VIA Arts Prize 2019 The Visual Ibero-American Arts Prize ‘in PORTUGAL’



My wife and I decided to revisit Portugal for the third time and go to the southern area around Faro, then travel north heading for Évora 160km away.  We had previously been to Lisbon on our first visit and some years later went to Porto, staying in Gaia.

Not being ‘beach’ people we had no intention of staying on the Algarve resorts but headed for our first destination 40 kilometres inland from Faro. Our travel guide suggested a good place to stay a night and eat in the quiet village of Cortelha.


We wanted to explore the inner region and see the famous Cork trees and lakes in the area.  It was not difficult to find Cork trees as they surrounded the hotel!

A truly amazing and unusual sight as seen below.240dpi---BARE-NAKED-CORK-TREE-W&D-.jpgTrimmed Cork Tree                                                                           Photo: Philip O’Reilly

The trees were trimmed and painted a bright orange-ochre shade with a number code painted on the trunk.  Apparently the cork ‘skin’ is harvested very 8 -9 years.

There was a stockpile of harvested cork in a fenced off zone in the village so we could see the cork close-up. We saw other stockpiles on our journey and some very large quantities stacked for collection.CORK TREE TRIMSStockpile of the Cork Harvest in Cortelha                                         Photo: Philip O’Reilly

We headed for Évora 160km away, stopping to shop in Castro Verdhe.                    


We located a fantastic small museum of Roman Ceramic Oil Lamps, beautifully displayed with a well described historical account of them. These were really interesting objects, and in amazing natural colours and in good condition. The lamps are press moulded in two halves divided horizontally creating a hollow bowl. The top is decorated with designs and perforated with the 2 holes for the wick and the oil and another in the handle. The base showed the name of the customer [how do they know that?], and some with ornaments or symbols.5-ROMAN-LAMPS-W&D-.jpg5 Roman Lamps                                                                                Photo: Philip O’Reilly


Évora, being a Unesco City famous for its city walls, is well preserved and very pleasant to walk about in.  The place was largely traffic free with adequate free parking outside the city walls.  We stayed in a very modern comfortable hotel.

We acquired maps and made our way about, finding lovely old streets, and squares, with shops, cafes, restaurants and museums, palaces, galleries, a cathedral; even a Puppet Museum and bars, so lots to see and do.

I was surprised to find a great exhibition and installation of Concrete Poetry from around the world. The display was excellent with poetry written on the walls, books of poetry, framed drawings, and images on film strips. The show included vitrines of rare books and pamphlets. It was fascinating to see such rare material.  The French avant-garde concrete poet Henri Chopin’s CDs were on display and some of his typewriter images.

I met Henri Chopin many, many years ago when I visited his house in Ingatestone, Essex. His wife Jean and I worked at the same college at the time. I enjoyed how we crossed paths with others in these strange and surprising circumstances.  So here he is in Évora!HENRI-CHOPIN-C-D-W&D-.jpgHenri Chopin Typewriter Drawing                                                    Photo: Philip O’Reilly

There was a lot of Modern Art to see in the city, including a super exhibition of African Art with book art, painting, sculpture and photography.

They were shown as part of an exhibition of Contemporary African Art in a palace near the Cathedral.  The large format portraits of the same person dressed in differently themed guises were really high quality prints, very large and impressive.   I particularly liked the football images. All approximately A0 squared in size, and identical in format and presentation. The same character was shown in many guises including being dressed in female attire; or as an 18th C ‘Dandy’ and so on,  and in costumes of African regional dress.

These images made me think of the number of African players in major clubs in Brazil, Portugal, Spain and the UK. Here, the fundamentals of the game are shown, the Referee & Red Card, The Ball, and the Boot.  In my image I joined them together with the green background from the ‘Boot’ image; as being ‘on the pitch’!

There were paintings with wonderful overt colouring showing dancing couples. There was also some wonderful book art in a series of minuscule images, some framed as single pages, others in display cases, very colourful with text & images, poetry & politics, etc.FOOTBALL-DREAMS-W&D-.jpgOmar Victor Diop  African Football: Boot – Card – Ball                  Photo: Philip O’Reilly
[as shown in my ‘in Portugal’ submission]

DANCING-2-W&D-.jpg   Dancing: 1 & 2



The colour falls from the leaded light windows. Pools of colour fall across the Altar steps. The forms of the cut glass windows are diminished and the light spreads without any obvious patterns.  The regular geometry of the stone steps are in complete contrast to the chaotic play of coloured light.  Order and Chaos are important elements in the way I compose my work and are seen here purely by chance.


CONFESSION-BOX-IN-TILES-W&D-.jpgConfessional box on tiled mural                                                      Photo: Philip O’Reilly

I have worked with grids for years and like the formal symmetry of this tiled panel with the green insert through the wall and its metal grill. As an ex-catholic I can understand the confessional concept and here in Portugal it is expressed in a very open and public way.

