Later, I met Gonçalo in New York City where we spent a few days looking at art and talking about painting, family and the world. I have been constantly impressed by the generosity of his sensibility, and the acuity of his observations, as well as his broad awareness and embrace of contemporary theory in paradoxical contrast with the sense of tradition and poeticism with which he approaches his own practice. This paradox has evolved as a great strength and distinguishing characteristic through his thirty year career in which he has built an astonishingly deep and diverse body of work that is both participating in the international painting dialogue, and deflecting that conversation to include primal impulses that seem almost lost to the contemporary discourse.
Gonçalo’s life experience is distinctive -- as the son of poet Ledo Ivo he grew up in Brazil surrounded by painters and poets, and living with an art collection that included the work of Alfredo Volpi which inspired him at an early age. Within this environment, this heritage of intellectual and aesthetic richness, Gonçalo developed his work as a daily ritual of observation and transformation, inseparable from and integrally woven with his culture and surroundings. Unlike much of the theory driven abstract painting in the international contemporary art scene, Gonçalo's work is steeped in a deep identification with an ancestral tradition of poetic production. It positions itself within a non-linear time space where human creative endeavor is not a strategy but an act of devotion.
Yet in a real sense, this work is by its very nature directly addressing the prevailing theoretical context. About ten years ago, Gonçalo relocated to Paris, while continuing to maintain his Teresopolis studio, shuttling back and forth between France and Brazil. In a most interesting and revealing statement, he has said that he felt he needed to move toParis to be more Brazilian. It is obvious and important that his relocation has not changed the fundamental approach and appearance of his paintings, but what has changed is the context within which the most distinguishing aspects of his paintings are considered. Just as Duchamp ultimately defined and expanded his relationship to his own milieu through contextual contrasts, Gonçalo’s ability to amplify the distinctive sources of his impulses has given prominence to the rich and complex dialogue that exists in his work between ancient and contemporary, primal and theoretical, elemental and ethnic.
Central to Gonçalo’s working premise are color (in all its dynamic and evocative possibilities) and process (the act and materials of making) -- the elemental properties through which he engages and transfigures the world, and by which his paintings assert their identity. They are conspicuously hand-made objects that revel in their own lush physicality, and emit a deep visual opulence. Using various geometric motifs, recently dominated by long sweeping horizontal color bands of varying heights and thicknesses, the artist applies layer upon layer of tempera then oil paint sometimes mixed with marble dust or some other gritty substance, working the color contrasts and resonances up to the level of a taut hum. Some of his most recent works are virtual monochromes with slight value and saturation shifts across vast surfaces creating a kind of shimmering presence. The left and right edges sometimes contain a thin strip in which the colors change, like a slight movement glimpsed in our peripheral vision, implying both containment and continuation of the image or the existence of something unseen. There is solidity in the symmetry of the compositions and in the dense materiality of the surfaces that is often contradicted or rendered weightless by the ethereality of the color relations.
So as we see, it is possible to effectively appreciate these gorgeous objects in purely formal terms, and it is certainly possible to place them firmly within a contemporary theoretical framework that embraces geometric abstraction and the primacy of color. They are after all impeccably crafted, conceptually rigorous, utterly contemporary paintings. But they possess something that sets them apart – an abiding authenticity. It is surely impossible to really look at these paintings and not sense that they are born of deep and intense experience – that they embody in their dynamism and their presence a human spirit of ancient origin. What we see is the endless bountiful flow of great rivers, the constant flux of perception, the exquisite undulating beauty of nature’s randomness. What we sense in Gonçalo Ivo’s visual poetry is the beauty and dignity of human labor, a genealogy of human sentience and intuition, an embrace of paradox.