An interview with Lígia Fernandes: the next big name in Portuguese art and arguably the most Portuguese artist of today.
At Rootfarers we pride ourselves with providing you with authentic Portuguese experiences. We love finding people that think and experience Portugal the same way we do, the authentic and uncompromising way! Therefore, we had the idea of showing you the work of one of the most prolific contemporary Portuguese artists: Lígia Fernandes.
We’ve known Lígia for some time now, ever since our founder’s path crossed with Lígia’s more than 10 years ago in business school. At that point in time, no one could ever imagine the career turnaround that Lígia made from business consulting to painter. But the truth is that she seems to have found her true vocation through her works… they genuinely depict the Portuguese people and way of life from the past and from today. Her work is one of the finest examples of what Portugal represents: Simple yet proud, small but magnanimous, melancholic yet happy to reminisce…
We’ve met Lígia in a small coffee shop just nearby Faculdade de Belas artes for a short conversation and interview. We asked her a couple of questions about her work that we hope you enjoy, one thing is for certain… You will have a hard time finding a more genuine artist in Portugal!
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Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you became an artist?
I’m a 33 old visual artist living and working in Lisbon at the moment. I was born in Setúbal, therefore I am deeply connected to the sea, but I also started to travel very early and consider it a very important part of my life. As I come from a family of entrepreneurs, I ended up studying and working in economics and management for several years, but I always wished to dedicate some time to my first passion which was drawing. I went back to it at around 2013, first as a hobby and finally at Lisbon’s academy of Fine Arts. Actually, I was living in Hungary at the time, and I came back to Portugal when I enrolled in theUniversity. Since then, lived for a short period in Montenegro and in Latvia, because I like to keep an open mind and learn from new experiences. But I always thought that my base needed to be Portugal. It’s here where I have my roots and it’s the best starting point. At the moment I’m doing the Master degree in Painting while developing my painting and drawing projects. It has been a steady development, with lots of persistency and resilience. But happily now I can say painting and drawing is not only my field of studies, but also my profession.
How important was the life “pre-art” for you now? Is it an influence in any way?
It was very influential in two ways. Firstly, the fact of having a professional experience in project management, marketing and entrepreneurship gave me the tools to plan my artistic projects in a more sustainable way, in being very proactive and planning ahead. Secondly, by travelling so much and seeing so many cultures, I got to value more and more the richness and diversity of our culture. I understood what makes us different and special, and I felt the need to connect and study our identity.
What are your main painting motifs?
I am working in search of empathy, therefore the human figure is present in many of my works. I make many life portraits of people around Portugal. They tell me stories and show me photos from their family albums. Then, I also use these photos as basis for many of my works. Sometimes I also do research on ethnography and portuguese traditions, which I also use for my drawing and painting works. In a way, I am aiming to connect ethnography and painting, in order to understand our culture, or the culture of specific social groups and places.
How do you seek inspiration?
From everything around me, especially from other people who tell me many stories. This is why I always consider my work a collective work. I act as a lens, which, with my own vision and references, collect these stories and images and re-arranges them in a new way.
How important is Portugal for your paintings and drawings?
Everything I do is from my Portuguese point of view, I am aware of this. And also my main focus of artistic research is about Portugal, as there is still a lot I would like to discover about my country. As I work with people, language is very important, therefore I am able, and also feel responsible to use this tool to connect with the other Portuguese.
What does it mean for you to be Portuguese?
This is a very important question. In order to understand Portugal one needs to understand two things. Firstly we have been a very isolated country until the 25th of April of 1974, when our dictatorship ended. This means that we are still in contact with many generations who lived during this period. It was a time of scarcity and isolation, and deeply marked our culture. In an ironic way it also made possible that many ancient forms of living perpetuated until today. Many people were illiterate, so the oral tradition was very strong. Also many small villages remained isolated, where ancient traditions remained almost untouched. It was like we were inside a protective dome (for the good and the bad), which disappeared in 1974. Now we are experiencing the last echoes of this ancient Portugal, while we become more global and multicultural.
The second think one needs to understand about Portugal is the diversity. There is no single portuguese dish, landscape, tradition or music: There are many. We are a very ancient culture with many influences and we have many different regions with their own characteristics. We have snowy mountains, flat land, coastline, highlands and inland, where huge round rocks are adorning the landscape. We have dry weather and humid and tropical weather, with banana trees, pineapples and tea. We have fado music but we also have the bagpipe, the adufe, many drums. We have the portuguese guitar, but we also have viola campaniça, viola da terra, braguesa, amarantina, cavaquinho. We have regional celebrations for almost every village and every place has their own traditional food.
What’s the role of Lisbon in your life? How important is it for you as an artist?
I’ve lived in Lisbon many years, it’s a beautiful city, with many cultural events, and many people from different origins. I love walking around the city and contemplating it’s light. There is always something to discover in this city.
What’s your favorite international artist? And your favorite Portuguese artist?
Its difficult to pick a favorite. There are many. I like David Hockney, Gauging, Rousseau, Marlene Dumas, Benjaminn Bjorklund. And for the Portguese I like Graça Morais, Maria Keil and José Malhoa. It’s impossible to pick a favorite, these are just a few the ones who work with painting and drawing!
What’s your favorite painting?
Really difficult to tell. The water lilies of Monet are mesmerizing. And I’m also going to mention two curious works: the astonishing books of the Portuguese artist Franciso de Holanda, a man ahead of it’s time, and the diptic “Rua Nova dos Mercadores” which shows how Lisbon was already a multicultural city by the end of the XVI’th century – and it still remained until today.
If you were someone looking to travel in Portugal, where would you go and why?
It would depend on the time that person would have. But I would say: come back many times, don’t try to see everything at once, take it slow. Try to visit every seven Portuguese regions and take some time to each of them. Visit the historical villages and natural spots. And ask the locals where is the best place to have lunch, you will have a great time. I am a huge fan of Alentejo from the coast to the inland. I think this is the region I know best in Portugal, and would always recommend it.
If you had to pick one of our tours, which one would you pick and why?
I would pick the gastronomic tour. Meals are a very important ritual for Portuguese people, so I believe it’s an experience one needs to have over here. Plus, it takes place in Alentejo, which has an amazing gastronomy.
What are your main goals for the future?
I’m aiming to keep the basis of my work in Portugal, while developing national and international projects. I hope to keep working as an artist for many long years!
Do you recommend Rootfarers?
I believe in immersive experiences, I never opt for the mainstream touristic tours, were we find ourselves surrounded by other tourists. I really aim to understand and connect with local culture. For this reason, I definitely recommend rootfarers