Famous Printmaking Artist – Bartolomeu dos Santos
Who was Bartolomeu?
Son of the surgeon João Cid dos Santos and grandson of the physician and art historian Reynaldo dos Santos, this famous printmaking artist grew up in a cultural privileged environment. With an expansive and open personality, his work reveals a strong political consciousness with an ironic dimension and paradoxically, a melancholic, if not romantic, penchant.
He studied at the Superior School of Fine Arts in Lisbon (1950-1956).
From 1956 to 1958 he continued his education at the Slade School of Fine Art (with Anthony Gross), London, a city where three years later he was to settle.
From 1961 to his retirement, in 1996, he taught in the Printing Department of Slade School. He was Emeritus Professor in Fine Art of the University of London, Fellow of University College London and member of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.
He performed more than eighty individual exhibitions around the world, having exhibited in Lisbon, Porto, Frankfurt, Rotterdam, Detroit, Madison, Oxford, London, Umea, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tokyo, Paris, Nassau, Antwerp, Mexico City, Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, Bonn, Meinz, Islamabad, Glasgow, Karachi, Sheffield, Luxembourg, Macao, Osnabrüch, Lahore, Rabat,etc.
The man and his work
Developing almost always through thematically and formally unified series, Bartolomeu dos Santos’ work represents a long and varied repository of technical and formal resources, which is placed at the service of themes where personal, social, mythical, and cultural dimensions converge. In images where “melancholy, irony, sometimes on the verge of ridicule, coexist, and a kind of desire for redemption”. Crossings are frequent not only with the universe of art but also with literature and poetry, music and the history of Portugal.
From Lisbon to London
The beginning of his career was in the early 1950s, at a time when the cleavages between neorealism, surrealism, and abstraction marked the Portuguese artistic scene. Without following any current, Bartolomeu would create its own artistic language.
The Portuguese reality and a particular interest in history were decisive, very early on, for the definition of his artistic project. The European space and its culture, which he knew in his youth, especially through long journeys with his grandfather Reynaldo dos Santos, would be another structural component of his thinking. The decisive importance of contact with London, where he studied and settled in a period of great cultural dynamism, and the bridges he had the opportunity to establish with the universe of contemporary art and printmaking.
The misty London landscapes dated from 1956 to 1957 were produced in his first years in that city. Then we will see him make a detour in nostalgic, timeless images, where he approaches the metaphysical dimension of De Chirico or Giorgio Morandi’s paintings focusing on the reality and memory of Portugal, in evocations that go from the architecture of the Baroque to the subtle allusions to the discoveries or the national political situation. According to Edward Lucie-Smith, this connection to the origins would have been enhanced by the distance from the homeland. “In fact, this absence or semi-absence may have helped him sharpen his perception of the Portuguese temperament.”
Referenced more explicitly to the recorded work of Goya, the series of Bishops, which he performs in the first half of the following decade, presents us with similarly timeless, phantasmagoric images whose apparent placidity is disturbed by a veiled aggression. Here, “the figures begin to fall apart, and the artist seems to have greater pleasure in his disintegration than in his formation.” Bartolomeu constructs a baroque public world of emptied grandeur, where “the anachronistic dignitaries of the nation perpetuate themselves in decayed forms of their social function, as old actors of a play that has already been and that continue to be nailed to the stage, rotting in their robes “. Alluding indirectly to Salazar’s dictatorship, these engravings speak of the “fatalistic nightmare of institutions, where a macabre incapable of dying perpetuates himself, without hope and without remorse.”
The timelessness of the initial series gains a new dimension in the sequence of images to which the Labyrinths belongs, which he created in 1969 after discovering Jorge Luis Borges and 2001: Odyssey in Space, by Stanley Kubrick: “the combination of Borges with Kubrick, both playing with ideas and concepts, with mysteries, spaces, and questions, completely changed the character and direction of my work. ” In these works, we see not only a thematic but also a formal inflection. The expressivity of the initial series now follows a meticulous, geometrizing rigor; the images almost always strip away from people, leaving behind wild landscapes and architectural forms.
In these works echoes can be detected of the temporary suspension of De Chirico, of the visionary architecture of Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728-1799), and perhaps even the prisons of Piranesi (1720-1778), in a fusion of references that “contributes to the restlessness that dwells in these images, where perfection and doubt live side by side”. “Labyrinths are both nostalgic dream landscapes and absurd scenes of human living, remote engravings or anticipation of a world that ironically reminds us of today’s urban life, entangled in its obsessions, in a space that is contradicted by its deaf beauty and by the Kafkaesque extension of its meaning”. The polysemy of these images opens many of them to another type of reading, being possible to interpret them as metaphors of prison or a totalitarian state, as it was at the time the Portuguese case.
