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Harry Pye


Harry Pye’s Postcard from Sao Paulo

A few weeks back I had my first plane journey for 20 years – an 11 hour flight to Brazil. My destination was The Thomas Cohn gallery in Sao Paulo.

Travelling with me was my friend Gordon. We’ve collaborated on film projects together for exactly 10 years and more recently we’ve collborated on paintings together too. One of our paintings is part of my show, “Sleepless In Sao Paulo”.

I met Thomas via Gretta Sarfaty Marchant - the director of the Sartorial Gallery in Notting Hill. Thomas said he liked my work because it appealed to his sense of humour. He liked the fact I never took myself too seriously. He also liked the fact I made references to films in my work. For example, Kes Richardson and I made a series of paintings called Scenes From A Marriage which featured David Lynch, Roman Polanski and Man Ray with their partners. Thomas said everything he’s learned in life has been through films. He also told me that until he saw my work he always thought that collaborative paintings would never be successful. “I thought it would be like a piano being played by two people,” Thomas said to me. “It was good to be proved wrong.”

Thomas’s gallery is very impressive and he has shown many big art world figures there over the last 25 years. The British artist he’s had the longest working relationship with is the sculptor Tony Cragg who has had 6 shows with Thomas.

Thomas put me up in a nice hotel. The food was great and in the evening Gordon and I would get drunk on a fantastic lime based cocktail that I’ve forgotton the name of. After 3 nights in Sao Paulo we moved onto Rio for a few nights there. We did all the touristy things like go up the mountains on a cabel car and visited the giant statue of Jesus, we even went on Sarfari. William Blake once observed that excess of sorrow laughs and excess of joy weeps. A couple of times on the beach I felt so happy that I could cry. It’s so rare in life that you genuinely forget about all your worries and feel sheer contentment.

Everything about the trip was positive. Everyone we met was nice, warm and friendly. The closest to a dodgy moment was when a mad homeless lady decided to chase after me with a corn on the cob. Eventually she just threw herself on the floor and played dead so we briskly walked away.

I decided on the plane home that my next solo show in London would be about happiness. The title is going to be, “Wonderful World, Beautiful People”. I want to try and do an exhibition that makes people feel positive and remind them about all the good things in life. I was thinking about Lou Reed’s song Beginning to See the Light which features a line, “There are problems in these times but wooooooooooooah none of them are mine” – that’s how I feel at the moment. I also relate to Paul McCartney when he sang, “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time”. And Marvin Gaye when he sung, “We are all sensitive people with so much to give”. Who knows how long these feeling will last? Hopefully at least until October when the show opens.

There are places in London such as Lambeth where the difference between rich and poor is quite noticeable. You’ll walk down one road with lovely, recently done up houses and posh cafes and wine bars, and then you walk round a corner and you’ll see a run down estate and smashed up bus stop and some racist graffitti.

However, the gap between rich and poor in Sao Paulo is something else. We took a long bus journey from one side of town to the other and witnessed a few disturbing sights. People who seemingly have nothing other than a blanket reduced to living off what they can find in bins. Meanwhile, the houses near Thomas’s gallery are for very, very rich people indeed. The houses are huge with skillfully sheered bushes by the gates. And they usually have one or two beefy security guards standing outside for a bit of protection too.

Statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro.

In two days time in I’m having a private view in North London in the Crimes Town gallery which is in the same building as my studio. I’ve made lots of collaborative paintings with friends. The paintings were all inspired by poems I like. The private view will be like a party with my friends and flatmates attending. It will probably go on quite late and we’ll all get drunk and have a good time. In Brazil people go wild about football and have all night parties on the beach but private views are often quiet affairs.

A collector would never attend a private view in a million years because they’d be running the risk of being kidnapped and held to ransom. So a private view would probably take place during the day and would only attract a small gathering.

Thomas told me that he was happy to show my paintings and even if none of the sold he would still see it as a success. I think it’s so rare to find people with this kind of attitude in the artworld. The support I get from Thomas and Gretta in London - their belief in me and the fact they’re willy to give me a chance to shine means a lot. Even if I never sell another painting in my life or get the worst reviews of all time - I’ll always be able to look back fondly on my trip to Brazil. So much in life is about luck - a chance meeting with just one person can mean that great things can happen as a result. So many other people, like those homeless guys in Sao Paulo, never even come close to having their dreams come true. And in other countries at the moment people can’t even vote in an election without fear of being beaten or tortured. And here I am - I have the freedom to express myself through my paintings and have shows in beautiful countries like Brazil.

I count my blessings everyday.


Harry Pye
is a writer, curator and painter who lives and works in London. See also his postcards from London in previous issues of Epifanio.