Excerpts from the catalogue “Cybèle Varela – Espaços Simultâneos: 2009-2013”

Despite its diversity, Cybèle Varela’s artistic production has retained a common feature over five decades: that of transforming motifs into oneiric landscapes. Initially its aim was to capture or invent details from Cariocas’ daily life, but even then we may notice elements of fantasy that offer unusual content to the unfolding narrative. Landscape and narrative are thus two key words in any consideration of her work. Both are interrelated with her insistence on painting, even in cases where such language seems obsolete. To put it another way, Varela’s painting has preserved these two elements in the belief that a work can still “tell a history”.

…Today, after a century that dismantled the conventions of visuality and form, we recognize that landscape and its variants are constructs linked to the “invention of Nature”. This encompasses all that is implicit in a landscape – the choice of frame, the accent one wishes to grant it, the experimental materials or manners used – regardless of whether it is an urban, rural, exotic or imaginary scene. What has become clear is that landscape remains a fictional space, even when its literal quality is being explored. Generalizations apart and focussing specifically on this artist, the fantastic character of these scenes, one that makes them something more than a mere record of habits, is made clear, as too are their more direct social connotations.

Guilherme Bueno, Rio de Janeiro, September 2013

Excerpts from the catalogue “Cybèle Varela – Espaços Simultâneos: 2009-2013”

Cybèle is an artist warrior, who, through her exercise of painting, photography and video has become a character in and an alchemist of different universes, and who by today has expressed her professional commitment for six decades (since the ’60s) with the persistence of an artistic imagination in the contemporary world. In this exhibition, we as subjects are submerged or suspended, above all, away from ourselves, and forced to navigate between the simultaneous times of the present, inhabited by loneliness or by the entities and guardians, seen and unseen, contemporary and universal, of Nature and humanity.

…It is thanks to her belief in the universe of pictorial language that Cybèle offers in her paintings simultaneous spaces of transport, dips and dives to the bottom of the sea or a world floating in the cosmos through dreamlike landscapes that become visible, even if in surreal form; concerns about the planet are released by the freedom of artistic imagination. In this series of paintings, Hokusai’s Great Wave is presented as an improbable support for an enigmatic odyssey of the human condition, permeated by various styles and prismatic resources constituted of fiction and supra-spiritual realities.

Luiz Guilherme Vergara, Niterói, October 2013

Excerpts from the catalogue “Cybèle Varela – Espaços Simultâneos: 2009-2013”

When we think about the work of Cybèle Varela, the Carioca avant-garde of the 1960s immediately comes to mind for it was in this context that her work became known to the art world in Brazil. Nevertheless this was only the beginning of a nearly 55-year-long career in the fine arts, which underwent several phases.

…In 2005, Cybèle exhibited a series of works at the Museum of Contemporary Art of São Paulo (MAC-USP) in which cultural iconography again became the center of attention. The issues here certainly stemmed from her background in anthropology. Images of cangaceiros and figures from other cultures and other times entered the compositions. The works evoked Baroque paintings or the religiosity of the hinterlands in the northeast. In them, sacred objects – rosaries, crucifixes – appear as prophylactic items against threats and hazards. Culture periods are joined together, hybridized.

Since then, Cybèle has – with great plastic creativity – consolidated a path on which a symbolic world plays a major role. The magic of time is projected onto her canvases. Regarding them, the viewer embarks on a cosmic adventure, moving between images that float in space. In this way he or she is invited to interact with the artist’s personal mythology. In her most recent phase, working with acrylics or digital photography, Cybèle Varela invites us to join this magical world.

Lisbeth Rebollo Gonçalves, São Paulo, August 2013

Excerpts from the foreword of the catalogue “Ad Sidera per Athanasius Kircher” (2008)

The “AD SIDERA” exhibition is a congenial event which helps us to relive fragments of what the erudite Jesuit had established as an appendix to the imaginative transformation of the city as envisioned by the popes and created with extraordinary results by the artists.

The new version of the obelisk (the original was dedicated to Christina of Sweden) reformulated by Varela as a magical infantile dream will allow visitors to look at the Berninian fountain in piazza Navona with new eyes as there is the unexpected addition of a Degas ballerina and a guardian angel – thus ironically confirming the quartet written by Pompeo Colonna in around 1652:
He who desires has certainty, or will be repaid
Athanasius with double glory in the end
For nothing today can even compare
Wisely the Christian and the magician.

Under the guise of magic and time which inevitably passes, Varela offers us the image of Kircher once more, doubled, tripled, reversed on a red backdrop on which obelisks and hieroglyphs mix in a oval burning cauldron. Elsewhere she paints him surrounded by airplanes amid baroque clouds or doubled and reversed as on a playing card.

In the museum hall, the fresco dedicated to the marine swallow stands out from the others. The flying fish exhibited in a showcase bears the corresponding inscription: “Knowledge is an incomparable treasure, whoever finds it is blessed: a friend of God, even if human, shows through it divine appearance “;”there is sky above, there is sky below, everything is above and everything is below, understand this and you will succeed.” Cybèle Varela helps us through her ossimoric images, delicate and violent, joyful and melancholic, to understand and recognize the law of eternal return.

