Júlio Resende: drawing converted into public art

In this essay we examine a small part of the extensive public work of Júlio Resende (1917-2011), an artist who brought the concept of drawing to different materials (ceramics, canvas, stained glass, tiles, tapestry) and contexts. From sacred art to street murals, including the convivial space of a café, Resende always questioned the constraints of the surrounding space on his works that continue to dialogue with the everyday observer.

Largo do Souto (1996)’s tile panel

21/04/2022, Gondomar, 11:30 am

Late morning of a weekday, downtown Gondomar, Largo do Souto. The leaden sky extends to the street and lands on Júlio Resende’s tile panel parked there, accentuating its abandonment. Waving in the bright colours of an imaginary sea, it looks more like a ship that has run aground. The small lake that surrounds the panel is empty of water and full of earth, dust and rubbish. Around the panel, life. In the distance, one can hear the children shouting in the school playground, on the other side of the street. Nearby, the hustle and bustle of the bus stop. Opposite, the square’s auditorium looks as desolate as the panel, beckoning you with greyness. They look like old men feeding on memories. One, the memory of the inauguration, the glimmering of the tile and the institutionalised clapping that drove away care and forgot future memory (Costa, 2018). Another, nostalgically awaiting the cultural events of the land, which cover up the need for restoration. Fixed in image, a passer-by feeding the pigeons. And only then I become aware of how suburban the space I inhabit is.

It is the periphery we are talking about. The urban periphery (Área Metropolitana do Porto), the aesthetic periphery – the periphery surrounding the public work, alluded to by Júlio Resende (2006) – and the periphery of the gaze highlighted by Sardo (2013).  While it is true that this panel was built in the centre of the city of Gondomar, its erasure in a place of community and institutional memory is all too evident. And here it is, filled with anachronism, this being “an internal characteristic of monumentality, as an urban device, as a political device and as a social mechanism” (Sardo, 2013, p.133). Although the vivacity and harmony of the aquatic designs, ask the viewers a little more than this fatal fate. Like fish caught in the net. We return to Delfim Sardo, to hopefully find a reason for all this: “Between the referentiality of the exercise of power and the margin of the absence of a contemporary art’ s canon, it is necessary to understand that public interventions can only be carried out when there is a negotiating field that grounds them, a power that assumes that art does not serve for its celebration in the centrality of the square, but to renegotiate, permanently, the public and participatory condition of the common space” (Sardo, 2013, p. 135)

Stained-glass windows and glazed ceramics from the Nossa Senhora da Boavista Church, Oporto (1981-1986)

22/04/2022, 10:00

Here where I am (a bench in the centre of the Church Nossa Senhora da Boavista or do Foco, as it is known) the noises of the city arrive strained, as does the light. In this church-uterus there is a game of mirrors and shadows, which pacifies. Everything is ready for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (so I heard), placed on the secondary altar. The stained-glass windows exude messages of brotherly love, in this time of war. Love as a radical form of resistance. And a Christ that Resende created ascending to heaven, freed from the cross, which is shattered on the wall in ceramic objects. The bell has just struck the hours and is, it seems to me, still an ancestral sound, which unites cultures and times. As if the timeline united in a single point and this in many others. Almost monochromatic squares mark the way of Jesus cross. In them we recognise the cobalt blue of Júlio Resende, marked in characters that broke the conformism, to assist the walk to Calvary. The church is dark. They asked me if they should light it. No, it has to be unprepared for the visitors, murmuring the falling rain, letting in the light filtered through the stained-glass windows. Like eyes that fabricate new realities in the routine of the urban space. Or, in the words of Araújo, “They are a light that, coming from inside, helps us to see what is outside” (2020, p. 119).

I step on this sacred ground, when everything seems banal. And I think that art is a direct link with the divine when disbelief fails us. Júlio Resende wanted it to be exactly like this: a spiritual repository, that would touch the everyday of our lives. “Here would be the uniqueness of this set, […], by the conception, if not innovative, at least unexpected: that of the diaphanogenic tonality, which would allow expanding a Sacred space to the life of everyday life” (Resende quoted by Rocha, 2018, p. 51).

