Visual Arts

Surprise! It's "São Paulo 2013"

The art world is currently experiencing an outpouring of multi-venue, multi-person exhibitions of 50 pieces or more. Comparatively, John Palmer's 11-piece São Paulo 2013 series seems tame. But the amount of work that went into creating the exhibition outweighs them all.

Every year, John Palmer chooses a destination to visit, and, having returned, produces a body of work based on that visit that he exhibits in his gallery, the self-named John Palmer Art Galley & Studio. This year, Palmer traveled to São Paulo, Brazil. He based his destination on an essay contest in which entrants were "to select from one of 10 types of emotions, and describe how that emotion you selected would be the best one to influence John's next international series," according to Ryan Lindsay, co-owner of the gallery. The winner was Julio Montano, whose essay conceptualized the emotion of surprise.

Palmer chose to integrate the element of surprise into the entire exhibit and instead of announcing his trip to São Paulo, told friends, families and collectors that he was headed to Shanghai, China.

He didn't land in Shanghai, of course. With the help of Flavia Liz Di Paolo, an aptly named tour guide, Palmer and Lindsay embarked on four days in São Paulo, immersing into the city's culture, geography, museums -- even an incident of political unrest, which they witnessed during a tour walk through the city's back streets. (They were in São Paulo for a total of 13 days, from June 11 to June 23.) Palmer was particularly inspired by the city's massive amount of graffiti; according to Di Paolo, São Paulo is the "graffiti capital of the world." A mural of a bird stood out to him; ironically, Palmer's nickname is "Birdy." Thus, a black-and-white bird -- representing freedom -- became the second theme of the series.

There are three other elements that tie each of Palmer's series to one another: intense color, photography and abstraction. Remarkably, no matter how many times they are repeated, these controlled variables never become stale in Palmer's pieces. His Equestrian series takes photographs of jockeys on horses and seats them beside colors of royal blue, hot red and checkerboard sheets in alternating blue-and-white and black-and-white patterns. His Face series does the same, rouging the countenance in emphatic reds, blues, teals and mustard yellows with more sheets of checkerboard painted strategically throughout. This new series is no different, with more bright colors and cityscapes, inspired by their treks throughout the city.

"São Paulo 2013 No. 4" (still for sale) makes use of all five themes -- surprise, freedom, color, photography and abstraction -- Most notable is the surprise that pops out in this piece: a picture of Palmer, Di Paolo and an unnamed gentleman next to another photograph of a city hall building and a bridge. All three pictures are touched up with colorful squiggles, giving the piece a light, free feeling.

"Sao Paolo 2013 No. 9" is darker. Huge streaks of black take up the painting's center; though surrounded by those mustards and greens and blues made mention of earlier, the heaviness of the black determines the mood of the painting, which is anything but free. If any piece best captures the uprisings Palmer and Lindsay experienced while in São Paulo, this one does.

All 11 pieces are enclosed in a brick red compartment, titled "Closed Box." This container is itself a work of art, as is "Open Box," the where the red doors are flung open to reveal what's inside. What you get, ultimately, is not one piece of art, but three.


"São Paulo 2013" opened Friday, July 26. Many of the pieces in "São Paulo 2013" have been sold. Some are still available. Visit for more information.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Altamese Osborne
Contact: Altamese Osborne