Paolo Portoghesi, Rome, March 2008

Excerpts from the foreword of the catalogue “Cybèle Varela” (2007)

The dada-surrealist spirit still survives. Of all the movements of vanguard, these two are the most vital and operating; resistant and operating. By now we find them as a mental habitus in all art experiments of the second half of the XX century and they have already crossed, vigorously, the threshold of the second millennium. Present in a dramatic way in the American manifestations of the POP art after the half of the last century, these movements are very far from being extinguished: no, they were not a blaze but a new and a strong way of thinking and making art. Pop art and surrealism are also at the basis of Cybèle Varela’s work. The painter started working at the end of the sixties. Brazilian of origin she lived and worked in Europe since her teenage years. In Paris, for approximately ten years, then, in Geneva. Ideal points of observation in order to follow the development of contemporary research.

Cybèle immediately addresses what is more congenial to her: to make art in a Pop way. Thus she could in one stroke conciliate surrealism and the essence of the images deeply connected with her culture of origin, that is, extra European. The Pop art in its countless declinations uses a knowledge of national-popular characteristics different from time to time, bristling with hyperbole absolutely and deeply revolutionary in their confidence. At any rate high coloured and always playful…

In recent works (…) she exposes a kind of polyptych where in a singular series, St Anthony, a young Japanese wrestler, her beloved dog, flowers and fruits, appear capriciously disposed in the space. Near to that work of great undertaking, self-portraits are seen in striking perspectives. All these last paintings are in acrylic. Cybele seems, therefore, to have taken a new path: resuming her beloved perspective that would already regulate her works, she introduces in this more spacey structure – like some contemporary European painters, such as Milan Kunc, sometimes with acrobatic peaks of the space for the audacious “bottom up”, personal and intimate patterns. Thus appear, together with her self-portrait, joyful images of children – or dolls? – a glint of golden tones from hair rendered more obvious from an implacable blue sky as a background. Now it is the interior world that occupies the pictorial field. There is in these canvases something of the happiness that emanates from some works of Rosenquist. Her inner world is clear: the brief and firm touches of the paint-brush seem to allude to a serenity nearly always grinning.

Bruno Mantura, Rome, January 2007

Excerpts from the foreword of the catalogue “Cybèle Varela paintings 1960-1984” (1984)

…For Cybèle Varela, the mechanics of painting are not geared to producing effects contained in matter: there is none of that vibration which is meant to transmit emotion, or of that hand so sensitive to the bidding of a feeling finally spreading its energies to the body as a whole. What we do see is a basic agreement with the elementary, which is the prime mover in a great share of pictorial production that runs through the very axis of lyric abstraction.

Both in her schematic design and effect of distance, which she creates with her subject, Cybèle Varela seems to fall prey to geometric temptation, alongside space architects and space surveyors…

….There occurred a clean break with the XIXth Century, a period, in substance containing all of today’s painting, but whose depletion came about, most probably through the uncurbed overbidding of the avant-garde and its hasty successors who no longer responded to the appeals of those who insisted, at all cost and more or less rationally, on linking the present to the past.

Thus a possible historical context into which on could place Cybèle Varela’s painting would be that of Poussin or of the XVIIIth Century, permeated by likeable dramatisation and somewhat haughty distinction.

It is a king of painting which results from the artist’s will rather than from his random submission to reality, representing nothing more than a catalogue of forms put at his disposal for his own art’s sake and for the expression of his ideas. Cybèle Varela who is already modern through her content matter is perhaps the more so thanks to her methods.

She is less interested in the space-launching of her own satisfecit than in her obstinate will to recreate a world by bringing out certain phenomena which will come to life not only in the form of aesthetic expression but also, more subtly, as an attitude towards the thinking of a whole epoch – a moral viewpoint of her own….

Jean-Jacques Lévêque Paris, August 1984

Reality as a language – Foreword to a solo exhibition at Bonino’s Gallery – 1975

Cybèle Varela does not paint landscapes. The utter commonplace of the mirror-image is for her nothing but a pretext. What struck me in her work, from the very outset was the clear-cut separation or rather a perfect autonomy of the inner working elements, which at the same time function in a dependency intermeshing the two systems: that of the “pictorial”, which represents the significant pretext and that of the “painting process”, the visual revelatory medium and method necessary to read it.

Cybèle Varela’s pictorial system is based on a method of light reading i.e. structuring a beam of light and subsequently arranging shadows.

The code is as rigorous as it is simple: the artist gives a pictorial reproduction of shadows thrown by light through her studio window, just as she would record them on a photograph. The impact of this structural datum upon the pretext image creates the very kingpin around which hinges the whole discourse or, if one prefers, the whole systemic expansion of her language.

The relation thus established is of a multiplying nature: that which is conveyed by the painter on canvas is a semblance of a sun’s ray with all its contrasting effects. This flexible structure, endlessly repeated in different ways, form a systemic basis of the language, the very precept of this type of painting.
This multiplying shadow/light ratio acts upon a representational unit of an image (something like a landscape) and it is thus that her painting restitutes for us the pluridimensional reality of the field of significance. Cybèle Varela’s reality exists only at the language level.

