Roda Viva (Wheel of Life), 2019

Roda Viva, 2019. Cardboard, acrylic paint, charcoal, paper, glue and tape, 90 x 360 in.

Roda Viva (Wheel of Life) is a mixed media installation about uncertainty and impermanence, with imagery and themes inspired by the song Roda Viva by Chico Buarque. Made with charcoal and acrylic paint on 400 pieces of cardboard, the work was temporarily installed on a 30 foot wall using paper and masking tape.

Listen to Roda Viva on Spotify

Roda Viva was composed and performed by Chico Buarque, a Brazilian singer, composer, playwright and writer. Much of his work includes social, economic and cultural commentary, particularly on Brazil. Buarque’s Roda Viva refers to the “wheel of life” which forever turns, creating turmoil and carrying life’s ambitions and accomplishments away.

Buarque composed the song in 1966 as commentary on the dictatorship in Brazil, with the “wheel of life” serving as a metaphor for the authoritarian regime that deprived working-class Brazilians of their dreams of freedom and democracy. While many of the allusions to politics and personal expression are relevant to the time the song was composed, the themes are just as relevant today considering the political turmoil in Brazil and throughout the world, and the environmental and climate crises humanity is facing.

Before I began studying the lyrics, I became obsessed with the elaborate harmonies of Roda Viva and how Buarque constructed the catchy melody throughout the song, I eventually realized the song was about much more than I thought, with serious commentary on the struggle between human desire and longing and how forces outside our control can upend our lives, and felt inspired to incorporate those themes into my own work.

Four panels

As it was installed, the Roda Viva mural is composed of four interconnected panels that are inspired by themes from the verses of the song: Destino (Destiny), A Baiana, A Roseira (The Rosebush) and Saudades (Longing).

The four panels of Roda Viva: Destino (Destiny), A Baiana, A Roseira (The Rosebush) and Saudades (Longing).

Destino (Destiny)

Tem dias que a gente se sente
Como quem partiu ou morreu
A gente estancou de repente
Ou foi o mundo então que cresceu?

A gente quer ter voz ativa
No nosso destino mandar
Mas eis que chega a roda-viva
E carrega o destino pra lá
There are days that we feel
Like those who went away or died
Did we suddenly stop
Or was it the world that grew?

We want to have a say
Make our own destiny
But then arrives the wheel of life
And carries destiny away
Destino (Roda Viva), 2019. Cardboard, acrylic paint, charcoal, paper, glue and tape, 90 x 90 in.

In the first verse, Buarque sings about the human desire to control our destiny and create change in our lives, but the world changes and grows and our destiny is lost, making us feel like we’ve been left behind and struggled for nothing.

Detail of Destino

In this frame of the work, the figure pulls against a force that is out of view, making it unclear if progress is possible and what is to be gained. On the ground are notebooks representing a life of introspection and documentation, but now underfoot, easily lost and forgotten.

The rope is a continuous thread throughout the work, symbolizing the path our lives take and how that path surrounds and carries us a long even as we try to control it. The background of each panel also features cardboard “tiles” with designs inspired by “azulejos,” a ceramic tile decorative art common in Brazil. The designs in Destino are divided in thirds and represent an abstract landscape, with patterns representing earth, water and sky.

A Baiana

A roda da saia, a mulata
Não quer mais rodar, não senhor
Não posso fazer serenata
A roda de samba acabou
The turn of the skirt, the mulata
Doesn’t want to turn any more, no sir
I am not able to serenade
The samba circle has ended
A Baiana (Roda Viva), 2019. Cardboard, acrylic paint, charcoal, paper, glue and tape, 90 x 90 in.

The second panel is inspired by the second verse of Roda Viva, about the dancers and musicians who have been silenced, the samba ended. Under the dictatorship, speech was restricted and dissidents jailed and tortured.

Throughout Roda Viva, Buarque uses metaphors and allusions to Brazilian culture to express his views and subvert the limits on self-expression and was a victim of repression when his play, also called Roda Viva and featuring the song, was violently attacked by a paramilitary group that supported the dictatorship,

A Baiana, detail

In this panel, the Baiana (literally, a woman from the Brazilian state of Baia) wears a traditional white dress, featuring a hooped skirt, a shirt embellished with lace and embroidery, a shawl, and an oja, a cloth tied around the head. The clothes have spiritual significance and the skirt, or axó, represents the Baiana’s status in Bahian culture. A contingent of dancing Baianas are a main feature in parades during carnaval, with the traditional white clothing transformed into elaborate costumes in brilliant colors.

