Since 1995 Portuguese artist, Natália Gromicho, has made more than 100 group and solo exhibitions. Representing her country in international exhibitions in Italy, Brazil, Australia and Russia is all in a year’s work for Gromicho. Her work may have exhibited the World over but her heart rests in Lisbon, a place she chose to give back to by creating her own open art space, MeetING gallery, two years ago. Her vibrant and expressionist style has not only cemented her role as one of the brightest painters to come out of Portugal, but has earned her two decades of international demand. And according to Gromicho, the best is yet to come. She tells Schön! about the beginnings of her craft, how the art scene is received in Portugal, and what’s next in her career.
What drew you to art? How did you train as an artist?
Since I was a child I needed something to express my self besides talking and writing. In Secondary School I found my way of communicating with the outside world – expressing myself with colour. I started with ceramics, clay and then drawing and painting. Then came University.
What is the most valuable thing studying at Faculdade de Belas Artes de Lisboa and the ArCo School of Art taught you about your craft?
To be honest I can’t find any highlights. I had an excellent secondary school so that’s why I found FBAUL (Faculdade de Belas Artes de Lisboa) and ArCo a little disappointing. FBAUL takes the classic method of teaching, ArCo is more practical. I don’t think they influence my process. I found travelling and living other cultures a good way of growing in knowledge.
How important is the city of Lisbon to your work?
Lisbon is everything to me. I discovered this when I went to Paris. I imagined that was “The City of Light” but I was wrong. I found that my place was here. Despite all the invitations to move outside of Lisbon I prefer staying here since this is my inspiration. It’s what makes me work. Chiado is a unique place in the world.
How could you describe the Portuguese art scene? What distinguishes it from other countries?
Portuguese art scene? There is no art scene in this country. Unfortunately, we have a lot of excellent artists, from North to South, who give up. This is a problem of culture. We don’t have a Culture Ministry and it’s a really BIG problem. Things are making slow progress with some other international artists but, like me, they had to be recognised outside of Portugal to have some government support. It’s also very complicated because Portuguese people don’t like the arts. They prefer to spend money on everything besides paint, or a book, or going to theatres so I think it’s mainly a cultural problem.
I have a project called meetiNG art gallery. It’s an atelier/gallery that exhibits national and international artists with live painting every week. 80% of visits are from tourists; that explains a lot. But we will change this with time.
What made you decide to open your own gallery in Lisbon?
The project began when I returned from Australia 2 years ago. I received an invitation to create a big format exhibition about Portuguese icons. I lived on the other side of Lisbon, I painted in a small apartment and I had no conditions to create new paintings. I was desperate to arrange a place for this project so it was the push to realise an old dream.
I found a gap between traditional galleries, art fairs and other major shows. I really wanted an open space where the visitor felt like they were part of the moment. So in one of my exhibitions in Miami, I found a mall on Lynconn Road, all the stores were ateliers of artists, and visitors could see them creating and talk to them. I felt so good there that I had the idea of bringing the concept home but adding something new to it. Everyday I work on new projects. Visitors can see a traditional exhibition and see me painting.
Out of all the countries you’ve exhibited your work, which has made you the most proud?
Every country has a connection to me. But there are some places that have made a mark on my work. One was my first time in Asia, in Singapore. I don´t know why but my worked changed deeply to become more abstract, expressive.
Can you explain to us what a live painting session is like? Is there more pressure than usual?
It’s pure expressionism! It’s very intense. It has to be fast, I have to prepare in my head for a long time. It’s unique and I love to do it since the result is always unexpected.
Your career has spanned two decades, is there a secret to longevity as an artist?
Yes, there are some secrets. The most important is to never give up. I came from a humble family of 4 brothers and I had no money to buy materials. Fine art material is very expensive so I painted on wood pieces, on paper with only an ink pen. I had my first oil paints when I was 17. So my advice is to be persistent and believe. 20 years have passed but I still get surprised when I finish a work.
What has been the pinnacle of your career so far?
2014 was the year I had more work. With the second edition of Downtown Chiado (international exhibition in Lisbon at meetiNG art gallery), then my first time in NYC at Soho Art Space, then Moscow on a solo exhibition representing my country.
What comes next for you? What projects are you working on at the moment?
I have a lot of things planned for the next 12 months. I’m preparing a huge exhibition called ‘Route of Tea’ that I will present in Asia. I will be Live Painting for a month in Macau and will give visitors the opportunity to see live preparation of the exhibition.
For Europe I’m preparing my second solo exhibition in London, some new projects in Portugal, St Petersburg is also interested in doing a solo exhibition. I hope I can handle it!
For more information, visit Natália Gromicho’s site.