Ancient and modern, traditional and eccentric, pensive and outgoing, simply and extraordinarily contradictory – this is how Bruno Pedrosa, the man and the artist, presents himself to the world. We cannot speak about the life of the man without talking about the work of the artist, nor, conversely, can his art be separated from his life.
Born on 11 January 1950 on Catingueira fazenda in the Brazilian sertão, Raimundo Pinheiro Pedroza XIV bears the name of his ancestors with pride and dignity, aware since he was a child that his family tradition goes back centuries and is bound to the land of northeast Brazil. Brought up in the home of his paternal grandparents after the tragic loss of his mother when he was one year old, every day he listened to the stories the old people, swinging in their hammocks in the alpendre, told at the end of the workday to the children seated cross-legged, curious to know and learn from their wisdom.
This is the context in which family, friends, and ties revealed themselves to be, for the artist, the very essence of a man’s life. He made his first drawings at the age of five or six for his sister: stage sets for the stories she acted out with her dolls. After elementary school at a boarding school in Crato, 200 kilometers from the fazenda, and classical high school in Fortaleza, when he was eighteen years old, Bruno went to his father, a farmer like his fathers before him for countless generations, and told him about the decision that would change his life: he wanted to go to Rio de Janeiro, 3,500 kilometers away, to study in the best fine arts academy in the country and to become an artist. Even though Manuel Pedroza did not understand his son’s decision, he supported him wholeheartedly, giving him the opportunity to earn a degree in art history, philosophy and archeology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. In his time there, from 1969 to 1975, Bruno took advantage of summer vacations to travel and explore South America, getting to know different places, people, cultures, and histories that enriched him in mind and spirit. He visited Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru. His studies of archeology made him curious and whetted his desire to delve more deeply into the culture and art of the Incas. All this influenced his art; in these years of study and research, his work is divided between representational drawings depicting the soul of the places he knew and surrealist academic drawings which pushed him to look inside himself, to superimpose images and thoughts, putting his formal capacities to the test.
It may seem paradoxical that a contemporary artist has a deep passion for archeology and history, but this is not the case. Pedrosa’s artistic development has evolved along his entire life and is not yet finished. He was born a draftsman, and initially his drawings depicted what struck him in the world around him, from the ancient and traditional world of the sertão to the contemporary, frenetic big-city scene of Rio de Janeiro. His arrival in the city in the 1970s brought him into contact with many figures of the intellectual world of that time, among them Rachel de Queiroz, Jorge Amado, Roberto Burle Marx, and a few years later Pietro Maria Bardi, an art critic and director of the Museo de Arte de São Paulo, who acted as mentor and supporter for the young Pedrosa, even organizing for him a series of shows in the United States and Mexico. Bruno’s studies at the academy and the frenzy of his new life led him to experiment, moving from monochrome to color, from essential figurative drawings to introspective surreal designs, a prelude, as it were, to his future transformations. And yet, his journeys into history, to Ouro Preto, Machu Pichu, Oruro, kept him rooted in tradition. This same love of tradition led him to do genealogical research, lasting thirty years by now, to reconstruct his family tree from its origins in the seventeenth century to the current generation.
Once he had finished university, Pedrosa set out in search of something, not just a deeper, more authentic contact with himself, but a way of living that would give him inner peace. Thus he decided in 1976 to enter the Benedictine monastery in Rio de Janeiro, where he would stay for five years. It is here that Raimundo Pinheiro Pedroza became Bruno, the name the monks gave him because of his temperamental affinity with his more famous predecessors, Saint Bruno and Giordano Bruno. In these years, Bruno continued to work, producing a series of drawings in and about the monastery, later published in an album; but at the same time he took every opportunity to learn and refine his intellectual and manual abilities, volunteering to work in the library and in the bookbinding workshop. However, in the monastery he did not find what he was seeking and when the time came to profess his vows he decided to leave and come back into the world.
