During a cold winter in New York there’s a sense of dormancy. Of peace. There’s just something quiet and still about the season. It’s a feeling perhaps best described by the colors themselves: silvery grays, pale blues, crystalline whites; even the muddy dark browns are somehow frosty and frozen and pure.
Compare that to the same time in the southern hemisphere, however, and you get something else entirely. It would be summer in a place like Brazil. And what a contrast – the vibrancy of the blue-blue sky, the lush green layers of forest, the bright hues of flowers. You can hear it in the bossa nova, see it in the surf along the coastlines, feel it at Carnaval. It’s all motion, all rhythm. All performance art, in a way. But as Daniella Bonachella, painter and native of Bauru, Brazil would tell me, visual art is a bit of a different matter.
“Art’s tough in Brazil. It’s very hard. Well, we have the big centers like São Paulo, Rio, they have galleries. But still, it’s not like here in the US. Over here, every little town has a few galleries. There are 350,000 inhabitants in Bauru and no galleries, no art museum. I have to travel for 300, maybe 350 kilometers to get to an art museum. It’s over three hours away.”
Compared with many other countries wouldn’t you guess that vibrant, energetic Brazil would actually have more art galleries? Not true at the moment. And maybe the exact reason visual arts do sit in the background is because Brazil is so synonymously linked to the performing arts (soccer fans in Brazil might even argue that the way their national team plays the game can be called performance art). This apparent imbalance was even present in Daniella’s personal experience growing up.
“I don’t have any artists in my family. My father is a prosecutor, and my mom is a teacher. They’re all government employees – my dad, my mom, my brother, my sister-in-law, everyone – so they don’t understand because they’re so stable and the money just comes every month. It’s a different thing for them – me being an artist. Oh, she’s an artist…it’s like it’s a disease, or something. Oh she’s an artist, poor thing. [Laughs] So they never really encouraged me on being an artist.”
“In Brazil, families are very close to you. Over here in the US, you turn 18 and you go away. Not there. Parents stay in your life a long time. After I finished art school my family suggested I should do something more serious. So, I went for law school. And that’s why I’m a lawyer now. But I can’t stop painting. I tried several times already, wish I could, but I can’t.”
She really means it when she says she tried to stop painting. There were even moments when she got rid of everything. And everything means everything. Paints. Brushes. Papers.
“I had to buy everything again the next week because I couldn’t stay away. Sometimes artists have these…calm times. It can last a few days or a few weeks. You don’t think too much about it. It’s not like a block, it’s just like a rest. Your mind is resting for a while and you stay like that, and then I don’t know, you feel like you’re not gonna need it any more. So I threw everything away or gave everything away to friends – just take it, I don’t want it. And then I realized I needed it again and bought everything. [Laughs] How many times are you gonna do that?”
“I say that the painting talks to me. I kind of ask for what she wants, like maybe red or bright yellow, it’s almost a conversation. And sometimes when I’m working on a piece they just die because they stop talking. They just don’t ask for anything else, so I leave it there for a while and wait. And sometimes they don’t talk anymore. [Laughs] But they usually ask for what they want, the colors and everything, and it goes with my mood or something that happened in my life.”
Keep studying the work and the impression sinks deeper and deeper. It’s because only at first glance do the appearances of each woman seem a bit similar. Look more closely now. Put the women side by side. Each set of eyes, each pair of lips, each style of hair – just as Daniella alluded to, the women all ask for something different. In fact, spend some time getting to know each one and you’ll see the only real similarity between the women is that they’re all bright white. Just look. There’s a complete absence of color.
“I like them to be as neutral as possible. That’s why I use them in the negative space. Even though every piece turns into an aesthetic result with lines, shapes, and colors, I try to make people see through the women. So even though they are just pictures of women with no particular explicit intention, they are all about feelings, sensations, emotions. Some are calm and quiet, some of them are extremely sad, some of them are anxious, some of them are simply happy, some are curious, some are scared, some are brave, and so on. I never tell this to anyone. I think it’s nice when people simply connect with them, and with the feeling they carry with them. If I could describe them in just one small sentence I would say they are sensual and delicate figures with a universe of hidden emotions.”
|Under Maple Tree|
“Even though I’ve painted since I was a kid, it’s only been a few years since I started dedicating more time to it. Now I’m getting more serious. I’ve been selling a lot – not enough to leave my job, but I’ve been selling more and more. I was in London just last year and sold everything I took. Everything I took. I sent more and they sold those, too. It takes time, you know, but I think I will get there.”
How do you stop a love like that? I don’t think you can. And in any case, why would you want to? Now we’re all beneficiaries to the fact that Daniella just couldn’t ever let art go.
“I think it’s important to have fun and do what makes you happy and not give up on it when things get tough. While I’ve tried to give up on painting, I know now that there is no point in quitting something that brings such joy into my life and is such a big part of who I am. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have awful jobs, and they’re frustrated because they feel stuck simply because they don’t do what they love. I think it’s important to try and do what you like and even if you don’t completely succeed financially doing it, at least you will have lived a life doing what makes you happy and that is success to me.”
|Erratic Leaf I|
(images c/o Daniella Bonachella)
All stories are copyright of Gregory Koutrouby and A Thousand Stories unless otherwise noted.