Fernando De Jesus Oliveira, Fergo (1946- )

The painting by Ferjo is oil on canvas measures 72″hx60″w. It is titled Contemporary Mona and dated 1980. The painting is part of the Farhat Art Museum in the Latin American collection.

Farhat Art Museum Collection مجموعة متحف فرحات

Born Fernando de Jesus Oliveira, in Bahia Brazil, in 1946 – Ferjo is one of the most dynamic and intriguing artists on the contemporary international scene. His surreal, even metaphysical way with a canvas has been earlier lauded with Ferjo winning the prestigious Crescent Scholarship at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the New York Council for the Arts Award for Excellence in portraiture and interiors. Ferjo’s signature style continues to excite our imagination and perception.

From 1974 – 1979, Ferjo trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts – an institution long-recognized for its tradition in realist painting and sculpture. During this five year period, he began painting cubist-style landscapes in the tradition of the early Georges Braques, eventually moving to realist portraiture. This is perhaps best exemplified in a mock group portrait (1978-79) of the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy in which the artist posed his subjects in sitting positions those of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”.

Having received special honors on two occasions from the Pennsylvania Academy (in 1978, and again in 1979), Ferjo’s mastery of the medium and subject matter in realist painting became widely recognized in galleries that emphasized this kind of work. Since leaving The Academy, the artist’s technical virtuosity led him to explore various themes and styles, ranging from realism to surrealism. His wildly lyrical interpretations of famous artistic motifs, such as the works by Leonardo Da Vinca, or his “homage” series to important historical figures such as Picasso, Van Gogh and Chagall have made Ferjo an artist of merit.

Those with background in the arts will recognize in Ferjo and artist who can draw, render and paint with an extraordinary life-likeness. His ability to paint realistically and then to extend realism into a hallucinogenic surrealist vision, filled with symbolic connotations taken from the world of dreams and fantasmagoria, is one of the more startling attributes to be found in the recent painting. Whether Ferjo is representing automobiles or portraits, still life arrangements or sports events, imaginary or life-like portraits, there is convincing evidence of his talent as a technician of painting. There is also evidence of the artist’s versatile and shifting imagination, as he moves with considerable agility from one motif to another, often shifting styles in the process.

Ferjo creates a kind of magic in his paintings. In some ways this magic is overdetermined, calculated, fraught with unchecked desire. Yet through these magical compositions one may get the sense of another world determined by the artist’s magic- a world of irrational occurrences where objects float above the floor, where walls disappear, where translucent bubbles are suspended in space, where the laws of perspective and scale are utterly defied. Ferjo has the painterly and graphic precision to make these acts of irrationality appear strangely out of sync. Yet the lack of synchronicity is part of the artist’s manipulation. Just as Don Juan manipulates the desires of others through the projection of his own desire, so Ferjo manipulates non-functional space and lost avenues of time, often making sentimental and illogical formulations. Desire and hallucination collide into a weird cornucopia of images. There are numerous examples of this work, and it is worth discussing a few of these paintings in detail.

In a recently published catalog, this intrepid Brazilian artist shows his skill at copying the paintings of master painters and placing them within impossible architectural interiors. These surrealist spaces herald reproductions of works by Vermeer, Van Gogh, Renoir, Magritte, Manet, Matisse, Miro, Michaelangelo, Picasso, and of course, Chagall. For example, in “A New Day” we find a cypress tree by the Dutch painter Van Gogh juxtaposed on the opposite wall with a painter resembling two lovers and a bouquet by Marc Chagall. The back wall opens out on to an hallucinogenic seascape with a purple horizon graced by intensely brilliant yellow light-perhaps a vision experienced by the painter in his native Brazil, in Rio or San Paulo, where the light against the sands of the infinite shoreline give the world an appearance of sheer fantasy. Inside the room, Ferjo has represented crude floorboards with his proverbial bubbles, half egg-shells, pencils, and books, all floating and hovering throughout the open-air room. One might surmise that “A New Day” is about-exactly that – a new day! It represents a sentimental fantasy into the known and the unknown, a retribution toward unrelenting desire, to escape from the normal quotidian realities and enter into another zone of serendipity.

In another painting from this series, titled “Homage to Magritte”, Ferjo reveals a detail based on a painting of an enlarged frontal nose by the renowned Belgian surrealist. Just as in “A New Day”, we see in this painting a display of reproductions of other works by artists and artisans. For example, there is the famous bronze statue of the Greek goddess Diana with her bow and arrow standing atop a bubble suspended slightly above the floor. There is a poster from La Belle Epoque, resembling a ToulouseLautrec on the opposite wall. There are other spheres appearing and disappearing through an impossible window and a ream of paper unraveling from behind the Magritte nose and running into the antechamber in the painting’s foreground.

The ploys of Magritte – in which perspective and scale were manipulated and deliberately distorted – have been appropriated extensively by Ferjo. One of the major differences between Magritte and Ferjo’s borrowing of this artist’s technical ploys is the latter’s use of light. We see it again in a large horizontal painting called “Dusk”. Most of the room depicted in the painting is a plate glass window that reveals the open sea. Again there is the purple hallucinogenic horizon and the omniscient yellow light that creates an intense glowing effect. Magritte, a northern European, would have never used such color in his paintings. Conversely, Ferjo does.

To offer a contrapuntal image to the image of the glowing seascape in “Dusk”, Ferjo has a painting of a charming provincial winter scene on the adjacent wall. On the opposite side of the paintings, to the left, is a bright red shutter. Two pencils hover at obtuse angles above the floor, one on either side. Just as the French painter Matisse would use color for purposes of a formal effect in the painting, so Ferjo does much the same. The bright red shutter has no particular meaning other than as a formal effect. Nonetheless, the effect is a powerful one.

