Gustavo Machado Rosa entered the world in São Paulo at 7:38 a.m., December 20, 1946 at the Maternidade Pró-Matre hospital in the heart of Av. Paulista. As he stated years later, he was born drawing. His mother, Cecilia de Paula Machado Netto, remembered when he was around three years old, facedown on the floor drawing compulsively on pads of paper, when he wasn’t doing it on the walls or in school notebooks—pages that overflowed with scenes and figures that the boy saw around him. A woman with a can of water on her head, boys flying kites, the ice cream man, the clowns that caught his attention in the circuses he went with his parents, the priest and the nun, the hot dog vendor, beatniks and so many other personages that reflected vibrant postwar society—all of them characters in his work.
His regular studies were at the Morumbi School and Paes Leme College. Undisciplined and restless, he used to draw in class all the time, a natural and compulsive gift that had blessed him early on. Years later, fascinated by the beautiful illustrations in the magazine Claudia, he became a trainee in the arts sector of Abril Editora publishers. However, destiny had other plans for his artistic creation, and he soon began to devote himself to his work on his own in the makeshift atelier in the dining room of his parents' house.
In 1964 he went on to attend the free drawing and painting course at the Armando Alvares Penteado-FAAP Foundation, taught by fine artist Teresa Nazar — along with Rubens Gerchman, Antônio Dias, Hélio Oiticica and Carlos Vergara — a pioneer painter of Pop Art in Brazil In these classes/workshops, Gustavo learned composition, framing, the use of color, and in particular, was instructed in the basic concepts of understanding and depicting the human body, provided by classes with live models. Impressed with the progress and quality of the works Gustavo produced, Teresa Nazar chose four of them to be exhibited in 1964 at the FAAP First Annual Fine Arts Exhibition held at MAB—the Brazilian Art Museum—his first public exhibition, which would mark the beginning of nearly five decades of his artistic career: 1964-2013. Also participating in this show were Luisa Strina, Selma Garrido and, among others, Lívio Augusto Malzone.
In addition to the live model classes, Gustavo was impressed with the artistic production from Klimt and Emil Nold. After this short course, Gustavo left his schooling; according to him, “it took up too much of my time,” and so he surrendered completely to his passion: drawing-painting, an obsession that allowed him to make visible his inner world so full of memories, feelings and reminiscences: “All I did—from the time I was four years old—was draw."
In 1969 he participated in his first group exhibition in an art gallery, next to works of Walter Levy, Dirce Pires and Décio Escobar. It was at the former Vice-Rey Gallery. Di Cavalcanti visited the show, and after looking at Gustavo’s paintings, commented: "This young man has a very nice touch." Emiliano Di Cavalcanti’s comment was a great incentive for the novice artist. From there, Gustavo established an affection for him, at first respectful, but which over the years turned into a genuine friendship that lasted until the death of the precursor of modernism in Brazil.
In 1969 Gustavo enrolled in the painting category to participate in the “Primeiro Festival das Artes InterClubes de São Paulo.” Critics Walter Zanini and Pietro Maria Bardi, members of the selection and award jury, granted him the Gold Medal, and the general jury of all categories (photography, architecture, painting, music and literature), composed of, among others, Maria Helena Chartuni, Lew Parrella, Olivier Perroy, Eduardo Kneese de Mello, Lucius Grinover, Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Cecilia Meirelles, gave him the main distinction of the event: the "Travel Abroad Award."
In 1970 he held his first solo exhibition at the Bonfiglioli Gallery—with Celia Cotrim simultaneously on display. Gustavo presented a series of large format drawings that captured, almost photographically, the physical aspects and facial features of the characters portrayed. This phase earned him praise and many orders for portraits, which made it possible for him, at the start of his career, to live from his own art—an unusual situation for that time, even for artists whose careers were already established. In his next phase, the painter conceived a series that reinterpreted the charismatic figure of the clown. In daring, structured, and unusual compositions, he revitalized and found a new way to present the uniqueness [deletei “presence”] of this figure of the popular imagination. Then came the "Bicycle" series, where art critic Ernestina Karman classified Gustavo as an "intelligent and sensitive observer, able to capture not only the way of life, but especially the most spontaneous emotions of the human being." In 1973, in an anthological exhibition called "The Square," he included or transformed human forms into quadrangular artistic compositions—a radical change in his work that was highlighted by the art lovers and critics of the time.
The influences of Klimt and Emile Nold were broadened, and the painter became more and more interested in the works of the masters: Klee, Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Saul Steinberg, Niki de Saint Phalle and their Volpi friends, Di Cavalcanti, Aldo Bonadei and Carlos Scliar.
In 1979, with the support of Alfredo Volpi, he made a new change that was not only thematic but also particularly technical. He replaced oil paint with egg tempera, learning patiently with the master, who gave him the "recipe" for how to prepare it and use it artistically. Presented at the Documenta Gallery, this new technical phase was highly praised, and the exposition was included among the best shows of that year.
In addition to tempera with Volpi and metal engraving, taught by the American engraver Rudy Pozzatti in a special course at FAAP he incorporated collage, which was resized and used in his work until the end of his life. Without ever forgetting or abolishing image representation from his work, in 1981 he developed a still life theme for the first time as an offshoot of his ongoing figurative theme. The incorporation of this theme produced a number of timeless paintings. At this phase, the compositional influence of Cézanne and the coloristic influence of Matisse became evident. He then conceived his series, "The Bathers," picking up a classic theme from art history, masterfully reinterpreted in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century by Georges Seurat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and, Pablo Picasso, among others. Unlike these great masters—his idols—Gustavo humorously updated the theme, his intention based on the thoughts of the great writer George Orwell: "Whatever is funny is subversive," a motto Gustavo Rosa always followed.
Along with important individual and group exhibitions in Brazil, the US and Japan, the 1970s impacted the artist's personal life. In 1978, the early death of his sister, Ana Maria, was one of the saddest moments of his life. This event led to a new way of living and an aesthetic-compositional metamorphosis of his work. In an interview, Gustavo explained: "I saw that life could not be taken so rigidly, and from then on my work went through a transformation." His loss led him to seek a new way not only of living but creating. This new savoir-vivre led him to more stripped-down, humorous, colorful and even satirical work: a way of critiquing in reverse.
The 1980s established his career. The top art critics in Brazil chose him, awarded him, and recommended him for major art shows: "Panoramas of Current Brazilian Art" at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo, "The Brazil-Japan Exhibition," "The Funarte National Hall of Fine Arts," "The Paulista Hall of Contemporary Art," and the exhibition "The Intrigue of Taste,” held by the São Paulo Biennial Foundation in 1987. In addition to large group exhibitions, Gustavo had solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, and celebrated his "20 Years of Painting" at the Bonfiglioli Gallery in São Paulo in 1985.
The 1990s consolidated his work. Gustavo exhibited again in the United States, at the International Museum of 20th Century Arts in Los Angeles, in Egremont, Massachusetts, and in Miami at the Collection Gallery; in Spain, in Barcelona at the Museo Del Barca and Studio La Secca and in Brazil, in 1992, the Modern Art Museum of Rio de Janeiro participated in ECO-ART, an exhibition parallel to the global event ECO 92.
Despite national and international successes, the late 1990s would bring Gustavo Rosa great suffering. After feeling pain in various parts of his body and having gone through numerous tests in 1999, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow. Again Gustavo found the strength to face his greatest challenge: to fight this great evil—a fight that consumed his strength for 14 years until his death in 2013. He stoically resisted, and as much as possible, did not stop producing, exhibiting, and donating his works to be auctioned for charitable purposes, something he had been doing since the early 1970s.