Why the body? Why my body? posted in Boulder, CO March 3, 2018

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all images by Luís Branco

“Our body is not in space like things; it inhabits or haunts space. It applies itself to space like a hand to an instrument, and when we wish to move about we do not move the body as we move an object. We transport it without instruments as if by magic, since it is ours and because through it we have direct access to space. For us the body is much more than an instrument or a means; it is our expression in the world, the visible form of our intentions. Even our most secret affective movements, those most deeply tied to the humoral infrastructure, help to shape our perception of things.” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty from “The Primacy of Perception”

I have been thinking about the body and why and how I have been using my body/the body in my work of the last few years in Portugal in performative works with photographer Luís Branco. I have been re-reading parts of Amelia Jones’ book “Body Art – Performing the Subject.” She quotes Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the French phenomenological philosopher, often and also synthesizes his work as applicable to art and specifically body art. This is handy because Merleau-Ponty’s work is pretty dense stuff  but nether-the less very relevant to my own thinking and art making.

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The images above and below are from a sub-series of images I made with Luís Branco at the dry reservoir at Santa Susana in Portugal in October.  I am showing just a few of the many images.  There was no rehearsal or choreography involved in these images. We did not use props or extra fabric like we have in other photo-shoots. My movements are sometimes awkward and the cracked earth is hard to navigate. However I think that the body/my body in this abstract space (seemingly apocalyptic) of dry cracked earth portrays this connection of the body to space that Merleau-Ponty describes above.

The odd and undefined space of the dry reservoir combined with the body / subject of the older woman/me in a black dress also prescribes something intimate and fragile – a real and existential loss… of water, of youth…

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Amelia Jones describes the general idea of Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the chiasm in her book “Body Art – Performing the Subject” intertwining Merleau-Ponty’s words with her own on pg. 41:

“His “The Chiasm-The Intertwining,” published posthumously in 1964, is especially rich in relation to body art. In this text, Merleau-Ponty embeds vision in touch, touch in vision, and their chiasmic crossing is the flesh of the world/the body itself: differentiating modes of vision (color and visibles) is a tissue that is ‘not a thing but a possibility, a latency, and a flesh of things.’ The chiasmus is the ‘doubled and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible,’ and the flesh of the visible indicates the carnal being-at once subjective and objectified. There is a ‘reciprocal insertion and intertwining’ of the seeing body in the visible body: we are both subject and object simultaneously, and our ‘flesh’ merges with the flesh that is the world. There is no limit or boundary between the body and the world since the world is flesh.”

How cool is that – ‘the world is flesh’?

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I might call this series of images The Chiasm or Body and Earth or The World is Flesh. What do you think? These images hold some power for me. I like the unity, the informality and fragility of the body / my body and the space / earth.

And I heard good news from friends Carolien and Ludger in Portugal that it is raining this spring, so I am hoping that this dry reservoir at Santa Susana is replenishing and that the Alentejo will come out of drought. Again all this work was accomplished with the support of the Obras Artist Residency.

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Her Echo / O Eco Dela – a photographic art project in collaboration with Luís Branco – posted in Boulder, CO Jan 22nd, 2018

72 LFB5442-workingThe Mirror , one in a series of two, digital color print, 2017.

I found Echo in the landscapes and waterscapes of Portugal. She was there in the Rio Sever near the old Roman bridge. She was there in the mirror reflecting the river into my body. She was also there in the clear waters of the mountain lake. Her sorrow was evident in the dry reservoir at Santa Susana. Her eternal life force was there with me in the beautiful Pego do Sino.

My experiences with Echo are not exactly like the stories told by men of old, like Roman poet Ovid and Greek author Longus. Though certain aspects of their stories ring true for me. My Echo is not the nymph in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, who Juno curses so that she can only repeat the last few words spoken to her. Juno, always suspicious of Jupiter’s’ indiscretions, enacts this cruel punishment because Echo had distracted Juno with her chatter while Jupiter was having his way with another nymph. Ovid’s Echo then mistakenly falls in love with Narcissus, who can never love any other than himself. Narcissus’ rejection of Echo is her downfall and death, so that all that remains is her voice. Nor is my Echo the Echo in Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe. Longus’s Echo was taught by the Muses to sing and dance beautifully. Pan, god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, was jealous of Echo’s talents and upset that she would not bed him. He instructed his followers to kill her, rip her body and strew it throughout the earth. But Gaia/Earth shows her mercy and protects the shreds of Echo within the earth, so that Echo can sing on the Muses command, imitating any sound with perfect likeness.

