Portuguese Tiles and Fado: A look into the unique ...

Portuguese Tiles and Fado: A look into the unique artworks of O Gringo

Portuguese Tiles and Fado A look into the unique artworks of O Gringo 2

By: Ben Austin

O Gringo takes inspiration from traditional Portuguese staples for his unique artworks

O Gringo (whose real name is Bastien Tomasini) was born in Nice, France in 1988. He studied art and design in France and then travelled extensively.  It is with a keen ‘foreigner’s’ eye that he went around photographing historic buildings and churches. The intricate patterns and decorative motifs found in traditional forms of Portuguese azulejos (decorative tiles) fascinated him and became a vital source of inspiration.

O Gringo only ‘discovered’ Portugal in the last five years but had lived in Rio de Janeiro for three years and had learnt the language.  He instantly fell in love with Lisbon – the array of colours, the pastel buildings, the yellow trams, the churches, and monuments.

He absorbed it all, the sights, and the sounds, such as the Fado music that he fell in love with. One familiar narrative in Fado is that of a woman lamenting the departure of her fisherman husband to sea. The melancholic melody of the story and song left a powerful impression on O Gringo, the notion of ‘saudade’ and longing moved him as an artist, to represent that emotional force.

The Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum) also proved to be a key factor in terms of his artistic output. “The tile is a beautiful and extremely original support base. On my first visit to Portugal, I attended a Fado show… I was completely moved and amazed by the richness of this musical style,” he recalls. “What remained engraved in my mind was a love story where the woman laments the man’s departure to the sea, so I decided after a visit to the National Tile Museum in Lisbon to gather these two symbols of extreme strength in an artistic representation.”

O Gringo’s attention is to the detail, the intricate patterns seen in the various azulejos through the ages. Azulejo has its’ roots in Islamic culture from the Hispano-Moresque era. In the second half of 16th century, azulejo production began in Lisbon, encouraged by expert Flemish artisans who had settled there.

O Gringo was not only struck by the beautiful colours and patterns in the tiles, but also the connection between Portugal and the so-called New World, maybe due in part to his time spent in Brazil. He saw in the privately commissioned azulejos that became popular with the nobility, depictions of idealised beauty, hunting scenes and representations of indigenous ‘Indians’, exotic plants, and animals from Brazil.

O Gringo brings these elements into his art, like tribal markings on the human form or a complex ritual tattoo. His depictions of animals such as bulls and horses reflect his deep interest in the locale, for these horses are the famed Portuguese Lusitano breed, who evolved from native horses crossed with Arabian horses brought over when the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 AD. Lusitano horses are known for war, dressage, and bull fighting. Picasso, likewise, recognised the power and significance of these animals in Iberia.

The past meets the present, as O Gringo uses the latest digital technology and high-resolution images in the creation of his pieces. First, he will do the shoot, producing strong portraits and couples shot from behind, horse heads in flat profile, and more, all taken in sharp focus. Then comes the detailed and precise digital application of the multi-coloured azulejo pattern, printed directly onto Portuguese tiles. O Gringo plays upon the traditional azulejo blue-and-yellow ceramic tile palette to create visually contrasting artwork. The design and images are infused with a range of cultural references. The drama that O Gringo wants to impart to the viewer is the passion he heard in Fado music on his first visit to Portugal.

The azulejo is the source material for other contemporary urban artists, such as ADD FUEL, who is well known for his murals. The National Tile Museum is the starting point, where these artists do their research, study the artisan craftsmanship of old and the geometric designs that stem from Moorish culture.

O Gringo’s passion for the medium and the museum evolved with an ongoing dialogue into a residency there for a few months, during which time he documented hundreds of azulejos and studied the varying techniques, styles and influences through the centuries. A veritable treasure trove for a foreign artist, who adores this Portuguese craft and feels a deep connection with the country through the food, music, and culture.

The exhibition O Gringo – An Outsider’s Eye can be found at ArtCatto Gallery, Loulé, from April. Also featured in this group exhibition are the gallery artists Craig Alan, Dom Pattison and Luc Lavenseau.

Follow O Gringo on Instagram.


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