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Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Edson Campos has enjoyed sketching and painting since childhood. He is a completely self-taught artist. He moved to the United States in 1978 and exhibited his lifelike, passionate paintings and drawings in major cities throughout the country, winning several awards. Not surprisingly, Campos’ sophisticated artwork also has great popular appeal: it has been commissioned to be exhibited in the Queen Mary Hotel in Long Beach, California and the Tuscany-style Veranda Park of Florida. Recently, Campos participated in the Art Expo New York, where his work was highly praised by critics. The November 1999 issue of The Artist’s Magazine featured his work in a special section on painting techniques.

Pablo Picasso once complained: “Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the songs of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them?” In voicing this objection, Picasso was not, of course, saying that we don’t try to understand the biology of life. He was instead claiming that we don’t try to grasp its mysteries; to understand the whys not just the hows of life in the same way that we try to understand everything about art. Life and art, he implies, are irreducibly mysterious. No science or analysis will fully explain them.

Keeping Picasso’s objection in mind, perhaps the best we can do is try to understand some of their components in order to better appreciate the whole. Which is precisely how the painting of Edson Campos should be approached. In alluding to numerous artistic styles and periods, Campos’ works invite the examination of their parts. But we can’t ignore their overall effect, which creates an entirely new image of representational art. As Picasso reminds us, in art, as in life, the whole is always greater, more interesting and more mysterious than the sum of its parts.

Consider the painting “Paradise.” In the foreground we see a young woman who dazzles with her beauty. Her flesh tones; her slightly ironic but unmistakably sensual pose; her bright red hair all make her radiate with life before our eyes. In her pose, in her look, she’s recognizably contemporary. Nonetheless, the garment folds that ripple around her body evoke the stylization and refinement of neoclassical and romantic art. The background, a Japanese landscape, seems a perfect way to foreground the young woman’s beauty, while also taking us to a third, even more distant, tradition in art—the Japanese prints that, incidentally, marked so strongly the works of the Impressionists. Campos unites and juxtaposes the most distant traditions in art. He has a gift for painterly allusion, for pastiche.

The contrapposto and beauty of classical sculptures; the sfumato, three-dimensionality and mystery captured by Renaissance artists; the conceptuality of modern art; the playfulness, atemporality, subversion of boundaries and mixture of styles of postmodernism; the timeless appeal of beautiful women; the reverence for feminine sensuality, innocence and grace—all these are respectfully saluted, preserved and transformed for our times by Edson Campos’ postromantic art.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

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