In both of these stories, Echo is punished for having a “voice” by only being able to repeat the last few words she hears. If we rid Echo of her misogynist authors, there is nevertheless something very powerful. Echo is a sound, but she is also an answer, a mirror image, a parallel, a reiteration, a repetition, and a response. She is hidden from normal sight, a reverberation only available to a few.

I find that the last part of Longus’ story where she is strewn across the earth and protected by the Earth/ Gaia, somewhat parallels my own experiences in Portugal, where I have repeatedly “met” a mythical or divine feminine force or power in the landscapes and waterscapes of the beautiful Alentejo. My premise is that in these encounters with the feminine, I have been continually meeting and re-meeting echoes of different aspects of myself. My collaborator, photographer Luís Branco, has documented these meetings within Portugal’s beautiful environments of water and earth. His eye and the magic mirror of his camera have helped me see various aspects of feminine space held within myself, which would have been impossible for me to see on my own.

Luís and I have talked about the phenomenon of Echo in our work together. Our working process is intuitive and open-ended and in a sense enchanted and alchemical. We both respond to each site viscerally and emotionally. We use fabrics to cover, reveal or extend my body. We use actual mirrors as points of reference and reflection. We have created open narratives in these natural environments – echoing each other in gesture and image. The echo continually reverberates in multiple images and different sites, telling different stories. Echo herself might be revealed in these images, which in turn reveal “me” – my aging body, my face, my emotions. My Echo is older, she is strong, she is vulnerable, joyful, pensive, and sensual. She echoes life and death and transformation in these images.

The River

In these four large images, I am partly submerged in the shallow waters of the Rio Sever near the small town of Portagem. In the first image, my head lies face up in the river near a rock, the transparent white gauze covering my face like a veil. In the two following images I bow forward and backward in the river, my form echoed in the Roman bridge. Finally I wrap my shoulders with the veil. Self-awareness, birth, death and vulnerability are revealed in these images in The River.

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(four images above) The River, four in a series of four, digital color prints, 2017.

The Mirror and The Mirror Repeated

This series features two large images and one larger print with ninety-six small sequential images, all shot in the Rio Sever, this time using an antique mirror held against my body. I am clothed in white gauze; my form disappears as the oval shape of the mirror predominates. The mirror reflects the river and it’s environment into my body. The individual images in The Mirror Repeated are each the size of a typical small photo (4 x 6 inches). The small pictures are arranged and printed as one large double-pyramidal image. The repetition of the moving mirror within the pyramidal shape creates a strange and marvelous geometry. The mirror appears as a rotating oculus, window or eye, mimicking the process of photography itself.


72 LFB5408-workingThe Mirror , two in a series of two, digital color print, 2017.


72 Sherry's artwork Jan 2018 260The Mirror Repeated, (96 serial images), pre-print mock up of a color digital print, 7.5 x 7.5 feet, 2017

The Lake

This series of three photographs all portray the figure in a black dress in the lake formed by the Barragem da Apartadura in the northern Alentejo. In the first image, I am veiled in black gauze and I seem to float on a rock in the “mirror” of the lake, as the landscape reflects above me. In the two following images, I appear to hang upside down, pale and phantom-like as I float. My hands grab uselessly at the water while I submerge into the lake.

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(three images above) The Lake, one, two and three in a series of three, color digital images, 2017.

Santa Susana

The four images from Santa Susana have an eerie, magical beauty, very conscientious of the dearth of water. This reservoir is usually full and the old bridge covered by water. In 2017, because of extreme heat and draught in the Alentejo, the reservoir was almost completely dry, and the bridge exposed. In the first image my head is bent toward the strange orange earth and brackish water. The bridge casts a black horizontal shadow in front of me. In the second image, I approach the remaining water from the large swath of cracked, dry earth. In the following image, my profile, distinct and pensive, my shadow, and my dispersed reflection are visible in triplicate in the old mirror. In the fourth image, I hold the mirror with the bridge in the background; the mirror catches the intense light of the setting sun

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(four images above) Santa Susana, (one, two, three and four in a series of four), color digital prints, 2017.

