Something had to change. Painting and drawing seemed inappropriate to dealing with the thematic universe I had in mind. In order to speak about violence and war, I needed a more precise – and more faithful to the objects’ appearance – means of expression. I bought a new camera and visited the Military Museum in order to photograph a G3 and a Kalashnikov, the symbols of our colonial war. I was welcomed by Cororel Ribeiro de Faria and given a space to work. I stayed for more than a year, working obsessively, passionately, as I hadn’t done for a long time.
289 to 293.
Guilt. Confession. The works in which I present myself like someone who is confessing to a crime are based on the pictures of Luís Militão, the murderer of the Portuguese tourists in Fortaleza.
I find it terribly distressing to be faced, every day, with crimes and monstrosities; to the extent that I feel as if I am also guilty of unnameable atrocities.
S. Pedro do Estoril, 7th December 2004
Murders. Kidnappings. Sexual and financial scandals. A world of speeches and falsehood on the brink of collapse? On the worst days, a dark sea spreads everywhere, like the scorching lava of a volcano. It doesn't burn, but nothing escapes the fetid contamination of those moments. And the disgust clutches the skin like melted rubber. [...]
My paintings are not this. Words and images belong to different worlds. The images say what they say, in their own particular 'idiom'.
Furthermore, all is not lost. Despite everything, mothers and fathers are still naive and children innocent. Sometimes. And on sunny days the sea gleams.
S. Pedro do Estoril, 13th October 2004
On works produced between 2001 and 2004 (172, 207, 221, 237, 240, 243, etc.).
Falsehood and paintings. Visitations, baptisms and confirmations, penitence, flagellations, the characters of Botticelli or Poussin. Still! Do the distant origins of my "stories" and images really matter?
And what about recent events? Are they more important? Ministers and illegal car parkers, media figures mixing with a bunch of nobodies in suburban daily life. Encounters and missed encounters... Crude oil sea adventures and coastal contamination.
Dramas and rapes, real and imaginary crimes, cases of paedophilia and military invasions. "Children" that kill and "children" that die. Speeches and taking office. Weddings. Renouncement. Guilt and confessions.
An irresistible attraction to misfortune and Kafkaesque themes? There's no point carrying on down this road. When finished, the paintings have an autonomy that makes their origins irrelevant. Perhaps. It would be good if it were so!
S. Pedro do Estoril, 11th September 2003
[...] there are far more artists involved in photography, video and installations that share my narrative world, than painters (contemporaries, of course). Curiously, instead of feeling like an outsider, I feel once more I belong to a world of meanings. [...] To tell you the truth, I feel a lot closer to Bill Viola's videos, Jeff Wall's photographs, or the confessional installations of Louise Bourgeois. For me, therefore, defending art is not just blindly defending painting, although when I go into my studio it is painting, always painting, that fills my days and my mind. Faithful to my principles, I have learnt from life to renew my interests... and Picasso and Goya are still my great ancestors.
S. Pedro do Estoril, 21st December 2002 (from a letter to António Matos)
149, 151 a, 166, 168, 170, 171, 171, etc.
1996/1997 was a very difficult year [...]. When it ended, I was completely exhausted, full of self-pity... resentful. [...] That feeling of unhappiness led me to take a look in the mirror. And I suddenly became the actor of my own "misfortune". Until then, my self-representation had been schematic, transfigured, barely concerned with me, and focused on a different issue: the student/teacher relationship. But now, for the first time, it was I who was put into question. [...]
I drew. I drew myself continuously for days on end. I hadn't drawn a "model" in such a consistent manner for ages (not since my student days at the Byam Shaw School of Art in 1984 and 1985).
Meanwhile, my attention turned towards the "aggressors". [...] Youths throwing stones or adopting aggressive stances no longer meant a revolt against the world's injustices; instead, this was gratuitous, basic, unreasonable aggression.
Suddenly, everything came together and a repressed memory of Christ's Passion rose up from the past... The world of my painting seemed to slide into a field until then forbidden by my atheism and ideological stance close to Marxism. The art of the past became surprisingly relevant, even if my way of rethinking old themes distorted and subverted them.
The truth is that this inward look, linked to a glance at paintings such as Bellini's extraordinary Madonna and Child (at the National Gallery in London) or Grunewald's strange version of the same them, made me reflect in a different way on what it means to be a father today. Being a father is pretty much like being a mother, because being a mother is a lot more than giving birth to and bringing up a child. If I get up at night because one of my children is crying, if I change their nappies and feed them, if I worry about them being cold or hot, if I buy Chocapic breakfast cereal at the supermarket and hang out the washing, I am not a father in the traditional sense of the term, but the mother of my children. And if I am a mother, I can (can I?) take the place of the Virgin in religious paintings. [...]