I have great respect for the crafting and installation of the tiles, the free-hand painting in a single hue is beautiful.  The overall design and the simple repetition of the ornate motifs is as economic as it is original. I like the discreet grid of the tile format. The similarity of the design to a carpet pattern adds another layer of textile interest to this lovely artwork.

I had my own ceramic studio for 7 years where I produced semi-3 dimensional tiles and a number of clay-based artworks, so these murals resonate with me as I know precisely how they are made.


Kolam Grid Paintings
Based on the plan format of temples in southern India. The outer edges suggesting the noisy chaos that is outside the temple, against the calm within.


Kumbakunum Kolam                                               Kum-Kum-Kolam Temple Template 2 
                                                                    Photos: Philip O’Reilly

Left: Holographic Foil, Particle Glitter & Acrylic on Gesso on Panel
Right: Gold Leaf, Gilding Metal, Holographic Foil & Acrylic Gesso & Flamboyant Enamel on Paper 
Kings Cross Labyrinth Mural
Here the grid is governed by the location, measured by the brick dimensions. Images are based upon a narrative derived from many sources, but include the Canal, Railway, Tube line, Buildings on the site and my own artwork. The moulds were made from my CNC designs with the tiles being made by hand using my moulds and methods.  It was almost two years of hard but fantastic work and was delivered on time and within the budget, much to the delight of the local council and my clients.

KINGS-CROSS-LABYRINTH-STUDY-W&D-.jpgKings Cross Labyrinth  Drawing in progress                                     Photo: Philip O’Reilly

KINGS CROSS LABYRINTH [NEW PERSPECTIVE]Kings Cross Labyrinth  7m X 7m                                                              Photo: Unknown
Porcelain & some Terracotta Clay, Decals, etc. 

SAMPLE TILES 1Samples of tiles from Labyrinth Studio  46cm x 17cm  Porcelain      

Bottom Row: The development of a single tile, cutting the rubber membrane, it is inserted in the mould and fixed with glue. After press moulding it is removed from the plaster mould. When ‘Leather hard’ the clay ejects the membrane.  After ‘biscuit’ firing it is coloured and glazed and re-fired to finish.   Installed by a Stone Mason.
Top Row-Middle Tile:The same method but with a piece of African Plastic Tablecloth

Rose Bowl Moon
A ceramic artwork installation using recycled moulds from my Kings Cross ‘Text-Wall’. The ‘decals’ are traditional and quite old and identical. The circles are random sizes and placed randomly when installed.  The white circle is the only fixed aspect of the work as all the tiles are bisected with a physical line through the tile where they touch which increases the illusion of the ‘white’ as ‘light’. The tiles fit the format of the drawn circle only at the edge. 

 rose-bowlRose Bowl Moon  90cm dia White Circle                                          Photo: Philip O’Reilly
Terracotta & Decals & Velcro     

MORE ON CLAY ‘in Portugal’

POTTERY-WORKSHOP-W&D-Pottery Workshop with a Family Tree in 2019                                  Photo: Philip O’Reilly

We met a family member in a restaurant who persuaded us to visit this amazing place with its wonderful family tree on display.  The ladder of succession? 

In amongst this primitive looking workshop lies a mobile phone on charge!  There seemed to be 4 staff, 1 throwing, 2 packing and 1 in admin.  The massive kiln was loaded with dozens of different objects all bound for the tourist shops. The workshop was huge but with only one throwing wheel.


Portugal is one of the great marble producers of the world. The Museum of Marble was very interesting and showed the history and methods of mining marble. The exhibition contained fascinating objects, some with images and text, others, like the T.V. or the ‘Chain’ below are both shown in my ‘in Portugal‘ submission.CHAIN LINKS.pngChain                                                                                                 Photo: Philip O’Reilly

This chain-link [shown above] was carved from a single piece of stone. One sees many items of this kind in wood but I have never seen one in stone.  The gallery had huge samples of marble with crystals formed inside natural apertures within the stone.MARBLE SAMPLE BIEGE.jpgCrystals formed inside natural apertures within the stone; the surface has been polished.



T.V. with Aerial

A Solid State T.V. from the 70’s?

An ironic take on the medium of television with only a single channel?


'-2-STEEL-CUSHIONS'-W&D-.jpgSteel Pillows  I was quite taken with the inflatable steel ‘pillows’ used to break open the marble by placing them deflated into deep cuts and inflating them with water under enormous pressure. This would break the slab open along the cut edges. They are very interesting sculptural objects in their own right. I also saw the connection with textiles as fabric objects.                                                                                  Photos: Philip O’Reilly


5.-'ON-A-CLEAR-DAY-ETC'-CMYK-W&D-.jpgJoão Louro On A Clear Day You Can See Forever                         Photo: Philip O’Reilly 2013  2,000 x 61.40m  Cor-ten Steel. 

