Zé Cardoso
Salgueiros Lake

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

Jump to the Interview

Zé Cardoso is a young illustrator living and working in Porto who, among Apolinário and other collaborators, co-founded the Salão Coboi collective. Shown up publicly since the exhibition '1º Salão Coboi', back in 2009 at the newborn Dama Aflita gallery, this collective started to unfold its skills from design to illustration, from fine arts to photography, always embracing multidisciplinary experimentation. Zé's drawings and characters shaped part of the identity of this far west european group which he recently left for a more self exploratory trail of new adventures. His last solo exhibition, 'Here be Dragons' took us back somewhere in the Middle Age, when dangerous areas and mythical creatures were marked on the travelers cartography.

When I challenged him to pick up a place within the city, I could already expect such an unpredictable destination that came out to be confirmed. A lake, surrounded by a misterious clearing that, in a silent way, housed many species of birds and wild plants, hidden between Arca D'Água public garden and the Outter Circular Highway. The place, surrounded by houses, walls and fencings is almost inaccessible and invisible for pedestrians and, if we hadn't reached an area resident's terrace who friendly let us in, the view wouldn't have been the same. We were told that this green void would be replaced by the new Salgueiros football club stadium. Zé, however, has a better story to be told.

Salão Coboi’s identity became strongly associated with your illustrative universe. Tell us more about this teamwork experience and how your individual work deviates from the work resulted from this collaboration? Did you decide to adopt a new attitude or direction?
Salão Coboi was originally formed by me and Apolinário back in 2008. The intention was to constitute a group of people connected to design, illustration, film and visual arts who had the will and availability to expose as a group. Although it was not deliberated, this internal collaboration became pretty much visible right in our first exhibition in Dama Aflita, back when we presented our first series of sculptures. Both me and Apolinário (as well as Abibe, Mário and Elder) had an imaginary more or less defined before Salão. Turns out our work has truly benefited from these collaborations which offered us extensive possibilities of representation.

I (officially) left Salão Coboi in January of 2012 and I am sure that my work will lose a lot because of it in the future. It was not an easy decision, but as the territory of Salão was becoming more and more defined, the space for experimentation was becoming increasingly small. Personally, and from what I normally do, I cannot see myself moving and progressing without experimenting and I really feared that Salão Coboi was going to stop there, in that that was my last show as a member – the Generation H exhibition.

From there on, I decided to break with the recent past (not all of it, as I learned a lot in those 2 or 3 years) and invest in something more exciting for me. About the attitude or direction you asked before – hopefully it will be one that opens me doors and gives me freedom of creation. I just don’t want my personal work to become another obligation.

Can you name three persons who have influenced your work or at least who are a reference for you.
Pandora Complexa
Carlos Pinheiro
Bjorn Copeland

You studied Communication Design at FBAUP (Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Porto). Did Design introduce you to Illustration? Do you feel you gained important skills in school?
It was very important to me that Rui Santos (Pandora Complexa) had been my teacher in first year of college. Until then, I liked to draw but did not actually think that I could enfold illustration. It was Rui who made me realize that and, during my academic years, there I was - dragging the courses of Design and Drawing always trying to solve the work proposals through illustration. I do not consider myself a good designer and although I do not blame the school for this fact, I think it was maybe the lack of requirement of Fine Arts which made me feel more comfortable with Illustration.

I actually ended up working in the studio of another teacher of mine – Eduardo Aires’ Whitestudio and he said it happened more because of my abilities as a designer than as an illustrator. Ironically, it was in Whitestudio that I had opportunity to do some of the illustration work that pleased me the most.

How would you describe and what do you think about the current illustration scene in Oporto?
I think that Illustration in Oporto appears in waves or generations and almost acquires the characteristics of the platforms that promote it. Before Dama Aflita, illustration in Oporto was definitely something somewhat marginal, publications came to light in much smaller amounts and exhibitions were not popular events. Cool people were not involved with illustration (attention, this is a highly personal sense of the phenomenon).

