The tropical worlds of Pedro Varela (b. 1981 in Niterói, Brazil) look like they belong in a psychedelic dream or the pages of a storybook. And while the artist’s style builds on fairytale imagery and fantasy, his works also engage with history — namely, the 17th to 19th century “artist-scientists” who rendered an exotic vision of Tropical Paradise and the “New World” in their travels to Brazil. Blending Baroque still life, colonial iconography, and modern styles such as Neo-concretism, Varela engages with the past to create his own version of “paradise” that is at once alluring and cautionary.
Varela studied painting and philosophy at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage and holds a degree in printmaking from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. The artist has exhibited both at home and internationally, including in France, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Switzerland. His work is part of public collections at Museu de Arte do Rio and Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro. Varela currently lives and works in Petrópolis. In an interview with New City Brazil, the artist states that his recent work revolves around a “deep need to brood on the concept of the identity of the tropical world through the eye of the other.”
Rendered in acrylics, felt tip and ballpoint pen, Varela’s paintings and drawings are filled with as much beauty and curiosity as they are with darkness and danger. The works range from kaleidoscopic botanical illustrations to moody, nocturnal landscapes and black-and-white portrait collages on paper. Some scenes incorporate ominous symbols such as Vanitas skulls, guerrilla warriors, and vultures emerging from the growth. Faces and figures recall the “New World” portraiture of Jean-Baptiste Debret, Albert Eckhout, and other artists who traveled to Brazil to document the land and people there. Some are prominent figures, such as journalist Vladimir Herzog (killed by military police under Brazilian dictatorship). A statement by Zipper Galeria (who represents Varela) reads, “The artist feeds upon this vast iconographic universe of the utopian imagery projected on his territory over time. The figures illustrated in Varela’s portraits are part of a collection of pop-up allusions to characters that lurk in the crevices of the tangle framed by the dense, fantastic vegetation.”
In addition to his paintings and drawings, Varela produces work in a range of other media, including murals, paper sculptures, and installations. More of his work can be found on his website or Artsy page.