Porto is more and more colourful and it is bursting with life. Two years into the controversy raised by the elimination of street graffiti, we are introduced to new life portraits in S. Bento and a D. Quixote with a brush behind his ear welcomes us to the art district.
So as to better grasp the growth this cultural expression has undergone, Porto Fashion Makers sat down with Ana Muska, Mesk, Júlio Dolbeth and António Soares, some of the promoters of this new trend.
© Espigar nas Gentes
'Urban art has been around in Portugal since the 90’s, as graffiti and territorialism', however, and according to Ana Muska, co-founder of Circus, 'only in the years 2000 did a more communicative and conceptual art make its appearance, imported from other countries'.
In her words, 'when the municipality decided that the key for the problem would be to erase it all, it should have struck up a dialogue with the artists and it should have come to the realisation that people painting in the streets are not necessarily vandals or illiterate'.
'There are a lot of creative people in Porto, there is this underworld bustling with ideas and happenings’ stresses Mesk, illustrator and co-author of the first legal graffiti mural in Porto, who highlights that ‘the problem is that resources are sometimes scarce'.
To overcome this hurdle, Circus organized, in September 2014, the first urban art festival in the city - Push Porto. 'This festival aimed at showing that urban art has a meaningful, positive purpose for cities. And in truth, a year later, we see that what we did impacted the city, and still does'.
'The city hall itself is now open to the different manifestations of urban art and is running competitions for it’, adds Ana Muska. Starting last year, Axa opened its doors to writers, the city hall invited Hazul and Mr. Dheo to colour the mural in the car park in Trindade and fifteen colourful electric boxes greet us in the now revamped Rua das Flores. And these to name only a few examples.
© Primeiro mural legal do Porto
Júlio Dolbeth, co-founder of Gallery Dama Aflita was one of the illustrators to take part in ‘Espigar nas Gentes’, an intervention competition that was part of 'Locomotiva'. To him, 'urban art is more than just graffiti. It is an intervention in public space, regardless of the technique. It aims at being poetic and ephemeral, to tell a story that will fade with time'.
While António Soares thinks that urban art 'should colour the city' and 'make us feel good'. Mesk aspires to inspire people to ‘go back to their childhood years and forget problems and routine, if only for just two seconds’.
Parallel to the renewed interest for space activation through urban art, illustration is gaining momentum. Circus, a new space devoted solely to urban art and illustration, has just arrived to the art district. According to Ana Muska:
'Canvas art is somewhat obsolete. Because illustrators are, in principle, younger, they use a language that comes across as more natural to the younger public, one with they identify more with'.
© Dama Aflita
António Soares agrees we are before ‘the emergence of a new lifestyle: education and tastes are now different, and a new generation is equipped to understand this type of language.’ Júlio Dolbeth explains that ‘illustration has a wider scope because it is an art form that easily appeals to feelings; there is great empathy at recognition level because of the narrative’.
The opening of Dama Aflita has brought to light many names in illustration. However, despite all the recognition, it is still undervalued when it comes to purchasing it. António Soares shares this opinion:
'Illustration is valued and has gained tremendous visibility, but not economically'.
In Mesk’s opinion, artists should themselves 'work to create value by making people believe their talent'. António Soares adds that their work should have the same recognition as other art professionals and advises artists to 'keep working, when possible, for international clients, as they respect and value our work more'.