Pego do Sino

This series of four large color images were shot in the Pego do Sino (Canyon of the Bells) near Evoramonte. A pego is a “catch,” where waters are held during every season – providing habitat for plants and animals year-round. This deep canyon has a mystical, primeval quality. A local story describes a deusa, or goddess, who resides in this particular pego as a fierce protectress. In the first vertical image, I face the dark rock of the canyon, the grey and brown colors of my hair blending with the rock and the branches. In the second image, I pull the red fabric through the pego as if it were a cape or a train, then wrap the fabric around my body, and finally drag it toward me. The red cloth appears as an extension of the feminine and the water, vibrant and fluid, like life itself.

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(Four images above) Pego do Sino, (one ,two, three and four in a series of four), color digital prints, 2017.

This large body of work has taken me some time to process – partly because “I” am such a presence in the work, and I think because there is a mystical, hidden aspect of the work. I have sorted through the images and their meaning over the last three months and I am very happy with these selected images and the stories they tell.

Thank you to the Obras Artist Residency for their generous support of this project. Thank you to Jennifer Heath for helping me to write about this work (if you only knew!). Thank you to Cydney Payton for continually helping me to “sort out” my work.  I also want to thank Sama Alshaibi and Yana Payusova for making it possible for me to print this whole body of work.



about water / sobre água (working title) – posted in Boulder, CO November 29, 2017

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all images by Luís Branco

I have been considering my collaboration with Luís Branco in the recent project “about water / sobre água” and how our work process effects the meaning of the images. This new work was carried out in a more conjoined way than in our previous work titled and exhibited in Portugal and the U.S.  as “Reencontrando-a / Meeting Her Again.” The new work is more instinctually collaborative and, I think, it blurs the traditional boundaries of subject / object and observer / observed, as well as the conventional limitations of masculine / feminine viewpoints. The interworking of a conceptual artist and a documentary photographer, a foreigner and a native, has created a powerful dynamic in our work together. Here, I’ve been able to delve into other aspects of feminine space, those captured through a mirroring that singularity often voids.

We began with an open and ambiguous premise “about water / sobre água.”  This determined the sites where we worked. Water offers many implied meanings – emotional, physical, spiritual, ecological, aesthetic. And there is an implicit feminine aspect of water as well. In Portuguese, water / água and earth / terra are feminine, where as air / ar and fire / fogo are masculine. Luís and I discussed the relationship of the feminine in the new work with water as well as in the previous work which was more earthbound. From the start, I have felt this connection to the feminine in the landscape (and now waterscape) of the Alentejo of Portugal and consequentially an expansion and manifestation of my own feminine identity in this work.

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Water as a theme or site and the feminine body as a theme or site have natural interpenetrations. In the work from 2015, with Portuguese conceptual artist Helena Almeida as an inspiration, the older feminine body (my body) emerged from within abstract cloth installations in an almost revelatory way. I gradually became comfortable performing the feminine and revealing the aging female body (my own). In the landscape works this “older feminine” and “mythical feminine” materializes clearly, particularly in the Canyon of the Bells / Pego do Sino work of 2016. These new works “about water / sobre água” are an even more unabashed depiction of an older woman’s body (and face) in the waterscape / landscape and there is an expressed sensual quality as the female form blends with water. The images have become more personal as I allow myself to be more and more revealed in these situations.

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So how did this recent work emerge and what does it mean? People have asked how we set up these photoshoots, do we have a script or a series of shots or poses in mind? In fact, the process and collaboration are very fluid (ha!). We choose a site or series of sites and we have objects and fabrics available – a chair, various fabrics, and clothing for me. In these recent images, I introduced the mirror and the frame. I had envisionedin my imagination and in dreams the mirror in connection to water and my body, so when I got to Portugal in September I found a perfect oval mirror and also a wooden frame in the antique store in Evoramonte.

Working with Luís and the camera is a reciprocal process. The chair becomes a way to initially occupy a given site. The fabricsblack, white, red, transparent and opaquereveal and extend the feminine body. The objectsthe mirror, the chair, the framebecome a point of reference and reaction.

