Inside Brazilian Artist Carlos Vergara’s Rio Garden

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Photography by Jane Stockdale

Tucked away in the hills of Santa Teresa in Rio de Janeiro, this luscious hideaway hosts a secret world of creativity

TextMaisie SkidmorePhotographyJane StockdalePhotographic EditorHolly Hay

Carlos Vergara’s Rio de Janeiro studio, tucked into the hills of the Brazilian city’s famously artistic Santa Teresa region, is one of those rare domestic spaces which exudes magic from the moment you step into it. Concealed from the street by a tangled mass of falling vines and trailing plants, it has become both a tribute to and a crucible for the esteemed Brazilian artist’s dynamic, expressive works; he makes them in the workshop downstairs, where boxes of found objects and pigments, and rows of containers of paint line the walls, and then shows a selection of the resulting pieces upstairs to passing visitors. The spaces are simple and bright, the white walls are dotted with curiosities. 

The garden, though, is perhaps the most enchanting of all. Funny seats that Vergara has had made in his signature kidney bean form are littered throughout it; a giant, charming wooden leopard smiles at guests from the middle of it; at its furthest point, an actual maze delineated with lines of semi-precious crystals offers a prime spot for reflection. The view from the overlooks the city’s rolling hills, and the favelas scattered over them; on a clear day you can see Cristo in the distance, watching over the region with his stone arms outstretched. In the chaos of the city’s winding streets, this building provides a strange pocket of calm.

Vergara, for his part, is as welcoming and as warm as the environment he has cultivated, drawing guests into his studio and workshop with a generosity of spirit somewhat unusual in creatives of his calibre. At 75 years old, and with a remarkably established career both behind and in front of him, he has had a lifetime to build this castle to Brazilian art, and visibly delights in sharing it. He presents a work on the walls – an abstract sculpture of a portion of a tree, and the real branch its representation is based on, explaining its origins, resonance, and the concept he had while in mind while creating it. “Or, maybe it’s all bullshit!” he laughs, cheerily, his onlookers giggling in disbelief. What could possibly be more charming? 

With thanks to Nike.