Visitation! There is something formal in this scene: a proximity in which I sense a strange distancing. It's perhaps my imagination, but I connect the scene with the official visits of politicians and statesmen, or the compliments exchanged between the negotiators of economic groups... Men in grey suits that fill the newspaper's pages, simultaneously close and distant, sometimes feigning intimacy. There are no longer fathers or mothers, but only meetings. Something could be changing.
S. Pedro do Estoril, April / May 2000
On the shame of being a man? Kidnappers, corrupters, rapists [...] driven by the most abject submission to the all-powerful testosterone! The prisons are full. Is this the shame of being a man? This sentence to live under the rule of a Satan hidden in our so-called "natural impulses"?
This shame must be expiated! (?) Is it up to me, personally, and to all those who feel this problem as I do, to redeem the "sins" of our ancestral peers, of our peers today? Is this what we're doing when we feed out children?
We are increasingly becoming an honorary version of the traditional mother.
S. Pedro do Estoril, 18th April 2000
Everyday we want a new processor, even faster and more efficient. Everyday we fear the urban chaos invading the landscape. For good and for bad, change has become an inseparable part of our very stability. We depend on it and cannot imagine ourselves any other way. For us to feel alive, it's no longer enough just to be here. We have to keep up with the vertigo and when the imagination fails, we pretend to change, because there are many other shades of blue to dye our hair.
All the action programme sketches ring false. The time of manifestoes seems to have come to a close, or at least has been postponed sine die . In Donald Kuspit's words, the world of art is currently populated by Idiosyncratic Identities , pretty much unclassifiable personalities that don't fit in any closed scheme. The world is irredeemably messed up.
We've had it! Our life expectancy is long and over the years we have to be extremely cautious. We absolutely must evolve... and paradoxically, we can't change!
The world's speed tells us that if we stop we die. But on the other hand, our proposal must be clearly identifiable in order to exist, in order to become visible. Perpetual wandering impedes or makes public recognition difficult [...]. The opposing forces of the myth of artistic consistency and the identically vital need to progress set us on a razor's edge, pulling us in two different directions. We have to be ourselves and different at the same time. There's no easy way out of this conundrum, now that the old "personal style" trick seems to have become definitively obsolete. [...]
S. Pedro do Estoril , January/May 2000
A few days ago, one of my students was upset and perplexed when faced with the unlimited range of technical and formal possibilities in doing an exercise. Once insecurity sets in, the responsibility of choice becomes the enemy of freedom (it's far easier to obey the rules imposed from above). [...]
The daily studio life is a solitary one. Isolation makes us vulnerable, anxious to feel that we exist, that what we're doing is not useless. What's the point of more objects when the world's already overflowing with junk? Why do more paintings, if there's no longer room on the walls to hang them? Why come up with more ideas that others have already stated? And here we are, desperately in search of legitimacy, like a traveller in the desert looking for an oasis. The mirage is there, then vanishes, constantly misleading us... We buy magazines, visit the top exhibitions of the day, and return "stronger" to the studio, more deluded than convinced. Please tell us what to do, what rules to follow.
The freedom we've won is as heavy as lead, it's unbearable, oppressive... Let me be the opposition! Let me be part of the status quo!... But more than anything let me clearly see who the good and the bad guys, the beautiful and the ugly, the just and the false are... Shit.
S. Pedro do Estoril , January 1995
On work such as Devastação – Sorrow with Angels, 1994 (137), ou Lamentos à Deriva – The Killing, 1995 (136).
I was on the beach reading the Expresso magazine, when I saw pictures of massacres (in Rwanda, if I remember correctly). Before me, people were sun bathing; in the photographs, corpses were rotting.
I have come, to some extent, to sacrifice richness of colour for a greater structuring of space.
Each painting is a limited world that demands choices and sacrifices. I haven't forgotten Picasso's lesson when he excluded colour from Guernica (resulting in emotional restraint) or that of Matisse when he painted The Dance in practically 3 primary colours.
London, April 1994
129, 132, etc.
Are they little angels? Are they murderers? Both. When I taught in a high school in Parede, I alternatively saw my students' angelic side and, in some, the most aggressive facet of humankind. Duplicity. Coexistence of opposites.
S. Pedro do Estoril , April 2000
I prefer painting with odour to aseptic painting.
S. Pedro do Estoril , 1994
About A tralha e a família - She Carries them Everywhere, 1992 (118).
I still have contradictory feelings as regards humanity. On the one hand, I despise our stupidity but simultaneously admire our courage in adversity... [...] For me, this s quare woman , stupid and incredibly strong, is the epitome of a kind of resistant heroine who does whatever she has set out to do, come what may.
