Time Out São Paulo

Florian Foerster: interview

We talk to the German artist about the artistic bridge he’s built between São Paulo and Berlin

An apartment studio located in Berlin’s borough of Neukölln might be the last place you’d expect to come across a cache of prints depicting São Paulo’s downtown neighbourhoods of Luz and Brás. Twenty-two of these images, made by the German artist Florian Foerster and inspired by the beautiful Jardim da Luz park, next to the Pinacoteca do Estado art museum, will be on display at the gallery Gravura Brasileira in an exhibition entitled ‘Luz – Decay and Transformation’.

The works reveal a dense and somewhat gloomy vision, with organic shapes that intertwine and confound, suggesting familiar yet curious human and natural contours. It’s a second solo exhibition at the gallery for Foerster, and has just been announced as forming part of the official Year of Germany in Brazil.

In August 2013, he is also slated to take part in a group exhibition at the Oficina Cultural Oswald de Andrade, alongside Brazilian artists, with dates to be confirmed.

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An engraving inspired by Pinacoteca’s adjacent garden

Born in the small German town of Oldenburg, Foerster studied art in Manchester, England. His interest in São Paulo emerged during a visit to the city in 1991, when he took part in a print workshop at the Museu Lasar Segall. He has since returned three times, spending four months on each visit, ‘obsessively’ drawing Brás and Centro, and creating paintings, collages and watercolours inspired by these older, and often neglected, areas.

Foerster uses a single copper plate for the entire series of Jardim da Luz prints, observing its deterioration after successive immersions in acid. ‘I thought it would last a few months, but it took two-and-a-half years to wear out.,’ he says, speaking to Time Out at his studio in Berlin, the city he moved to five years ago, and where he has held exhibitions of his São Paulo-themed works. ‘What I do is like excavation, as if I were an archaeologist of the city, of these places. I try to understand how the energy of each of them works.’

Is São Paulo the biggest inspiration in your works?
I’ve felt very attracted to specific places in the cities in which I’ve lived. In Manchester, where I lived for many years, there were two locations that I drew obsessively for fifteen years. In many ways, I like the way some things seem out of step – if I were to show all my work in one exhibition, you might think they were by different painters.

It’s like the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, which has different characters for different places. I like that feeling. If I’m going to draw something, I need a long time – years. The work is a mixture of memory, observation, imagination; and there are themes that follow me, or that I’ve sought out now for many years. When I’m in São Paulo, or working on artworks themed on it, I feel a great deal of affinity – I feel at home, perhaps because it contrasts with the place where I was born, which was very quiet and provincial.

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Foerster's work captures the dynamic, industrial qualities of Brás

Your work is a process of digestion of these places.
You digest the place, the place digests you, and you react to it. Then you get older, memory changes, your experience of the place is different, or the way you respond to the experiences is. In São Paulo, the actual physical reality of the city changes. Visiting over a period of a few years, with long gaps between the visits, that process of change becomes a strong artistic stimulus.

There’s an energy greater than the idea of planning it or controlling it. This city is a natural organism, as opposed to those in Europe, where things are static. Many foreigners get frustrated because São Paulo is disorganised – it’s constantly evolving, and historically its growth was never controlled. In Europe, there’s a lot more planning. In Brazil, people live in the present.

There is a dark atmosphere in the prints; the Jardim da Luz is seen from a rather unexpected perspective.
For me, the Jardim da Luz is particularly special. Because everyone seems to go there with a wish. Some older men visit it seeking out prostitutes, and before that was the norm, there was a gay scene there. But it’s very quiet and calm inside. On Sundays, musicians go there to play. It’s melancholy, but it’s beautiful. It’s a place for fun. People go there with their hopes and dreams, seeking happiness for a while.

During the 1990s, when the park entrance was still on Avenida Tiradentes, everything seemed really dreamlike. It was bright, but the further you walked into it, the darker it became because of the trees, many of which they’ve since cut down while they were remodeling the Pinacoteca.

I also really like the neighbourhood of Brás, with its smells and workshops. Because it was industrial, it reminded me of Manchester. I’ve made many, many drawings of Edifício São Vito and other deteriorating buildings that were later demolished.

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 A depiction of São Paulo’s Luz neighbourhood 

Can you explain the process of reusing the same copper plate?
I wanted to find out how long it would last until it was actually destroyed, recording the prints at each step. As I got more involved in the process I became fascinated – I thought it would last a few months, but it took two-and-a-half years to wear out. It was like being in nature; if you look at the trees, they also disintegrate, changing with time just like we do. With art you can work in this destructive way, as in the case of the copper plate, and create something beautiful.


'Luz – Decay and Transformation' is at Galeria Gravura Brasileira, Rua Dr. Franco da Rocha, 61, Perdizes (3624 9193/ gravurabrasileira.com) until 3 July. Read more on Gravura Brasileira

By Fabiana Caso
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