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The Emperor (1973) is one of Claudio Bravo's earliest pictorial triumphs, a consummate portrayal of drapery as a subject in itself. Bravo once said that if one removed all the drapery from the paintings in the Louvre there would be very little left. Such was his natural inclination for the tactile quality of cloth that it became his life-long passion to transform, in fact, transcend its utter simplicity into the realm of the mystical. More than any other Latin American artist, Bravo elevated the genre of realism--through incomparable self-discipline--to an empirical investigation of the physical world.
In his review of Bravo’s show of draped cloth at Marlborough in 2000, Ken Johnson of The New York Times wrote, “One feels a tantalizing mix of the spiritual and the sensual…The pictures have a vivid Modernist formal presence. The edge-to-edge fabric and the allover flickering of light and shadow create an almost abstract frontality, while color becomes an end it itself…. Indeed, you could think of this work not as realism but as a kind of soulfully enriched Color Field painting.” The late Gerrit Henry similarly described Bravo’s work in Art in America as “astonishing and riveting” and said his “paintings are praiseworthy in their fidelity to both the homely and the rare and for their rapt declamation of technical values that somehow bespeak the spiritual.”
Classic and contemporary, Bravo's magnified reality is the palpable consequence of his technical achievement; an equal mastery of gifted draftsmanship and indirect illumination. "I use light somewhat in the way Francisco de Zurbarán did. He was one of the few painters that gave true transcendent meanings to objects. This treatment of light makes them appear more as they are. Their essence is greater," he commented. Nowhere else is Bravo's indebtedness to the 17th century more apparent than in his depiction of sumptuous drapery. Like the Baroque and Renaissance masters before him, Bravo's formal precision can be traced to his zealous and reverential study of religious and portrait painting. Among these, the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden's iconography and Titian's dramatic chiaroscuro were internalized as a young man during his many visits to the Prado Museum while living in Madrid.
Bravo represented Chile in the 2007 Venice Biennale at the Museo Diocesano. Also in 2007 he had museum exhibitions at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Mexico and Espace Bellevue, Biaritz, France. In 2004 he had a major exhibition at the Musée du Monde Arabe in Paris. Previously, he had been given two retrospectives: the first in 1987-88 at the Elvehjem Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin, which traveled to the Meadows Museum, Dallas,Texas and Duke University Museum of Art, Durham, North Carolina; and the second in 1994 at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile. In 1997 an exhibition of his “package” paintings was shown at the Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida.
Claudio Bravo's works may be found in the collections of landmark museums around the world among which are the following: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland; Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany; Museo Nacional de Bellas Arte, Santiago, Chile; Museum Boymans-van Beunigen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands; and the Rufino Tamayo Museum of International Contemporary Art, Mexico.
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