A Roseira (The Rosebush)

Faz tempo que a gente cultiva
A mais linda roseira que há
Mas eis que chega a roda-viva
E carrega a roseira pra lá
For such a long time we cultivate
The most beautiful rose bush there is
But then arrives the wheel of life
And carries the rosebush away
A Roseira (Roda Viva), 2019. Cardboard, acrylic paint, charcoal, paper, glue and tape, 90 x 90 in.

In the third verse, Buarque sings about cultivating a rose bush, but with the passage of time, even the most beautiful bush will burn and and be carried away. No matter what we accomplish in life, it too passes.

Detail of Roseira

In this frame of the mural, two rose bushes are intertwined, one alive with blooms and the other dry and dead, representing the interconnectedness and interdependencies of life and death. 

Saudades (Longing)

No peito a saudade cativa
Faz força pro tempo parar
Mas eis que chega a roda-viva
E carrega a saudade pra lá
In our hearts our longing is captured
Pushing hard to stop time
But then arrives the wheel of life
And carries the longing away
Saudades (Roda Viva), 2019. Cardboard, acrylic paint, charcoal, paper, glue and tape, 90 x 90 in.

In the final verse, Buarque sings about saudades, a word in Portuguese that doesn’t have an exact translation in English, but speaks of longing we have for all that has past in our lives. We cling to our past, trying to stop time, but once again life turns and our longing too is lost.

Detail of Saudades (the bee-eater)

The figure in this panel is distracted by the past but continues walking forward, nearing the end of rope, a lifetime complete. The figure is accompanied by a bird, a European bee-eater, which pursues its’ prey, representing a longing for nature and the end of nature as we know it.

My theme for Open Studios: Roda Viva

For this year’s SF Open Studios, I’m creating a mural in my studio inspired by the song Roda Viva by Brazilian artist Chico Buarque. The song was recorded in 1967 and is about the “wheel of life” that can suddenly change our fate, with lyrics that contain many metaphors and allusions to Brazilian culture. At the time it was recorded, “roda viva” was also understood as a reference to the Brazilian military dictatorship and the political turmoil at the time.

This video features Chico Buarque performing the song at the 1967 Festival of Brazilian Popular Music. This version includes English subtitles that I don’t really love but gives you the general idea and covers some of the themes I include in my work. I love this video, especially the views of the audience members singing along, especially considering the intended meaning of the song.

Peter Howells 2019 Open Studios

Roda Viva: Destino, 2019. Mixed media, 90 x 90 in.

I’ll be participating in this year’s San Francisco Open Studios at Arc Gallery at 1246 Folsom Street in SF. For the weekend event, I am creating a 8 x 30 foot mural on my studio wall inspired by the song Roda Viva by Brazilian artist Chico Buarque. It is probably the most ambitious installation I’ve ever done and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone.  

Peter Howells Studio
Arc Gallery & Studios
1246 Folsom St
Studio 205
San Francisco, CA 94103
Opening Reception
Friday, November 1, 7-9pm

Open Studio Hours
Saturday, Nov 2, 11am – 5pm
Sunday, Nov 3, 11am – 5pm

Redacted group show at ReachArts

They Have an Advantage, 2019

SWAMPSCOTT, MA, July 30, 2019— ReachArts, Swampscott’s Community Arts Center hosts Unredacted, a mixed-media exhibition featuring 7 artists who, over the last two decades, have studied with the collaborative duo rosenclaire, Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky, artists and educators who run workshops and residencies principally in Italy and South Africa.

The exhibition features work by Tereza Swanda, Peter Howells, Diane Jacobs, Angela Rose Voulgarelis, Dorota Mytych, Michael Miller, Melissa Morris

“As a group, we are working with the following themes: gender and economic inequality, violence against women and children, migration as a means of potential political asylum, destructive thoughts that perpetuate social and political division, as well as the collapse of hierarchical cultural structures. 

Acknowledging the political post-truth world we now live in, as artists and activists, we aim to shine a light on sustained inequities and offer more humane alternatives.”

On View: September 7- October 19th

ReachArts is a volunteer-led community arts and humanities center in Swampscott, MA. Our mission is to provide a home for a diverse community to unite through artistic expression.

Artist Statement

As an artist, I explore themes of creation and destruction,  the illusion of permanence and the inevitability of change. Just as nature transformed the earth over millennia resulting in the world as we know it, including us, so too does humanity both destroy and recreate our planet with an outcome that is both profound and uncertain.