We both respond instinctualy and viscerally to a chosen site. In the water there is the possibility of immersion as well, which I did quite a bit of! The shoots are always dependent on the light. We will set up and wait for the light to be right. Luís will instruct me to move myself or the object or the fabric. I will do what he says, then begin moving and gesturing of my own accord, improvisationally. He takes ALOT of shots, framing in different ways – there is a ritual of mirroring and echoing in this process.

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We discussed this idea of “echo” at the beginning of this project. In Gaston Bachelard’s version of the story of “Echo and Narcissus,” the story, traditionally told as a morality tale of vanity and self-love, is turned around and expanded. Bachelard speaks of a “cosmic narcissim,” where there is an identification of the self in the reflection or echo of the other that is not a separation but a fusion, an echo of the self in the other.

This gets into the whole philosophic question in my work and in our work together of who is the subject and who is the object. In traditional terms, a “subject” is an observer and an “object” is a thing observed. Although I find it difficult to articulate, I am extremely interested in this question of self and other, of subject and object as presented in Continental and Buddhist philosophy, as well as in feminist theory. Simply put, in sexist and art historical terms, women have been the “thing” observed, the “object,” while the male artist is the “subject” or observer. I propose that, in our work together, although I am one of the things being observed and Luis, with his camera is the observer, our collaborative process turns this subject / object relationship into a process of mirroring and echoing or a fusion of subject and object.

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I have been re-reading parts of Gaston Bachelard’s Water and Dreams. Here is a quote from the introduction:

“Water is truly the transitory element. It is the essential, ontological metamorphosis between fire and earth. A being dedicated to water is a being in flux. He dies every minute: something of his substance is constantly falling away. Daily death is not fire’s exuberant form of death, piercing heaven with it’s arrows: daily death is the death of water. Water always flows, always falls, always ends in horizontal death. We shall see that for the materializing imagination, death associated with water is more dream-like than death associated with earth: the pain of water is infinite.”  – Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams, pg 6

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I see this implication of death in many of the images. This was not a conscious decision, but I think it transpired because of the echo of the water…

The work at Santa Susana has an eerie and magical beauty that is very conscientious of the dearth or death of water. This reservoir is usually full and the Roman bridge covered by water. This last year, because of the extreme heat and draught in the Alentejo (and most of Southern Europe and many other places as well), the reservoir was almost completely dry and the bridge exposed. There are many good images from this site but in the images below the mirror seems to frame the infinite as the frame mirrors the finite.

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There are more than 2000 images to cull and sort through. We hope to eventually produce this body of work “about water / sobre água” as an exhibit in both Portugal and the U.S.



about water (red ravine / pego vermelho) – posted October 29 in Boulder, Colorado

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all images by Luis Branco

I have just come home from Portugal. This was perhaps my best trip yet. I went with a more open agenda and came back with a large body of works in collaboration with Luis Branco as well as preliminary sketches and ideas for my own abstract drawings. Luis and I have at least 4 major photographic series “about water” – in the Rio Sever, in a pristine mountain lake, in the Pego do Sino and in a dry lake near Santa Susana that has suffered the extreme weather of this year in the Alentejo.

We have thousands of images to sort through and choose. Luis still wants to make different “corrections” to the chosen images. I am showing here just a few from our shoot in the Pego do Sino, a ravine or canyon near the Obras Artist Residencies. We worked here last year in the rocks above but this year we wanted to investigate this deep ravine that is not met by many human beings. There are many myths about the pego – of the deusa (goddess) that captures men in her deep waters, of holy men and women who have ventured into this site and emerged changed forever. These stories add to the drama, but really it is just a beautiful and mysterious place.

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Thanks again to the wonderful support of the Obras Artist Residency, and all the dear friends I have made in Portugal.



about water (the river) – posted October 19, 2017 in Portugal

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The last several weeks in Portugal have been a time for me to replenish and think things out. It is such a wonderful environment that Carolien and Ludger have created here at the Obras Artist Residency. My intention has been to “begin again” with a new body of performative photographs in the landscape in collaboration with Luis Branco and also to start a new abstract drawing practice based on the photographic works.