These formal devices have also been used to create special graphic effects in paintings such as ” Mystical Melody” and ” Enchanted Mansion” – both painted in the mid 90’s. In the former, Ferjo employs the formal motif of a large winding staircase with an art nouveau wrought iron banister. On the wall halfway up the stairway there is a impressionist style painting of a woman playing the piano. To the left is a spectral bubble hovering in white light. To the right of the interior painting is a large butterfly. Near the foot of the blue-carpeting stairway is a broken egg-shell. All of the motifs have been used in previous paintings.

What makes “Mystical Melody” so remarkable is the complexity of images – the paintings within the interior, and the systemic placement of the three primary colors: yellow (to the right of the stairway), blue (on the carpet of the stairway) and red (on the floor beneath).

The formal elements in Ferjo’s series of domestic interiors are generally precise and calculated. Newer works in this series continue the incorporation of paintings by both old and new masters. Some of these interiors combine art nouveau posters or Pre-Raphaelite paintings with floating spheres (replacing the former bubbles), vases, fish, and butterflies. It is important to note that Ferjo’s paintings within paintings are often not precise reproductions but quotes from the artist’s work. In short, Ferjo makes an emblem of an artist’s style. Hence, we easily recognize a “Picasso” that is not a Picasso. We recognize a “Modigliani ” that is not a Modigliani. Or the artist chooses to take more than a single motif from impressionist masters and combines them. In one of the recent paintings we see a combination of Renoir’s dancing couple with the Monet’s woman holding a fan. There is an odd brilliance to some of these works as they become complex in their semiology, their network of cultural signs. The themes within the paintings being quoted not only play off one another but also to echo aspects of the actual painting itself. Also, one might see the windows in the background of these perspectival paintings as being a painting within the painting, but not necessarily quoted from an outside historical source.

Yet Ferjo has the amazing ability to play. This is an important aspect of his work. This a perhaps most evident in his “Mona Lisa” series in which he has taken the famous, oft-quoted image by Leonardo and transformed her into a myriad of personae. In one painting,we see Mona Lisa as an Italian teenager, (which undoubtedly she was), but dressed like an advertisement for a fashion designer. She wears jeans, with bare feet and long flowing kinky black hair. Her face bears the same elusive smile, but the context is today – shall we say – more ” postmodern” in its appeal. In another painting he poses as a model wearing the latest swimwear. In this painting, Ferjo has managed to divide the painting in half with the Mona Lisa on the right. On the left, we see the typical motifs of Ferjo – namely, eggshells, butterflies, pencils and a quotation of a Picasso. In a third variation, Leonardo’s subject appears pregnant and happy, her arms folded across her breasts, and wearing a delicately thin maternity blouse. Again, as with the others, Ferjo, adds to the complexity of the work by playing again with the perspective, the discontinuity of the space, and the flowing objects within it.

A related theme involves the appropriation of portraits of aristocratic women by the French Neo-Classicist Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. One painting shows the Mona Lisa quoted on the left side of a room with an Ingres quoted on the right. In the center at the end of a vestibule is a bricolage of Mannerist painting in which the nude figures are actually popping out of the guilded frame. The repertoire of Ferjo appears endless. He has recently quoted Rembrandt, Turner, and John Singer Sargeant. One might say that he has an encyclopedic grasp of the last five hundred years of Western art.

But the energy of Ferjo does not stop here. He has also painted automobiles, both old and new, in superb detail. These are more or less illustrative paintings. Yet, as early as 1979, the artist won a prize for a painting of an aerial street scene in which the overhead view of the cars comprise an abstract composition. The fundamental basis of the painting is realist but somehow the aerial perspective renders the five cars on a curving street in relation to parking spaces, pedestrians, and other architectural details, as an abstract composition.

He has also taken photographs and rendered them fastidiously into oil paintings. These would include some of his sports paintings – such as a regatta – and domestic scenes of families. Another of his visual interests involves the painting of wild animals – mammals and birds, some small, some large. His paintings representing horses are well-known by collectors of Ferjo’s work. Perhaps, lesser known are the large-scale paintings of mammals – hippos, chimpanzees, elephants, and condors. Ferjo indulges himself in these animal motifs. Instead of trophies from hunting, Ferjo has a certain veneration for these wild beasts. Rather than see these animals in a state of taxidermy mounted on wooden plaques and jutting out into the office or recreation room, Ferjo has a kinder, gentler approach. His paintings honor these creatures. His paintings give them a certain nobility, a reverence, in respect to the large domain of nature. There is a certain mystery about these mammals and birds, a quality of grandeur and innocence; yet they are also reminders of an ecological crisis in which many species have been lost due to the carelessness and thoughtlessness of mankind. In Ferjo’s paintings, we get an opposite point of view. We understand these creatures as occupying the same planet that we do. They are part of the same life-cycle, the ecological chain, that sustains us. Ferjo’s animal paintings are an omen and a celebration. They restore dignity to animals and at the same time give us a sense of well-being in respect to ourselves. We live with animals, according to Ferjo, so why not give them a honored presence as a necessary part of life.

What continues to impress audiences who see the paintings of Ferjo is his remarkable variation of subject matter, his diligence, and his expertise in coming to terms with painting as a craft as well as an art. The technical achievement and the appropriation of graphic images in Ferjo’s work is an interesting and vital aspect of art commerce today. These paintings are admired by many who understand the purpose and the role of painterly images that refer not only to the secular world but to the history of art from whence the source of Ferjo’s painting can be found and interpreted.

Robert Morgan

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