He tried different jobs, from building houses to fishing until he finally found his calling: wood sculpting. “When I moved, I found a company closely linked to the culture of wood and got involved with it,” says França, who learned the secrets of woodwork from the Pataxo Indians native to the area.
Much has happened since then, and today Hugo França is an internationally renowned sculptor and designer whose works are exhibited in major capitals and art fairs. In Brazil, some of his pieces are part of the permanent collections of important institutions such as the Inhotim Cultural Institute of Minas Gerais and the Museum of the Brazilian House in Sao Paulo. His artwork is frequently included in personal and collective exhibitions throughout the world.
He is represented by New York’s R20th Century Gallery and often exhibits his artworks at the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) also in New York City. In 1995, the artist donated one of his pieces to New York’s iconic Central Park.
The Brazilian designer was invited to participate—as in previous editions—in the prestigious Design Miami/Art Basel 2013, where he presented a selection of pieces that were on display May 31, 2014 at Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The exhibition, curated by Cristina Grajales was presented in a setting that allowed the sculptures to coexist harmoniously with the surrounding nature. The artist’s objective was to reclaim discarded wood and give it a new purpose in people’s lives.
It does not matter whether the items were created for outdoor or interior spaces, but the artist only uses spare, dead, or burnt wood, which has lost its commercial value. During his stay in Trancoso, Hugo França became aware of the high waste that results from the timber industry. This influenced his perception of environmental degradation and encouraged him to take a stand in defense of environmental sustainability.
Consequently, França began working with remains of Pequi (an indigenous Brazilian tree, also known as “walnut souari”), which had survived forest fires; this tree has a viscous nature, which makes it quite resistant to high heat. França used, primarily, Pequi roots, but given the difficulty of finding this type of wood, he began to experiment with other materials: baraúna, pau-d’arco, jackfruit and tata. According to the artist, finding the right wood is the first step in the creative process, and one he enjoys very much.
França tells us that his work derives from a direct dialogue with the raw materials: everything begins and ends with the trees. He finds inspiration in their shapes, holes, cracks and burns, everything that marks the passage of time leads to a carefully chosen narrative, a minimal intervention that generates unique pieces. “The pieces I like best are those where I have had less interference,” says the Brazilian sculptor. França achieves, in his pieces, the miracle of capturing the sensuality of what was, once, living matter to reshape and reclaim it as art.
Influenced by designers such as Alexandre Noll, George Nakashima and Isamu Noguchi, França confesses he feels identified with the Brazilian artists Zanine Caldas and Frans Krajaberg.
Hugo França works from his workshop in Sao Paulo, but spends part of the year in Trancoso. He keeps inspired by the environment and seasonal variations of the places where he lives and works: peaceful and remote Trancoso or metropolitan Sao Paulo. Daily walks through Sao Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park are part of his urban routine, and true to his inspiration, the artist always focuses his solace on the magnificent trees that embellish the beautiful park. ■