Lucas Arruda, untitled (2011)

Lucas Arruda brings painting back to São Paulo

28-year-old Brazilian painter's work is a hit in a Latin American city dominated by conceptual and video art

Big on the conceptual, light on the furnishings, the bright and minimal contemporary art gallery Mendes Wood is one of São Paulo's rising stars. But it is painter Lucas Arruda who seems to be grabbing the attention, with his eerie, imagined, and impressionistic landscapes selling out whenever the gallery puts them on show. All ten of the Arruda works on show in the current exhibition sold on preview night, October 30. And there are 100 buyers on Arruda's waiting list.

"Lucas is a special case," says co-owner Pedro Mendes, sitting on a rock in the gallery garden as the shadows cool what is left of a sweltering Spring afternoon. Arruda's work strikes a nerve. "It's pleasing yet it's existential. It has a universal quality that doesn't need to be understood, it just needs to be felt. That's an important component of art."

At just 28, Arruda is one of group of young São Paulo artists - Mendes also cites Bruno Dunley, Marina Rheingantz and Rodrigo Bivar - bringing painting back to a city that for years was dominated by conceptual art and video. "Now painting is coming back in strength," says Mendes. This year's São Paulo Bienal (Sept 7 - 9 Dec) also features both new Latin American artists and painting prominently, whereas at its last outing video and conceptual art dominated.

But Arruda is not the only rising star at Mendes Wood, which was founded in 2010 by a young team of Brazilians Pedro Mendes and Felipe Dmab and American Matthew Wood. Rio de Janeiro-based Brazilian Matheus Rocha Pitta works in video, installation, photography, and works that juxtapose materials such as concrete and paper. One such was installed on a rented bus, and Pitta featured in the 2010 Bienal. He shares the current Mendes Wood exhibition with Arruda.

From Matheus Rocha Pitta's Conversao (2012)
From Matheus Rocha Pitta's Conversao (2012)


Mendes Wood artist Daniel Steegmann, a Catalan who is also based in Rio, has his own room at this year's Bienal for his geometric watercolour designs on squared maths notebook paper (encased in glass this weekend after one was stolen). And the gallery also recently snapped up veteran Brazilian sculptor Tunga, who his year opened his own 2,600 square meter pavilion at the enormous Inhotim Institute art park in Minas Gerais state, alongside works by Doug Aitken and Matthew Barney.

Brazilian art, concedes Mendes, is in a good moment: more young artists coming through, more international buyers and curators visiting galleries like this, and an important Bienal now in its 30th edition. "It reflects the specifics of the way Brazilians relate to culture and aesthetics," Mendes concludes. Lucas Arruda and Matheus Rocha Pitta are at Mendes Wood, São Paulo until November 24.