Antonino has always been a painter. He just took a 23-year working-holiday to feed his family.
Brazil today is on one of its regular upturns - and we all hope it will last this time - becoming a major international player and even (is this wise?) lending money to the IMF... But for much of the 20th century it was riddled with corruption and cronyism, dictatorships and the most spectacular sort of governmental histrionics. Art belonged to the leisured few. How many Brazilian painters can you cite? Then whittle them down to painters known internationally.
In his early twenties, he took his portfolio to the art school and asked if they could teach him to paint. They looked, handed back his work and said: “Sorry, there’s not much we can teach you...”
He stopped painting, and these two pen and inks are all he has of that period (click on either image to enlarge).
There's obviously more to this than meets the eye, but it seems hard to believe he didn’t understand the message. There has to be a reason. I have my suspicions. But that's something for Antonino himself to discuss. Perhaps, simply, when you come from a world where your mother spent her life planting beans in a field of dust to raise five children, the options are tighter. Food today, food tomorrow.
So he went to work.
Fifteen, twenty years later, he started going to art exhibitions. Not everything he saw he liked. One evening, talking with a gallery-owner, he said: “I could do better than that”, to which there's not much you can reply...
– “Well do so then...”
His first painting is... "interesting", it has something of Bacon’s crushed and grotesque beauty, but little evident potential. After this, he daubed a couple of throwaways, feeling out the land, and by his fifth or sixth, he was a painter. The next series of paintings, 70 x 50 cms, were little more than confidence-builders, exercises in brain-hand coordination, in color, baby steps in daring to open the jungle in his brain. Within a year, he painted Catarina Paraguaçu, his first masterpiece. I find it stunning. Judge for yourself.
Currently, Antonino lives in Salvador, Bahia.
Over the past few years, he's had a number of joint or one-man exhibitions, winning first prize at the Centro Cultural Dannemann's VI Bienal do Recôncavo, and others elsewhere, but mainly he's been keeping himself to himself. One reason, and not the least, is the present project. He could have started selling paintings locally, there were plenty of buyers, but he refused.
The reason was quite simple: the museum. Both he and I wanted to keep as many of his paintings together in one single place designed for that alone. So far so good.