Portuguese painter Natália Gromicho has just finished an artistic residency at Fundação Oriente, in Macau. The result of her live painting experience at Casa Garden is a total of 13 abstract paintings made in and inspired by Macau. mART talked to the artist before she went back to Portugal. And witnessed why she says her art is her soul.
By Sofia Jesus
There are no faces. No concrete figures. And yet the city is there — the old boats; the neon lights; the raindrops — portrayed abstractly in multiple canvas painted by Portuguese artist Natália Gromicho. Like a story told in an unspeakable dialect.
“Macau has always been a dream destination to me,” the artist tells mART. It has been so ever since she visited the world exhibition held in Lisbon in 1998. “I went to the Macau Pavilion more than 20 times.” She still holds a pataca coin they gave her there. “I did not spend it at the slot machines.”
“Macau is Macau,” she says. She sighs.
She admits that today’s Macau is already “too much of a confusion,” with “a lot of asphalt,” “buildings under construction,” and “too many casinos” — a landscape far from the paradisiacal island described by Portuguese poet Camões (Ilha dos Amores, in Portuguese) in Lusíadas, and in which she sees traces of the old Macau. But she insists she is in love with the city. Macau, she explains, will always be things like Casa Garden or the Camões Garden. “It is the enchantment.”
Cidade velha (Old City, in English), her favourite painting among those she has created in Macau, evokes memories of “purity”; purity that the artist believes may have been lost in the city since the turn of the century. She believes the paintings she has created in Macau are somehow marked by certain “nostalgia,” but the city’s contrasts, today, also attract her. And inspire her. “Macau inspires anyone.”
New Pictorial Language
The exhibition inaugurated on Thursday, June 30, at Fundação Oriente’s Casa Garden, in Macau, is named New Pictorial Language and presents a new phase of the artist’s career as a painter.
Ms Gromicho tells mART she got tired of the figurative. “It is the obvious,” it is what has been seen over and over again. She describes her current work as something that would “make people think what is a work of art,” “what is abstract and why it exists”.
“The oriental habit — and not only that — is to portrait what you see just as it appears. I want people who see something coming from Europe — as I come — to see that this is what exists there too; that the abstract is valid as well; and to start having other views on art.” She adds she hopes the audience would see beyond “the concrete” and “could imagine” and “spend some time observing”.
She started developing this new phase of artistic creation — this new pictorial language — in East Timor; and later in Singapore. Why? “It’s Asia. Asia is much inspiring.”
During her artistic residency in Macau, Ms Gromicho was live painting, as she has done for the last few years in her gallery and atelier meetiNG Art Chiado, in Lisbon’s downtown. Though there were not many people watching her work during her stay at Casa Garden, she is in fact used to having people around her while she paints. The observers, she says, usually “respect [the person] that is working” and do not interrupt, enabling her to concentrate and get away completely, even in an open studio. They do not interfere with the act of creation, she says. “I am with no one.”
Painting to escape
Born in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, Ms Gromicho has loved drawing ever since she can remember. Painting, for her, has always been “an escape”. “I need to get out of this world, because this world is not interesting me”.
“My art is my soul,” the artist has said in the past. “It is easier for Natália to paint than to speak,”her long-time personal assistant and curator of the Casa Garden exhibition Gonçalo Madeira says.
“I am always working,” she notes. And does she ever run out of inspiration? “No.” “I’m addicted.”
Ms Gromicho attended Lisbon’s Fine Arts Faculty, as well as ArCO School of Arts, in Lisbon as well.
It was in 1995 she actually started her path as a painter. For approximately ten years she did “one or two, three” exhibitions per year, mainly in the Lisbon area, including in the Tagus river’s south margin area, recalls Mr Madeira.
One day, she got an invitation to take part as an artist in a Human Rights international exhibition in Italy. It marked her debut in exhibitions abroad. She got a very positive feedback from a Spanish critic; others followed, internationally; and her career gained a new strength.
In Portugal, she had launched an itinerary art exhibition called Ways of Seeing (Modos de Ver, in Portuguese), which moved across the country for approximately a year. Those paintings were on sale in several Portuguese locations for very low prices — “No one touched them.” She later took them to be exhibited in Australia and the entire collection was sold — for a higher value.
When she came back to Portugal from her trip to Australia, she decided to open an atelier and gallery — meetiNG art Chiado — and establish herself as an artist there. “I am Portuguese,” she tells mART.
Although she feels disappointed with the fact that the biggest recognition of her work came first from abroad, she does speak of her Portuguese identity with tearful emotion. And she will not give up on that. Or on Lisbon. “It is my city. And that of Fernando Pessoa.”
Ms Gromicho does not seem to care about sales or money — contrarily to what she feels some artists in Portugal do. But she does seem to care about those who buy or at least appreciate her works, as she feels compelled to try to understand what drew them to her art — in some cases, she has even made an effort to meet them in person.
Ms Gromicho has taken part in more than 100 solo and group exhibitions so far. She has exhibited her work in several countries, including the United States, Australia, Brazil, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, East Timor, Singapore, India and China. She has also represented her country in a number of events abroad.
She is represented by several galleries and art consultants in a number of countries, including London´s Hay Hill Gallery and Creative Concept in USA. In Asia, she is represented by Noeli Gallery, in Shanghai.
The artist, who does not like to title her paintings — although she does — is passionate about the Orient. And, so far, the Orient seems to have been welcoming her with open arms — in addition to the success in other Asian nations, the exhibition she has just created during her artistic residency in Macau was acquired by the Fundação Oriente even before it was actually conceived. So, it is possible to see Ms Gromicho come back to Asia to paint, should an opportunity arise, says Mr Madeira. He adds there is a project planned for Hong Kong, but does not reveal details for now.
Ms Gromicho will launch a new exhibition at Fundação Oriente’s museum in Lisbon — Museu do Oriente — from July 21 to September 11. From Occident to Orient will feature 71 art pieces created by the artist between 2012 and 2016. It will be the artist’s first major solo exhibition in a Portuguese museum, according to the organisers. The art works featured in this exhibition in Lisbon “have never been presented in Portugal,” the Museu do Oriente says in its website.
“One day I would like to be called a painter,” she said in 2013. Has that day arrived yet? “No,” she tells mART in her soft, apparently timid voice. Why? “Because an autodidact will always feel this way: an outsider. I am no painter. I am nothing. I am an autodidact; I play with paints. It is my passion. Since I was born — I remember painting since I was very little. You can call me crazy. I don’t care.”