Tile panel in Bolhão Metro (2004)

22/04/2022, 11:30

Friday, late morning. On the surface, tourists with maps, backpacks and suitcases swirl around Santa Catarina, in a dance that intersects with the rush of those who inhabit the city. Sinking towards the metro, the tile panel by Júlio Resende is a shock of light and colour, coinciding with the movement of the metro. Port of entry and exit, permanent passage, there is no serenity here. Before, noise of voices, noise of feet, noise of rails, oscillating escalators, smell of coffee, the cacophony of the coin machine. And the panel, representing the Bolhão Market. Fruit, vegetables, fish, bread, women selling and buying. Eugénio de Andrade’s description of the women that Júlio Resende paints is worth to evoke here: “So perfect is the osmosis between this city and the women that Resende has taken to his canvases, that it is impossible to say which are more real or will last longer, in a kind of victory over death” (2001, p. 18). Resende’s art adds movement to the place and remains present in the landscape. An immense wall that does not limit the artist and justifies his ambition of not drawing for a square, but for an urban space (Resende, 2006). They are hyperbolic figures, as exuberant are the market stalls. In suggestive strokes, colours that stimulate smells and an interpellation that communicates, even if one does not stop to contemplate. A public art work is, therefore, in its essence, a place of provocation and theatricality, demanding a look rather than self-referencing. Or, as Midori states “The work of art, which in modernity was nomadic and self-referential, becomes a rooted work, built from a specific physical context, demanding that it be experienced by the observer.” (2013, p. 65).

Glazed brick panels, Sical Café (1962-1964)

Friday, around 1pm, the Sical Café appears muffled by the huddle of tourists, who suddenly discover the cake shop window, clogging the entrance. Seen like this, the tile panels by Júlio Resende appear cluttered with noise (voices, the coffee machine, plates and cutlery) and blurred by the reflections of the lights that hit them. But little more than an hour later, it doesn’t even seem like the same café. Emptied of the previous hustle and bustle, the confectionery breathes with its retro architecture (1947), revealing a past refinement, which is now refreshed. The place is revisited by the ruins of what used to be, like an old coffee machine. And the clientele that now rests at the tables is made up of employees of commercial establishments or offices in the vicinity, familiar with the rules of the house. Let’s say that in this place the territorialized and the transcultural culture intersect. We don’t know if they get to live together. But they are side by side, on a coffee table. At a first glance, the tile panels seem to date an epoch. If you look closely, they are allusive to coffee (brown colours, cups, people at the table) and there is an irregularity within the conventionality of the commission, in an artist, who had his own perspective on the acceptance of this type of work: “I only accept commissions if they are in accordance with my thinking. I don’t accept to do it just for the sake of doing it, to paint the wall. First, I have to see it. I think that any painter – or any artist – given that their work is going to be inserted in a space, they have to look at that space” (Resende, 2006). While it is true that the confectionery appears in all the guides, and that it is possible to Google it, it is also true that a certain spirit of the pre-gentrification city is still being built here. By the bustle of the staff chatting with customers and with each other, by the sobriety of the space, a bourgeois spot in the city. And, by the way, for not cancelling out the varied pastries with neo-gourmet novelties, which grow in the city at every corner. If these panels reveal an era, as do the high benches and green upholstery that decorate the place, we register its permanent updating in time and space, the fruit of everyday experience. “They are common experiences that are sedimented and associated with a physical space, likely to be accessible also for those of short temporal permanence in that space” (Traquino, 2010, p. 14).

Text and images: Teresa Lima

Published on 06-05-2022


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Araújo, C. M. M. (2020). Os Vitrais de Júlio Resende na Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Boavista : Porto : uma leitura teológica, um itinerário espiritual e catequético, como proposta de evangelização [Mestrado, Universidade Católica Portuguesa]. Porto. http://hdl.handle.net/10400.14/32176

Costa, V. (2018). Júlio Resende (1917-2011). Lugar do Desenho – Fundação Júlio Resende.

Midori, A. (2013). Algumas notas sobre a relação entre o fazer artístico e a sua abordagem ao espaço. In J. G. Abreu & L. Castro (Eds.), Arte pública e envolvimento comunitário: Atas de colóquio internacional (pp. 61-69). Universidade Católica Portuguesa – Porto.

Resende, J. (2006). Júlio Resende [Entrevista a Carlos Vaz Marques]. http://perguntodromo.blogspot.com/2011/09/julio-resende-2006.html

Rocha, D. C. A. (2018). Percurso da obra pública de Júlio Resende. Área Metropolitana do Porto [Mestrado, Instituto Politécnico do Porto. Escola Superior de Educação]. Porto. http://hdl.handle.net/10400.22/14357

Sardo, D. (2013). Arte pública e periferia. In J. G. Abreu & L. Castro (Eds.), Arte Pública e envolvimento comunitário: Atas do colóquio internacional (pp. 125-135). Universidade Católica Portuguesa – Porto.

Traquino, M. (2010). A construção do lugar pela arte contemporânea. Húmus.







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