Lívio Abramo was largely self-taught and began work as an illustrator in the 1920s. His first prints were influenced by the work of Oswaldo Goeldi and by German Expressionist prints he saw in São Paulo, particularly the work of Käthe Kollwitz. A committed socialist, during the 1930s he was a pioneer of socially-committed art in Brazil, producing a series of engravings of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War while also working as a journalist and trades union activist. He never allowed his politics to compromise his art, however. He once said of political art that it was valid as long as it was good art, citing the examples of Käthe Kollwitz, Honoré Daumier and Francisco Goya.(1) Working as a newspaper illustrator helped to hone his technique: the daily discipline of having to produce an appropriate and meaningful image encouraged him to develop a clear, simple language that straddled figuration and abstraction.
A travel prize from the Salão Nacional de Belas Artes for his illustrations for a collection of short stories by Affonso Arinos, Pelo Sertão published in 1949, allowed him to visit Paris, where he worked for almost a year under the influential English print maker Stanley William Hayter in his Atelier 17, as well as Italy, Switzerland, England, Belgium and the Netherlands. He returned to Brazil in 1953 and began to teach engraving in São Paulo while also working in other media. An example of his work as a designer can be seen at the modernist house of Oscar Americano in Morumbi, São Paulo, built by Oswaldo Bratke in 1952. Here Abramo created a wonderful series of patios and paths made using the traditional Portuguese mosaic technique of small blocks of different coloured marble and incorporating a series of schematic figures drawn from indigenous culture.
Abramo was to have a tremendous influence as an educator. In 1957 with the support of the Brazilian government he founded, with Edith Jiménez, the Julián de la Herrería print workshop in Asunción, Paraguay. Here he inspired numerous Paraguayan artists to explore the possibilities offered by engraving, among them Olga Blinder and Lotte Schulz. In 1960 he set up another workshop in São Paulo, the Estúdio Gravura, where with his one-time student Maria Bonomi he taught a generation of Brazilian artists as well as students on scholarships from Paraguay. He moved permanently to Paraguay in 1962 where he became director of the Centro de Estudos Brasileiros, a position he held until his death. He worked tirelessly to promote Paraguayan culture, organising, with Olga Blinder, an exhibition of hispano-guarani art for the 6th Bienal of São Paulo in 1961, and helping to establish the Paraguayan Instituto de Patrimonio Histórico e Artístico in the 1980s.
Since the 1940s his work has been the subject of many solo shows in Brazil, particularly in the modern art museums of Rio and São Paulo, and in Paraguay as well as in Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Washington, Italy and Belgium. During his long career he contributed regularly to the São Paulo Bienals, from 1953, when he was named best engraver, until the Bienal of 1991 shortly before his death, where he exhibited his drawings Os Frisos do Partenon, a series of expressionist reflections on the human condition and was again a prize winner. Collective exhibitions of Brazilian art shown in Brazil and around the world frequently include examples of his work.
Aracy Amaral, Arte para quê? A preocupação social na arte brasileira 1930-1970, São Paulo, 1987, p 36