tiles that open to the horizon

Rui A. Pereira

Teresa Cortez’s linework is ostensibly a means of expression. It plays with chiaroscuro, the overlapping and juxtaposed layers that take form and rise, in each work, in their entirety, disclosing colour. Just like in the East, where the pictorial basis is nourished by the essence of matter, with the paint on paper, canvas or ceramic, flowing from her thought. With either thicker or more diluted paint, the author carries out the representation, outlining, dying the diversity of colour, tone, highlighting every nuance, every shade.

In fact, when shaping a ceramic piece, the author first outlines her design on paper. The foundation drawn in coloured pencil, watercolour or other material is here considered. It makes itself known and is subsequently transposed, recreated in terracotta, in a ceramic plate, in a sculpture or in a jar. Its greater or lesser tactile element and chromatic intensity are clarified in this creative phase. The shapes may acquire volume, high or low-relief, or simply be painted and then fired in a muffle kiln at over 1000 degrees centigrade. It is here that a bidimensional or tridimensional piece acquired its skin, its more or less glazed ceramic fabric. As the heat intensifies, a chromatic explosion ensues, dilating unlimitedly its expressive value.

Round dish with a pair of grasshoppers, with contrasting colours, resting on a strawberry plant branch heavy with its juicy and ruddy fruit.

A frontal face and a dragon with its eyes open stand out from the background in warm tones. The bluntness with which we are faced stirs up the expressive flame inherent in the work.

Feminine figure with long slender neck.

The hair is red, the face is pale, and the clothes exhibit a flowery pattern matching the hat, also of a blue colour.

Twin figure in transition, between black and white, with wings. The faces are human, and the body is a bird’s. This horizontal ceramic piece bears an oval shape.

Two teardrops.

Two relief square tiles exhibit two frontal faces. Two teardrops run down one of them. They both stand in front of us and do not communicate content.

Freedom, windows, tiles that open to the horizon

Square tile panel, with relief inlays that are scattered across a predominantly blue and greenish mesh. The formal play of the square shape is especially evident in each tile, but also in the whole of the work. This shape, either with a more saturated or luminous pigmentation, generates a persistent rhythmic pattern. It emerges as colourful sweets with fruity flavours, as natural fragrances, as birds, little girls and boys joining in this feast of the senses. The rabbit, the rainbow butterfly, the hopping locust, the birds in the water and in the sky, the friendly flower, everything allows a glimpse into a sweet, tender, enchanting and peculiarly amicable world. The lemon vine against the bluest sky, cherries and other red fruits, a full basket, everything is fruit, everything is nature. This panel conveys, in its substance, an inexhaustible creative root. The expression of freedom, with the tiles as windows opening to a street, a garden, an endless field, is the blue of outdoors, of playtime, of leisure hours running and flying in the open.

In another work, this one presenting a white colour, freedom is revealed by a world flown over by a pair of white doves, while a pair of humans beholds the scene.

The doves, with Teresa Cortez, may attain colour, and they largely coexist with human beings. In the case of another ceramic panel, a female figure looks like an authentic flowered field. Flowers abound, two birds kiss, such is love…the red tears, in this context, appear to concern a wounded heart. In another work, the two doves are juxtaposed, as in a jigsaw, with the two humans. In profile, everything is a clear look towards the future.

Symbolic representation, in the feminine, is a permanent concern of this visual artist. Saying woman, here, is to fully affirm her presence as such, to sketch her self-portrait, to sculpt Frida Kahlo in a red flower, to think the feminine, with flying hair, free like the wind: bodies that blend in with blooming nature; branches heavy with the greenest or most colourful leaf; a face wherein a flower grows with no apparent meaning; one face weeps, another one smiles, another one simply looks ahead in our direction, with its cherry earrings; one is the little red riding hood, the other is a girl with braids tied with red ribbons; another one is blood, pain, the heart ripped out of the chest; another woman appears with her mask made up of the eyes of two white doves and, in another high-relief ceramic piece, a sun, a flower or the full moon, also very bright; in another, the hair is made of wheat stalks and the clothes are a snail “town”… houses of our land dressed in the feminine, Frida and Diego embrace the white dove of love, and in yet another one, she paints a self-portrait and, in her most childlike imaginary, appear the most dream-like Queens and Princesses from fairy tales. Whenever Teresa Cortez expresses the feminine, she is asserting a space for experience, for artistic expression, for an equitable world.

