Genaro de Carvalho

Multiple artist, expert drawing artist and pioneering designer, Genaro is considered the great originator of Brazilian modern tapestry. As one of the main representatives of Bahia state’s first modern generation, he took part in significant moments in Brazilian cultural life. With his muse Nair, he is a character in some of Jorge Amado’s books, such as “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands” and “Tieta”. He followed Glauber Rocha during the filming of “Black God, White Devil”. He was Obá de Xangô at Terreiro Axé do Opô Afonjá, of Mãe Senhora, in Bahia. He took part in documentaries such as Imagens do Brasil (1962) for French TV channel TV5, and Genaro e a Tapeçaria Brasileira (1967) produced by the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the US State Department. He fostered decisive processes by Ruben Valentim and Jean Gillon. He designed rotating sets providing great effects to Nelson Araújo’s Companhia das Índias play at Escola de Teatro da Bahia. With his friends Jorge Amado and Carybé, he saw The Beatles in London. With photographer Thomas Farkas, he watched the man’s landing on the moon. He was a close friend of Vinicius de Moraes and Ivo Pitanguy; was admired by personalities such as Juscelino Kubitschek, David Rockefeller, Roberto Marinho, Grande Otelo, and model Veruschka; was recognized by the main museums in Brazil and by great international centers. Genaro’s production was fruitful, alternating between celebrity of his intense social and cultural life and suffering originated in his fragile health.

Genaro Antônio Dantas de Carvalho was born in Salvador, Bahia state, in 1926. He started to draw by his father’s encouragement, who was a weekend self taught painter himself. When he was 17, in 1944, with Carlos Bastos and Mário Cravo Junior, he took part in the 1st Exhibition of Modern Art of Bahia. He moved to Rio de Janeiro to study drawing at Brazilian Society of Fine Arts, while he was finishing high school at Andrews College and, at night, he would redraw comic book characters Dona Marocas and Sr. Pafúncio for newspaper O Globo. On the weekends, he would row at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. He developed painting as therapeutic action against thyroid diseases. While he was still a teenager, in 1945, he had his first solo exhibition at Rio de Janeiro’s Brazilian Press Association (A.B.I.) and, the following year, he took part in a collective show at Museu de Belas Artes. In 1947, he had his first solo exhibition in Bahia, at Public Library of Salvador. From then on, he started to have many exhibitions, both solo and collective, in Brazil and abroad, in various different spaces, from legendary Anjo Azul Bar in Salvador to St Petersburg’s L’Hermitage Museum. During his career, which lasted a little over 25 years, his production was intensive and he took part in over seventy shows.

In 1949, with a grant by the French government, he went to Paris to study with André Lothe and Fernand Léger at École Nationalle de Beaux Arts. At the same time, he was a pupil of Maurice Brunel in the Decorative Arts course at Grand Chaumière and a helper at the Cité’s Toy Workshop. During the holidays, after the courses, he traveled in Italy in order to get to know the classics. During that year, he bylined the weekly art column A Pintura no Tempo, sent from France to A Tarde newspaper in Salvador. He fell in love with his colleague Nicole Debout, with whom he had a daughter, also called Nicole (she passed away at 40, from the same disease that had affected her father).

Back to Brazil, when he was 24, invited by Governor Octávio Mangabeira, he started the work Festas Regionais Regional Festivals on the ground floor of Hotel da Bahia, the first modern mural in that State, in dry fresco, which took a year and a half to be completed on its 44-meter (144-foot) extension. At the entrance hall of the same hotel, on all the walls on the mezzanine, he painted Plantas Tropicais Tropical Plants, a work destroyed in the 1980s, whose theme inspired his first tapestries accomplished in 1953. When renowned French tapestry artist Jean Lurçat (1892-1966) visited Bahia in 1954, he saw that famous mural and wanted to be introduced to the artist; he went to his studio at number 3 Campo Grande Square, and, astonished by the artist’s creations, invited him to learn tapestry techniques in France. However, Genaro preferred to develop his Brazilian themes as his own expression based on joint work with his tapestries from Bahia; he would only start to exhibit his tapestries in 1955. In parallel to his first tapestries, Genaro worked as interior designer, creating designs for modern pieces of furniture and, in collaboration with architects Lev Smarcevsky and Antônio Rebouças, he launched the American “functional” style in Bahia.

Genaro had a short marriage with Ana Amélia Menezes, from which Ana Amélia was born and who, just like her French half-sister, Nicole, died prematurely at 29, also from a brain aneurism. In 1955, he met Nair, his last partner, during a fashion show at the Copacabana Palace Hotel, in which she was working as exclusive model for Rhodia. In October 1957, they got married in Uruguay. With Nair’s permanent support – she started to work as secretary to the artist’s production and to overlook the tapestries production – Genaro could create more intensively and he was able to fulfill every order he received. Growing receptivity of the artist’s works in the country’s south-center area fostered more and more important shows and greater legitimization in international circuits.

Invited by the American government, Genaro and Nair traveled in 1959 to the US and Mexico, for an exhibition and conference (about Brazilian craft) at Harvard University. After that, they both went to New Mexico to visit old Spanish villages in Santa Fé, Santa Maria, Albuquerque, and Taos, where Genaro met the last individual of the Chimayos Native People, traditional tapestry makers. After that, he had exhibitions in New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Zurich, and Hamburg.

In 1956, Genaro started to create textile patterns for the Brazilian-French company Matarazzo-Boussac. Son after that, he also created patterns for Rhodia Company. In 1960, his Coleção Brasiliana Brazilian Collection was born: a series of exclusive patterns for 100 per cent Brazilian cotton fabrics, produced by Deodoro Industrial Company in Rio de Janeiro. Soon after that, invited by the Smithsonian Institution, for a year, he visited museums and galleries in the US. On a commission by the Brazilian Consulate in Philadelphia, he created a poster for the Brazilian Exposition – Philadelphia U.S.A., in which he also took part as exhibitor. In 1965, invited by Lurçat and Jaccard, respectively president and director of the Centre International de La Tapisserie Ancienne et Moderne (CITAM), and the general commissioner Pierre Pauli, he took part in the 2nd Tapestry International Biennale in Lausanne. Later, in Paris, he went back to the Cluny Museum to see once again medieval tapestries, which he considered great inspirations for his work.

During the whole 1960s, after being diagnosed with a brain aneurism (just like his mother’s father), Genaro went through a long treatment to control his arterial pressure, with frequent hospital admissions from 1965 on. In 1970, at Clínica São Vicente, in Rio de Janeiro, doctors banned him from using any materials or paints that exhaled odor; this is why he made several pencil drawings: a series of Nus Femininos Naked Females and a series of Frutos Fruits and Flores Flowers, which would be his last themes.

Censored since 1968 in Brazil and exhibited in London in 1969, his Mulatas Mulatto Women show was finally realized at the Chapel of the Modern Art Museum of Bahia, in April 1971, revisiting some patterns that had not been well received by the critic; in May, he had a show at A Galeria gallery in São Paulo and, in June, accomplished his last exhibition at the Petite Galerie in Rio de Janeiro. On June 2nd, after 13 days at the hospital, Genaro passed away in Salvador. He was 44.

Text: Alejandra Muñoz
Illustration: Giovanna Verdini
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