Marta Monteiro
São Bento Station

Published from Porto, 27th September 2012
Introduction, Photography & Interview by João Drumond
Illustrations by Marta Monteiro
Video & Sound by Ana Manuel & Paulo Catumba
Translation by Lúcia Ribeiro Sousa

Jump to the Interview

Marta Monteiro is an illustrator who vanishes trough drawing the edges between commission and self work, two kinds of work she says to be necessary for her balance, developed simultaneously with some animation and direction projects, having also worked as a teacher. To talk about her work is to talk about her brilliant drawing skills, composition and color accuracy, her characters who solitarily inhabit either a furnished domestic interior, a desert beach, a wild forest or a dark and shiny dance-floor, but also her ability of managing all these skills, curiously developed while still studying sculpture at the art school. Marta was born and lives in Penafiel but, maybe due to her past as a student, or due to her friends and exhibitions, she keeps traveling regularly between this neighbor city and Porto, the city where's she's planning to live in the future. Sometimes during these travels, and when the observers are not too many, her shyness makes way for narratives on her sketchbook, with the spontaneity and the motion which the studio board does not allow. São Bento Station, the waypoint between the two cities, was therefore the chosen place for this article.

The official opening of the Station of Porto São Bento dates back to 1916. Considered World Heritage, it is the railways central station of the city, with its main doors open to the Almeida Garret Square. It was projected by José Marques da Silva, the architect who signs the building front. This front, ressembling the French architecture from the nineteenth century, does not reveal what the inside hides — an imposing gallery of 20.000 tiles painted by Jorge Colaço which line the walls with historical themes like the marriage of D. João I, the conquer of Ceuta or even some illustrations showcasing the development of transportation. In the next room, the fact that the platform is not totally covered, transforms the station in a space filled with intense but filtered light, resembling a cloister or a backyard, where the sidewalks, extending through the entrance of the tunnels, are also characteristic. São Bento might be called a city icon, a mandatory touristic spot and has been selected worldwide as one of the most beautiful train stations. To get there, follow the map.

Do you think that your college education in Fine Arts and Sculpture somehow influenced the work you are developing nowadays?
College gave me the tools necessary to improve my drawing skills, fundamental and indispensable when it comes to Illustration. However, the drawing subjects I attended merely taught me to represent the visible. On the other hand I had a bunch of theoretical subjects that not only allowed me to create a reference framework in the context of Visual Arts, but also helped me developing critical thinking.

Animation, comics and illustration are just some interests that one can associate with your work. Do you feel the need to explore the narrative potential of different media?
I always enjoyed to read and stories in general. What brought me into illustration was, on the first hand, the comics and later animation cinema. If it were not this comics saloons in Porto and the fact of having worked at Filmógrafo while attending college, I would probably never have this interest I do now have for illustration. Now answering your question directly... I really do like to try different ways of expression but I just inevitably come back to illustration and drawing.

In which areas do your biggest references work and where do you find your inspiration?
Literature and Visual Arts are undoubtedly my main influences and sources of inspiration. Cinema, music and friends do also boost my creativity.

Part of your work seems to be closely linked to the exercise of drawing, exploring traditional materials like graphite and crayons in a very contemporary approach. What significance do you attribute to these techniques?
I do use graphite mainly because it allows me to get results fairly quickly. I'm not the most patient person in the world, so I often turn to materials and techniques that make possible to see results almost instantaneously.
However it was not always like this. I remember that my early works were far controlled and I was always so happy to spend hours or even days around an image. Right now is precisely the opposite.
On the other hand working in black and white is something that pleases me precisely because it is a more direct way of communicating. Color adds information to images and I tend to simplify. I also do like to vary. I can not do the same thing over and over again, hence this need to experiment distinct techniques and materials. When I feel I ran out of possibilities with graphite or that I'm getting too used to it, I will certainly seek out other materials or techniques.

Does teaching somehow complements your work as an illustrator?
It is certainly a complement. I developed interest in subjects which I would hardly do per my own interest and encouragement. I see myself as a more reasonable and less tendentious person regarding to illustration (and comics) after being a teacher. Nowadays the figure of a Master Teacher makes no sense and teach must transcend the person that is teaching. I do not see any benefit in teaching a bunch that would pretty much just copy my mannerisms. When I had to respond to the needs of students I saw myself almost obliged to rationalize about images, books and quite distinct interests from mine. It is hard to do but if done right we all win.

What about your relationship with online self publishing and the act of sharing influences and inspiration with other professionals in the same area?
I prefer books, the physical object, however and purely because of the lack of financial resources, Internet is my first choice when it comes to searching tools. The vast majority of works and illustrators Ive been following were discovered by me via Internet. This sadly means that I have a very poor and incomplete vision of most illustrators I admire. Their work is published online out of context, away from its origin and often ungrouped. Regarding the publication of my work ... I usually turn to digital media. Not only because it is definitely cheaper but also because it allows me to stay anonymous.

Tell us more about your commercial work. What are the major differences between it and gallery work. Do you have preference for any of them?
I do not have preference for gallery work over commercial work or vice versa. I need them both to keeps me happy and balanced. I like the commercial work because it normally has very defined goals and I do always know what I have to do to get the best results. On the other hand I really like the absence of boundaries on self proposed/gallery work. I pretty much tend to develop work in both ways.

What is your relationship with Porto and with the place you chose for this interview?
I lived and studied in Porto for several years. Nowadays I come to Porto to work, to be with my friends. I'm even buying a house here.
I chose São Bento Station because it is my entry and exit point to this city. I spend some time in this place waiting for the train that will take me back home. I take advantage of these moments to reevaluate myself, to arrange my thoughts and have new ideas. As you can imagine it is very different from being at home sitting on the drawing board, where I almost feel the obligation to produce.

How does the spaces you normally attend influence your work process and the final product of it?
It is not necessarily the space that influences me... it is more about the circumstances. For example, I can work on the train as long as there is no one seated next to me... despite being a challenge to draw in motion! I must admit I need peace and quietness to work. I have some difficulty to focus in the crowd or even smaller groups, because I feel observed just like an artist on stage.

How would you define the panorama of Illustration in Porto?
I do not know in detail the whole Illustration picture in the city. But yes, I noticed that there is a certain excitement around it. There it not only more people interested in producing but also more people interested in spreading Illustration; it can only be very healthy.

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