Margarida Azevedo

Margarida Azevedo

O que extravaza da caneta | What comes out of the pen

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Interview with João Concha | Exhibition “Que casa sou?”

I crossed paths with João during my master’s. What does it matter? Everything and a lot!

He was invited by Professor Rui Zink to introduce us to Não Edições, which I have always considered an incredible publishing house: the aesthetics, the editorial line, the vision, the apparent simplicity of all the work. The simpler it seems to us, the more complex it tends to be. João is a person with an above average sensitivity, a refined aesthetic sense and a captivating friendliness. It’s easy to create an empathetic connection with him (I say).

That class in which João was invited to talk about his work as an editor piqued my curiosity. Some time later, already during the pandemic, I interviewed him for Covidarte and I would get to know a little more about his work.

Now, in July 2023, opens the exhibition “Que casa sou?” where he brings together a series of paintings resulting from a 3-month residency. Focus, determination and vision are some of the characteristics I attribute to João.

The exhibition will be at the Casa da Cultura de Setúbal, until September 2023, and believe me, you don’t want to miss it. It feeds reflection about the space we occupy, the way we occupy it, the place of ideas, of being and of time.

Thank you, João, for accepting this interview and congratulations on the excellent exhibition!

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Margarida Azevedo (MA): Tell us a little about how these houses were born (from idea to design).

João Concha (JC): It is difficult to understand where certain things, motives or obsessions come from.

It seems to me that this is what happens with these houses (or non-houses) and perhaps with a large part of my plastic work. By the way, it is a thankless task for those who create, to analyze or disassemble a given research (their own), when it is also made of errors, deviations, accidents…

This ‘house’ archetype has been with me for years, but it was in 2013/2014 that I made the first series of works, starting with drawings in orthogonal projection to deconstruct the ‘house’ shape, as if it were an open or planned box. After this more streamlined approach and control of shapes cut out of paper, I moved on to larger paintings, in which I was already looking for something else. These works gave rise to the exhibition “Abre para Dentro”, in 2018, at the Monumental Gallery.

From 2019, a doctoral thesis and, later, the pandemic confinements made me stay at home longer than I thought. A change of house precipitated other changes and this theme of ‘house’, or rather ‘home’ became important again.

In 2021 I started drawing again and resumed the practice of a graphic diary. I think I was trying to escape the ‘verbal’ domain, in a kind of compensation for the years I spent with the thesis… which is always something overwhelming. It was a return to a visual exercise based on gesture: quick, more repetitive or more exploratory sketches multiplied. And even though I initially saw them as a means (possible studies for paintings, which I couldn’t do because I was without a studio), I realized that it didn’t make sense to hierarchize ‘process’ and ‘result’, ‘drawing’ and ‘painting’, almost inseparable. The ‘middle’ and the ‘end’ were blurred, so I agreed to exhibit these diaries and show original drawings and reproductions at Fabrica Features Lisboa, in 2022. After all, in an exhibition I always share a process, a concrete phase of the path I’m on. And that exhibition was seen by José Teófilo Duarte, who invited me to present work at the Casa da Cultura, at the time without a set date.

In 2023, since April, I had the opportunity to do an artistic residency at Duplex | air and having time/space, among other practical conditions, to think and work on the topic. At Duplex I also found a ‘house’, already inhabited by permanent or passing artists. It is from this very intense period that are the works now shown in “Que casa sou?” and in which I am interested in radicalizing the value of gesture and color, in order to touch a more subjective notion of ‘home’ as an emotional space or place.

MA: While we were talking at the inauguration, you mentioned houses and their importance in second childhood. Can you give us your view on the importance of drawing and painting in childhood?

JC: In fact, I think we were talking (also with Ana Nogueira) about how the figure of the ‘house’ is the second visual representation that many children make. There is the first, the face, which is a circle with figurative elements, and then the house, a square or rectangle to which a triangle is added. Details vary, but this archetype is expressed from childhood: a recognizable and, in principle, safe place. Although shadows and contradictions also inhabit it, and that goes through the works you’ve seen, I believe. And the spatial memory of the houses I lived in, in childhood and throughout my life, is the basis of these drawings or paintings (I no longer distinguish them, in this case).

Drawing is a form of expression that I remember forever. Even for phases I don’t remember very well, there are drawings that my parents kept and that today I look at with surprise (as if they weren’t mine). They are long before I learned to write. I don’t want to get into the issue of the importance of drawing in childhood, because I’m not an expert on the subject, but I can say that for me drawing was just as or more natural than talking, playing… it was also, or above all, a way of playing. For an only child, shy but curious, the borders between the real and the imaginary were not very evident [laughs]. And drawing was and is, for me, linked to pleasure. Playful materialization and exteriorization of the body and from it, a “hand thought”.

