ZARATAN Artist in Residence Grant 2020 – LISBON, PORTUGAL ‘9 Days 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.

Trimmed 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.

Stockpile of the Cork Harvest in Cortelha                                         Photo: Philip O’Reilly

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



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. I have some experience of ceramics and could fully understand the mould-making process described with the lamps.

5 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 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’!


Omar Victor Diop  African Football: Boot – Card – Ball                  Photo: Philip O’Reilly

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.


   Dancing: 1 & 2



The colour cascades from the leaded light windows creating pools of colour that fall across the Altar steps. The forms of the cut glass windows are diminished and the light spreads like a stain 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. This is a typical kind of topic I may have painted at another time.

Photo: Philip O’Reilly



Confessional 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. The pattern and repetition are fascinating when seen with the contrasting images of patterned ornamental vases, flowers and cherubs; pictorial space in a picture frame. I have seen these tiles all over Portugal. I am intrigued by their commonplace appearance, the single colour and their style and integration in the buildings.

For the Zaratan opportunity I want to interrogate the tiling concept further and develop an alternative approach to the application of tiling without changes to the colour or the nature of the tiles as ornament. I am also curious about the application of the tiles on the interior and exterior surfaces and their relationship to the architecture.


Kolam Grid Paintings
The grids are based on the architectural plan format of temples in southern India. The 4 x 4 inner grid of small squares are gilded with holographic foil. There’s no pigment nor paint applied but the colours are simply a product of ambient light. The black patterns are stencilled over the foil. The black material is Carborundum and Particle Glitter laying on Black Gesso priming. The shaped outer edges are partly gilded with Holographic Foil and also responsive to the angle and fall of light, causing the colour to appear randomly, the linear combed gesso priming causes the light to display its spectral order. Some parts are plain acrylic and stencilled acrylic images. The random shaped outer edges suggesting the noisy chaos that is outside the temple, against the black glittery rectangle and calm within. The graphic patterns are derived from real stencils used for ritual or ceremonial celebrations that use Henna stencilled patterns painted on the palms of female hands. The original design of the edges were fragments of letter forms based on the Tamil alphabet.


Kumbakunum Temple Kolam 

Wood Panel cut and shaped, Gesso primed and combed, gilded with Holographic Foil, Acrylic Paint,Black Acrylic Gesso,



Kum-Kum-Kolam Temple Template 2

Gold Leaf, Metal Leaf, Holographic Foil, Flamboyant Enamel on Paper

Kings Cross Labyrinth Mural

Here the grid was governed by the location and measured by multiple units of brick dimensions. Trial & error with myself and the architect helped form the final choice of scale of 3 bricks high as the measure between horizontal rows. This was how the grid was formed. The tile moulds were designed to fit these new dimensions. This increased the murals dimensions to the final image as shown. The moulds were made from CNC cut polystyrene designs with the ceramic tiles being made by hand using my moulds and methods. The styrene was copied into plaster moulds. Images were based upon a narrative derived from many sources, which include the history of the local Canal, Railway, Tube line, Buildings on the site, a book published about the site by English Heritage, and experience of my own artwork strategies. Images were constantly changing as the mural developed. These changes were recorded in the drawing[s] below. 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. I was keen to keep the symmetry of the idea at the forefront. The original Labyrinth was in fact circular and made in the 8th.C. I redesigned the geometry to fit my needs. All decisions were agreed at regular meetings with the client and architects.

Kings Cross Labyrinth  Drawing in progress                                     Photo: Philip O’Reilly


Kings Cross Labyrinth  7m X 7m                                                              Photo: Unknown
Porcelain & some Terracotta Clay, Decals, etc. 


