“I did not accomplish everything that my dream as an artist wanted. It was too great for my strength and for the obstacles I found along the way. I did what I could with the resources I had.”
Born in Porto de Cima, a hamlet of Morretes, on the coast of the State of Paraná, the son of Italian immigrants João Turin still as a boy discovered sculpture, in a unique way: he covered his legs, trunk and arms with clay, let it dry and then removed to play with the molds of his own body. At age nine he moved with his parents to Curitiba, where he would successively work as blacksmith, woodworker and turner, before discovering his true vocation. In the first years of the twentieth century, after being a seminarian and attending the School of Arts and Industry Mariano de Lima, Turin was a constant presence in rallies of intellectuals and workers who, inspired by the anarcho-socialist utopia of Giovanni Rossi in the Cecilia colony, from time to time shook the capital’s calm streets; but this experience of social agitator in his youth would not have future developments.
In 1905, with a scholarship from the State Government, João Turin went to Brussels and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where his friend Zaco Paraná was already, both studying with the same teacher, the famous Pierre-Charles Van der Stappen, a prominent figure of the avant-garde Belgian groups Les Vingt and Libre Esthétique. The choice of both sculptors for Brussels, an unusual destination for Brazilian artists, was not accidental: it was due to Belgian engineers who worked at the railroad in Paraná, such as François Gheur and Alphonse Solheid, who saw in the two teenagers the likes of future artists. After leaving the Royal Academy in 1909, Turin still remained about two years in Brussels, in addition to visiting Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, until he moved to Paris in late 1911. In the French capital, where he lived for the next ten years, he sometimes exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français, obtaining in 1912 an honorable mention with “Exile”. But then it was wartime, and except for a few commissions – such as one in 1917, to execute a relief in stone for a church of Loireau, in Normandy – there were no customers or orders, much less to foreign artists. No wonder so little is known of Turin’s tough Parisian years, during which he nevertheless met Rodin, Modigliani, Isadora Duncan, Claude Debussy (whom he portrayed in a bas-relief) and other personalities.
In late 1922, the artist returned to Brazil and again settled into Curitiba. He had left in Montparnasse, in a studio at Rue Vercingentorix ceded to Brecheret, a good quality of works, because his intention, which never materialized, was to return to Paris as soon as possible. Integrated eventually to the discrete artistic and cultural environment of the city, state capital of Paraná, João Turin from then on would create a large number of monuments, statues, busts, reliefs and also paintings, ceramics and illustrations. Most prominent among the monuments were those dedicated to Gomes Carneiro (1927, Lapa), Rui Barbosa (1936, Santos Andrade square) and the Republic (1938, Tiradentes square), the last two in Curitiba. He would be one of the masterminds, in 1923, together with the painters João Lange and Lange de Morretes, of the so-called Paranist style of architectural ornamentation, based on the stylization of the pine-tree and other elements of the fauna and flora from Paraná, in the form of capitals, vases, flowerpots and other utilitarian objects.
Marked, during the years of training and development in Curitiba and Brussels, by symbolist influences, by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco, admiring sculptors like Barye, Meunier, Minne, Rodin, Bourdelle and Maillol, João Turin remained impervious, and more than that, hostile to the aesthetic renewal that occurred in the early years of the twentieth century. The better part of his production are not the monuments, busts and portraits, conventional by their own nature, but the numerous representations of animals, many of them held in the House João Turin, in Curitiba, in which, despite the anatomical fidelity and the correct proportions (which are not always observed when he portrays the human figure), it is not so much the animal itself that matters, but rather what it symbolizes, so that to represent Marumbi, the mountain range of Serra do Mar located near his hometown, he found no better way than with two tigers in furious combat, magnificent in their strength, agility and beauty.
By José Roberto Teixeira Leite – author of “João Turin – Life, Work, Art”