It’s a date is a new column of Contemporânea written by Alberta Romano and dedicated to studio visits with artists from Lisbon and from all over the world, both in person and online.
Episode 1: Fernão Cruz
Lisbon, September 22, 2020
A leaden sky weighs down on Lisbon, but it shouldn't rain, or at least not for a while.
Fernão Cruz's studio is not far from my house, so I decide to walk there. I take this opportunity to listen to a new podcast that a good friend of mine suggested, Réclame, by Chiara Galeazzi and Tania Loschi (unfortunately only in Italian for now). That’s how, as I walk, I end up listening to stories of CEOs of big multinational corporations who destroy the image of their own companies through discriminatory and offensive advertising, or episodes of social media managers who use all kinds of occasions to show off the worst side of their irony.
I wonder when being calm will be “cool” again, if we’ll ever lose the need to run after every news and every anniversary, with the sole result of constantly stumbling.
I ring the bell outside Fernão’s studio.
I can already take a peek at some of his paintings through the glass window. Then I see him coming up from the staircase, he puts on his mask and opens the door. The date has started.
Fernão's studio (which he shares with Horácio Frutuoso) extends over two floors: a shop window at street level works as the main entrance and display area for some of his pieces, but it is in the more spacious underground room that he has the majority of his works.
Covid-19 helps us break the ice. This year there is no need for useless conversations about the weather; the discomfort of continuously wearing the mask is a pretty good subject for mindless small talk.
Perhaps it was not a coincidence that the first works Fernão decided to show me are exactly those made during the lockdown: an extensive series of large embroideries. And that is also when we really begin to click: my lockdown was also dedicated to a “reckless” use of sewing and embroidery, of course nothing like Fernão’s tastefully made works.
To realise these pieces, Fernão borrowed old scraps of fabric from his grandmother and began embroidering them following both his sketches and found images.
“It’s a very lonely process,” he says, “and it calms me down a lot.”
Talking about embroidery, he later wants to show me a huge project he is doing in collaboration with his grandmother. A group of 10 acrylic paintings on huge unprimed canvases sewn with her help on huge, colourful pieces of fabrics. The scenes represented on the canvases are taken from F. D. Bedford’s illustrations of Peter Pan.
Fernão includes the captions at the bottom of each piece, modifying some of them according to his personal interpretation of Peter Pan’s adventures. In order to show me the canvases, Fernão climbs onto a chest of drawers and opens them one by one, literally disappearing behind them. The paintings are huge, and some are very detailed: their dimensions and accuracy invite me to get lost in them.
The moment I take a few steps back to better see these paintings, I bump into a little table prepared with eight plates and eight spoons in the middle of the room. Fernão tells me that it is meant for the eight characters standing against the wall that I now take notice of. As soon as I start thinking that they definitely look too tall to be able to enjoy a meal together around that tiny table, Fernão opens up about how he felt overwhelmed by the constant presence of the same people around him, all the time, and immediately everything makes sense. These odd fellows made out of wood and papier-mâché are definitely weird enough to make you uncomfortable just by standing close to them.
Fernão readily takes this opportunity to tell me that he would love to start creating proper rooms where characters, sculptures and objects could come to life, generating atmospheres that, although complex, would be easy for visitors to approach and experience. I think it’s a wonderful idea.
Looking at his works I often sense his need to bring the public into his private sphere.
It’s probably because of the large number of symbols that inhabit his practice and of which only he holds the deepest meaning. However, when he shows me the works produced during a residency in China in 2017, I realise it is in his drawings and paintings that the symbols become more and more visible.
“I was making them one after the other, even at night. I didn’t manage to overcome jetlag, so I was still living in the Portuguese time zone.”
The drawings made during that phase are tiny but still incredibly vivid: each shines out with a different light. One of them (probably my favourite one) reminds me of M¥SS KETA, but, of course, Fernão doesn’t know who she is, so we take our time going through her best outfits.
The paintings made on the occasion of that same residency in China are, on the contrary, huge and thick. They are made out of many layers of paint that give strength all the little details composing them. His sexuality and personal sphere appear a bit restless here, but Fernão continuously builds his own language through this cryptographic code. A broom keeps away a guy with a sword (it’s funny to notice his resemblance with the Captain Hook from his recent works about Peter Pan); penises are everywhere, even in drawings hung inside the painting; a red flag waves in a corner; an airplane falls; all the staircases bring our eyes to nowhere…
“I am constantly losing my paintings while I add layers and layers. When I hate a painting, that is exactly when I understand that it’s finished.”
—A guy sings loudly from the street—
“In order to paint, I need quiet, I need concentration, while recently I’ve felt this sense of rush. That’s why I have not been painting so much lately.”
The studio visit is coming to an end, and Fernão and I are now talking about recent shows we have seen, artists we like and cartoons we used to watch (you will find everything in the mystery box).
It was super pleasant to meet him, and we have lost track of time.
It’s raining outside, I think I'm going to call an Uber.
I slip into the car. The rain is now pounding hard on the window, and the Uber driver is speaking too fast, in a language that is not my own. I look outside and I don’t recognise a single street through the rain.
I begin to think about Fernão's work, and I realise how, more than others, it seems perfect to describe this kind of feelings, both private and shared. No one will ever be able to describe them objectively, but luckily there will always be someone who is not afraid to approach them in a subjective way.
The Mystery Box
The Mystery Box is made out of links, randomly arranged at the bottom of the page, that will take you to things we’ve been talking about during the studio visit. The way in which they are presented is not only a nostalgic way to remember the magic suspense that belonged to early internet structures, but also hides the hope to tickle the curiosity of the readers a bit more than the classic footnotes.
Fernão Cruz (1995) lives and works in Lisbon. His artistic practice has been revealed by the junction between painting and sculpture, showing it as a representation that wanders through an imagined situation or
a particular scene. His work has been presented in galleries, institutions and international art fairs. Fernão’s work is represented in some of the most relevant art collections in Portugal.
The artist is represented by Balcony Gallery.
Alberta Romano is an art historian and contemporary art curator born in Pescara in 1991. She is currently the curator of Kunsthalle Lissabon. Since 2017 she has worked with the CRC Foundation in Cuneo, coordinating the acquisitions for their contemporary art collection. After graduating with a BA in Art History at La Sapienza in Rome and with an MFA in Visual Cultures and Curatorial Practices at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera in Milan, she attended the curatorial program CAMPO16 at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin. She has written for Artforum, Flash Art, Contemporânea, Kabul Magazine and other magazines.
Proofreading: Diogo Montenegro.
All images courtesy of the artist.