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PortugArt Exhibition in Mayfair, 1st – 15th April 2016

| Art, Hidden London | 08/04/2016

'Fetish' by Alvarenga Marques.
'Fetish' by Alvarenga Marques.
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By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

The PortugArt Project has delivered a new exhibition in Mayfair showcasing the best of contemporary Portuguese art in a classy and understated way.  

PortugArt – the brainchild of Mara Alves – seeks to promote established and new wave Portuguese artists.  More than that, it explores what binds them together: the nation’s soul.  Highlights include Duarte Vitória’s Vitreous – a typically intense and visceral portrait – and the more urban, but captivating submissions from Alvarenga Marques and Paulo Moreira.

Alves hopes to extend the exhibition’s stay in London beyond next week, but our advice: catch it while you can.

Origins of the PortugArt Project

Entering The D Group’s smart Grafton Street premises on a rainy afternoon, it’s immediately clear that you’re not stepping into any ordinary art gallery.  The warm greeting of founder and curator, Mara Alves, and the bright colours projecting from the otherwise beige corporate walls – sever you from the drizzle and blandness of London in early spring.  Suddenly you’re in Lisbon, strolling on the coast or sipping a beer in the Estádio do Dragão.

Portugal a nu I(Vista frontal)_fiberglass and ink oil_180x42x28cm

‘Naked Portugal I’ by Frederico Elias.

Alves wanted the exhibition to project the best Portugal can offer and it seems she’s achieved this.  She admits it wasn’t an easy task at a time when “the trend is becoming increasingly individualistic”.

To find her country’s identity, she invited a host of Portuguese artists “to share their culture, their ideas, their vision and their mission.”  A mixture of old and new painters, sculptors, photographers and videographers submitted work, from which 20 were selected to make up the exhibition.

As expected from such a broad brief, the work is diverse in style and method.  But it’s clear that Portuguese art is in a healthy state: vibrant and global, yet somehow distinct.

The Portuguese Embassy has supported the exhibition and Alves hopes to extend its stay in London up to the end of this year, before taking it over to Brazil.  In the meantime, she hopes as many people as possible will visit the exhibition and get a taste of something new.

Much more than Vitória

VITREOUS 150X140 ¢leo s linho 2012

‘Vitreous’ by Duarte Vitória.

The chance to see Duarte Vitória‘s work in person was what drew me to the exhibition.  I had been a fan for several years, initially coming across Vitória’s work by accident and then with increasing regularity and interest.

In recent years, he has developed a global reputation for painting huge portraits, invariably focusing on the impact of inner emotion – passion, fury, anguish – on the human flesh, sometimes the body but here the face.

And – although perhaps not his very best – Vitória’s latest work, Vitreous is typically large-scale and striking.  It dominates the room, just as its creator currently seems to dominate the field in eye-catching yet unsettling paintings of the human condition.

Moving beyond Vitória’s portrait, there are plenty of other treasures to enjoy in the modest but high quality collection across three floors.

There are Frederico Elias‘ two fibreglass sculptures – Naked Portugal I and II – representing a Portuguese man, plain in colour but golden hearted, and woman, beautifully decorated in blue and white Mediterranean tiles.  Aptly, both stand at the main window to the premises, wearing expressions causing you to reflect on the feelings beneath the window dressing.

Elsewhere on the ground floor, Alvarenga Marques‘ Fetish gives a strong flavour of the passion, history and culture embedded in Portuguese cities and towns.  Marques, born in Mozambique, is gaining a reputation for creating collages that draw the eye over and into the canvas, layering childish drawings over iconic imagery and urban colour.

BORN IN ANGOLA BEFORE 1974 - The Terrible Absence of Homeland - Acrylic and spray on canvas - 150 X 200 cm

‘Born In Angola Before 1974’ by Paulo Moreira.

Upstairs, Born In Angola Before 1974 by Paulo Moreira also uses the tools of street art, this time to deliver a strong post-colonial social message alongside more simplistic imagery.

A final and unexpected highlight is Joana Palma‘s The Fifth Empire video installation in the basement.  The homage to Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa engages all of the senses, combining constant on-screen movement with mirrored men, coloured geometric shapes and a pumping trip-hop soundtrack reminiscent of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine.  Normally, I can take or leave video art.  However, few are executed quite this well.

The same could be said for the rest of the exhibition and, for this, Alves must take enormous credit.

The PortugArt Exhibition is being held at The D Group’s premises on 23 Grafton Street, London W1S 4EY up to 15th April 2016 (Mon to Sat, 10:00-18:00).  For more information on the project, go to www.portugart.org.  To see more of Duarte Vitória’s work, go to: www.duartevitoria.com.

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