Pedro Lisbon

‘It starts with a mental image. It’s there all of a sudden and if it won’t leave my head, I will use it. No, not images I’ve seen, I’d rather use images of things that don’t exist. And this image I want to make tangible. Sometimes it takes months and months of working in my studio, as I get closer and closer. Until one day it finally happens, I’ve realised that image.’

‘How does that feel?’ I ask.
‘Like becoming a father.’

‘And how do you know it’s done?’
‘Intuition. It has happened that I thought I had a healthy baby, but when I returned to the studio the next morning, I found it dead. That’s terribly frustrating, because if you are close, your hopes build up, you work extra hard.’

‘Are people allowed to see your work in progress?’
‘No. It’s too fragile. I have three fellow artists whose help I ask, sometimes. If it’s a question of colour, I ask one, if it’s a technical matter, I ask another. But even when I think my creation is finished, if it’s a healthy baby, it takes a while before strangers can see it. I’m very picky when it comes to allowing people in my studio anyway, because for me it is a sacred place. There I’m naked. Figuratively, of course.’ He checks my face to see if I got that right. ‘I am em carne viva: baring my soul. And once I’ve built a relationship with my work, it can leave the studio, it’s okay to sell it.’

Pedro studied architecture for three years, then sculpture for seven years . His work has been shown in many exhibitions, including abroad, and has been sold to several museums.

‘Is it a calling?’
‘No, that sounds too religious. But I do it because I have to. Besides I’m not fit for other jobs. I worked for three months in a cloakroom. It did not go well. And I produced some windows for my family’s business, a pharmacy in Belem. I like to be my own boss. I’m the CEO of my own business. And the cleaning lady too. You know what drives me nuts? When people say things like “Nice, you making art, but what do you do for a living?”

Pedro falls silent, his bravado gone.

‘The thing is that they’re right. I’m 40, and I need a new activity – not a job, I refuse to call it that. I’m renting out my flat, I need to. It’s the damned crisis. And my gallery.’

What’s wrong with your gallery?’ I ask.
‘I have stopped working with them. They made the grave mistake of selling everything to one buyer, ruining my market.’

We’re in a tapas bar in Barrio Alto, Pedro’s favourite. ‘Though it’s run by lesbians. They can be bitchy, sometimes,’ he said. One of them brings us bacalhau.

‘Though the crisis has its good side. People are more willing to share things, like beautiful houses in the Algarve. I’m going to one tomorrow.’

A Chinese couple walks in, taking pictures of everything, even the customers. ‘Maybe I should drop my pants, that should scare them off,’ the artist says. ‘But you see, it’s all changing. Chinese tourism. Brazil, our former colony, is now mightier than we are. Mozambique and Angola do business here, buying up cheap companies, including banks, and then financing  further purchases through those banks.  Portugal is selling its crown jewels, and that’s not good.’

‘Did they have a choice?’
‘Of course they did. Government was blackmailed by the big banks, which were much too large for such a small country like Portugal. These banks also had huge stakes in many of the companies we’re now forced to sell.’

He’s becoming angry. ‘People have become more and more political. They demonstrate, just like in the 70s. The power structures need to be changed. People, and institutions we can’t vote for are quite invisible, but in fact have all the power. That’s not democracy.’

Time to change the subject before this artist becomes violent.

‘What is your social status?’
‘We artists have a good position. We can connect with everyone, we have to. If I work with craftsmen, for example, if I need ironwork in my creation, it’s important that they too want to make something special, that they somehow have an artistic frame of mind, and we can talk on the same level. And we have to deal with rich people, potential buyers.

‘Are there people who look up to you?’
‘If there are, they should go to the eye doctor.’