a playful world in hiding – 45-year retrospective

Rui A. Pereira, Curator

The exhibition “A Playful World in Hiding”, now presented at the Museu do Oriente, is a unique opportunity to retrospectively grasp the past 45 years of Teresa Cortez’s work. This showcase represents a well-deserved occasion to pay homage to the extensive and diversified work of this contemporary artist, still fully active, her ceramic mural panels being her most outstanding intervention.

Teresa Cortez is, in fact, the author of more than forty ceramic (modelled and tile) panels placed in a variety of public and private buildings in various regions of the country, and assuredly one of the living Portuguese potters who have signed more works in the scope of architecture projects.

Besides the murals, her artistic work also encompasses the creation of a multiplicity of ceramic sculptures, small and medium-sized tiles, drawings and paintings, all of which have been showcased in several solo and group exhibitions, at home and abroad.

Although not an unparalleled case among contemporary Portuguese artists, Teresa Cortez is a potter who betrays little thematic influence from sixteenth to nineteenth century mural tiling. Religious, military, palatial and bucolic subjects are, in fact, almost always absent from the artist’s works, and even the choice of white and blue tones is a rare occurrence in her work. Her creations, we shall say, hinge directly on the oriental origins – the “dragons” of Chinese civilization, of blue porcelain –, the Portuguese molding deep-rooted in the Arab tradition – the Moorish influence, in the technique and interplay of geometric patterns, in the ceramic tile panels: the Spanish-Moorish tile that from the sixteenth century spread across the Portuguese architectural space. The artist employs the geometric ceramic pattern of Moorish influence along with a free and spontaneous outlining that combines human and vegetable figures with the fable. The nearby fauna and nature embody stories stirred by winds blowing from the East. These are brushstroke representations of conflating human and vegetable nature.

Teresa Cortez gives shape to tiles, panels, pots and jars with animals and faces with organic elements in communion with their environment. Bidimensional and sculptural ceramics builds on millenary techniques which, acquiring a new expressive and artistic context, transport us to the present, to the future to come. Her work strides a vigorous and unswerving artistic track, disclosing a profoundly wise and knowing personality that doesn´t renounce the constant search for knowledge through art. It enquires, it seeks novelty, the work itself open to a continuous and lively dialogue with its prospective viewer – a vital bond with the tangible, as if every work sprouted life-conveying roots, intersections channeling information and knowledge. Here, a ceramic piece emerges as a book enclosing open-ended stories. Cortez’s ceramic work strives on a frank and sincere dialogue between all the elements that dwell in it, an exchange that presents itself like a breath, a feast of colours and shapes for all senses, like a world-map wherein people of all colours circulate and meet each other.

The brightness of her work carries us to an opening that allows us to reach the small, truly important things… hearts, red roses, signs of affections, images, recollections that help us, in a precise moment, to make up for lost time – a universal expression of humanity promoting peace – adding the world to art.

In fact, Teresa Cortez, on the threshold of an ill-defined place, expresses our presence. Her focus steers us to the core of our existence, to people, to animal life, to imaginary or real worlds that sow and praise the spirit of nature: in the fragrance of a flower, with its delicate petals, in the leisurely flutter of a dragonfly over the endless meadows, hills and valleys. Here, the whole of humanity is embodied in a simple smile: a little girl is joyously engrossed by all that surrounds and beguiles her. It is surrender to life as a fully contented testimony.

The artist is relentlessly engaged in building a refuge of her own, permanently reinventing it. Her work reveals an avid thought from which emanates a particular self entity.

It inhabits an experiential space that knows no barriers, no walls. It wanders aimlessly, with no abode. In the variable of each place, it outlines an itinerary, as if everything happened without a previous knowledge of its end. All is set in motion as if we were strolling across a tile panel, a chessboard or a game of dice, where the bidimensional or tridimensional pieces circulate. As such, the artistic creation takes on a recreational dimension in which the most imponderable is always at work. Each newly made ceramic piece is an amusing experience of surprise and delight. Each work mirrors a state of mind treading far and wide. Teresa Cortez wavers between the memory of the girl who once was and the woman who speculates about the idyllic: she rises up to the clouds, erupts from the ground, breathes the countryside air, sways rhythmically in the most candid of worlds, where peace reigns and women and men jump and bounce with relish. It is possible to “hear” in many of her works a flock of birds flying free, the festive singing that echoes, choirs, youthful and happy yelling, seeds of tomorrow. Everywhere is a place for entertainment, for meeting and sharing, for wonder and amazement, against the early glow of each dawning day.

Teresa Cortez ranges the seasons of the year ascribing warm colours to the drier days and cooler colours to the damper ones. The most scorching is in strong contrast with the coldest, the most freezing. There are four seasons to each year and four suits to a pack of cards. It all attracts our attention to fantasy. The artist draws our gaze towards a marvelous world where everyone has their own space for action, for play: everything is constructed, staged, performed by actors that enter the scene in the ceramic pieces… a play, a film, daily life, where kings, queens, princes and princesses with their knights in shining armour stepping in on their cards, and the common citizen, the people, the poet, the painter, the dog and the cat are pawns engaged in the most unlikely frolics.

With her “bathtub” sculptural objects, Teresa Cortez introduces us to the height of merrymaking. Who has not, as a small child, daydreamed when having a bath? Who has not, at a tender age, daydreamed about boats, yellow rubber ducks, pirates, explorers, fish, mermaids, sea monsters… in their “flights” above and under the water, brightening the days that cleansed the body and the soul of our childhoods. So many heroes who, plunging into the sea were met with the chimera aroused by winds and gales and fearsome tidal waves, have found in our bathtubs a safe harbour. The author extols spirits of the most distant and the closest memories and reflects them on the most translucent water. Water mirrors displaying “Pessoa” with his various heteronyms, and people in general, voluminous or slender, in the nude or wearing drenched clothes. It all fills the bathtub with reverie.

Rain washes away the sorrows and the limpid baths, layers of water, expunge the unwelcome down to the very soul… Teresa lays bare the delight produced by a bath as the greatest enjoyment in life, the voluptuousness of a drop sliding down the modelled ceramic. Nothing is before the after and, furthermore, the hands talk to us, because they model, paint and describe pieces that are never on their own. The work by Teresa Cortez is a meeting place punctuated by stopovers and devoid of a destination. Each work is a stopover where a new journey has its start. Life emerges as a recreational understanding, which plays, romps, rolls and cartwheels, always with a new move that brings us closer together in a friendship based in the sharing of the time that binds us.

Teresa Cortez has a vast mural work comprised of ceramic panels that stand out in the Portuguese urban landscape: several dozens of apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, markets and other public spaces have endorsed her work, which enriches them by making them exceptional and noticeable. The artistic work, when experienced, takes on an exponential unrepeatable strength – it encourages the perception of our place as both an individual and a collective memory. A work endowed with an expressive formal appearance, meaningful and significant. The morphological identity of each work generates rhythms, chromatic values which, by means of more or less real representations, more or less fantasized, steer us to a unique aesthetic experience. The power of fascination for art ushers us toward the dream, the recreation of the World itself.

© 2020 - 2023, Teresa Cortez