Though it might be small, Portugal isn’t lacking when it comes to important contributions to global culture – be it through food, literature or art. Here are ten of Portugal’s most exciting contemporary artists, from the internationally established to the up-and-comers who are worth tracking down next time you’re in one of the cities exhibiting them.
Painter Adriana Molder brings influences from film and drama into her stark portraits, in which she captures the faces of characters caught at crucial moments in a narrative. Indeed, she trained as a stage designer before turning to study fine art and drawing. Her portraits, often made without color, evoke black-and-white films, though as she explained to The Culture Trip, ‘I wanted to work in black and white, [though] … now there are other colors naturally joining my work.’ Strong, gripping tones of sanguine red often punctuate the faces in her work. Many of the portraits are inspired by characters in novels, such as 19th century Portuguese novel The Goat-Footed Lady, or Virgina Woolf’s The Haunted House.
Paula Rego is firmly established in the international art world for her paintings, which often draw upon fairy tales and children’s stories to create surreal, satirical narratives. ‘War’ illustrates a scene not unlike a 19th century war epic – except in this case, most of the characters have been transformed into lifeless-looking rabbits. ‘The Maids’ takes a scene from the Jean Genet’s play of the same name, in which two maids attend to a wealthy family whom they go on to murder. The painting manages to juxtapose soft colors and a scene of apparent domestic tranquility with ominous undertones: the pet appears to be some sort of monster, while the young woman appears, upon closer inspection, to have a mustache.
Saatchi Gallery, Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, London SW3 4RY, +44 20 7811 3070
Santiago Ribeiro is one of Portugal’s most active surrealist painters, updating the genre for the 21st century. Consistent motifs in his work reoccur in a suitably dream-like fashion, with anonymous naked figures assembled like ants, and rectangular and conical structures. In ‘The City of Slat’, these figures march along infinite production lines, trapped inside this city; in ‘Butterflies’, they acquire wings, appearing to be free themselves. Santiago Ribeiro is currently organizing International Surrealism Now, the latest installment in a series of surrealist exhibitions around the world, in his native Coimbra.
Jorge Santos was born in 1959 in Angola to a Portuguese family, but left for Portugal when the civil war began in 1975, before moving to the United States in 1982. His paintings strive for a hyperrealism, at times mistakable for a photo – yet it is clear that nothing is quite what it seems. There are strong sexual undertones – indeed, overtones in much of his work— which depict everything from a domestic family to a lone figure. The scenes are boxed into tight, almost claustrophobic frames, creating a tension and an artificiality that almost contradicts the precision of the brushwork. And that’s the point; Santos’ paintings give the viewer plenty to think about.
323 NE 59th Terrace, Miami, Florida 33137, USA, +305 573 2101
Catarina Botelho trained as a painter before turning to photography. Her work portrays simple, almost mundane, subject matter, but brings out an unseen beauty in the settings. The ‘Time and Manner’ series, for example, pictures laundry baskets, brooms and washing-up liquid against the marble of a laundry room. Yet we also stop to appreciate the beauty of the marble, and the gentle colors and forms of the objects placed against it. ‘Between the Words and Us’ similarly takes the disorder of a construction site and thrusts it before us, revealing the forms and colors that constitute it.
Galeria Presença, Rua de Miguel Bombarda 570, 4050 Porto, Portugal, +351 22 606 0188.
Francisco Vidal was born in Portugal to an Angolan father and Cape Verdean mother, and his work engages with this Lusophone African identity. Despite being born and raised in Portugal, ‘the rhythm of my body makes my work African,’ he explains. His drawing ‘Black Panthers’, for example, captures this trans-national black identity in depicting a map of the world, with Africa at its epicenter, and other parts of the diaspora, such as Portugal, the United States and Brazil, emphasized. ‘Black Pietá’ is simply a negative of Michelangelo’s ‘Pietá’, with the effect of creating a black Christ and black Mary.
Carla Filipe was the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s artist in residency in London in 2010, before returning to her home of Porto. Her multi-medium works combine pieces she has created with historical archives, giving a sense of continuity with history. For example, her Da Cauda à Cabeça is based on her research into Portuguese railway systems, and in the work she creates a comprehensive portrait of railways in Portugal, through sculptures using industrial materials, archives about the people who worked in the museums, and video footage, both real and fictional.