€10 buys artistic freedom in a place of incarceration

Tour of discovery and creativity in Lagos, Algarve

Works of art put up on walls – at night, I imagine – fade, unable to withstand the sun or time. Originated by outsiders, urban art reinvents the way we experience our locality, the bricks, the mortar, the boundaries.

The paradox is how that same work shifts inside, becomes a coveted object upon monied walls though it’s from artists who once defied the law to put similar work in public spaces.

From walls, great artists grew. SAMO wooed the art-world; was the artist Basquiat? Then, the birth of Blek Le Rat aka Xavier Prou, and along came Banksy who … will we ever know his name, ever see him work?

We need these people to pour colour on boundaries and partitions; to help us look in a different way at walls that are nearly always the same.

Walls inhibit, oppress and confine, no place more than a prison. But, delve into Laboratório de Actividades Criativas, neighboured with the GNR (Portuguese National Republican Guard), to find within a wellspring of creative outpouring.

Incarceration gives birth. Here are 50 artists of multiple disciplines and origins, their talent pouring outwards into the townscape. It is here that, once a year, five acclaimed guest artists embed in a two-week residency that nurtures collaboration, challenges them to work within the structure of the prison, delivers them an outside wall to paint and the town an exhibition to behold.

How do they approach those walls? In what way does inspiration come?
In the blissful Algarve sunshine, in Lagos’ old town, tour guide, musician in residence and key member of LAC production team, Nuno Pereira, tells us and I paraphrase (below left):

“This one, the artist sat for days, a night, looking at the wall, waiting for it to speak.

“I told the artist, one of the top 10 in the world, that we had a wall for him. He said he didn’t know; he wanted to work uninterrupted, but when people see him working, they interrupt him. I said I didn’t know. We would try. When he came, no one interrupted. He said he was happy painting in Lagos.

“The artist said he had to have the street closed off because he worked in an aggressive way. He was right. His work style is very aggressive. It was good we closed off the street.”

“This one, the artist left it to the day before. He came out and looked at the wall and he said he must leave his mark, so what he did is he projected an image of his hand.”

“This one is done free-hand only in black, white and grey.”

The stories go on along the tour. Though they are not present, artists come to life. Attentive ears absorb the stories while eyes gorge upon the detail – traditional Portuguese tiles rendered as stencils with cartoon faces playfully making up the intricacy while Picasso’s face stares out.

The tour group’s appreciation for the process and artists advances. Nuno’s tales inspire us for …

The afternoon’s Experience Stencilling workshop, awash with cuts, bridges, layers.
Experience Stencilling brought new vocabulary and techniques. Jorge Pereira, with his soft demeanour, smiles at us while taping a piece of paper to the prison wall. He explains about layers, cuts and bridges. Demonstrates how to cut the paper to preserve detail.

Bridges are small struts that remain where cuts have been made into the stencil.

For greater detail, for additional colours, we had to compile backwards: large colour first; work up in layers; each containing new detail, another shade, tone, quality.

Press down in places. Ensure the stencil doesn’t bleed.

Apply more layers. The image develops.

Black is the detail, the last touch.

Pens traced shapes onto paper. Photocopiers replicated, each reproduction a different layer with different parts to cut out. Around us, wiser people took up stencils Jorge had previously crafted. We steered on with an image of our own devising.

Scalpels sliced. Layers stuck, gathered pools of spray-paint deftly darted over the stencil to create colour – presence and absence crafting shapes upon the blank canvas that stood in place of walls, walls that did not deserve to harbour our inadequate creations that we took home to put upon our own walls.

If you want to hear the stories and understand the urban art around Lagos, a town, like the LAC artists, nestled within walls, the tour runs monthly. The next tour is this Saturday, February 23. Tickets can be purchased from www.365algarve.pt

To keep up-to-date with the events at Laboratório de Actividades Criativas go to www.lac.org.pt or find them on Facebook: LAC – Laboratório Actividades Criativas