The close creative dialogue of two Brazilian painters, Alfredo Volpi and Eleonore Koch




HOUSTON – In 1953, influential art collector Theon Spanudis introduced young Brazilian painter Eleonore Koch to more established artist, Alfredo Volpi. Koch was looking for a mentor at the time and became the only student Volpi had ever hired. Every Saturday for the next three years, Koch visited the studio of the older painter in São Paulo, learning, in his own words, “by observing and being together, by eating together, by doing the dishes, by observing his rhythm. of work, how he prepared the canvas, lived his destiny as an artist and had the courage to destroy works that were not up to par. Perhaps more importantly, Volpi taught Koch to work with egg tempera, an ancient painting medium popular in medieval and early Renaissance art. Both would use the highly pigmented, quick-drying technique for the rest of their careers.

Long after their first meeting, Alfredo Volpi and Eleonore Koch at the Sicardi gallery brings the two artists back into a close creative dialogue. First shown together in the United States, the richly colored and carefully composed paintings and drawings by Koch and Volpi from the 1950s to the late 1990s offer a new interplay of form, color and flatness. The exhibition offers viewers the rare opportunity to see the work of two inventive and unique artists who not only have indelibly shaped themselves, but also whose legacy remains woefully underestimated in much of the world.

Eleonore Koch, “Interior with Yellow and Green Chair” (1987), Tempera on canvas, 25 9/16 x 36 3/16 inches

Although Volpi belonged to the pre-Koch generation – the two were born and died exactly 30 years apart – he was not “the most obvious mentor to a young artist,” wrote the curator. ‘Cecilia Brunson exhibit in a recent email to Hyperallergic. The son of working-class immigrants, Volpi came to São Paulo from Lucca, Italy, at the age of two. With only a primary education, he worked as a bookbinder and later as a painter-decorator, and began painting canvases in his spare time. “His initial approach to painting had no connection with the avant-garde debates of the time,” Brunson said. And although he was interested in geometric abstraction and painted with luminous forms, Volpi never affiliated with any artistic movement or group. Instead, he remained mostly self-taught, befriending other working-class immigrant artists and attending as many local exhibitions as he could.

In contrast, Koch “came from a middle-class background of German Jewish immigrants and had formal artistic training in Brazil and abroad,” noted Brunson. Although she absorbed elements of Volpi’s simplified forms and intense colors, Koch never left the figuration behind. This decision hampered his career in Brazil and eventually forced him to move to London in 1968. Koch lived abroad for the next 20 years, painting quiet domestic scenes and imagining gardens inspired by English neoclassical architecture. Despite their calm and orderly atmosphere, Koch’s sparse images of chairs, pedestals, and plants are strikingly harsh and subtly imbued with sentiment. In the 1990s, Koch had returned to Brazil. Paintings from this era exhibit a curious concern for the canvas as a workspace – shaped and modeled like a desk – where handwriting artifacts like ink blots and crumpled paper appear again and again.

Despite their innovations, the two artists struggled to get the recognition they deserve. “Although Volpi is considered one of the greatest Brazilian painters,” said Brunson, “his work did not quite fit into the narratives of Concrete and Neo-Concrete art that have become synonymous with Brazilian art in the past. ‘foreigner.” As for Koch, “her main obstacles were the fact that her work always remained firmly figurative when geometric abstraction was the dominant trend in Brazil in the late 1940s and 1950s and the fact that she was a woman working in a male dominated environment. “However, this latest exhibition is an opportunity for the American public to take another look at these two artists – and their impact on each other.

Eleonore Koch, “Untitled” (1981), tempera on canvas, 35 x 42 1/8 inches
Alfredo Volpi, “Untitled (Ogiva)” (1970), tempera on canvas, 28 5/16 x 18 7/8 inches
Alfredo Volpi and Eleonore Koch at the Sicardi gallery, view of the installation
Eleonore Koch, “Untitled” (1973), pastel on paper, 17 11/16 x 23 13/16 inches

Alfredo Volpi and Eleonore Koch continues at the Sicardi Gallery (1506 West Alabama Street, Houston, Texas) until October 16, 2021. The exhibition is curated by Cecilia Brunson.

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