Now, reversing the relationship of importance that you suggested between drawing and childhood, I would say that a certain look or experience of the world and one’s own body as a ‘child’ (I’m thinking of astonishment, curiosity) is essential for drawing or even for painting, as I see and practice them. And then I remember several artists who spoke, in some way, about it, from Klee to Picasso, and who worked on it, but also poets, like Manoel de Barros…

MA: Your works are very plastically expressive. How do you use gesture as a form of expression?

JC: I was just talking about gesture, yes, and in drawing it is what sometimes decides and defines. I don’t know if I can answer your question, because it depends a lot on each project. There is perhaps an experimental and not always controlled side, in which I deal with imperfection (the error, the unfinished, the overlapping of several gestures), at least in some of the things I have exposed. It implies being open to what happens with the material itself, whether with the support or with the paints and other materials I use to draw: crayons, oil pastels. I use line a lot, even in paintings, but each work is different and I hope it reveals something of the process itself… I’m not particularly interested in hiding it… or leaving the result clean.

MA: You have an upside down house. What message do you intend to convey with this “box”?

JC: I have doubts about “passing messages”, that is, about the need to ‘communicate’ in artistic work. I do not try to use a language that unequivocally makes a supposed exchange between the producer and the viewer, the transmitter-receiver genre.

There are images that I’m not sure where they come from, although I can suspect or reflect on it, of course. But mystery has its place. And I prefer to leave blank space for those who see it; I am very interested in these other reading possibilities…

It is necessary to believe in the “powers of painting” (I am thinking of José Gil), given that, as an artist or viewer, I am more interested in these synesthetic ‘powers’ (which come from a physical, face-to-face and ‘open-ended’ experience of the work) than the eventual informative qualities of art. Reflection can be raised without a clear or verbalizable message, based on fruition: the visual and the pictorial, the symbolic and not only that, but without a prior agenda.

Even when giving a title to a work or an exhibition, like this one, I prefer the open field and the question (a question mark) to the declarative register. There are too many subtitles in the world.

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MA: In addition to the paintings, you have some models of houses. Houses that open in different directions and that give us different ideas. Why these models?

JC: I always had some difficulty with three-dimensionality, with the modeling of shapes, but I was encouraged by an artist friend [Maria João Lopes Fernandes] to risk this exercise, and later also during the residency itself [Susana Rocha, artistic director of Duplex | air].

I saw the paper models as studies for the drawings/paintings, do you believe that? As a way of exploring the spatial simplicity of these ‘non-houses’ and their variations, more accessible or more inaccessible, more open or more closed, looking for contradictory signs… the visible and the invisible, for example.

At first, I didn’t think to expose these very precarious constructions, on painted paper, but during the assembly I thought it would make sense in the specific context where they are, next to that larger canvas, in a darker room, etc.

While I was painting, still at Duplex, I took a series of photographs with my cell phone, for my record. Interestingly, when I downloaded the images I thought there was something else there… something ghostly… the images and the digital completely transformed the interior environment of those models. They ended up giving rise to a brief series with which I collaborated under the rubric “Spectrographies” of the GHOST project — Espectralidade: Literatura e Artes (Portugal and Brazil) [IELT — FCSH-UNL].

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MA: You always have a very well defined aesthetic line in your work. How do you connect your exhibition with your work in design, editing, etc.?

JC: To be honest, I think there’s little relationship between the work shown in the exhibition and other works I’m also involved in, such as editing. I even think that with this set of drawings/paintings I try to escape from the ‘project focus’, in favor of a more uncompromised experimentation…

Coherence between different modes of expression is sometimes overvalued. For me, at least, that’s not a goal or something to worry about.

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MA: You don’t put your signature in your pieces (at least in a visible way). Do you have any specific reason not to do it?

JC: Visually the signature disturbs me, one more sign there…

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MA: Do you have more exhibitions planned? What’s new soon?

JC: For now, and in the near future, I hope to be able to continue this interior/exterior dialogue, in paintings such as the larger ones in the exhibition. It’s like going into those spaces and painting the inside, this time. I’m working on it, but still slowly and without any expected exhibition. When I exhibit, more than closing a phase or a series, I reflect on the moment in which I find myself; it is one more way of being able to continue, that is, to ask new questions.

Thank you, João, and much success!