The combination of photographic montage and etching experienced in the 1970s will mark his prints throughout the following decade. Bartolomeu now appropriates other images, photographs, and maps, words, and fragments of text, which he incorporates in his works, in dialogues with the previous formal universe that result in images of great wealth and complexity. Through what José Luís Porfírio calls “poetics of the palimpsest,” the images and textures, the overlaps, the registration, and their erasure, follow in an unpredictable sequential articulation and the elements can float freely on the surface of the paper. The technical option is once again associated with a thematic redirection. We will return to the most explicitly Portuguese themes, with allusions to travel, to the city of Lisbon, to emblematic figures of national poetry; but also to other names, international culture, literature, music, cinema …
The evocative series of the Ode Marítima from Pessoa / Álvaro de Campos takes us up to the beginning of the 20th century, to a world of great ports and coastal cities, cruise ships and freighters traveling along maritime trade routes. “These engravings of Bartolomeu live from a” poetics of space “geographical, in which the nautical elements are places where this space grows. They live between the” spirit “of the sea and the psychology of the secret”. There are several engravings in which the figures and the words of Fernando Pessoa and Cesário Verde intersect, “where sense and senses, space and time, literally ride”. We see and read first, but then rhythmically the profile of the wharf and the silhouette of the boats, the shout, now near, now distant, “Ahò-ò-ò-ò Schoner”, echoing, repeating itself and, with its sonorous presence, bringing with it the whine of the pier and the smell of the river “.
His close relationship with literature and poetry is made even more unequivocal in the extensive panel of the Library, belonging to the ensemble, engraved in stone, which he created for the south atrium of the underground station of Entre Campos (Lisbon, 1991), and which marks the start of its last period. Here, Bartolomeu dos Santos presents us with long shelves where he has a vast representation of the greatest of Portuguese literature, along with a small selection of personal favorites that include Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Umberto Eco or T. S. Eliot. It is also here that the new type of formal, gestural options that will continue in the engraving and painting works of later years is announced.
The themes of Bartolomeu dos Santos cover a vast territory, ranging from looking at oneself to reflections on collective identity (the evocation of the Treaty of Tordesilhas or of April 25 is symptomatic); or from the metaphysical dimension of its labyrinths to the corrosive humor and turbulence of the battles that took place in the final years, where the ferocious warriors of their childhood and youth became cartoon mice, denouncing, in his own words, the “aggression that surrounds us today at all levels “.
In his figurative universe the common objects “are transferred to the mysterious condition of characters of a perhaps oblique history”, which prolongs the learning of the dreamlike dimension of surrealism and the fantastic; his vision may evoke mythical moments, or scenarios, “in which the organic and the inorganic tell the metaphysics of a life that surpasses our simple limits,” or figure a current “pierced by the subtlety of certain humoral illustrations.” If his path never abandons the poetic dimension of printmaking or the meticulous rigor of execution, “this allows us to understand better than a maze, built in the impossible desert … is the geometry of human perplexity and has to be traced with absolute objectivity. “
The legacy (Portugal printmaking after Bartolomeu)
If you speak with some Portuguese printmaking artists or contact someone connected with the teaching of printmaking in Portugal, you can be sure that the name Bartolomeu Cid dos Santos is well-known, in fact, most of the printmaking teachers in Portuguese Colleges have learned directly from him.
His workplace in Tavira is today the home of a cultural association Oficína Bartolomeu dos Santos (OBS), of which he was a founder, and is an area of artistic creation in the field of Visual Arts, with a special focus on the practice of printmaking.
OBS seeks to recover a place of importance in the national and international artistic panorama, applying the values of teaching, professionalism and dedication that are the legacy of its founder, restoring its role in an international network, a particular characteristic of this space since its foundation.
Every year, artists from all over the world are welcomed in this workshop located in one of the most beautiful places in the country – Tavira, Algarve.
You can get to know all the activities developed by visiting the association’s Facebook page.
If you want to visit Portugal and develop printmaking work there, OBS is undoubtedly a wonderful option. 😉
To know this great artist better, check out this interview!
In this video, recorded in 2007, you can see him working:
Que saudades do AMIGO BARTOLOMEU CID DOS SANTOS
Posted by Francisco Oliveira on Saturday, March 8, 2014
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