One of the most important Portuguese Modernist painters, he has lived in Brazil for over 60 years and is a diehard paulista.
Photographer, draughtsman, poet, painter, designer: the different media that Fernando Lemos has used for his art has meant that critics – and he himself – cannot pigeonhole his work, which is a benchmark of late Modernism and Surrealism in Portugal and the world.
Still working at the age of 91, this Lisboner, who has been based in Brazil since 1953 – father of five children, married to psychologist Beatrix Overmeer, his second wife –, is not thinking of retiring just yet. However, in recent years, he has swapped major works crafted in his studio, for more modest pieces that can be made at his home. “My back can’t take it [giant works]. But, with technology, the issue of scale is merely a detail”, highlighting the fact that drawings and photos can now be blown up easily.
Pressured by António Salazar’s authoritarian regime (1926-1974), like many other artists of the time, Fernando Lemos fled Portugal for the then capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, and then São Paulo, where he has lived ever since. He was well-received in Brazil, quickly taken under the wing by the lively domestic art scene. In addition to photographs, he brought letters of recommendation from important Portuguese figures such as Jorge de Sena and Adolfo Casais Monteiro. He associated with people such as Manuel Bandeira and the poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, who opened doors for him on the Brazilian art scene as well.
“It was a good time, very lively!”, says Lemos, whose voice is a mix of typical São Paulo accent with slips that betray his origins. He says he misses the people more than the places themselves. “Here in São Paulo I can get good wine, good sardines… It’s getting easier and cheaper!” Although he claims not to be the nostalgic type, there are a number of reminders of Portugal dotted throughout his home, such as Lisbon magnets and books by Portuguese authors.
As someone who had polio as a child, Fernando Lemos has always had problems of mobility. When he was young, he used a walking cane. Today, he gets around with the help of a wheelchair. However, nothing stops him from enjoying a busy cultural life, as a fan of São Paulo’s many museums and art galleries. “There’s always lots of interesting things to see.”
Ever-multifaceted, Lemos’ work soon extrapolated photography, as well as painting and drawing. His early work in Brazil boasted strong traces of eroticism. In the 1960s, black-and-white lines move from paper to canvas. Tapestry follows. In 1964, he won a public tender to create a huge tapestry for the TAP offices in São Paulo. The work decorated and provided unity to the building’s three floors, and visible from outside the glazed doors. Although the tapestry was designed Lemos in São Paulo, it was made by Tapeçarias de Portalegre, in the Alentejo. Exiled in São Paulo because of his opposition to Salazar’s dictatorial regime, Lemos wasn’t able to supervise the work, which was about eight metres high and five metres long. “They [governmental representatives] told me that I’d have some sort of immunity to go back to Portugal and monitor the work. But I was having none of it! Imagine, many of my friends were in prison at the time. I didn’t fall for it.” The architect Salvador Candia stood in for Lemos. The tapestry, which combines Lemos’ striking black and white graphics and richly coloured and textured intertwined curves, was part of the retrospective of his work at the Pinacoteca. The artist smiles when speaking about the work: “TAP and I go back a long way!”, he says.
One of his more recent works is a poster specially set up for the exhibition, “Tanto Mar – Fluxos transatlânticos do design”, on display at Lisbon’s MUDE from January 2018. Later next year, a Lemos retrospective is planned at the same museum. The solo exhibition will bring together iconic and less-known works, which emerged in Portugal in the 1950s with his photography, where angular shapes, contrasts of shadow and light and unusual compositions – almost unusual – soon became favourites with critics and public alike.
Politically aware as an artist, Fernando Lemos constantly referenced events in Portugal, Brazil and the rest of the world in his work. After the Carnation Revolution (1974), which re-established democracy in Portugal, he did a series of drawings inspired what happened on the other side of the Atlantic. The idea of having a heart – and roots – split between Portugal and Brazil gave him material for the book of poetry Cá e Lá, where he explores the disturbing aspect of that experience. During that time, he says he was critical of certain Portuguese attitudes, but that he’s optimistic about the new generation from his country, in addition to seeing more integration between Portugal and Brazil. “The concept of fear is fascistic by nature. Fear has nothing positive. Despite everything, I know there’s been a change. I’ve met younger people, which has enthused me. Seeing that here’s a change, a transformation. People need to be political, but it’s not just demonstrating in the street with banners against this and that.”
“However, I look at some of my posters from the 1950s, which are relevant, which look like they were made today. For me, it’s great”, says Lemos, who reckons he is becoming less “modest” when referring to his own work. “It has nothing to do with ego or vanity. When you have responsibility, you have vanity. I have a career that has been documented in a book, which has been seen with retrospectives… I can’t say that I’m unhappy because I didn’t have this or that. Of all the things I’ve achieved, what gives me most pride is that I did not ask anyone for anything. I didn’t win prizes because I competed for them. I won prizes because they decided to give them to me.”
by Giuliana Miranda
web design & development 262media.com