Samples of tiles from Labyrinth Studio  46cm x 17cm  Porcelain      

Bottom Row: The development of a single porcelain tile. Subject=Kings Cross Station Signal. The original drawing pdf was made to scale in Adobe Illustrator and printed in black on white paper. The print was affixed to the rubber substrate [damp proof course material] and transposed by cutting and stamping through the rubber membrane. The membrane was inserted in the mould [face down] and fixed with glue. Between twelve or twenty-four hours after press moulding it was removed from the plaster mould. When ‘Leather hard’ the clay shrinks and ejects the membrane.  After ‘biscuit’ firing it is coloured and glazed and re-fired to finish.   Why this format? The original signal was flat plate metal and perforated as in my design. The idea was that the sign would remain legible in snow due to the perforations. I like the type and graphic layout. The design is indented in the clay where the black membrane was, inverting the apertures into raised solids. All tiles were installed by a Stone Mason.
Top Row-Middle Tile:The same method but with a piece of African Plastic Tablecloth

Rose Bowl Moon
I kept the ‘Labyrinth Studio’ for 5 more years and worked with clay as part of my artistic vocabulary. ‘Rose Bowl Moon’ is one of a series of ceramic artwork installations using recycled moulds from my Kings Cross ‘Text-Wall’. The ‘decals’ [printed images] are traditional and quite old and are all identical and fired onto the tiles. 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 the circle which increases the illusion of the ‘white’ as ‘light’. The tiles fit the format of the drawn circle only at the drawn edge. The number and exact location of the tiles may change on installation. There is an underlying geometric format that is disrupted by the size of the tiles and the number used.


 Rose Bowl Moon  90cm dia White Circle                                          Photo: Philip O’Reilly
Terracotta & Decals & Velcro – Wall paint    

Detail: Terracotta clay tile showing geometry of the circle engraved in the clay. The ‘Rose’ decal transfer was applied to the white background. The clay image is part of the ‘recycled’ text of the ‘Text-Wall’ mural seen as indented and glazed with Black Oxide to exaggerate the graphic surface form. Two firings of the oxide cause it to shine. The decals fire at lower temperature and are the last event in making the tile. The conceptual composition drawing and making methods were recorded along with firing schedules in my studio notebooks.

MORE ON CLAY ‘in Portugal’


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.



Chain Links  Photo: Philip O’Reilly

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 ‘ChainLinks’ above are both shown in my ‘in Portugal‘ submission. The material is commonplace in Portugal, very much part of the cultural inheritance.                                                                                            


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 before seen one in stone.  The gallery had huge samples of marble with crystals 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. Photo: Philip O’Reilly


Steel 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 read the connection with textiles as fabric objects.                                                                                  Photos: Philip O’Reilly



João 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.



Digital 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’ and correspond with the shadow gaps in the metal cladding of the buildings design.

The drawing has 3 layers of data, One: the background map, showing London’s Kings Cross area and the new developments, including the tube line, St.Pancras station, Kings Cross Station, Regents Canal, etc. Two, The ‘R & Q’ Logo for the area, Regents Quarter. Three, the foreground showing names of places and businesses, recent and historical. Each layer was cut into different depths in the surface. The front [3] plane is lettering, all polished and coated. The writing reflects colours and light from passing pedestrians and traffic which adds living movement to the surface area.         

‘TEXT-WALL’ KINGS CROSS LM25 Cast Aluminium 6.3m X 2.8m x 47 Panels



Anchor 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.


José Rosa Medeira

Jose Rosa Madeira - Poet-.jpg

Migual 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. There isn’t a translation on-site. 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 rich 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.  Type is seen as ‘wrong reading’ and ‘right reading’ in the same artwork. There is a familiar sense of order and chaos within the design and manufacturing. A stunning piece of work.




These artworks are on opposite sides of the same street.

A homage to a Poet and Truck Drivers struck me as unusual.


Isodoro Manuel Pires Poet and Mayor

Tavira  Two Handed Door Knockers


9 Days in Portugal: The journey through Portugal revealed many options for the development of new artwork based on the experience. The tiling concept is closest to my current practice and the one I would like to explore. Philip O’Reilly 2019