A Conversation: António Júlio Duarte & Rui Calçada Bastos
ARCO Lisboa ‘22
António Júlio Duarte (1965; henceforth referred to as AJD) and Rui Calçada Bastos (1971; henceforth referred to as RCB) talk in the latter’s studio about the dialogue they will present at ARCO Lisboa 2022 – an encounter between the photographic series Against the Day (AJD, 2009-2018) and the painting series Outskirts and Reliquiae (RCB, 2021-2022).
RCB: This was basically – I think I can say it – caught in a very specific timeline. I had started a series of paintings, which I had been developing for about a year, and I reached a particular point where Bruno Múrias looked at them and realised that there could be a dialogue with your photographs, particularly with this series (Against the Day), and from then on a process of meetings around this idea began.
AJD: Yes, you only saw the photographs afterwards.
RCB: Exactly, I never had the images present while I was doing the paintings.
What I think is funny is that some of my paintings were based on some of my photographs, so maybe there is a connection with the temperature of photography itself, even in this series. There is also a connection to our common imaginary, in the travels we make and what we find on them. There is an urban side that goes through…
AJD: … These works, yes. Not only this work, but all the ones we do have a lot to do with this.
In my case, I try to photograph the tensions in cities, the people I meet, and I attempt to share with them some kind of unrest and empathy. It’s almost an attention to urban trivialities… A bit like what you also work on, although with other concerns and languages.
RCB: Yes, and we never wanted there to be anything close, even, to some kind of redundant illustration… Like:
“This one raccords with that one.”
No, I always continued inside my environment and very happy points of connection with yours continued to appear. The constant image of something in ruins… a certain intrigue in the face of chaos… the very rawness in the tension of the environments we inhabit.
There is also the fact that I am presenting painting. In the last exhibition at the gallery, I presented portraits with a very specific technique which is that of vieux chêne on wood. When I decided to move on to painting in a more classical way – in this case oil painting on canvas – I realised that it had a whole vocabulary that I hadn’t mastered yet. I mean, although I studied painting, I never practised it again. It seemed to me that the important thing was to understand how I continued to do my work but in painting. And so it was through attempts. It was as if there was an alphabet of which I knew the words but could not yet construct sentences, and it took me more than a year to reach the point where I already recognised my gaze in these paintings. And they weren’t just paintings, they were exactly the same concerns that have always run through my sculpture work, video work… And that at this moment focused on painting. That was the real exercise of experimentation.
I had to paint lots of things to understand what I didn’t want to paint. Because I am not a painter, I am a visual artist who, in this case, uses painting. Therefore, it was important for me to recognise in it all the work that I have been developing along the way. That was what was important. It wasn’t to present myself as a painter.
AJD: In my case it was more a process of rethinking the images – they always have to be rethought. Whenever I take images from a work that is more or less closed I have to restructure them, they have to have an internal logic. It’s not just choosing the photographs that would look good. But there you have it, the choice of photographs was not conditioned by the paintings either – and vice-versa – so there is a dialogue and there is not a dialogue at the same time. There is just almost a coincidence of works that come from other places and suddenly meet and make perfect sense.
RCB: Without a doubt. I started by thinking about my urban universe that led me to houses destroyed by natural phenomena, earthquakes, typhoons… And then I made a series of paintings that came very much from a North American environment, from American architectures that had been destroyed, where I reflected on the dynamics of painting that suggests the image, and not the other way round. Then I continued in the logic of the precariousness of housing, which was also something that has interested me back then… started to look at the homeless people’s cardboards that are, in essence, precarious housing, and I tried to dismantle in painting those situations that I found on the street. That kind of precarious housing was something that I picked up in my photographs and that contaminated my work, so I almost put them aside, only then I realised that I had to look at them again. And this time it made sense. The thing started to flow, it started to be true. It was something that came from me already, and suddenly it made a direct contact with you – even in the formats.
AJD: Yes, in Against the Day the photographs were made during various trips to the United States and in a way they could only have been made there – I think – although they don’t describe it. I didn’t want the territory to be a present issue. On the other hand, they could only have been made there because they are my reaction to that place. And in that sense they are very American. So they are American and they are not… They have a lot to do with the way I travel around the territory, the spaces where I go around, the way they affect me, the anxiety they cause me… The United States are a very anxious space, and I think the images are a bit about that too.
Then our territory together is not a specific territory.
RCB: No, it is precisely about this idea of the surroundings, this thing that is not a look from the centre but around something. Even in your photographs it is always something that is not necessarily the centre that interests you, but what is next to it, that could almost go unnoticed. And those outskirts become the centre.
It is interesting that you talk about these anxious images of the United States and the fact that I started the process of painting looking at destroyed houses in the United States. Even there there is a coincidence.
AJD: And then our process together was very close.
RCB: Yet different, because the photographs were already done.
AJD: Yes, it was different.
RCB: It was also about trying to understand that there were technical issues that we couldn’t escape from. The space we had, how many pieces we could present… What situations we were interested in creating.
AJD: That is why we had frequent meetings to look at the paintings first and then at the photographs, trying to discover the dialogues between them.
RCB: It was curious… The selection process.
AJD: Yeah… Always discussing relationships between the pieces. As a photographer, it was a process of realizing the sensations I had looking at the paintings. It was quite an insecure process for me but at the same time quite… enlightening.
RCB: Yes, it is one thing to be in the studio alone. It is another thing to invite an artist that you like and admire – like yourself – and listen to his voice. And it was here, in this conversation, that many surprises appeared.
AJD: And we had never thought about the relationship between our works.
RCB: No… Now it’s clear that there is something there.
AJD: And there were other points of contact too. Geographic, of working interests… But never a dialogue. It was an external person who detected this.
RCB: And it was really Bruno who made the proposal and I thought:
“Wait a minute, maybe he’s right, maybe it’s worth going this way!”
In other words, it wasn’t something forced. It wasn’t like taking two artists and telling them to do a job. No. The work was already there. It was just a question of tuning it in.
RCB: Basically, without ever taking away each other’s places, we built another place.
Lisbon, 19th of April, 2022
Interview conducted by Eva Mendes