Shirley Paes Leme

Article Bio Works Projects
fire, nature, spirituality
Visual Arts (sculpture)
America, South
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August 5, 2003
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Material and Form, the Poetics of De-essentializa

Shirley Paes Leme was born in 1956 in Cachoeira Dourada, Brazil, and studied art in Bela Horizonte, Brazil, and in the US. She has been exhibiting her work widely since the early 1980s. Mainly working as a sculptor with her signature twigs and tree branches, Paes Leme’s works combine a vaguely geometric vocabulary with a remarkable sensibility for the poetics of her materials. She lives and works in Uberlândia and São Paulo, Brazil.
Paes Leme’s works are marked by a subtle sensibility for the poetic potential of different materials, which she combines in fragile, often ephemeral ways. For her series of smoke paintings, Paes Leme used soot to create abstractions that contain allusions to the consuming and fleeting, but also creative, potential of fire. The artist is best known for her transparent, fragile wood sculptures; they are human-size constructions of twigs and wire, reminiscent of the most fundamental forms, like columns, stairs, houses, tents, tables, chairs, or boats. Having grown up on a farm in rural Brazil, it has been said that the influences for Paes Leme’s work can be found in the images and materials of her childhood. But her formal vocabulary, although sculpted from twigs and tree branches, is removed from the natural world, and reflects her deep understanding of contemporary sculpture.

Paes Leme’s work has often been compared to Art Povera or Minimalism because she prefers natural materials and simple, geometric forms. Although Paes Leme’s art warrants these comparisons, her poetic understanding of her materials requires more precise differentiation. In the mid-1960s, Piero Gilardi described Art Povera as concerned with “primary energies,” and thereby distanced the movement from Minimal Art, which, according to him, had been concerned with “primary structures.” The aim of Art Povera is to separate the “material and structure” of a given object and to liberate the “object’s immanent primary energy.” Thus the focus is not on the physical but on the spiritual qualities of a material, and the creative process is considered an emotional, not a pragmatic, operation. Paes Leme’s sculptures resonate with such a description, and a work such as “Column” (1993), a slender column outlined on the corners by twigs and visually broken down into five distinct sections, illustrates Gilardi’s points splendidly. The shape and title of the work ground it in the discourse propelled by Minimalism: the investigation of primary shapes and their serialization into similar or identical elements. But her use of natural material and the resulting imprecision of the figure’s shape lend the work a less rigid and more approximated appearance and locate it within a different formal register. The “separation of material and structure” in Paes Leme’s works results in a poeticization of her materials, without essentializing them as natural, rural, or authentic. Rather, material and form establish a series of convergences and separations that sometimes favor a literal reading of a sculpture’s overall form and sometimes champion a more abstract understanding of its material properties.

Some of Paes Leme’s works retain a more traditional connection between material and form, like the work “Flame” (1996), a round, softly conically shaped sculpture towering three meters tall. Fire, it seems, occupies a central place in Paes Leme’s work, even thought it is rarely mentioned in the titles of her pictures. For as Roman Rhode notes, wood for Paes Leme is nothing but an “embryonal stage of fire, the flame a bridge between reality and imagination, and smoke ... the soul of spent life that has vanished into memories.” So even when materials and forms converge, Paes Leme is able to transform their meaning into something as abstract and open as fire, continuing a concern for sculpture’s “primary energies” that secures her a special place within contemporary sculpture.
Author: Christian Rattemeyer


* 1955 in Cachoeira, Brazil.
She lives and works in Uberlândia and São Paulo, Brazil


Group exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation,
2002 Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil Museu Alfredo Andersen, Curitiba, PR. Brazil Galerie Jaspers, Munich, Germany Santander Cultural, Porto Alegre, RS. Brazil 2001 Silvia Cintra Galeria de Arte, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil »Bienal 50 Anos«, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil Galerie Jaspers, Munich, Germany CAPC, Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France 2000 Galeria Gesto Gràfico, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil VII Biennale Havana, Cuba Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal Pavilhao da Bienal, Brazil+500, Sao Paulo, Brazil Casas das Rosas, Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil Galerie Jaspers,Munich, Germany Paço das Artes, Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil Galerie Barsikow, Barsikow, Germany 1999 II. Biennale von Mercosul, Porto Alegre, Brazil Galeria de Arte Marina Patrich, Goiania, Brazil SESC Pompéia, Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil 1998 Valú Oria Galeria de Arte, Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil 1997 Fonndaçao Cultural de Curitiba, PR. Brazil Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany 1996 Brasilianisches Kulturinstitut, Berlin, Germany Galerie Drei, Dresden, Germany Centro de Artes Visuais Tambiá, Joao Pessoa, PB. Brazil Valú Oria Galeria de Arte, Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil Museu de Arte de Ribeirao Preto, SP. Brazil Paço das Artes, Sao Paulo, SP. Brazil

Solo exhibitions (selection)

Exhibition / Installation,
2003 Galerie Jaspers Munich, Germany 2002 Referencia Galeria de Arte, Brasilia, Brazil Galeria Baró-Senna, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil Museu de Arte Contemporanea do Paranea, Curitiba, PR, Brazil Museu Universitário de Arte, Uberlandia, Brazil 2000 Oficina Oswald de Andrade (Video), Sao Paulo, Brazil 1999 KunstRaum Berlin, Germany Galerie Barsikow, Berlin, Germany Valú Oria Galeria de Arte, Sao Paulo, Brazil 1998 Galeria de Arte da Oficina Cultural de Uberlandia, Brazil Galeria Xico Stockinger e Sòtero Cosme and Museu de Arte Contemporanea do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil Galerie Jaspers, München, Germany Galerie VorOrt, Berlin, Germany 1997 Galerie Debret, Paris, France, with Amilacar de Castro BACI Gallery, Washington DC, USA


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Die Anderen Modernen

Contemporary Art from Africa, Asia & Latin America

(08 May 97 - 27 July 97)