Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I’m from Cascais, very close to Lisbon, in Portugal, and I’ve been in London for almost three years now. I moved here after doing a Painting BA in order to study at the Royal Drawing School, on the Drawing Year. There I met my wonderful classmates, who I admire as artists and stayed friends with after graduation. At our final degree show I received the Sir Denis Mahon Award, which allowed me to fully dedicate myself for a whole year to the preparation of a solo show at the School’s gallery. The result is ‘Spring and All’, currently on until the 4th of May.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I grew up surrounded by art books as my mum is an arts teacher – she did a Painting BA at the University of Lisbon, just like me. The living room was filled with Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Picasso, Paula Rego, Wayne Thiebauld, Degas, to name a few, while my room was filled with children books full of beautiful illustrations. This means I grew up between painting and illustration, for as long as I remember. I deeply enjoyed looking at pictures, over and over again, and I was very encouraged to draw. I feel that something important happened when I was about thirteen or fourteen, as I discovered drawing not only as a matter of making and craft, but as a meaningful vehicle of thoughts and sensations I didn’t feel like I could express in any other way. The white page became, in a way, the recipient of secrets. Painting came much later and I think I still don’t treat the canvas with the ease and sometimes healthy disrespect with which I work on paper. There’s always so much to learn!
What do you like most about working where you do?
After the Drawing Year I found a studio in Lewisham, a self contained small room on a 6th floor with windows that allow me to see people running and playing football on a park nearby. I love the area for the sense of community and the much quieter, calmer pace in comparison to the centre of London. Two friends of mine, Alice Macdonald and Isaac Nugent, had a shared studio in the same building and I found their presence crucial as it made possible to have conversations about the work, spontaneous studio visits that gave me new insights into what I was doing (and probably very unsure about) while allowing me, on the other hand, to witness first hand two different and inspirational approaches to painting and drawing. After finding this studio I moved my whole life to Lewisham – it is an absolute treat to walk or cycle through parks in the morning on my way to work.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Working from memory and imagination, often aided by observational studies and photographs, I’ve tried many times to transform the flat surface of paper or canvas into a portal, a simulator that could activate a feeling of wonder, curiosity or strangeness: simultaneous fear and attraction to the unknown allied to a sensation of displacement. For these are sentiments I experienced sitting in my parents’ car backseat as a child, seeing dark, quiet woods flee by, or walking at night through very tall trees close to the sea. I would feel very small and insignificant but also fully, intensively alive, and the (probably impossible) recreation of such emotions is what I often set myself to achieve – a ‘punch in the stomach’, something that moves me.
For ‘Spring and All’ I was particularly interested in love, in its many forms or absences – relationships and the idea of power, submission, vulnerability, miscommunication, loneliness and guilt, to name a few. To me the works have much more to do with exploration and questioning rather than with final answers and concepts, so in a way I’m trying to understand how I position myself within these depicted ‘situations’ – for example, what does it mean to be willingly submissive, or, on the other hand, to have control over another being?
I would say I believe in drawings and paintings that can move, produce a reaction or raise questions in the viewer. Surprise and mystery are important to me both in the process of making and the connection with those who see the works. I look for paintings that deeply engage the senses – through color, shape and texture – as well as the mind, and, for lack of a better word, the spirit.
What is your process like?