London, April 1994
(...) in our country there have been no genuine ruptures but only "variations" on imported art movements. For me, this doesn't imply any sort of inferiority. Not everyone can invent cubism or the theory of relativity, but we all have the right, if not the duty, to assimilate these lessons. We should perhaps rewrite the chronology (or "history"?) of art in Portugal paying greater attention to genuine quality, and be less fascinated with pseudo-innovation (...)
S. Pedro do Estoril, February 1994
Letter to Art Colleagues
[...] That cyclic need for change not only leads to minor and opportunistic currents, but also to genuine, culturally relevant ones. Like small blind alleys, the first are usually no more than isolated, occasional or derivative events. The second are like links in the main currents of 20th century artistic thought.
In the jungle that the world of the art is, some play safe by trying to follow the latest trends, changing styles as easily as you change a shirt until someone notices them. But sooner or later, the lack of authenticity will become apparent; their hypothetical success will always be short lived. Others carry on their work without denying influences but also without leaving behind their own identity. And if most of them are bound to remain outsiders, some are the true creators of the future. In the work they are doing today lies the potential of tomorrow's art.
S. Pedro do Estoril, March 1988 - Text published in Jornal de Letras on 5/4/1988
If my personal experience or my nightmares appear in my work, they always refer to the much wider context of social life. [...] My narrative is open to the outside. My childhood memories... the characters I knew, their lives, are archetypes of a rural Portugal that came to me by way of servants and tenants [...] from the homeland of my maternal grandmother.
Sofia [a housemaid there for more than 40 years] is the female character, compact, full of energy, submissive in an almost medieval way.
My story speaks of the end of an era. I have witnessed it. The desertification of the countryside, the trains full of emigrants...
Those who stay and those who leave. People I've known and who are symbols of lost and gained values, "victims" of a change with no way back.
London, 31st January 1986
[...] There is no balance in life in 1986. Sometimes part of the building crumbles. Here or there, a scene of apparent peace where figures perform tasks (usually non-specific).
There is always a large amount of anguish even when the colours are brilliant - light. [...]
Getting around the problems; approaching them through their reflections. The best way to talk about a bicycle is not to take a photo of it, but by talking about the cyclist’s hunched back.
London, 20th May 1985
It isn't nostalgia. The past is a nightmare that haunts the present in many ways.
London, April 1985
By moving a prison scene outdoors and creating an imagined landscape where the action takes place, things take on an evocative power. These are parables on old subject matter.
London, 25th March 1985
028, 029, 029 a, etc.
[...] The use of black is turning the atmosphere rather gloomy. Faces get mixed up with dark masses that might be rocks, buildings, castles. Just like remembering a nightmare; the places successively blur into others. Do I need to introduce more narrative? Well, that's the problem. What should I tell?
London, 30th November 1984
On works belonging to the Country by the sea series (023 d, etc.).
a) The importance of subject matter.
Images / Feelings from the Portuguese past (perhaps other Latin countries as well).
These are not illustrations of particular events or historical facts. They are not located in time.
b) Figures are at times defined; clearly built and placed in space (a bit like Guston). In other cases, these are dreamlike figures in complex (ambiguous) space (depicted from cubism).
c) Most of the works have a central target-like structure. I don't know if I'll try a more diffused way of building them, with several points of interest and maybe even a narrative. Up to now, the narrative remains mainly in the complete series (which works as a unity in itself).
London, October 1984
On works such as As Long as They Keep on Drinking (026), Stuck in the Mud, 1985 (029), etc.
When a message is deeply felt, it isn't possible (?) to turn it into an identically strong image.
[...] You have to grab hold of an end and keep pulling the string. Using what is paintable .
[...] What is painting's specific field? There's no point in trying to write books or make films through painting.
London, October 1984
On life drawing (c. 1985) – 011, 012, 016, etc.
The model is there, a presence, a starting point. Then the drawing acquires its own personality. The model becomes a simple reference (a tool?), until the drawing has a life of its own; authenticity.
The model is the starting point, then it becomes the interlocutor, but in the end what matters is the drawing itself and not an ephemeral resemblance.
Therefore, I often carry on working long after the model has left. The drawing has become autonomous.
London, 22nd and 23rd May 1985
On his creative path in 1984
I decided to do "self-therapy", drawing everything that came into my mind with no formal concerns.
For 2 months, I made about 5 drawings a day focusing on the most varied subjects: education, weddings, sex, Portuguese landscapes, etc.
Ideas sprang up from everywhere: books, dreams, memories, newspaper stories, conversations, television programmes.
London, 12th June 1984 (from a report sent to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation)