Roberto Custodio: God Is In the Details
Who has ever seen the face of the Almighty? Does He wear a peacock feather in His hair or perhaps a coiled snake around His neck? Is the Omnipresent a many-armed powerful Goddess with green eyes or a gentle, golden Madonna and Child?
East and west blend in the surreal works of Brazilian artist Roberto Custodio in which blue-eyed Gods and beauty queen goddesses preside, and the flora and fauna of many continents merge. He creates magic worlds from found materials and paper clippings, discarded consumer magazines which he recycles to create his own truths.
The artist, who had a showing in New York in 2006 of his interpretations of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, is back with fresh work for his new show ‘A Matter of Faith’ in which Gods of many faiths share gallery space. This exhibit can be seen in RL Fine Arts in Manhattan from December 4, 2010 to January 30, 2011. The perfect show to see in the holiday season.
“In the present time with our avarice for sampling pieces of music, images, videos, our culture is continually referencing and commenting on the works of others, both past and present,” observes Peter Louis, director of the gallery. “ Fully incorporating the art of the found or sampled image, we are constantly delighted by Roberto’s meticulous technique of cutting and repositioning the tiniest detail, forcing change between signifier and signified.
In these works one sees the powerful force of the world of advertising and media. One can imagine him scouring through countless magazines, taking in pages which we have not even bothered to glance at. ”
Custodio, who is self-taught, is from Sao Paulo and was influenced by masters such as Jan Van Eyck and Boticelli, as well as the work of the noted artist and illustrator Erte. He had a career in fashion photography and was also an illustrator for magazines like Brazilian Vogue, and all these influences show in his work where beauty and a love of beauty in all its manifestations is paramount.
He uses the every day tools of collage, water color and ink to transform mundane magazine images and graphics into a celebration of the deities of many cultures, encrusting them with gold and jewels of his own creation. Out of materialistic odds and ends, he molds a beautiful spirituality.
As Louis points out: “In imagining this pantheon of Hindu deities, Roberto has brought a unique sense of respect for traditional iconography, along with a feel for modern beauty, inspired in part by his South American heritage that once again places these beautiful Gods and Goddesses on a pedestal to be adored and loved.”
Indeed, like a passionate miniaturist, Roberto Custodio revels in the smallest details, painstakingly embedding tiny paper emeralds on the forehead of the Gods, placing jeweled bangles on the wrists of Balaji, one miniscule gem at a time. After all, isn’t God in the details?
Roberto Custodio: A Matter of Faith
“India Seduces Me in an Inexplicable Way”
An Exclusive Interview
Q: You have never been to India and yet India pervades your art? How is that possible?
A: Brazil is a country where all the cultures and races mix together. This can be seen not only in the physical beauty of the people but also in the indulgence and respect of all cultures. In the same family you can find Catholics, Jews, and Buddhists. I have in my blood a heritage from Brazilian Indians, Portuguese, Italians, Africans, Germans and Dutch. My eyes look to the world and India seduces me in an inexplicable way.
Q. What was your first exposure to India – was it a film, something you read or heard?
A: When I was a teenager I saw a postcard with an image of Krishna. His kindness and light fascinated me. Since then I started to read everything that I could about Hinduism. The Indian classical music is, for me, the most complete translation of the superior spheres.
Q: How much do you know about the Hindu Gods and Hinduism?
A. Everyday I learn something more about the Hindu gods. It’s a knowledge that never ends and that is what motivates me more – the beauty of the images, the histories, the rituals.
India and Hinduism Touch My Soul
Q: Are you personally influenced by Hinduism? Which is your favorite God?
A: I don’t follow any particular religion but Hinduism and the people from India touch my soul as if I have really lived there in a past life. Shiva is my favorite god. Or is it Ganesha ? Krishna? Maybe Lakshmi?
I was raised by a very spiritual family, following the doctrine of Allan Kardec. The immortality of the soul, the reincarnation and the close contact with the other dimensions has always been current in my life. All religions have something to teach us and you have to keep what touches your heart, the way Hinduism happened in my life.
Q: In your paintings, you have made Vishnu female, given Parvati green eyes and Lakshmi and Saraswati looks so South American. What was your motive behind these transformations – Do they stem from a deeper belief that all reality is one and God is in every single thing?
A: The green eyes of Parvati are like emeralds, as beautiful as her love of mother and wife. Vishnu seems like a female image because woman brings the power of life and love. The beauty and love mix with each other in my work and the devotion and pleasure I create are current in every little piece of my art. You answered the question. God is in every single thing.
Q: Do you have any plans to actually visit India which you seem to have seen in your dreams?
A: India is not a country to spend a week or fifteen days. There are so many things to know. I would not like to go with my hands empty. The country has so much to offer that I would like to offer something back. I would like to take my art there so not only the most fortunate people could see my work, but mostly the people who work hard to live, living in poverty and being able to enjoy a moment with the art of a man coming from a distant land, who loves and cares so much about them.
A Matter of Faith.
Peter Louis, Director of R L Fine Arts, on the works of Roberto Custodio.
Simply put, in Roberto Custodio’s best works, he transports the viewer into a fantastical and magical world of imagination, where, child-like, we are astonished by his mastery of the art of make believe. Our delight in his re-telling of a story is constantly fueled by his ability to focus on the tiniest details but yet not lose sight of the larger vision.
With this group of works he has sought as inspiration the deities and icons of different religions.
In Roberto’s art several ideas and styles collide. The idea of the found image and the style of collage are two immediately apparent modes of expression. Duchamp’s ‘found’ image, renamed ‘art’ by the artist, has arguably been the most influential of all art ideas in the 20th century, through to the present time.
Collage, the art of placing together disparate images to create a unique work came to prominence in the early 20th century with artists such as Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, etc. and has continued to appeal to many, witness the combines of Robert Rauschenberg and others.
Roberto has an individual way with the art of the found image and collage, which he expresses with a unique blend of styles and temperaments. In his work there is a combination of a colorful and baroque style, one might say, an ‘exotic’ Latin American viewpoint, with the artist’s appreciation and respect for technique, iconography and art history.
Throughout these images one is taken back to Renaissance painting (St. Sebastian), landscape painting, Academic art of the Nineteenth century (Joan of Arc), Orientalism, the art of Erte (a significant influence on the artist) but we are also completely in the world of modern advertising and print, the digital image, and this places Roberto’s art so completely in our cultural present.
Having worked in the world of fashion with a modeling agency and also with fashion magazine editorial, Roberto has dealt with the industry’s focus on the beautiful image, the beautiful woman or man, or the beautiful item of clothing. He understands the relentless desire to capture this idea of beauty, even though it will only be for an instant, a month’s issue, a season, a second of time, before it is discarded and forgotten.
In the present time with our avarice for sampling pieces of music, images, videos, our culture is continually referencing and commenting on the works of others, both past and present. Fully incorporating the art of the found or sampled image, we are constantly delighted by Roberto’s meticulous technique of cutting and repositioning the tiniest detail, forcing change between signifier and signified.
In these works one sees the powerful force of the world of advertising and media. One can imagine him scouring through countless magazines, taking in pages which we have not even bothered to glance at.
Like a scientist he most carefully selects the smallest image, maybe years in advance of the actual work been made. Then, the image is retrieved and magically given a new lease of life, a more gentle, longer lasting life, where it embellishes and shines with a different light. He has cleverly filtered and used the ephemeral easily discarded magazine printed image, and with flourishes of India ink draughtsmanship, creates a bold, romantic vision that is respectful of the past and yet grounded in the present.
Above all, the idea of Beauty is the driving and dominant force in Roberto’s works. Beauty is a concept that has been examined, discussed, dismembered, re-grown throughout the history of art, not only in the painted or sculpted image but also in sound and film. There is no denying the power of an exquisite image.
Roberto’s ‘Beauty’ is a personal one that is fully knowing of our never-ending preoccupation with the perfect surface.
All Photos: (C) RL Fine Arts.