“José Leonilson (1957-1993) came of age as an artist during the 80s generation in Brazil. What he shared with this diverse artistic milieu was the so-called ‘joy of painting,’ rediscovered in the years following the end of Brazil’s dictatorship. What separated him from his contemporaries was his personal way of working and his distinct aesthetic centered on raw emotional feelings, introspective musings, and private affairs.
Americas Society presents José Leonilson: Empty Man, the first U.S. solo exhibition of this key Brazilian artist. Focusing on Leonilson’s production as a mature artist, the show features approximately fifty paintings, drawings, and intimate embroideries made between the mid-1980s until 1993, when the artist died of AIDS. This short yet prolific period showcases the artist’s fully developed language, connecting Leonilson’s oeuvre with contemporary art practices, Brazilian vernacular traditions, and global issues prompted by the AIDS crisis. By taking as its starting point the works produced during the last three years of his life and moving backwards into the 1980s, the exhibition maps Leonilson’s artistic journey following the reverse chronology of T.S. Eliot: ‘In the beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning’.” — Americas Society
Cheio, vazio [Full, Empty], 1992, 21 ¼ x 19 5/16 in. (54 x 49 cm.), thread on voile and striped cotton fabric. Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (Donation from Bayer S.A., 1996) © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Edouard Fraipont
Empty man, 1991, 20 7/8 x 14 9/16 in. (53 x 37 cm.), thread on embroidered linen. Bezerra Dias Family Collection / Projeto Leonilson © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Rubens Chiri
Far south far north, c. 1991, 11 x 7 1/16 in. (28 x 18 cm.), Guipure lace, thread, and beads on voile on unstretched canvas. Damon and Patricia Smith, Private Collection © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Maria Paula Armelin
O que posso fazer dentro de mim [What Can I Do Inside Myself], 1991, 25 3/8 x 16 9/16 in. (67 x 42 cm.), acrylic paint and colored pencil on unstretched canvas. Collection of Fabio Cimino © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Rubens Chiri
Puros e duros [Pure and Hard], 1991, 10 ¼ x 8 ¼ x 11/16 in. (26 x 21 x 1.7 cm.), embroidery and stones on cloth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of the Estate of José Leonilson and purchased with funds provided by Gary and Tracy Mezzatesta © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Romulo Fialdili
Jogos perigosos [Dangerous Games], c. 1990, 19 11/16 x 23 5/8 in. (50 x 60 cm.), acrylic paint on canvas. Collection of Luisa Strina © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Rubens Chiri
2 rapazes na guerra [2 young men in the war], c. 1989, 57 7/8 x 34 ¼ in. (147 x 87 cm.), acrylic paint on unstretched canvas. Almeida e Dale Galeria de Arte © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: J.W.M. Boerringter
Pequeno reino [Small Kingdom], c. 1988, 12 5/8 x 9 7/16 in. (32 x 24 cm.), watercolor on cut paper glued on paper. Almeida e Dale Galeria de Arte © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Sergio Guerini
Cidades europeias com botões e escudos [European Cities with Buttons and Shields], 1988, 14 1/16 x 25 x 3/8 in. (35.7 x 63.5 x 1 cm.), acrylic paint, colored pencil, thread, and buttons on unstretched canvas. Collection of Fatima Pinto Coelho © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Edouard Fraipont
As ruas da cidade [The City Streets], c. 1988, 78 ¾ x 37 3/8 in. (200 x 95 cm.), acrylic paint on unstretched canvas. Collection of Charlo Whately © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Rubens Chiri
A chamada [The Call], 1986, 40 15/16 x 61 in. (104 x 155 cm.), acrylic paint on unstretched canvas. Almeida e Dale Galeria de Arte © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Sergio Guerini
O pescador de pérolas [Pearl Fisher], 1991, 14 3/16 x 12 3/16 in. (36 x 31 cm.), thread and metallic paint on voile. Collection of Orandi Momesso © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Rubens Chiri
Mirro, c. 1975, 15.35 x 15.75 x 3.15 in. (39 x 40 x 8 cm.), acrylic paint, felt, and thread on jeans, cardboard, and wood, glass, and metal frame. Bezerra Dias Family Collection / Projeto Leonilson © Projeto Leonilson PHOTO: Edouard Fraipont
José Leonilson: Empty Man is curated by Cecilia Brunson, Gabriela Rangel, and Susanna V. Temkin.
Images courtesy Americas Society.