exhibition – which irremediably connects all the anonymous people portrayed in a factual, passing, or apparently careless manner – is that all these people, like us observing them, are in a continuous game of survival, almost exclusively solitary, each dealing with their own body and presence. As we said before, it is this common, almost frugal experience that we are daily circumventing with elaborate subterfuges and renewed life impulses. As Philip Roth described at the end of the saga of his “Everyman” in life: he, the character, “ceased to be, freed himself from being without realizing it. Just as he feared from the beginning.”[4] After all, everything else is of lesser importance.



Diego Matos, January and February 2024


[1] Verses from the third part of the first long stanza of the song “Da maior importância” by Caetano Veloso, initially recorded by Gal Costa on her album “Índia” (1973), a landmark in contemporary Brazilian music. Caetano himself went on to record the song on his album “Qualquer Coisa” (1975), imparting a different cadence to the reflective monologue of this song. The reference used for transcribing the excerpt was the edition of the lyrics, revised by Caetano himself, found in the publication: VELOSO, Caetano. Lyrics/Caetano Veloso; organized by Eucanaã Ferraz. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2022. p. 369.

[2] Translation of lyrics from: https://flowlez.com/en/songs/da-maior-importancia-231886/

[3] To understand the nuances of this unusual passage in Brazilian journalism, it’s worth reading the text published by the author ten years later in the Piauí magazine: https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/materia/eu-existo/#

[4] Excerpt taken from a passage in the novel: ROTH, Philip. Everyman. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2007. p. 131.