Antonio Dias

Was ‘pop art’ a term used by yourself or colleagues or was there a different terminology that referred to a new figurative art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s?

I never used the term pop art in reference to my work, because I found no point of contact with the style as it was understood then, for me so typically American. In 1963, when I started making works such as those included in this exhibition, the term was not well known in Brazil; it only started circulating after Rauschenberg’s triumph at the 1964 Venice Biennale. Only later did I begin to see a few reproductions of Jasper Johns’s, Rauschenberg’s and Warhol’s works in magazines. By 1964, my work was more strongly associated with the terms new figuration or narrative figuration [derived from the French nouvelle figuration and figuration narrative]. In 1965 I had my first solo exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Houston Brown, for which [critic and philosopher] Pierre Restany wrote a text; I then received the Award for Painting at the Paris Biennale and I participated in the exhibition Figuration Narrative at the Galerie Creuze, curated by Gérard Gassiot-Talabot.

Did you ever consider yourself (now or in the past) a pop artist?

I believe that my reply to the previous question already states my opinion.

Did your work engage with current events in the 1960s and early 1970s?

When I started this kind of work in 1963, I was nineteen years old. A quick look at my early works reveals my preoccupation with issues such as personal and urban violence, explicit sex, censorship, the police state and nuclear war, in short all the topics that I experienced on a daily basis while living in Brazil. I went to live in Paris in 1966, and references to the war in Vietnam began to appear in some of my paintings, while images related to the dictatorship in Brazil were disappearing. In mid-1968 I stopped making works that used that kind of figuration and I moved to Milan, Italy.

How did you choose the subject matter for your work included in The World Goes Pop?

Although geometry provides the structure of my work, the images inside the fragments on the surface flow in a spontaneous way, without planning. The three-dimensional objects that formed parts of the works were prepared in advance, without a specific purpose. At the moment of assembling the works, I would decide which elements to combine, in accordance with the need to establish relationships between each object.

Where did you get your imagery from (what, if any, sources did you use)?

I rarely used images drawn from any sources. I invent all my imagery. In a later period, beginning in 1973, I began to use silkscreen to reproduce modified versions of the front covers of magazines and newspapers for the series The Illustrations of Art [Uncovering the Cover-Up and Tazebao/The Shape of Power]; yet this had nothing to do with pop art, as these were conceptual exercises.

Were you aware of pop art in other parts of the world?

In Brazil, a group of artists including Claudio Tozzi, Geraldo de Barros, Nelson Leirner and Rubens Gerchman used a type of figuration that approximated a pop language. When I was living in Paris, I met artists such as Peter Klasen, Jacques Monory and Bernard Rancillac who also used a pop language, albeit with narrative features. In Italy I met the artists Mario Schifano, Sergio Lombardo and Renato Mambor among others.

Was commercial art an influence on your work or the way in which it was made?

No. Although to make paintings in that period I preferred pigments that were used commercially, such as vinyl, alkyd or acrylic for walls.

Was there a feeling at the timer that you doing something important and new, making a change…?

Of course the objective of these works was to present something new. Above all for my own interest. I was young and I aimed to produce works that were completely different from anything that I knew. The conscious and the unconscious mixed. For me it was almost a catharsis. But this made it all very difficult; the paintings were considered aggressive and nothing ever sold.

Was there an audience for the work at the time – and if so what was their reaction to it?

Between 1963 and 1964 I kept all my works at home. When I had my first solo show at the Galeria Relevo, Rio de Janeiro, the gallerist Jean Boghici told me that a female artist, after seeing the exhibition, had said that it was pornography. After we did the exhibition Opinião 65 at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, the audience who responded positively was mostly comprised of young people.

Looking back at these works, of what you think about them now?

I feel that they were the first steps of a staircase that I am still climbing today. To me they seem fun and frank. I do not see them as outdated; they are an experiment I conducted, an experience that gave me a lot of awareness about what I understood artistic practice to be.

September 2015