Public work carried out at the Alqueva Dam under the “Art and Architecture in the Dams” project, promoted by EDP, through the EDP Foundation.  

I was astonished see this massive artwork sited on the edge of a dam. You can see the water in the distant background despite the not so clear weather condition.  I often work with type so this was a very attractive concept for me.  An hour after seeing it I realised that although sited in Portugal, it was ‘written’ in English!  Since then I have looked at João Louro’s website and understand the context from which it comes.  As far as I know my image is unique in being the only full-frontal picture of the artwork.  All other images show only very steep perspective views.KINGS-CROSS-MURAL-DESIGN-W&D-.jpgDigital design of the commission for P&O Properties & Rolfe Judd Architecture 18 York Way, Kings Cross, London.   Based on a Printers Type Chase; the frame that holds all the Letter Forms together in a Printing Shop. The 47 panels that form the mural are aesthetically held together in this way.  The short vertical lines and horizontals are the edges of the cast metal panels and expressed in the mural as ‘shadow gaps’.               The mural is 6.8m X 2.6m x 2cm in Cast & Polished Aluminium.

The background shows the first map of the area when developed in 1863 revealing the new Kings Cross and St. Pancras Stations, the Gasworks, Canal’s, etc. The ‘RQ’ is the logo of the site meaning ‘Regent Quarter’, the black text in the foreground shows names collected from the English Heritage publication made specifically for the site development. They are company names spanning 200 years. This is my first Public Art commission.  Entirely designed on my laptop and transposed to a file type for CNC Cutting in sheet Polystyrene. It was the first time the foundry had seen such an item on this scale.'TYPE-WALL'-W&D-.jpg 
Text-Wall                                                                                           Photo: Philip O’Reilly

   INSTALLATION .png                                                                 

Showing large scale type used in public art situation. You will see from this image why I would photograph the ‘On a Clear Day’ artwork in Portugal, as I see the letterforms and metal substrate in similar terms as my own.  It also reveals my interest in historical and contemporary narrative in the images.  The figure gives a sense of scale of the mural and the space around it.



'ANCHORS-AHOY'-In-a-sea-of-sand-W&D-.jpgAnchor Graveyard Praia do Barril                                                     Photo: Philip O’Reilly

These fishing anchors line the sand dunes of the Praia do Barril and are a symbolic memorial to the decline of Tuna fishing and the abandonment of this way of life.

The rusting anchors of the Cemitério das Àncoras (the Anchor Graveyard) were placed in the sands during the 1960s when the livelihood became unsustainable and today there are no Bluefin Tuna in the seas of the Algarve.                


Jose Rosa Madeira - Poet-.jpgMigual Cheta Homage to José Rosa Medeira  2018                     Photo: Philip O’Reilly

This Cor-ten Steel sculpture is a grid of text in capital letters, I presume a poem by Rosa Madeira. The floor plan of the steel object suggests the profile or shadow of José Rosa Madeira wrapped in poetry.  You must stand inside to be able to engage with it completely. A nice graphic solution and fascinating use of text and material. The information and image of him below is set to one side on a small rostrum.  A stunning piece of work.


 HOMAGE-DU-CAMION-W&D-           camion-text-file-W&D- 

These artworks are in the same street on opposite sides. A homage to a Poet and Truck Drivers struck me as unusual.



Maria, be careful

Watch how you step on the floor

If you step badly (in a bad way?)

You step on my heart

Trans:  Liege Lourengo Matharu


Isodoro Manuel Pires Poet and Mayor



My house had the same door knocker! 

But two?…

And what a wonderful shade of blue!


Tavira  Two Handed Door Knockers



In Conclusion:  Whilst trained as a painter I have for many years pursued my interests in a range of skills based in imaging and the crafts. These include ceramics, foundry work, textiles, kiln-formed glass, paper-making, printmaking, traditional and digital, including      3-D printing; viewing the pixel matrix in material terms.

My artworks reflect my interest in materials, processes, technologies and concepts of materials; of craft and making. The images are all linked by my travel experiences. Historically my artworks are all derived from ‘things seen in the world’; Portugal is now a new part of that vision. 

In 2018 I made my third trip to Portugal and was curious to see the inland area from Faro to Évora; simply to visit the Cork growing area and the large ‘lakes’ that border on Spain, reservoirs as I now know they are.  

My photographic journey revealed to me the wide range of visual culture there is to see and learn about in southern Portugal.  I was inspired by the material culture and the historical and contemporary aesthetic combinations.