My works serve as an analogy to the powerful forces of both nature and humanity. Using found objects, impermanent media and imagery whose original purpose has become obsolete, I have rearranged their parts to create new and unexpected forms. My work also often contains multiple levels of visual interest, withs pieces having abstract and geometrical structures at a distance, colors and tones with, with closer inspection, reveal remnants of information and additional layers of patterns, forms and materials.

Cartography series

Cartography, 2010-2016. Mixed media, 96″ x 300″ in. more or less

When I conceived of Cartography series piece, I wanted to work large but was not in a location where I could purchase and transport large canvases, so I made the work from small pieces of cardboard I found in the street and piece together. I made a couple of important discoveries working this way. Using “recycled” materials freed me up to be less precious about the work, allowing me to explore themes and styles in a way that I resisted previously. The modularity also allowed me to continuously expand and contract the scale of each work, swapping and exchanging entire sections of a work that could theoretically be any size that I want.  I’ve worked on sections of Cartography since 2000 and most recently combined a very large and previously unrelated portions into a mural installation.

Rearranged World series

My “Rearranged World” series serve as an analogy to the destructive and creative processes of both nature and humanity, and how humans try to transform the chaos of nature into order. Each piece begins with letterpress typeset tray, discarded from a Chinese print shop that used a technology that has been supplanted by digital reproduction. Inserted within each niche are strips of maps taken from old atlases, with representations of a “rearranged” world from our recent past, one that has since been further altered by humanity.

Cartography

Cartography, 2010-2016. Mixed media, 96″ x 300″ in. more or less

Cartography began as a continuation of my ongoing themes, combining map imagery with wrestlers, symbolizing how human conflict has effectively reshaped the earth in our image and to accommodate us.

When I conceived of the piece, I wanted to work large but was not in a location where I could purchase and transport large canvases, so I made the work from small pieces of cardboard I found in the street, each scrap additing it’s own aesthetic and history to the piece. Working modularly and with “recycled” materials also freed me up to be less precious about the work, allowing me to explore themes and styles in a way that I resisted previously. As another bene t, I could choose to work inany size I wanted and to con- tinue to grow the piece in any direction.

I’ve worked on sections of Cartography since 2000 and most recently combined very large and previously unrelated portions into a mural installation, pictured above.

Fall 2016 Open Studios at Arc Studios

 

mural-composite
Cartography, 2010-2016. Mixed media, 96 x 360+ in.

ArtSpan’s SF Open Studios provides the public with an opportunity to see artists in their workspaces. Art lovers are invited to meet the artists and build their art collections. Join us in the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood to view a multitude of artists in their workspaces, all within walking distance.

Arc Studios

Location: 1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (map)

Preview Reception:  Friday, October 21st, 6-9PM

Open Studios:  October 22nd & 23rd, 11AM to 6PM

Arc Studio Artists

Kathy Fujii-Oka, Dianne Hoffman, Peter Howells, Soad Kader, Bonnie Levinson, Sasha Merritt, Priscilla Otani, William Salit, Debra Cook Shapiro, Tracy Starr, Denise Tarantino, Samanta Tello, and Stephen C. Wagner

Guest Artists

Carrington Arredondo, Johnny Botts, Jeanne Hauser, Mike Kimball, Barbara Kleinhans, John Kraft, Erin Malone, Alan Mazzetti, Michele de la Menardiere, Sean O’Donnell, Ken Sloan, and Tanya Wilkinson

​”Identity” Arc Studio Artists Group Exhibition

howells-identityI moved into a new studio this year and the resident artists have a group show in the spring. I’ll be showing some recent work in the gallery space on the first floor and large installation piece in my studio workspace on the second floor. You can visit me in my studio during the reception on Friday, March 25 from 7-10 pm and on Saturday, March 26, 12-3 pm.

Exhibition

Arc Studios & Gallery
1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
March 22 – April 30, 2016

Opening Reception

Friday, March 25th, 7-10PM

Arc Studio Artists

Kathy Fujii-Oka, Dianne Hoffman, Peter Howells, Soad Kader, Bonnie Levinson, Sasha Merritt, Priscilla Otani, William Salit, Debra Cook Shapiro, Tracy Starr, Denise Tarantino, Samanta Tello & Stephen C. Wagner, with Matthew Frederick

Arc artist studios will be open during the Opening Reception for an opportunity to see artists in their workspaces – Art lovers are invited to meet the artists and build their art collections.

Full details at arc-sf.com