Aníbal Brizuela recently died in Argentina, at the age of 84, after spending more than half a century at a psychiatric hospital. Still little known in this part of the world, he is nonetheless the major figure of the Argentine Art Brut scene and his fame has, over there, surpassed the circle of the few specialists in this area. His body of work has thus been the object of numerous exhibits in prestigious contemporary art spaces, a full-length documentary and, more recently, a monograph.
He had no known family and the circumstances leading him to spend forty years among more than seven hundred other patients at the Oliveros psychiatric hospital remain obscure. The genesis of his creation is all the same immemorial and it is only thanks to the late recognition of his work and the sale of works that resulted from it that he would spend the last decade of his life in a small, more welcoming therapeutic community.
What was Aníbal’s particularity? If his method initially revealed an element of Dazibao—since above all, he was seeking to call out to the passerby by presenting his drawings in the hallways of the hospital—the subtly uncentered geometric patterns, like a sharp typography, manifestly revealed a more private formal grammar, if not outright abstruse. For Brizuela cultivated the art of omission, emphasizing words and acronyms, often without any obvious link, at times threatening, at times invocative. Meanwhile the drawings that emerge from his small, personal library of icons—arms, crosses, coffins, syringes, heads—underscore the point. Without really revealing if this polysemous profusion is meant to convey the disorder of the world, or if these antagonisms that rattle him were rather the reflection of the disorder from which Aníbal sought to free himself through incantation. Unless it was only a form of highly poetic resilience. mixing the Black Virgin, called on here and there, to the memory of an otherworldly experience that the artist had when he was younger: “One day, I was fishing at the edge of the river and I saw a flying saucer. […] I looked at my fishing rod and when I lifted my eyes, it was no longer there. […] When I closed my eyes, the sanctuary appears. The dogs don’t go in. The lights go out and the doors open. Inside, the forms. They move on their own. They are connected and they connect me.”