I mostly draw, paint and print – in this order. My starting point is usually a personal experience, one that imprinted a strong feeling which would be, at least for me, quite difficult to translate into words. In order to try to capture and question these sensations and experiences I do small sketches on paper, mostly with graphite. The final pieces, whether on canvas or paper, tend to involve collage and a mixture of materials: I like combining the different textures of oil paint, pastels, charcoal, and even different types of fabrics and surfaces. I usually work with the paper or the canvas stretched on the walls of my studio, doing the first layers in acrylics and then moving on to oils. Usually I’ll have between two and four unfinished paintings around me and I often recur to drawing if I feel uncertain about their compositions, which result from a combination of observational drawing, imagination and drawing from reference photos. I deeply cherish the rare moments in which a painting looks back at me, surprisingly, presenting me with something I don’t quite feel I had much to do with. It simply happened, whether by accident, by my stubbornness of keeping trying, by magic.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
In the last twelve months and while focusing on the body of work for this show I looked a lot at Piero della Francesca, Gauguin, Munch, Kitaj, Degas and Paula Modersohn-Becker. From Kitaj I tried to learn about texture and composition, from Gauguin I learnt about colour, from Munch about feeling, from Degas about stillness, drawing and movement, from Modersohn-Becker about skin and how to make faces and bodies mine – my representations of faces and bodies rather than an attempt at copying them. From Piero della Francesca I believe I learnt about drawing, attention to detail, passion and respect towards the work itself, towards the painting. Of course these are just examples. The truth is that I kept learning and trying to push myself by looking at work I admire. On the other hand I’ve always been attracted to poetry and I feel I should refer William Carlos Williams’ ‘Spring and All’, even if it only came to me after these paintings.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
It may be a bit off-topic but this question made me think of isolation – how I find it a strange concept even if I associate it so naturally to my work. I was quite certain I wanted to have a self contained studio, a room with a door (a safe space in which I would feel free to do all the things I enjoy doing while working, or on those moments just before starting to work – dancing, singing, moving around, talking a little bit to myself), but it is true that I started to appreciate the advantages of having a shared space as isolation can get especially tricky if experienced day after day, without interruption. I’d say I figured out my dream situation is to have a room to work in by myself but then to be able to knock on the next door and have a conversation. So my answer would be the isolation and how my work makes me feel, sometimes, too much inside my own little bubble. This worries me a lot as I really hope to connect with people – aren’t we fascinating creatures?
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
Yes, I have a part-time job teaching painting and drawing to children and teenagers in a school mostly devoted to observational work. During the last twelve months I was particularly lucky since I only worked one day and half a week thanks to the bursary I was getting through the Sir Denis Mahon Award! This allowed me to dedicate a lot more time to my own practice but I would be lying if I said I don’t enjoy teaching as well – it is a wonderful experience from which I keep learning and taking something back to the studio with me.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I did have the luck of having amazing mentors along the way: my mother Alice; teacher Zizi who used to give me the keys to the art department at lunch time in year 6; João Jacinto and Pedro Saraiva in Lisbon; Sarah Pickstone and Thomas Newbolt in London (to name a few!). And of course, friends are mentors too: Nuno Gonçalves, Alice Macdonald, Isaac Nugent and Mark Connolly.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
I do! I think I found out that if I want to do my best paintings I cannot simply pretend that my own health, physical and mental, doesn’t matter. Taking care of ourselves shouldn’t be second to making work.
What is your studio like?
My studio is a small room in an old offices’ building called Leegate House, in Lewisham. It is high above, on the 6th floor, and gives me plenty to see through its’ windows. My walls are always messy, as is my floor – actually the floor has these terrible blue carpeted tiles that I should’ve taken away right from when I moved in!
I remember very well finding outside on the street the thick piece of white glass material (I’m not sure how it’s called) that is now my palette – I cherish it a lot, alongside my books. When it comes to storage space I’m starting to have a bit of a problem and that’s definitively something I need to address quite soon. I’m looking forward to having a big tidying up day in next week or so.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I love walking or cycling to the studio in the morning, as I’m lucky to pass by two parks along the way and do it through trees. I have coffee looking at the paintings on my wall and depending on my mood and concentration I’ll put the radio on with the news or listen to podcasts or music. Sometimes I need silence. Different stages of work require different environments: If I’m very sure about what I’m doing, if I made a decision and know that a certain area of a painting will be done, – in the meantime -, in a certain way, I’ll listen to whatever pleases me. The work in the studio is permeated by highs and lows, and I feel that sound plays a very important role in this since it is, sometimes, the only kind of company I have. I’m still figuring out how listening to the news influences my work – I did it many times during the last year and it certainly raised new questions about why and what I was doing.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
I’ll always be grateful and in awe of the experience I had at the Royal Drawing School. Getting a place in the Drawing Year was one of the best things that ever happened to me and after three years I still remember the interview as if it had happened yesterday. Then at the end of our course I had the great joy of receiving the Sir Denis Mahon Award. I was surrounded by classmates and friends who I admire and look up to, in a School in which I had not only learnt a great deal but where I was very happy, in a city I don’t quite belong to, but that feels like home. Receiving the Award allowed me, on that special night of our final degree show, to decide that I would stay in London for another year, closer to many of those artists and friends that inspired me (and still do) and the museums and galleries that put me face-to-face with the work of the artists who always influenced me. It is no understatement, then, to say that that moment changed my life.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I have ‘Spring and All’ at the Royal Drawing School – on until the 4th of May – and lots of questions about the future accompanied by an even larger will to keep drawing and painting.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for reading!