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Manabu Mabe (Brazilian, 1924-1997)


Birth Place: Takara, Province of Kumamoto

The celebrated Brazilian artist Manabu Mabe incorporated a highly autobiographical vision into his organic abstract paintings. Born in 1924 in Kumamoto, Japan, he immigrated to Brazil at the age of ten, helping support his poor family by working on a coffee plantation. Foregoing formal education, he started a home business designing hand-painted neckties and napkins, which he sold on the streets of São Paulo. His 1940s paintings—Impressionistic landscapes and still lifes rendered on cardboard—borrowed subjects from household calendars and books. In the 1950s, Mabe shifted toward Cubism, ultimately leading him to pure abstraction. Closely related to French tachisme, a gesture painting with "spotting," Mabe's mature abstractions combine drips and flicks of paint, which stem from his practice of calligraphy, with earthy colors and vegetal shapes inspired by the natural surroundings of his childhood. Ever positive, Mabe insisted that all of his abstractions exuded "mabism," the energy of life.

Overnight, Mabe became an international success. Within a year of exhibiting his first abstractions in São Paolo galleries, he won in 1959 the Grant Award and the Braun Award at the First Paris Biennial, the Best National Painter Award at the Fifth São Paolo Biennial, and the Purchase Award at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Time Magazine even covered his lightning-fast rise to fame in an article entitled "Mabe's Golden Year." Numerous other accolades quickly followed: the 1960 Fiat Prize at the 30th Venice Biennial, the 1961 First Prize in the Second Biennial of Young Artists in Paris, and the 1962 First Prize in the First Inter-American Biennial of Art in Córdoba. Mabe exhibited his paintings widely, not merely in cities throughout Latin America, but in Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, London, Vienna, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Stockholm, Basel, and Osaka.

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