Luis and I had some previous discussions “about water” – doing something in the water. Coincidentally Cydney Payton, my Art Sister and Curator of All Things, had said something like – “Sherry you are always doing works on and about the land and the earth do something “about water.”

When I arrived here in the Alentejo in late September it had been one of the hottest driest summers ever in the Alentejo. The fires are burning north of here too. So finding water nearby was a bit of an issue.

We drove to Marvão, which is a spectacular walled city on a mountain north of here and close to the Spanish border. Friends Antonio and Fatima gave us instructions on where to go. It is a cooler climate than the Southern Alentejo, higher in elevation with more pine trees, amazing rock formations and much more moist and verdant. The Sever River / Rio Sever runs at the base of the mountain that Marvão sits atop of. There is a small town called Portagem that sits right along the river. We did a long photo shoot in the small river there. You see the Roman bridge in a few of the images. Here are a just few of those 600 images we made. They have not been corrected or chosen yet, but this gives a little glimpse of our work together. It has become even more collaborative in these new works -we riff on each other’s ideas and echo each other in a way and his eye, his framing and excellent photography takes the lead in these images.

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There are many more images to edit and sort and more to make as well. Only one more week in Portugal for me.

Elemental Body / Elemental Landscape or Corpo Elementar / Paisagem Elementar – posted at Herdade de Marmelaire in Portugal September, 28th 2017

“Landscape is a revelation of space and time, or, more precisely, the arrangement of elements, such as trees, rocks, hills, etc. are that. Arrangements of the body’s elements are postures, revelations, or expressions of inner states.” – Valie Export

The feminine body/subject, color, contemplative body/mind, energies, gesture, the landscape, the elements, fabric these are all aspects of the work I have been producing and exhibiting in Portugal and in the U.S. in collaboration with Portuguese photographer Luis Branco over the last two years.

I am now back in Portugal at the Obras Artist Residency for several weeks to continue to explore the interconnections between the “landscape” as a physical space that we touch and inhabit and also as a metaphorical space and metaphysical space that relates to both the exterior space of the body and the more interior spaces of the mind. The working title for this continuing project is Elemental Body / Elemental Landscape or Corpo Elementar / Paisagem Elementar.

Out of the many works we have produced, there are three specific images that we made in 2015 and 2016 that express this psycho/physical/mystical connection to the landscape that I am searching for. The first is an image taken by Luis Branco of me on the top of the mountain of Evoramonte in October of 2015 – Woman on Evoramonte / Mulher em Evoramonte. You can see that she is an older woman – her hands, her arms, the silver in her hair. She stands firmly with her bare feet on the earth – the skies and heavens surrounding her.

72 b and w _DSC7061 copyb copy 2Woman on Evoramonte / Mulher em Evoramonte, 2015

The second was taken in November of 2016 by Luis – Woman at the Canyon of the Bells / Mulher no Pego do Sinos. In this image the woman (me) is swathed in a black veil, crouched by the canyon’s edge. You see the beautiful textured rock above her and below her and the sharp edge of the canyon. She is rising, her hair covering her face again – she becomes part of the canyon / rocks / grasses.

8 72 b and w _LB26088B copy 2Woman at the Canyon of the Bells / Mulher no Pego do Sinos, 2016

This third image is from the series titled Breath/ Alento – shot by Luis in October of 2016. Again it is the woman (me) in a ruined building with a large red curtain parting and opening to the sky and the trees – like a second breath or a beginning again. In Portuguese the word alento has several meanings: it means breath and respiration – but it also can mean nurturance, encouragement and inspiration.

72 Breath _LB24495-P2935b copyBreath/ Alento, 2016

I do not see these images as portraits of me – I don’t use my face for this reason. I think they are more universal and refer to a feminine connection to the elemental world – the world of mountains and canyons, rivers and trees, lakes and valleys, the mundane and the sacred. This physical and spiritual subjectivity is what I want to continue to explore and perform in this next series of works in Portugal and I am beginning again…

que beleza – posted in Boulder, CO September 9, 2017

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Mira Schendel, untitled, 1966, watercolor and oil stick on paper.

