Fragments of Pomar

Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar opened its doors to the public in 2013 with the exhibition Em torno do acervo, a first foray into the artist’s extensive body of work. Right from the start, the venue itself was an invitation, due to its breadth and natural light, emphasised by Álvaro Siza Vieira’s concept. Since then, this Atelier-Museum has been a focal point for ongoing studies of the artist’s collection, both individually and in dialogue with other artists (Pedro Cabrita Reis, Rui Chafes). The celebration of the institution’s tenth anniversary presents us with a new exhibition, looking back at the core themes that seduced the artist: his political struggle with a neorealist aesthetic; the bestiary that he builds with simplicity; his admiration for classical literary figures; the self-portrait and the portrait; the inescapable eroticism.

Works such as Mulheres na Lota, miners at Estrada Nova and the illustration of fishermen from Nazaré, using an aesthetic typical of neorealism, attempt to represent this abstract entity known as the people. Not António Ferro’s people, from the search for Portugal’s most Portuguese village, but the workers in sombre tones: those who are kept silent. Within this area of commitment to the social cause, a portrait of a gagged man clearly reminds us of José Dias Coelho’s art, along with one of Pomar’s best-known works – a female figure engulfed in the subjugation of authority, power and repression in Resistência (1946). Then there’s a moment of dialogue, devised by the curators, juxtaposing their political positions during the dictatorship and Guantánamo I (2004), made when the American prison’s inhumane treatment came to light. Oppression repeats itself.

Along with this, under several layers, the rediscovery of the murals made for Cinema Batalha, later covered up when he was arrested by the PIDE, is one of the Atelier-Museu’s major new exhibitions over the last year. The photos from that period and the letters exchanged between the cinema and the political police provide us with depictions of a specific political context. Júlio Pomar belongs to the generation whose plastic expression was captured by the dictatorial regime, making this an early event in his career.

Facing the need to express the collective, the portrait. Portraits of people he admires, portraits of himself made by friends and self-portraits – the latter being the subject of several experiments, adding to a portrait of himself made by a friend and even unfolding into self-portraits of self-portraits. The image of the Self and the Other, defining individuality, expression, emotion and geometry. This section also appears to emphasise a certain gentleness, the casual nature of the relationship with oneself and those close to you.

On the upper floor, animals are deconstructed, mainly in oranges and blues. Everything that pulsates and makes sound is shown here as a silent representation. Alongside this there is a connection to literature, through figures such as Don Quixote, associated with phallic works, Ulysses and the perils of his journey. This is one of the themes most associated with his experimentation with collage, revealing new languages beyond painting and drawing. Next to this, drawings of model figures such as the saltimbanco and the cardinal are medievalist pieces of social geography.

Together with the Indian ink essays representing Histórias da Terra Negra (1959-1960), one of his greatest works: Navio Negreiro (2005-2012) and its hinges on canvas. Next to it, with the same hinges, Cartilha do Marialva (2005-2012). Aware of his friend José Cardoso Pires’ work bearing the same name, we can see a duo between colonialism and Salazarism in the similarity of materials, but not just in terms of subject matter. The language behind them, the independent colour expression, his own style, make these pieces contemplative and solemn. He himself said: “What is painting? Painting is painting is painting is painting“.[1]

On the ground floor, we return to one of his central themes: eroticism. As well as fragments of women on strong coloured backgrounds (green, orange, blue), there are works such as La Table de l’Architecte (1977) and Salmão, Castanho, Cinzento (1977), among other body collages from angles that are meant to be sexualised, raw. Many pieces in this section are still to be shown, as there is not enough room for everything, but they will soon return to a museum space that is always on the move.

Overall, the pieces on display have been carefully chosen to embody the work of a lifetime. This is not a definitive exhibition, but a (new) anthology of Pomar’s best work, offering us a flavour of each aspect of his extensive career. Ultimately, it wants to stimulate our appetite.

The exhibition Júlio Pomar: 10 anos de Museu, curated by Sara António Matos and Pedro Faro, will be on show until January 14, 2024 at Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar.


[1] Pomar, Júlio. Temas e Variações – Parte Escrita III: 1968-2013. Lisbon: Cadernos do AMJP, p. 263.

Inês Almeida (Lisbon, 1993) has a master's degree in Modern History given by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, part of Nova' s University of Lisbon. Inês has recently completed a Post-Graduation in Curatory of Art in NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition "On the edge of the landscape comes the world" and has started collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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