Portugal, the “new California” of artists

Portugal, the “new California” of artists

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The French are fond of Portugal. The French Embassy in Portugal estimates that around 1.1 million French people visited the country in 2020. Ten years earlier, there were only 600,000. Today, after the Spaniards, it is the second most important nationality to visit this small country of just over 10 million inhabitants. Once completed, the visit sometimes results in other long-term projects. Also according to the embassy, ​​there are 1.7 million French people (including many bi-nationals) to be settled there – if only French people are counted, the contingent is estimated at 30,000.

“In addition to the quality of life and the proximity to France, the new generations of digital nomads like to settle there, for reasonable prices”, describes Vincent Grégoire, the director of the trend cabinet NellyRodi, who knows Portugal and its craftsmanship well. Like “digital nomads”, some artists put down their luggage without knowing when they will be leaving.

To encourage them to settle permanently, the organizations are helping out. The Institut français and the French Embassy in Portugal support the development of French cultural and creative industries (CCI) in Portugal. To do this, an “ICC priority mission” has been set up to encourage their development in the country, strengthen their visibility and create a network of resources.

The CCIs include seven courses, including architecture and design, crafts and visual arts. However, it is difficult to quantify the number of arrivals. “We have no statistics on artists who come to settle in Portugal. On the other hand, I can tell you that the requests for support are extremely numerous”says Silvia Balea, cultural and audiovisual cooperation attaché at the Institut français.

A work of street-art at LX Factory, Lisbon. | Anne Chirol

The capital remains the area of ​​choice for foreign artists, in particular thanks to the promotion of disused areas such as LX Factory, a space that hosts international artists and many street art paintings. Lisbon, “it is also a city where things are possible”, according to Silvia Balea. But this city is not the only one to do well.

Porto, a pearl for artists

With the influx of expats and rental accommodation on Airbnb, Lisbon is becoming more and more expensive. Difficult for many Portuguese to stay there comfortably. In summer, the accommodations placed on the vacation rental platform quickly sell out. There remains another city, less international, whose charm is still as strong, even if it is also becoming more and more expensive: Porto.

Porto is a city that makes artistic dreams possible“, describes Victor Marqué. This French artist took up residence there in 2017. Originally, he thought he would stay there for six months and arrived with 3,000 euros in his pocket. Once graduated in architecture, the idea of ​​living in Paris and looking for a job in a reputable studio ceases to enchant him. The stress, the pace of work, the competition… why persist in looking for a life that he doesn’t want to lead?

“The Portuguese are flexible, they have real know-how and a concern for quality.”

Vincent Grégoire, director of the trend cabinet NellyRodi

Five years later, the creator has not budged a bit. And for good reason: this city located in the north of the country brings together multiple advantages, in addition to a certain quality of life. Located by the sea and close to the land where the raw materials are produced, Porto still remains in its own juice: traditional, charming and popular. Strolling through the city, Victor discovers the wealth of craftsmanship in the country, from its ceramics to azulejos (typical earthenware tiles). Of these, he will make his main activity.

Handmade azulejos by Victor Marqué. | Victor Marque

All this was also made possible thanks to the affordable price of rentals, for housing and for work. For example, an artist can pay between 50 and 100 euros per month for his place in a studio, explains Victor Marqué. Difficult to find better in France. The advantage of sharing your workshop is that you also meet other creators there. And other arts.

Tempting craftsmanship and materials

In this workshop, no big machine in sight. “Reconnecting with techniques that tell stories and finding another relationship to time by forgetting the machines, that’s what people want”deciphers Vincent Grégoire, boasting of Portuguese know-how “charming”. Equipped with a simple rolling pin and a wooden plate, Victor Marqué perpetually learns new techniques over the course of his encounters. But also by testing new materials at his convenience.

Every day, he enjoys trying new combinations and goes at his own pace. In other words, profitability is not its watchword. No need to make the same piece over and over again to earn your bread. His work remains a source of wonder. Would it have been the same in Paris? In any case, Victor is not about to leave his adopted city.

Not far from Porto, beautiful beaches complete the picture. | Anne Chirol

For an artist, Porto – and more broadly Portugal – is a strategic place to obtain quality raw materials nearby. Especially since the Portuguese often speak French well. And not only. “The Portuguese are flexible, they have real know-how and a concern for quality. Their culture has something popular, accessible, emotional that speaks to us. We are complicit with them”describes Vincent Grégoire, who adds: “There is a modest side, we are not into bling bling. And that is the strength of Portugal. We are not in the ostentatious, but rather in an idea of ​​proximity.

A risky bet

But all is not rosy. A graduate of the Boulle school in 2001, Toni Grilo chose to settle in the country of his origins once his studies were completed. In 2008, he founded in Matosinhos, near Porto, his own workshop, in which he produces drawings, furniture and scenography. His works take up typical know-how of the country, while adding a touch of modernity.

Let’s take cork, a material that we know in France for the corks that close the bottles of wine and champagne. Toni Grilo revisits this material in an industrial style. According to its brands, the markets differ. He sells his pieces to French, English, Americans, in China… but not at home. “Here, the culture of design is not developed. The Portuguese market does not exist in contemporary design. We must therefore consider the external market”says the designer, also a business manager.

This massive influx of artists from European countries, often richer, brings about a problem linked to globalization.

For Tony Grilo, this cap is essential for working with manufacturers. “You have to go into the factory, talk to people, take the material and show that you want to know. Be curious, humble and know how to talk with people without adopting a creative discourse», he adds. Discourse that would be held more easily in France. For foreigners who don’t speak the language, it’s difficult to meet industry players.

On several occasions, designers confide in him that no one answers their emails. Tony Grilo is amused and replies that it’s normal, because “the Portuguese, you must first get to know them”. And impossible to install his office “at the top”elsewhere than with the employees: you have to be present to be accepted.

A chair from the Cut Collection, designed by Blackcorck, Toni Grilo’s brand. | Run Lola

Communication Officer at the French Institute in Portugal, Fanny Aubert Malaurie explains: “In Portugal, the status of artist is considered more like the status of entrepreneur because it is not a country like France where there is an intermittent performance. The status of artist is perceived differently here because there is no support for creation. It is much less easy than in France.

Regularly, Toni Grilo is contacted by artists who come to settle in the country. And it has already helped many. “For two or three years, the boom has been radical. We talk a lot about Portugal as being the new California of Europe. Australians, Americans… it’s global. And surprising, because it’s a small country in which it’s very hard to work and earn a living. In the media, we often talk about Portugal. I warn people: “Careful, it’s not that obvious, we won’t give you a present here!”, even if everything is possible with hard work. I think it’s great”he rejoices.

Nevertheless, this massive arrival of artists from European countries, often richer, brings a problem related to globalization. When his wife is expecting their second child, the Lisbon prices and the round trips to the north get the better of him and convince him to move to Porto. In Matosinhos, Toni Grilo restores an old building. In just five years, the price has tripled. The problem? It is also increasingly difficult to find accommodation in the center of Porto and its suburbs. “When you have a minimum wage of 700 euros and apartments over 1,000 euros, how do you do it? This is the bad side of internationalization”regrets the designer.


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