Relief textures are ceramic objects explained by their own appearance. Their surface, the smooth or rough “skin”, the mesh, the weft, tactile organic forms, are known, learned through visual impact, when we know them and face them with our own hands. The visual language employed in the creation of these pieces affirms an epidermal purpose pertaining to the objects, the things, the “world”. To bestow a tactile sense to the body of things, in their exteriority, but also as a whole. A synthetic manifestation which is in itself a reflex, an expression, an appeal to all the senses. The forms are made known as signifiers of feeling.

Ceramics with history

The artist tells stories, narratives laid out by brushstrokes that unfold as if she was telling us, with each work, her story. In the earthly space between sky and earth, she defines nature, with real or imagined places, with people, animals, fairy tales, legends and many birds, cats, fish, butterflies and dragonflies emerging here and there. The exotic world of nature, of animals, trees and leaves, the ceramic enclosing stories of princes and maidservants, Cinderellas and Snow Whites, pigs in the most endearing fable, cats that put on long boots, queens and kings crowned also in their love, and the dream of the full-bellied Wolf, thinking about Little Red Riding Hood. John the Mouse embraces his wife, Lady Beetle. In this marriage ceremony, with rabbits, pigs, horses, snails carrying their house on their back, and a little girl, everyone is together in celebration of a happy ending… they married and live happily ever after. In “White faces or white souls”, Snow White has not only black hair, but also black skin, and her Prince Charming, wearing a turban, appears to come from Palestine. Here the stepmother is white, and the dwarfs all have colours. They are all together for the sake of a brotherly world. In the differing colours and gender, here we all are diversity in equity and all sorts of stereotypes are put aside.

In Teresa Cortez, the taste for creating and recalling childhood and youth stories is a way to come closer to a fantasy world. With ceramics, she outlines her protagonists and background actors, defines props, contrasting colours, highlights by means of relief a flower, a little girl, ducks and ducklings, peacocks, stages that are the inside of a house, or outsider, and in one of her ceramic pieces we even come across a representation of the author riding a bike. The landscape is defined by ochre tones with the sun peeking out in reddish orange. Her dress is like a flowered garden and her path is a place of never-ending fantasy, since her journey has neither destination nor schedule. Everything is as free as the wind and a bicycle ride, like the boy with a paper hat and a wooden horse galloping in the peeking sun. Every little thing is cause for contentment. With rhythm, with movement, with the sketched sound, everything is a reason to signal the coming dawn, the blast of a horn ripping the starry sky. “The produced sounds” spell Love. Here, even a cat and a mouse are partners in friendship.

Ceramic jars

In her ceramic jars, Teresa Cortez gives shape to the terracotta, adjusting unlikely configurations. Her hands model representations of the animal world, of nature or simply a face. These are circular, cylindrical, more or less oval, almost spherical volumetric shapes which, in high relief, lodge their residents. Floral motifs, heart-shaped roses, daisies, colourful ornaments of nature, feminine faces, individually or in circular groups, with straight or braided hair, birds, toads, beetles, pigs sprouting in every pot. Each piece finds its own essence in the body generated by the mass, which thereby defines the corporeal.

To shape every sculptural object is to grasp a meaning, a physiognomy, an appearance inscribed in the matter addressed. The future to come is the outcome of the involvement, the touch that kneads, metamorphosing it. The organic matter, emerging from the earthly body, engages our senses. The terracotta, shaped by the hands of the artist, acquires an aesthetic value as sculptural object. It excites in us a wider-reaching glance, with each volume joining the hollowing of each jar, of each container.

