Concerning Oscar Araripe’s exhibition, with the simple title “Flowers”, at the Brazilian Academy of Letters in Rio, at the prestigious Teodora gallery in Paris, and now at the Adams House Arts Space at the University of Harvard, where Oscar held a scholarship on two occasions, in 1966 and 1968, I remember that the curator and critic Alexei Bueno said: “the flowers in his paintings are like butterflies, their petals are wings, and we do not know if the flowers are butterflies landing on the stems or if the butterflies are flowers that have taken flight”.
I recalled a passage from Jorge Luis Borges in which the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu had dreamed he was a butterfly, and on waking did not know if he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly who had dreamed he was a man.
Oscar Araripe does not have doubts of this kind. It is with his eyes wide open that he proclaims his universal sympathy for all living beings.
And it is not through a dream that Araripe amalgamates the various personalities that live within him, but through a lucid wisdom, acquired by his intimacy with authors who habitually explore complex psychologies.
But among the various persons within this multiple person (he has been a journalist, editorial writer, columnist, novelist, essayist, art-educator...) he is naturally that which ended up dominant in him, the painter (and not a “plastic artist”, an expression that he rightly abominates). From early on he decided to become a painter, a vocation that he discovered when collecting stickers, those ones that boys would paste in an album, to compete for coveted prizes. One day, when he was unwrapping a sweet, the “difficult sticker” came out, the Three Graces by Rafael, in all the splendor of their radiant nudity. That was enough...
But refined as his work is, Oscar never had a formal artistic education. For him, the essential part of his learning took place in a working-class neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, flying a kite, playing marbles, running after a ball. What exists – and this is how he sums up his artistic creed – is art, and art makes life, and life makes colors. Only Oscar himself can say whether he achieved his ambition to be “the greatest painter in his street”, but any neutral observer will say that he has become one of the greatest painters in Brazil. And one of the most innovative, given his use of sailcloth as the support for his paintings and large tubular structures as the frame on which to exhibit his work continuously out of doors.
For 10 years, Araripe has concentrated on the flower theme, as can be seen. He says: “Synthesis: doing everything, from everything making something, to then paint flowers alone”. Indeed, he has created so many and such beautiful flowers, that one can say of him what was said of Madeleine Lemaire, the illustrious French painter and friend of Proust: after God, no one created so many and such beautiful flowers as he. And it’s fair to lie a little more: as much as God...
In other words, is it any wonder that this multifaceted man with such lovely and innovative works should have become one of the main centers of cultural fomentation, in Tiradentes, in Brazil? And in the world?
Sérgio Paulo Rouanet
Philosopher, essayist, ambassador.Former Minister of Culture of Brazil.Member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.