I have just spent two weeks in Coimbra, Portugal. I was on my first artist residence ever, and I had my very first solo show abroad. Furthermore I discovered a new city and met a lot of wonderful people.
The reason for this was actually my journey to Lisbon last year, where I did a series of house drawings, which was noticed 200 kilometers up north, in Coimbra. A group of people working at the cultural association Casa da Esquina was starting up an exhibition space called Marquise. One of them was Ana Frois, that you might know here from idoart.dk.
Marquise is a project that organizes illustration exhibitions, and when you look at their quite impressive programme for 2016, you see seven exhibitions with serious working illustrators, among them three foreigners. I think it’s such a great way to connect the illustration scene amongst europe, and this focus on illustration artists is something I wish there would be much more of everywhere. So, when they invited me to do an exhibition with my Lisbon drawings, I instantly said yes! Besides the Lisbon drawings, I thought it would be an obvious idea to do a series of drawings from Coimbra as well – so I announced my arrival 12 days before the exhibition, just enough time to get to know the city a bit, and get some drawings done.
Since it’s not possible to fly directly from Copenhagen to Coimbra, I flew to Porto, an hour by train from Coimbra. My flight was delayed, so I ended up arriving in Porto late at night, spent the night at the airport hotel, and woke up to a rainy, stormy morning. This wasn’t the weather I expected after flying almost 3000 kilometers south! So, a little disappointed I got on the train to Coimbra, and all the way the weather was the same; grey and rainy. But exactly when I arrived in Coimbra, the sun came out!
I was met at the train station by Ana Frois, with kisses on the cheeks, which is the way you greet each other in Portugal. I had to get used to two changes during my stay in Coimbra; you do not hug, you kiss on the cheek, and you do not drink café latte, you drink espresso! These are very important things to remember. We drove through the city on the way to our first destination, Casa da Esquina, and I instantly liked it. The houses are old and charming, and I spotted several remarkable houses that I could draw. The steep, narrow streets covered with cobblestones was exactly what I had imagined, and I was happy to be back in Portugal.
We arrived at Casa da Esquina, the sweetest, pink house and the place where the exhibition was going to be. There are several things happening in the house besides the Marquise exhibitions. On the first floor different cultural projects have ateliers and offices. Downstairs you find a sewing workshop and two big, white rooms that are used for all the different activities of the house; exhibitions, workshops, meetings, and so on. The activity is high, and a lot of people are coming in and out of the house everyday.
Afterwards I was introduced to Felipa, who was also one of the organizers of my exhibition, we drove to the house where I was going to stay. I actually had no idea of where it was or how it looked, but I got gladly surprised to find out that it was a nice, yellow house on the top of the old part of the city, between small passages where laundry are hanging on strings outside the houses, cats are wandering around and old ladies are taking their time to climb the steep streets. The name of the street was Palacios Confusos. It was also close to the university, the oldest in Portugal, that enthrones on the top of the city and houses many students. My room had a beautiful view over the river and I had absolutely nothing to complain about!
I used the next couple of days wandering around the city, exploring every corner and building and getting used to the rhythm and routines of my new, temporary life. I was looking for motives to draw and took a lot of photos. Almost every day I had lunch in the same canteen, where I discovered traditional, portuguese food. There are several of these canteens in the city that feeds the many students, and it was nice to be among the locals. Near the canteen I discovered a beautiful garden with banana palms, orange trees and other plants. Felipa told me that it was an ecological garden, and that it was also the headquarter of the gardeners of the city. It was here that I for the first time ever had an orange that I had picked directly from the tree – I felt very happy and exotic!
Some days I went to Casa da Esquina to work and talk with the people there. A group of art and design students from the university had an internship at the space, and they did a small video with me. I went to a spring party with them and attended the opening of a really nice exhibition at the Center for Visual Arts, that I will tell you a lot more about in another blog post soon! In other words, a lot was happening, but first and foremost I was in Coimbra to draw, and so I did!