The hands of the author are the overall tools that embrace the birth of each work. In a pale head, crowned with white and gracious calla lilies, there is peace and quietness. In another, a woman with touching eyebrows, a unibrow, leans over, lying on her left side. In her ear, a striking red-petalled flower, in dialogue with her lips, also ruddy. The lively colour stands out on the unconscious, sleeping face, upon entering the world “pollinated” by the warm colour, praise for the most passionate dream.

A woman dressed in white, white face embracing a toad, and the damned monkey on her should anxious to join in the play. Animals and woman greet the heart of the most tropical of forests.

In other representation, in the feminine, a small deer rests on her lap and a bird appears in her braided hair. The face and the clothing are white and, in everything else, colour prevails.

In the bathtub, the artist explores the value of laid bare freedom, unencumbered by prejudice, the discovery of open friendship, the water as a blanket that covers our body, as therapy for the mind, for the sound clean body, with the most alluring fragrance for the senses.

In the East, especially in China, the bath was traditionally an occasion to relieve every type of tension. Bathhouses had pools where men and women gathered to enjoy a moment of overall hygiene and socializing. Massages, haircuts, pedicure, a pleasant board game, a good chat, the ideal place to sing unrestricted, everything took place in the silence of the water flow.

In Portugal, bath time was not always regarded as a moment of leisure… baths mainly fulfilled the purpose of hygiene and were intended to remove the most stubborn grime. For many of us, the bathtub was and still is an unmatched fun place. Where else do we ponder over the good things in life? Where else do we calm down after a bad moment? Where else can we play with a boat that carries us to new worlds? The bathtub is where a simple plunge is a cue for us to turn into an aquatic being. Who has not experimented in making waves? Who has not played with the forever friend, the rubber duck? In the bathtub, Teresa Cortez creates small-sized sculptural objects recreating a stage, a life which is more simple, uncomplicated and relaxed. In the bathtub, do body and mind submerge and is our very own identity built anew? This challenge is presented here as a caricature of our daily life, in which the narrative we come across in Teresa Cortez’s bathtubs has no barriers: a fully clothed little girl rides a peacock which, galloping, plunges into the core of the bathtub; another one, with a pair of long braids, takes a glance, in her thoughts, at the horizon; a red bird and a little girl have an eye-to-eye chat; a young woman in a bikini, stretched out on top of a monkey, appears to bathe in the bluest dream; a variety of people and animals populate the blue, more translucent flow. Roosters, chickens, peacocks, a rabbit, a naked woman, Fernando Pessoa, a nun in the full habit, bathtub reading. The explanation goes on and on and continues in the sofa and in bed. More or less naked bodies, with cats and people, exude freedom. A toad and a donkey, both sitting on chairs, facing each other or back to back? An elephant that looks like a zebra and a little girl with a red ribbon on her head; in a sofa, wearing knitwear that looks like giraffe skin, it snuggles with a real giraffe; Marilyn Monroe, even sitting, sports her flying skirt; the men and the woman, the cats, male and female, have a human presence; a chubby girl plays with a chubby pig. Elders, youth and children, they are all part of the friendliest habitat.

In the water, naked bodies join the translucent aqueous body. Brushstrokes are juxtaposed: blue, greenish and white, placid or troubled water, floating bodies, peeking when they bathe in the current. In the ceramic, sailing ships can be spotted on the horizon. On the beach, lying naked bodies stand under the blazing sun: in the vastness of the water, the silhouette of a body, buttocks, breasts, feet, genitals, everything is body, everything is nature dipping in the ocean. A couple jumps on top of the sea waves, a little girl kicks to stay afloat, in the water, mirror faces merge with schools of fish surrounded by the human body, the earthily body of the water and by the clearest air!

© 2020 - 2021, Teresa Cortez