The Portuguese words “que beleza” in the image above by Mira Schendel can be translated in several ways into English. They could mean “what a beauty,” or “what beauty,” or “how beautiful.” I love this ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning. Even though I know very little Portuguese I understand it to be a subtle and beautiful language.

I am starting to fall in love with another remarkable woman artist of the 20th century – the Brazilian artist Mira Schendel (1919 – 1988.) I have been reticent to take on a new artist with my specific form of “embodied research” that I have enacted with Russian/ American avant- garde filmaker Maya Deren, Indian minimalist Nasreen Mohamedi and with Portuguese conceptualist Helena Almeida. My process and research with these three artists has been remarkably productive and has pushed the boundaries of my work in drawing, performance and photography. I have surrendered in some way with each artist, a form of falling in love, and mirrored my own work in theirs and the results have been potent.

I am leaving for Portugal September 18th for another residency at the Obras Artist Residency. I will continue to work in the landscape in performative photographic work as I describe in the blog below “meeting her again in the landscape”. I will also be translating these elemental experiences and performances in the landscape into drawings. I have a whole retinue of performance artists I am looking at as I describe in “meeting her again in the landscape” but I am looking at Schendel for other reasons.

I am interested in the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings of her work, her use of language and symbols, the looseness as well as the specific meaning of her paintings and drawings. We share common interests in phenomenology, though she was much more studied in philosophy than I will ever be. We also have shared cosmological /spiritual interests in Eastern philosophy and the I-Ching. I am also interested in her as a transnational artist and refugee artist moving from Europe to South America after WWII. Mira spoke 4 or 5 languages- German, Italian, Portuguese, French and English and used language in her work in a unique way. In São Paulo she was involved with philosophers and concrete poets as well as other artists involved in the South American modernist movement. I would like to go to São Paulo and look for her work and meet curators who have studied her and do a residency – if I can find the right situation. É possível.

Schendel is considered one of the most original and important artists of her time in Brazil but she is little known here in the U.S. Schendel was a prolific artist with works on paper and on acrylic, paintings as well as sculpture and installation. There was a large exhibit of her work at the Tate Modern and at the Pinocoteca do Estado in her native São Paulo in 2014, it was also at the Serralves in Porto. I unfortunately missed this show but I do have the beautiful catalogue and have collected as many catalogues of her work as I can.

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Mira Schendel, The Return of Achilles, 1964, Oil on canvas.

This is a short biography from the exhibition at the Serralves:

“Mira Schendel was born Myrrha Dagmar Dub in Zurich in 1919, to parents of Jewish heritage. She was brought up in Italy as a Catholic, studying philosophy at the Catholic University in Milan. During World War II, because of her Jewish roots, she was forced to leave university and stripped of her Italian nationality. Becoming a refugee, she travelled through Switzerland and Austria to what was then Yugoslavia. In 1949, she emigrated to Brazil, where she began her trajectory as an artist. She recalled: ‘I started painting in Brazil. Life was very hard, I had no money to pay for paint, but I bought cheap paint and painted passionately. It was a matter of life and death.’ In Brazil in these early years, largely self-taught, she adopted new approaches to painting, learning from the example of artists such as Giorgio Morandi, Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Klee. From around 1953, when she moved to São Paulo, Mira Schendel began signing her works simply Mira.”


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Mira Schendel, Untitled (Todos), 1964. oil on canvas


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Mira Schendel, untitled, 1965, oil transfer drawing on rice paper.


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Mira Schendel, untitled, 1965, oil transfer drawing on rice paper.


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Mira Schendel, Objecto Graphico / Graphic Object , 1967, Graphite, transfer lettering and oil on rice paper with acrylic.



Mira Schendel, Still waves of probability / Ondas paradas de probabilidade, 1969 first installed at the Bienal de Sao Paolo, 2014 installed at the Tate Modern.


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Mira Schendel, I Ching, 1970, watercolor on paper.


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Mira Schendel, I Ching, 1970, watercolor on paper.


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Mira Schendel, untitled, c. 1985, Tempera and gold leaf on wood.


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Mira Schendel – I am not sure when she did this one but she did a whole series of Mandala paintings and I particularly like this one.


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Mira in front of her painting Todos (which was painted in 1964).

Que beleza! Todos!