Is it all about the “I”?

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Choosing an artwork has a lot to do with one’s experience of life; how one relates to everything surrounding us, to our experiences, even to our genetics and to our personal history.

What role did art play in your childhood and teenage years? Were there any artists or collectors in your family?
My father was interested in architectural design. He was an extremely gifted person and his interests encompassed a wide range of areas, from design and architecture, to advertising graphics and caricature. Thus, I grew up in an environment in which art was a language. Different forms of art have always been important to me. First it was music, then images and then, later, literature – which for me is the most important of them all. It is through literature that you become aware of the world around you. And I’ve always lived around such practices. Interestingly enough, my profession is as an administrator of hospitals. I started off by attending law school. It was after passing a test, and as I was looking for a profession, that I got accepted into the hospital administration course. I have spent a lot more time and have a much greater interest in art and culture. I also write, and have just edited my first book.

What made you decide to start collecting?
The decision to start collecting had its roots in my youth. I felt the need to be surrounded with pictures and nice, pleasant things. I realized this when I was still very young; that such things were good and that they appeased and calmed me. Such things made the world less dangerous, less bad. This was my impression. I started collecting here, in the area in which I live, near Oporto. One day an interesting photographer came to the area and I was able to buy some of his works at a low price. Shortly afterwards, when I had already started making money, I passed in front of a gallery, saw something I liked and bought it. It was extremely satisfying for me, to be able to come home and put the painting up on the wall. From that point on, I started to cultivate and build up this relationship with art; just as I had when I’d collected discs and books. I think everything I own is connected: my art collection is a part of this act of gathering which I have been doing all these years.

And do you still own that first artwork?
No, I ended up selling it a few years later. Nothing justified having it anymore. I had stopped having that initial relationship with it which had made having it worthwhile. It is curious that it was the only piece which I did not send to the Serralves Foundation. I do not keep anything in my home, which is practically empty. But I kept this piece here, realizing that it wasn’t as important, that I should no longer have it and that’s the reason I sold it. It was the only piece I have ever sold. The first piece I bought was in 1983.

Is there any particular reason why you decided to leave your collection at the Serralves Foundation?
I had to really, as it had got to the point where I had 50 pieces at home and it was getting to be too much. I had also started to worry about what might happen should there be a flood or a fire; something that could put an end to it all. I had no money to pay for insurance costs so the possibility of placing them in Serralves was a godsend. If it weren’t for that, things would have been very difficult. I might not have continued the collection. If it wasn’t for the Serralves Foundation, I would not have been able to have my collection.

Do you have an idea of how many artists are represented in your collection?
I’m afraid not, although probably around 20 to 24. Only Portuguese artists, some of which whose artworks I started buying when they were still very young, and some of those who had just graduated from the Fine Arts school here in Portugal. In some cases I have 30 pieces by one same artist. Possibly even forty. The collection is thus focused on a group of artists that I like. The pieces must be accessible, for if they are expensive I cannot afford to buy them. I often buy works in installments.

You still managed to buy pieces from very important Portuguese artists, such as Rui Chafes and Álvaro Lapa.
Yes, I bought works of Rui Chafes through a gallery. When his works began to increase in value, I stopped buying. There are some artists whose works I am unable to acquier after a certain time. But as long as it is possible and if the artists facilitate, and some of them do, I will buy. I must admit that I spend all my savings on art. I do not see it as an investment because I believe it has a strong emotional charge.

So do you believe you have a good eye when it comes to young artists?
I do not know … It’s complicated. I think there are things I like and others which I don’t and it’s all very intuitive. Choosing an artwork has a lot to do with one’s experience of life; how one relates to everything surrounding us, to our experiences, even to our genetics and to our personal history. There are so many things that can influence our decisions. It’s a bit of everything which allows us to make a decision. And then an artist can become known or not. Sometimes those who become known are not the ones one considers to be the best. Economic value is something very artificial. These things are all very relative. I do not really consider the question of value and the market. I think the market is a game and that it has so little to do with the art itself

How do you decide which artworks to purchase? Do you consult advisors, rely on the opinions of others or do you choose works purely on your own?
No, I do not ask for advice. I follow my own intuition. If I didn’t, the collection would no longer be interesting to me. The collection is something intimate, personal, direct. It’s a very personal relationship. I am the only one who knows what the pieces symbolize, what they mean to me. It’s hard for me to explain to others. For example, when some of the artworks from my collection were displayed in exhibitions, I felt uncomfortable. It was as if one became naked under the gaze of others. I felt self-conscious, being there and having people looking at the collection and then at me. It is a life project; a life choice one assumes. The collection only makes sense when it is seen and understood alongside the books I have read, the music I have listened to, and through my experiences. It is a whole. When one shows only the collection, one is showing but the tip of the iceberg. What is beneath the surface is much bigger. I see music, books and art as an ecosystem of sorts. It is a system that flows, a system which is not contaminated. It does not suffer from global warming, from pollution, if you see what I mean.

You mentioned that you sold the first piece which you purchased. Has your taste changed over time?
Of course, and a lot. One cannot really compare it. I am glad it has and it will continue to do so. I work hard for things to change and I do not want them to be always the same. There are a number of things which I practise daily, with some discipline. I write and read regularly, up to several hours a day. I also listen to music daily. Things are supposed to change. The art is supposed to change. I like risky things. I do not like things that are known.

Do you often meet the artists before buying an artwork?
No, but I get to approach the artists through their works. If I do not like a piece, even if it is by a very close friend of mine, I will be implacable. A collection has a lot to do with the person who owns it and I see it as standing as a reflection of one’s life. I don’t believe there is such a thing as people being one thing in life and another in their collection. I’m so removed from the system, so far away from everything. I do not use the collection as a platform for promoting myself. Anyway, it’s nice to know that there are people interested in it. The collection has a lot to do with me.