The value of such structural integration depends on the extremes to which one pushes this preconception with all the consequences that this logically entails. One could say that such a system has no end, since this painter, being only thirty-one years old, can thus continue ad libitum under her impetus, to unreservedly exploit her linguistic method; yet, that would mean forgetting that living languages are mortal and that their survival will strictly depend on the representation/writing relation. This is precisely what Cybèle Varela has succeeded to prove us in a most admirable way.

Pierre Restany Paris, May 1975

Landscapes – foreword solo exhibition Liliane François Gallery – 1968

There is a slight note of gracious provocation in an exhibition entitled: “Landscapes”. What of it? It is still allowed to paint landscapes in our days! Had not fifty years of history of painting served any purpose?

We have to look more closely at this mater: the pictorial space of Cybèle Varela is far from being illusion as defined by Alberti. A screen separates us from what is meant for us to be seen and which is actually perceived only through an ingenious interplay of a series of reflections.

The painter makes only this one observation: “our society is made in such a way that we are no longer open to Nature (no more than are our houses) but it is, on the contrary, She who comes to us (thanks to glass and its abstractive properties) to set the scene in our environment. “The civil dweller has lost Nature out of his sight and his longing to be reintegrated into Her realm is assuaged, at best, by means of acquiring of a view (“matchless”, if possible) to adorn his domestic universe. As material and key support of this modern dream, glass has transformed the landscape into a show. Cybèle Varela says no more than this in her broad, joyous brush strokes slicking boldly coloured surfaces.

After all, it was through glass that man progressed in his knowledge of the infinitely great (the telescope) to the infinitely small (the microscope). It is also glass that nowadays materializes at every moment the basic ambiguity of the “setting”, as was so rightly observed by Jean Baudrillard. Glass is both closeness and distance, intimacy and its rejection, communication and non-communication.

Be it a window or, to be more exact in Cybèle Varela’s case, a glass wall, it creates a transparency without transition compelling us to see through, but also displaying “don’t touch” warning. This formal criterion conceals a precluding relation which is denounced with astonishing vigor in this elegant work creating precisely the impression of “not having been touched”.

We are told that glass is the material of the future: then, may these images help us to understand the message to renounce our own body and its organic functions in favour of flawless objectivity: colourless, odourless, imputrescible and indestructible like glass! May the painting of Cybèle Varela also help us to say “no” if we still have the strength to do so.

Jean-Luc Chalumeau Paris, April 1974

Excerpts to a solo exhibition – Copacabana Palace Gallery – 1970

Cybèle Varela’s painting is straightforward. To paint is her way to contest the imposture – but with gay ease. Looking ahead we see Piero della Francesca and Hopper, leading the clear narrative of Cybèle: the tradition of smoothness, of painting for itself, passing through the purified nobility to the cycle of loneliness of modern man and finally to the solar iconography of carioca urbanism.

At this fecund and energetic moment of her life/work, Cybèle Varela founds a document of requirement – her generation, with her, is stronger and more populous. For she is not one, she is a personage of the census, not of the one that represses, but of the one that meets de statistics. And her people is true, with her demystified colour, with the pleasure of her game, with her irony and manipulation of space.

Walmir Ayala, Rio de Janeiro, April 1970

Foreword to a solo exhibition – Goeldi Gallery – 1968

…Today a new generation of artists has spawned in the states of Guanabara, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais as well as in the cities of Recife, Campina Grande and Campo Grande. These young artists who are aggressive, impulsive and uncompromising in their stand against the dictates of academic scholasticism and traditionalism, are seriously concerned with seeking out those pathways, which could lead them to the genuine culture of Brazil.

Cybèle Varela is part of this new generation.

It was quite early in life that she began to display her great sensitivity to urban landscapes, which she always handled with intelligence, verve and good critical sense. Indeed, this young artist believes that Life, in its innermost, intimate essence, is immutable and eternally one and whole. Man, on the other hand, is unstable and his life is precarious. The urban environment with its stimuli and pressures amplifies this instability by constantly determining the obsolescence of all of his values. Man’s metamorphosis in the urban environment is one of the most frequently recurring themes underpinning the art of Cybèle Varela – or at least has been until now. Traffic lights, pedestrian zebra crossings and other road signs and markings are being used to bring out these elements of transmutation. When she uses her three-dimensional “box form” support, her narrative often breaks away from the potential boundaries of the canvas and seems to leap from one box to another…

…In her present period, Cybèle Varela makes us rediscover these suburban people and their unrefined taste by using colours, which would be very much to their liking… …From many of her mural compositions with suburban themes, looking like enlarged and modified post-cards, there emanates a feeling of nostalgia. A longing for that rural, that tropical Brazil; in which these people, although now dwelling in the neighbourhood of cities, still continue to live, sentimentally, in the open country and in the good days of yore.

It is the Brazil of clichés, the “Sugarloaf Mountain – macaw – banana plant – Palm tree – Copacabana” kind of Brazil that the artist exposes, but at the same time contests dialectically in her work….

Frederico Morais, Rio de Janeiro, June 1968