Artist Residency in Portugal

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção - Church of Our Lady of the Assumption
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção - Church of Our Lady of the Assumption

In June, I went to Messejana in Portugal, to spend 12 days in a creative sphere. What a great experience!

My first impression of Messejana was that of a small, beautiful, blue and white-painted village. I thought I would be standing outside all day painting those beautiful buildings. However, for many reasons, that didn't happen much. In June, it was already pretty hot outside, and the prospect of being outside all day was not too tempting. I tried, but ended up taking lots of photographs instead, and working from those. And, as often happens with me, the people of the town turned out to interest me even more than the buildings.

On one of my first days, one of the neighbour ladys invited me into her house. She gave me a full tour of her very interesting house, including the hens in the backyard.

It turned out her name was Maria, and she is 66 years old. She provides for her husband and daughter (who was hit by a truck when she was 18 years old with the result that she became partially blind and suffered a brain injury). Maria washes the homes of the people in the village. Lately, she has begun to struggle with dizziness and risks falling while working. While growing up, her family struggled, and she and her sisters used to sing to forget about their hunger.

The meeting with Maria made a big impression on me. I knew I wanted to paint her, and communicate a little of her story to other people, because I found it so impressive the way she is able to stay positive and work so hard to provide for her family. And being so generous to people around her.

These stories makes portraits more of a storytelling experience, and is possibly something that will form the direction of my artwork in the years to come.

As is usual with residencies, I had the great company of other artists while staying at Buinho. They were all from America, and we shared some lovely meals and discussions in the evenings. Please check out their very impressive work!

Sarah Thibault - Visual artist
Jen Bockelman - Visual artist
Andra Watkins - Author

After I left, Sarah painted a mural in the centre of the village that I would have loved to see in real life. She also used Andra and me in a photo shoot for her future work. As these girls all stayed a lot longer than me in Messejana, they seemed to build a great community among them that showed me how incredibly fruitful a longer residency can be, giving each other ideas and support. Next time I want to do a long residency, 12 days is really too short!

Andra, Jen and Sarah at one of the great evening meals at Buinho.
Andra, Jen and Sarah at one of the great evening meals at Buinho.

About Messejana: a Portuguese parish in the municipality of Aljustrel, in the Alentejo region, with an area of ​​113.77 km² and 892 inhabitants (2011).

About Buinho: Created in 2015 as one of the very first rural FabLabs in Portugal. Today Buinho is something more than just a FabLab. It is a place where you can eat, sleep, enjoy the unique nature of Alentejo and make cool stuff. Buinho is a work in progress - our vision is to build a network of creative spaces in the historic town Messejana, always available to our members and residents.

I want to thank Carlos Alcobia and Sara Albino who runs the residency for their amazing efforts. Their drive is to cultivate creative passion and possibilities into a small community, and they really give so much of themselves and their love in this project.
This is so inspiring - keep up the great work!!