Francisco da Silva
1910, Alto Tejo - AC / 1985, Fortaleza - CE
Was born in Acre, in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, son of Mervina Felis de Lima and the Peruvian Indian mestizo Domingos da Silva. He is perhaps the first popular artist, after Vitalino in the media to become known nationwide and even in specialized foreign markets. In a interview with me at his home in Pirambu, in 1974, Chico Silva spoke in fluent and correct Portuguese about his childhood, summing it up: “to the manager from the river, shooting pellets at birds”. He moved to Ceará State with his family when he was six years old. He then went to live on a farm in Quixadá. On the death of his mother, who had recommended him to farmer friends, “I was being brought up always among people. I didn’t need to go to school. I already had nature.” When He was 12 years old He moved to Guaramiranga, where He stayed until early manhood. He began painting in Fortaleza, capital of the State of Ceará, his home since 1935, doing odd jobs in shoemaking, plumbing, welding, stonemasonry, and carpentry, and painting walls. What he most enjoyed doing, however, “was to draw on the walls of fishermen’s houses using fresh green grass and white and red bricks (because I didn’t have paint at the time)”. Heloisa Juaçaba added: “He would also use a piece of charcoal that he would call caon mortuário, to obtain black and gray effects.” And then his large Amazon birds, marine figures and dragons were seen for the first time by the Swiss critic and painter Jean Pierre Chabloz, during his first stay in Ceará, between 1943 and 1944. “No one knew the name of those fishes”, Chico told me, “because each day I’d invent a different fish: my mind’s full of fishes.” One of the dragons could be “the Dadãodão, a prehistoric monster of the air, things of the past century. And Redemunho with its prehistoric hell, a life of persecution. Children pursue their parents because they want to be better than they are”, he concluded in Freudian fashion. Chabloz introduced him to gouache, a material that he continued to use his life through because of the affinity with his first way of painting, and he was invited to exhibitions in Fortaleza (1943), Geneva (1949), Neuchâtel (1956), and individual exhibitions in Rio de Janeiro (1945) and Lausanne (1950). Chabloz wrote the article for Cahiers d’Art on “A Brazilian Indian reinvents painting” in 1952, when Chico’s art was presented to André Malraux and Christian Zervos. A color feature in the O Cruzeiro magazine projected him nationwide. In 1945, when he exhibited in Rio de Janeiro at the Askanasy Gallery, critic Ruben Navarra commented: “I must say that this indigenous artist’s gouaches are a very serious thing. In Brazilian art only Cícero Dias, ten years earlier, gave me such a powerful impression of lyrical naivety with respect to painting.” The first few absences of Chabloz from Brazil in the 1940s correspond to Chico’s giving up painting, to be then resumed when the Swiss painter returned to Fortaleza. On one of his return trips in 1959 Chabloz tried to encourage Chico again, giving him a job as servant with the rector of the Federal University of Ceará, which in fact meant making a place for him to be able to paint and reflect on his work. In the University Art Museum, Chico made the large group of gouaches that are still today in its collection. The 1960s were the start of Chico’s painful and spectacular circumnavigation , when he left the University, exposed to galloping merchandising of his art, with rare moments of exception, such as the exhibitions in Relevo Gallery (Rio de Janeiro, 1963), Galeria Jacques Massol (Paris, 1965) and Brazilian Primitive Artists (cities in Europe, including Moscow, 1966). He was given honorable mention in the 1966 Venice Biennial, when critic Clarival do Prado Valladares was curator, who on that occasion wrote: “He is the interpreter of a mythology diluted in the oral tradition of a vast region that only he fixed and reflected. (…). Another relevant aspect is his plastic quality, his well-ordered and constructed composition. (…). His style, the weave of the drawing, polychromy and enriching details are outstanding characteristics.” While on this brilliant circuit, a collective production network of his works was set up in Fortaleza with the consent of the artist, who was now occasionally turning to drink. Hundreds of oil paintings canvases appeared, much easier to do than gouaches on cardboard. Chico’s exposure to media and the market had been too much. In the 1970s he fell ill and his prestige declined and copies of his work were even found in souvenirs stores. On 1974 the State government offered him another home, but the now invalid artist was admitted to a clinic in 1977, which he was to leave only to participate in the 1st Latin American Biennial, organized by the São Paulo Biennial. Further relapses, more controversies about falsifications, the grant of the lifelong pension and offer of a home by the Ceará State government were highlights in the year when Chico da Silva died, father of nine living children and one of the greatest Brazilian artists.
Little Dictionary of the Brazilian People’s Art – 20th Century, by anthropologist and poet Lélia Coelho Frota