Portugal is seen as the place where Europe ends and is actually the opposite, if you look at it from an Iberian perspective. A country we don’t know much about despite the old topics. The artist João Galrão 
 breaks this silence and opens his studio for the first time. Focused on his new projects, he gives us a wide perspective on the current art scene in Portugal. His immediate surrounding is an invitation to go back to basics, although his work is more of a visual impact that suggests the viewer to fly away with imagination. I was immediately captivated by his sculptures before I knew more about his capacity to please our senses through his art. 
Hey João, how are you?
I’m great, thanks for asking. I’m in a good mood. During the day I spend most of my time at my studio, working on my sculptures and at night —I love the night— I dedicate some more time to my paintings and collages. I have my rhythms and rituals, like cycling every day, working out, taking photos of the landscape and I also spend time with my mom and grandma. Everything inspires me.
What makes you do what you do?
Being attentive to what surrounds me is very important. Some aspects of my life also help me. When I was a child and as a teenager I didn’t want to become an artist, but after some time at school and with some knowledge of art, I started thinking about that possibility. Having contact with different materials at the School of Restoration also helped me decide what I wanted to become later. Since I was little I had a vocation for drawing and working with stones and I had the opportunity to explore it. Only after some time, I was sure about the path I wanted to take in the art world.
How has your work evolved over the years? 
I see the evolution of my work in a subtle way as I still work on the same subject matters. One major step forward was when I decided to change the scale of my pieces. That was a turning point of the evolution of my work. For that I had to ask for the precious help of my assistant, André Fradique, also a visual artist who with his knowledge helped me create new materials that give to some pieces a velvet brightness. The surface of the pieces got a shiny aspect that comes from the material itself. The plaster of the Close Moments series and some white pieces is made with varnish and other materials. Concerning my wood work, I am more perfectionist in order to finish pieces. They are very well polished and got a delicate look.
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How would you describe your style?
I like working on the details of each piece and explore the material. The forms of my pieces also represent the way I see in my personal life and the world, which is made out of movements. And so does my art work. Each piece is unique and I don’t make copies. They can be similar in some aspects but always unique and singular.
How do you approach the subject matters related to your public performances?
One has to bear in mind how galleries and curators deal with the art world and with the artists. The main purpose of an art gallery is to sell to specific clients with specific demands. They try to adjust that demand with the artistic work itself. Nowadays art performances are more accepted by the public, so that makes it easier for some artists. That doesn’t mean that it has a mutual and consensual effect between the gallery and the artist for the goal of selling an art product. Sometimes, a performance can be set as a marketing tool for other work that the same artist does and allows galleries to generate art events. For the artist itself, the performance is purely art, with no other goals, although one knows how difficult some of those actions can be for the galleries and for the selling purposes. I started to do performances at my art school Ar.Co, mainly video performance, like Long Walk. I think it’s the less known side of my work by the public. When Instagram showed up, I started to do photo performances and some short video experiences. In those, some eroticism was also explored. These works were directed to a wider audience, and allowed me to be more known worldwide. Surprisingly I was related with some pop art work. One thing is for sure: I always mix my personal life, the places I go and situations that I enjoy with my work. A few years ago, I created with some other young Portuguese and foreign artists an event called Afrontamentos (it can have several meanings: confrontation, flashes, facing, daring). It was presented in eight different places, mainly in the Lisbon area. In those events, porno actions were the source of inspiration. In my specific domain, I did performance and collages, where I used porn magazines.
What is the essence of your art work? 
Some art curators describe me as an artist that works in the frontier of the sacred and the profane. I give to my sculptures a personal identity that interacts with the space around them, which is almost religious in the sense that one experiences: contemplation, adulation, mysticism, introspection, quietness, serenity, emotional and spiritual flutiness. People’s admiration towards some of my sculpture works is a sort of revelation. This can have a sensual and almost sexual connotation, where a kind of eroticism is almost present through the form. With my collages, videos and photographic performances, it works the same way. I am always the starting point: me as an object that can be manipulated as an artistic concept and that allows me to create a different character. Pop culture has an erotic and provocative purpose and a subsequent effect. I’m sure that playing theatre had a major influence on this. I had some amateur experience in a small theatre group in Sintra called Utopia, back in 2000. This amazing experience gave me the chance to have some determination and strength to be reassured about my art performances and photographic works.
What is your working method?
My biggest problem is conciliating my night creations and Internet activity with my daily work. Sculpturing is a very physical process and involves machines and some noise, so I normally start working in the morning. For the sculptures, my assistant helps me. Recently I decided to increase the scale of some pieces. When I was working by myself this was difficult to achieve. The results have been amazing, regarding to my client’s remarks. At night I rather work on my collages, paintings or some digital drawings too. Sculptures take such a long time to be completed, so I enjoy compensating that rhythm with some faster works because I need to see quick results to be satisfied.
What is your next project?
