José Leonilson Bezerra Dias (1957-1993) came of age as an artist during the 80s generation in Brazil. What he shared with this diverse artistic milieu was the so-called ‘joy of painting,’ rediscovered in the years following the end of Brazil’s dictatorship. What separated him from his contemporaries was his personal way of working and his distinct aesthetic centered on raw emotional feelings, introspective musings, and private affairs.

He studied at the Escola Pan-Americana de Arte and the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP) in São Paulo. A participant in the generation defining exhibition, Como vai você, Geração 80? (How Are You, Generation 80?), he emerged as a seminal figure of the Brazilian contemporary art world during this decade. Over the course of his career Leonilson traveled extensively throughout Europe, and his paintings, drawings, and installations were featured in solo and group shows in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, in addition to many exhibitions held in Brazil. In 1991, the artist tested positive for HIV. This diagnosis compelled a decisive shift in his career, as Leonilson began to develop his intimate embroideries, a practice he continued until his death in 1993 at the age of 36. Artworks by Leonilson are today included in such major public and private collections as the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges-Pompidou; the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona; the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others.

Bio courtesy of the Americas Society, 2017. The first solo exhibition of Leonilson's work in the United States, "José Leonilson: Empty Man," was on view at the Americas Society from September 27, 2017 to February 3, 2018.

The Projeto Leonilson is a nonprofit institution created after Leonilson’s death with the mission of keeping alive the memory of the artist through the research, cataloging, and dissemination of his work, contextualizing it within the Brazilian historical and cultural scenario. The institution is responsible for the management of Leonilson’s copyright and moral rights. In June 2017, after 24 years of work, Projeto Leonilson released the Catalogue Raisonné of the artist, the first raisonné by a deceased contemporary artist to be published in Brazil. For further information and copyrights, please contact: projetoleonilson@projetoleonilson.com.br