Otávio Roth had a long and active presence in the Brazilian visual arts scene.
Owner of an extensive but still mostly uncharted body of work, Roth was a respected artist and one of the pioneers of artisanal paper usage in Brazil.
He was a prominent presence among paper artists, delivering lectures and courses, carrying out art curatorships and organizing exhibitions, always with the universe of paper at the forefront.
Roth was a man of acute artistic, social and collective sense. He created and printed the woodcuts that illustrate the thirty articles of the UN Universal Human Rights Declaration. He is also the author of the woodcut collection that is in permanent display at the entity's three headquarters – New York, Vienna and Geneva. Over time, his works were printed in several languages: Norwegian, English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Danish, and Portuguese. He also worked with Ruth Rocha in a children's version of the same Declaration.
He used paper not only as a medium, but as an autonomous expression of art. As an artist, he went on to produce several groundbreaking works, using distinctive techniques and new discoveries. After one of his travels to Japan, he returned to Brazil with the idea of creating the smallest sheet that still kept intact all elements of paper – hence the advent of the peninhas (little feathers), which generated installations in several places, both in Brazil and abroad.
It is important to acknowledge Roth's flexibility to create and re-create themes and ideas, never placing any barrier on his own freedom to come back, reinterpret and once again approach subjects that had been developed previously with different techniques.
His participatory installations had great impact and consolidated Roth's name as a true educator and promoter of papercraft, as he not only taught traditional techniques to the public, but also encouraged them to pursue new discoveries and new uses of the produced material.
As a deep connoisseur of the history and techniques of papermaking, Roth gave lectures and training courses, mainly in São Paulo, Brasília and Porto Alegre, as well as in Rio de Janeiro.
In 1988, after the promulgation of the new Brazilian Constitution, he was invited to create five original copies of the document, a task he carried out by means of a highly sophisticated work using handmade paper, Brazilwood and parchment. These books were handed to the President of the Constituent Assembly, Ulysses Guimarães, the President of the Republic, the President of the Federal Supreme Court, and the sponsor. The last copy remained in the artist's possession.
When Pietro Maria Bardi, Director of the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), turned 90 years old in 1990, Roth devised and executed in the museum a new installation where the visitors placed congratulatory messages to Professor Bardi in a tree trunk using papers of different colors. The tree (an eucalyptus tree), the papers with messages, the use of paper and the public participation marked indelibly the artist's work at the time.
In 1982, Roth created an engraving for the release of a UN commemorative stamp. When invited, in 1990, to make a second engraving for the same organization, he carried out an activity with school children and children of diplomats from various nationalities. From this experience emerged the idea of a new participatory installation entitled "The Tree - A Traveling Installation". He envisaged a tree made of acetate in which children from all over the world would make free interventions using self-adhesive sheets attached by the artist to trunks drawn in India ink on the acetate.
This should be a huge panel, with the dimensions of the facade of the UN headquarters building in New York. The project, aimed at involving children in the efforts for world peace, would be completed by the turn of the Millennium, in 2000.
Some related installations and exhibitions were held with great repercussion. However, the project remained unfinished due to the artist's premature death. There was always a wish that the idea would be taken forward and completed. This would be particularly important at a time like today, when the omnipresent issue of preservation of the environment, the alert about the fundamental importance of conserving natural resources and the insistence on judicious and sustainable use of our natural heritage are prominent in world discussions, and when the desire and experience of peace unfortunately remain unfulfilled.
For his activity and his incentive to artists and to the new generations, the ideas and the work of Otávio Roth must be revisited and revalued, thus contributing to a necessary alert about the destruction of nature and the need for a change in the wrong paths taken so far by humankind.
Antonio Carlos Suster Abdalla, "Otávio Roth, his role and his facets", 2016