Portuguese artist Ricardo Passaporte shrugs off controversy all for the means of art and free expression. Contrary to public belief, Lidl is not his main sponsor, but it perfectly could be. The contemporary fascination for logos and tacky-turned-trendy brands – think of Demna Gvasalia’s love for DHL, for example – is just another proof of his sense of humour, sarcasm, and contemporaneity. Working separately between the graffiti and the art worlds, we sit down with him to discuss the power of the spray can, superheroes and grocery shopping.
Ricardo, could you briefly tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be doing what you do now?
I was born in 1987 and I live and work in Lisbon. I have a BA and MA in Fashion Design, but I’ve been painting since I was a kid. My great-grandfather was a photographer and my grandfather was a painter – I remember going to his house and instead of playing with toys, I used to watch him painting and sit doodling next to him.
Your work has a real deadpan/sarcastic humour quality to it – do you think it represents you as a person?
To be honest, I think that it’s just part of my personality. It’s all connected: how I relate to my work as an artist and how I interact as a friend/son/boyfriend/brother on a more personal level.
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You’ve made art using unusual materials, from fire and detergent on carbon paper to huge plastic shopping bags and panels of grass. Do you plan on continuing experimenting and using even more unconventional ideas in the future?
Material exploration is not the focus of my practice. However, I do consider new materials and new ways of translating my thoughts depending on the work I’m developing and the idea behind it. But it’s not so much about bringing in unconventional materials rather than creating the right environment to achieve what I envisage.
In previous shows and works, you often take on logos such as Lidl or Tesco. Have these corporate identities been appropriated by you and made into your own form of graffiti tag?
Not at all. I try to never mix my artistic practice with graffiti, even if I use the same medium. 
By the way, do you shop at Lidl?
Every day. I can spot Lidl from my bedroom window.
“I find it quite relevant for the public in general to have the opportunity to buy pieces from artists they love. I as a buyer included.”
Could you tell us about Germes Gang?
Germes Gang started as a graffiti crew but, nowadays, I don’t know how to define it. We do this… and that.
You have previously taken part in Got it for cheap – a nomadic event taking place in several cities throughout the globe where artworks on paper are sold at affordable prices – and also sell prints and zines on various platforms. Do you believe in making art accessible for all?
Sure. I really like this particular project and I’m actually curating one of the next editions that will be taking place at Balcony Gallery in Lisbon. But I don’t see accessibility as being a consumerist move; I find it quite relevant for the public in general to have the opportunity to buy pieces from artists they love. I as a buyer included.
Your merchandise is amazing. I really want the Lidl socks! Have they been a huge hit, and do you think you’d like to continue making merchandise as a cheaper form of art?
Thanks but sorry, they’re sold out. I don’t see it as merchandise but more a series of printed limited editions on a wearable textile. I’m definitely planning on continuing this series, that’s something I’m working on at the moment with Ecuador Lisbon.
You have a background in graffiti on the streets and you’ve taken those skills to the gallery space. When you use spray paint, you spray at quite a distance, which gives it more of a texture and softness. Is this because you want to showcase the medium to its full ability?
As I mentioned, there is a real difference between the two practices – my art isn’t an upgrade of my practice as a graffiti artist. Using spray paint at quite a distance allows me to have less control, to create unintentional mistakes and somehow surprise myself. The technique in itself induces error – it’s a way of getting loose. This can happen in an abstract painting, where I don’t have any preconceived idea of how it is going to look like. Not having full control on the technique opens the space up to a new approach, compared with the initial sketches.
Graffiti has been around for thousands of years and still exists today as a form of expression by the people for the people. What do you think of the graffiti laws in Portugal, and does it change anything?
I guess it doesn’t. You can compare graffiti laws in Portugal to the rest of the world, but foreign graffiti writers still book flights to Portugal knowing they’re going to a small paradise.
Whilst I really appreciate your work and am a huge fan… there are a few controversial things that we should probably talk about. The felt-tip drawings of women in porn stills, one in particular is pretty harrowing featuring power tools which you hashtagged with ‘womensday’ on international women’s day. Discuss?
Thank you. I’m really happy with that drawing. Being controversial always initiates conversations and is always going to get both good and bad feedback.
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You’ve also previously touched upon ideas of religion and sex. As an artist, are you giving a big two fingers up to society?
I don’t think so. As an artist, I feel super happy to have the freedom of showing whatever I want. And the bad feedback says much more about the people that give it than about me.
If you could be any superhero who would you be?
Finally, what’s coming up for Ricardo Passaporte?
I’ve had two solo exhibitions, one at Eduardo Secci Gallery in Firenze, and another one at Hawaii Lisbon Gallery. I’m about to release a new book with Germes Gang, and am curating another book for the Portuguese publisher Stolen Books. I’m also curating a Got It for Cheap exhibition at Balcony Gallery in Lisbon as I mentioned before. But for 2019, there is a new Women’s Day approaching…
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