The Woman Nomad. The Brazilian Artist Cristina Barroso

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Monika Unkelbach

She paints large-format, colorful compositions showing planet systems, figures and structures in front of a background of mostly topographical country or city maps. These are created by painted over, collaged layers of newspaper, and photographs of cities, celestial charts and other collected images by the artist in order to create worlds which communicate a new space/time feeling. Christina Barroso lives and works in Stuttgart but her art and her activities are without borders. Continents come in contact with celestial bodies and the artist travels the world because only one thing limits her inspiration: the quotidian. As a young girl Cristina often felt, as she lay in bed at night before going to sleep, that she was growing larger than her house and then that she was shrinking to the size of an ant. This unique feeling of the very large and the very small is what she is trying to recreate in her work. The very different perspectives, which come from the contrasting view of the micro and macro cosmos, are expressed in her work.

Painting is a constant element in the life of the artist, born in 1958 in São Paulo, who found her way in the world after some years. When she was seventeen Cristina Barroso travelled to her uncle in Chicago, in order to learn English there. “I arrived in the winter and saw snow for the first time. It was all so new and so inspiring that I stayed for eight years,” she reports. Cristina enrolled in Southern Illinois University to study Philosophy and History. In the library there by chance she found a brochure for the San Francisco Art Institute. As so often happens, this was just the right time. “For as long as I can think back, I have painted, and when I took this brochure into my hand, I knew that it was the moment to give my life a new direction,” says Barroso.

She began to study painting in 1980 and quickly created her own language of images and her own expression. “It was as if the pictures were already in me and were just waiting for me to paint them,” said the artist, now fifty-seven years old. In a studio with a view of Alcatraz at the San Francisco Art Institute she completed the works which were shown in her first exhibition at the Diego Rivera Gallery. A series of single and group shows followed and the artist received a number of prizes. From the very beginning, maps were the focus of her work. Cristina Barroso loves them for their colors and the abundance of information they offer. “If I put a street map next to a celestial map, then I become conscious of the dimensions of our planet. This grounds me and also allows me to see the span of my life in a new light,” the painter explains.

Using shellac, powdered asphalt and wax, Barroso creates new topographies. Numbers, writing, images create conceptual contexts. She made a commissioned work for the Land Survey Office in Munich in which she divided a map of Bavaria from north to south into five parts and painted them over with acrylic images of magnet fields. In the center of the paintings are abbreviations for north and south that serve as a nod to cartography as a human system of orientation.
In 1992 Cristina Barroso received a studio stipend from the Göppinger Baumann Trust and then landed in Stuttgart. Her local exhibitions include: “Magie der Zahlen” (“Magic of Numbers”) in the famous public museum, the Staatsgallerie, a show at the Institute for Foreign Relations (ifa), Gallery Harthan and other venues. She lives in Stuttgart with her husband and her fourteen-year-old son and works in an artist’s loft in Reitzensteinstraße, where fifteen artists have formed the community “Reitzensteinern.”[1] The Brazilian artist loves the quiet and the diversity of galleries and museums in her chosen city of residence and in the city’s environs. But that is not all. “There are cities that are like magnets. They make a person feel like she is missing something substantial when she leaves,” the artist explains and continues, “that was the way I felt in Berlin and São Paulo. Stuttgart is a city that I can let go of, when I leave and which takes me back in a friendly way when I return.”

Barroso must let Stuttgart go frequently. Exhibitions and art fairs have led her to, among other places, São Paulo, Potsdam, Miami, London and Los Angeles. She steps across boundaries and commutes among the continents. A life lived as a nomad and expressed in her work.

Monika Unkelbach, “Die Nomadin. Die brasilianische Künstlerin Cristina Barroso”, in: Interkultur Stuttgart, October 2015, p. 20.
* The Reitzensteiner is a group of artists who have occupied the Reitzenseinstrasse Studio Buildings not as renters but as builder-owners. This was not only unique when it began in Stuttgart but became a pilot project in Germany.