In my little, old house from 1728, I made a nice place where I could draw, and since the place had no WiFi I could sit quiet and undisturbed for hours, just drawing, listening to music and occasionally eat a cake that I bought from the pastelaria (they have really good cakes in Portugal). In the evenings I would sit on the bed in front of a big, round table that I borrowed from another room in the apartment, to get light from the ceiling lamp, and in the afternoons I would sit in front of the open window, using the sunlight and enjoying the beautiful view. I really enjoyed these hours of drawing.
I named the exhibition “Catching an Atmosphere”, because I think it’s a good description of what I try to do when I draw, both at home and especially in this project. I had 12 days to catch the atmosphere in Coimbra, and I took it as my primary task to find out what this city was all about – to really get the feeling and atmosphere and then draw it.
The first couple of drawings I did was of individual houses that I found beautiful, and they really were, but I wanted to show more of the city. I went out in the streets with my sketchbook, and just around the corner I actually found what, in my eyes, was the essence of these small streets in my area: A pink house in four floors with a beautiful, blue door, laundry hanging on strings outside, small balconies with plants and two houses looking completely different on each side.
Unbalanced as it was, lying on a steep road called Couraca de Lisboa, it was perfect. I did some sketches, and then I used the rest of the day to do the drawing. Some other drawings that, in my eyes, especially described the atmosphere of Coimbra, was the house I did on Rua Fernandes Tomas, with its white- and blue patterned tiles and old typical lamp hanging on the wall, and the drawing of Arco de Almedina – the oldest entrance gate to the original city of Coimbra. I also did a series of door drawings, because there is an infinite number of spectacular, detailed, coloured, old and beautiful doors all over this historical city. Of course I am not the one to decide if I really did catch the atmosphere – that must be up to the residents of Coimbra. :)
The time went fast, and soon I had to start planning the more practical parts of the exhibition – how many drawings did I have, and how should they be framed and presented? The days almost planned themselves as the opening of the exhibition got closer. I had the feeling that I could stay in Coimbra for months and I had many more ideas of drawings to make, but at some point I had to stop, since there was no more time. I ended up with 12 drawings from Coimbra, plus the 6 I had from Lisbon; 18 in total.
The art and design students that made a video of me earlier, also helped me to set up the exhibition. We did that on friday, and the opening was saturday. I used quite some time to decide how the drawings should be arranged on the walls, and which ones should be set together. Finally I chose to do a simple setup, to get as much out of the bright room and give each drawing the attention that it needed. When I walked home friday evening, it felt strange. I had been working towards this exhibition for so long, and now everything was done. I was excited, relieved and kind of sad at the same time – but mostly I felt so excited about the next day! I used the waiting time to get some sleep, write a lot of postcards to friends back home, buy a couple of souvenirs and drink some nice espresso. Then finally, on saturday, I put on my jacket and walked my way over to the exhibition.
It was a nice saturday afternoon, and people were just coming out of their houses after a bit of rain earlier in the day. I was happy to finally show people what I had been working on, and I enjoyed seeing them recognize the houses or trying to guess the location. Everyone was extremely nice, and I got a lot of positive response – both in english and portuguese! As I have mentioned earlier, there is a lot of people connected to Casa da Esquina, and many of the people that I have met during the days also came to the opening, as well as some new faces. I was happy to see every single one, and it turned out to be a really good day!
On sunday I had the post-exhibition fatigue, that is the kind of relieved tiredness you get when you have worked on something for a long time, and it is over; that, and maybe also a bit of hangovers from the day before, as we went to have dinner and see a concert after the opening. But there was no time to waste, since this was my last day in Coimbra, and there were tons of things I still wanted to see and do. I had to pick out some of them though, and I decided to go to the botanical garden, since I have passed by it every day, and thought about how nice it would be to do some drawings from there – and it actually turned out to be such a nice visit, that I am saving it for another blog post, so keep an eye open if you like botanical gardens, plants and palms as much as me!
Now I sit here in my little studio, back in Aarhus, with so many good memories. Thank you Ana, Felipa and Sandra for inviting me, and thanks to everyone else who has been involved! For the ones who are in Coimbra and still have not seen the exhibition yet, it is open until April 23rd.
Puk Ewdokia (f. 1991) er kunstner og illustrator. Puk har bidraget til idoart.dk siden 2014.