I’m preparing my next solo exhibition at António Prates Gallery in Lisbon, in February 2017. I named it You and Me. I will mix my sculpture works and some recent paintings based on a concept that has connections to the past. I have the feeling that they have a personal life. I also have some projects in Brazil with a new gallery that will open soon. Concerning the private orders I’m ending some wood pieces. These are taking almost all my time now because they are big and have some complexity.
Where can we see your work publicly?
My public works in Portugal can be seen at Gulbenkian Foundation collection, at PLMJ collection, at Atlantic Banc collection, at the Contemporary Museum of Art in Elvas, at Benetton Collection and in Spain at Berjé collection. I also have works at António Prates Gallery, where I’m represented and at Art Form, an art consultancy in Estoril.
How is your relationship with the art world?
Sometimes I happen to miss some art events in Lisbon, so I’m more present in virtual life. I’m a little bit of an outsider. Nonetheless, I like to discover new artists and to know what is going on in the global scene. Some artists inspire me and make me re-think my own work and the way I look at my unfinished pieces. I always try to improve and challenge myself. Those challenges are a consequence of the interconnectivity with other artistic works and artists.
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What is your opinion on the art market? 
In Portugal, I feel there is a huge deficit in the cultural market. People are not used to buy art or even to go to art events or museums. We’re a recent democracy and the main goals of the political system so far have been to achieve some economic standards. The situation has luckily improved recently and more young people attend cultural events and new art collectors are exhibiting their private collections publicly. I hope that the art market will readjust and that in the near future we will have more art fairs, cultural events and media coverage so more people will buy art in galleries and from artists. The social networks allowed me to get in touch with folks from around the world and surprisingly I make good contacts not only with individuals, but also with art curators, galleries and I manage to do some sales too. But the system is far to be perfect for Portuguese artists.
What are the recurrent themes in your oeuvre?
Most of it is about sensuality. Even some of the wood works have an erotic connotation, for example Large Jet, the series Moments of Pleasure, featuring a drop going down the wall. I was inspired by the movie Shortbus when some sperm was projected to the painting of Jackson Pollock that was also made out of squirts. This can hit some people in their sensibility and religious believes, but is the essential inspiration of my work. The main purpose after these erotic connotations is that each piece achieves a contemplative identity. They have the same function the anthropomorphic statues have in the sacred spaces. But instead of going to the figurative, my work is mainly abstract and organic. Some narrative themes can suggest some objects, like those we see in pictorial figurative descriptions. This interest with the sexual references and eroticism started when I felt the connections of these themes and the physical and spiritual world.
Your sculptures are voluminous although they seem quite fragile as well. How do you relate to them?
In 2001 I transformed a marble stone into a very fine and delicate surface. It was almost like paper. Later, in the series of the Waves and Close Moments I became more interested in the effects of a ‘liquid’ object. I created these fine walls with styrofoam and covered them with gauze and plasters. So they are strong and voluminous but at the same time delicate and fragile and they seem to be moving like the other sculptures in wood. It’s like their organic side takes action in each piece.
What is your main source of inspiration?
Most of all is nature and its connections to the spiritual side of our existence. I also enjoy paying attention into details in a microscopic way and put them into a bigger perspective. Things related to the physical aspects of the materials. I look at it with great respect, not only as something created for giving us pleasure. I think each being has its own energy, even a rock or the grass. Also, I’m interested in the human behaviours when they are confronted with strange things. I enjoy it when my work is presented to an audience and I can observe people’s reactions to it.
You are certainly very active on social networks. What is your true motivation?
I love internet and I love photography, so they match perfectly. That combined with my hyperactivity and that I can express my feelings through art works done digitally, is a perfect marriage. This passion got stronger because of Instagram. Suddenly my photos had a huge effect on people who liked them. Now I’m more interested in hyperrealism, mixing it with a fantastic touch. Photography and sculpture are connected, as they both deal with space. Another reason is my admiration for photo journalism, a big influence from my brother who is a photographer and journalist.
Ben, the Swiss-French artist, defines art as something useless. Would you agree? 
Art is mostly spiritual, emotional and intellectual. It’s like being at home. You need food to eat but you can also have other needs: you have your spiritual needs that you can fill in with candles and incense. There is room for the two living together, each one is important. We are more than rational human beings; we are also full of emotions. Normally what makes me fall in love with an artist or a piece of art is when I identify myself in it. It’s like a projection. Something we would have liked to do but we didn’t. I think part of it is frustration and the delight of this feeling. We can’t all be artists but we are all creators and the idea of doing something is part of our genetics. Art has its space in the world because it gives people a kind of a dream and happiness.
How do you see the world we live in?
It’s confusing and dangerous, but at the same time full of possibilities and new discoveries. I think we finally have all the ingredients to live in a better society, but we must be very careful with the power and those who have it. We learnt that radical regimes, right or left, can be the worst of humanity but unfortunately we had to learn the lesson.
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