He picked up where he left off, opened his studio to the public, and there he met Elinor, whom he married in 1981 and who turned out to be, in the artist’s own words, “an irreplaceable presence in my life.” This life change was reflected in his work; he made a series of portraits in which the likeness of the faces is as precise as the colors are distorted and unreal. His portrait of John Paul II, now in the Vatican, is part of this series.
Together with his wife, in 1987 he decided to move from Rio de Janeiro to Nova Friburgo, where he had a studio immersed in the green landscape. This change in his life brought the artist to painting and to a change of style: drawing remained the foundation of his works, but the focus of his attention now shifted to color.
In 1990 came a new and important decision: Europe. Bruno moved with his family to Busca in the province of Cuneo, the birthplace of his father-in-law, the tenor Giovanni Garnero. He felt at home in Piedmont: the fields of poppies, the smells of the earth, the mountains. Here, on the other side of the world, he found again some of the fundamental values of his upbringing: the wisdom of the elders, the serene dignity of the people, the importance of traditions. And once again his art changed along with him. His drawings presented little views of the town, but his paintings expressed the tumult of his feelings and grew abstract. They are hesitant, composed, structured, but abstract. Pedrosa set out along a path of no return. From now on, his art would change again and again, but he would never go back to representation, which he abandoned completely at the beginning of the 1990s.
Bruno found in painting his instrument for experimentation, arriving at the expression no longer of the essentiality of what he saw, but his emotions in front of the experiences of his life. His art grew with him, influenced by his studies, travels, and discoveries. Thus Pedrosa constantly reinvents himself, ranging over all the continents of art and the world, from painting to sculpture, from Latin America to Europe, by way of glass, ceramics, bronze, jewelry, and cardboard totems, crossing Brazil, the United States, Italy, Holland. France, Spain, Portugal, and Germany. If, then, his work is evolving over time in ever different structures and forms, influenced by the most tranquil or tormented periods of his life, his
technical and manual skill remains unchanged, manifested in the fineness of the details, the precision of the outlines, the steadiness of his line.
In 1991, the Pedrosa family moved to Bassano del Grappa, in the heart of the Veneto region, where the artist found everything he needed to express himself. In Venice he discovered Murano glass, which won him over for its bright colors; this was the beginning of the partnership between Bruno and Oscar, a master glassblower, who helps him paint in glass. In Verona he makes his bronze sculptures, intrigued by the centuries-old tradition of working with metal and the innovative patinas that can be created.
In his happy moments he paints. In his moments of desperation he creates plastic, energetic sculptures. In his moments of seeking, spiritual, personal and artistic, he draws.
In the peace and quiet of his summer vacations in Saint Tropez, Pedrosa does his drawings, the artistic expression of his contemplation of the places and colors around him, with a precision and concentration that only inner peace can give.
But his brother’s untimely death in 2006 made him unable to face the canvas, the mirror of his soul; for a year he did not paint. In this moment of suffering, his need for expression changed with him, and thus a new series of Murano glass sculptures was born. Each work was the result of a physical effort on the part of the artist, who with all his energy and the weight of his body shaped the glass by leaning on the wheel. Only after unleashing his rage and grief in this way did Pedrosa go back to painting, but after this interval his painting style was transformed and revealed a new maturity. In his new paintings, Bruno encapsulates all that the universe of his sculpted works has taught him: the dazzling, captivating light of Murano glass reappears in his choice of oil colors; the perfect formal balance of his bronzes infuses the evident importance of volume and optical depth; the concreteness of the pasty clay which lies at the base of his sculptures in bronze and marble gives life to a new utilization of paint, no longer diluted, but thick and voluminous.
Thus we understand that Pedrosa’s style is unique and well-defined; in the same way, his countless artistic expressions represent his personality, complex and essential at the same time. So it is useless and superficial to look for a concrete meaning in his forms, because they are themselves his art, his world view, his life.
Text by Thereza Pedrosa