Dama Aflita_ has brought a little color to this world and the openings in Dama became a big must for many people who until then had not had a direct contact with illustration. There was a kind of a boom of illustration in Oporto but I think that this was a phenomenon that also occurred in some other European cities during the 2000s.

I think that before Dama Aflita, publications were somehow more privileged and people worked more for them and only afterwards for exhibitions. In these exhibitions, the works on the wall were already published. With Dama Aflita something unparalleled happened – illustration works were being made intended to be exhibited.

I was lucky enough to have taken part of some exhibitions organized by the staff of Senhorio. I think that the generation of Senhorio as well as A Mula (Carlos Pinheiro, Nuno Sousa, Torrie, Marco Mendes, Miguel Carneiro) represent widely different values than those that Ó Galeria (David Penela, Rui Sousa) do. Personally, in a more or less generic way, and organizing the examples from the most independent to the most commercial illustrators of Oporto (among those I know, of course) I would picture it as: Senhorio (o Rudolfo), Dama Aflita (o Salao Coboi), Ó Galeria (o Rui Sousa) and Porto Editora. Of course it is not as literal, it is just my very superficial way of evaluating things as they come to light.

What do you think about independent publishing and social networks? Which level of importance do you attribute to them in the dissemination of your work?
One mother once told me that her daughter used to draw beautifully when she was 4 or 5 years old. All of a sudden (when she joined school) she began to draw like all the other kids. She did not start to draw hideously… she did give up her personal expression during this insertion process.

Facebook is practically the only way I use to promote what I'm doing. I do also have a website which, and again, I just publicize on Facebook. For me and for many many people it is a highly effective advertising tool but it can also be considered a threat to each author’s identity.

I do not mind with copycats; I've come to copy the style of some people too, even before Facebook. Once, during Feira Laica, Nuno Sousa explained that it is pretty much natural that everybody collects themes and characteristics from each other. What really counts is how you manage such influences. It is precisely in social networks that I realize such details as how there are so many people doing similar things - those who are making satanic things, those who are more near street art, those who prefer birdies, triangles and elks… I can’t say that Facebook is responsible for the vulgarization of a certain language or subject but it is doubtless a quick way to expose work, to have a lot of likes, to become part of a community and to feel accomplished with it. However, turns out everything seems to be used up much more quickly; there’s more offer out there and therefore more saturation.

Independent publications do not work in such an accessible way. A publication is a physical object; you can’t scroll it up and down with the mouse wheel. It is there closed and waiting for you to enjoy it. It is a cult object, almost sacred, not disposable. The difference between the work promoted via social networks and the one featured in independent publications is pretty much equivalent to the difference between flyers left on car windshields and invitations in sealed envelopes delivered by hand. It is the difference between an album on vinyl and an album in mp3 format, a printed photo and a photo on your phone. I believe that using a more or less aggressive method; a more or less reserved method is in accordance with the each individual’s dissemination strategy.

Have you pursued commercial ventures? Is it something you enjoy doing or you do it just due to necessity? What are the biggest challenges and differences regarding exhibitions and personal work?
Imagine the following scenario: you make very delicious rissoles and someone hires you to do 100 rissoles for a party: I love your rissoles, I would like you to do a hundred of them to a party that I will throw, but unfortunately I can’t pay you a lot... see this as a good chance to promote your cooking!

You agree but 100 rissoles later the client replies: "Add less salt, please."; "Add turkey instead of veal."; "Do not keep frying in oil."; "You can feel the taste of onions." 500 rissoles for the price of 50 later the client replies: "These rissoles have nothing to do with those you once did." It pretty much sounds like a joke, but very often this is what happens. The difference between commercial work and the personal one is a little bit like cooking to others, subjecting yourself to their demands and compromising the taste of your cooking. On the other hand, the personal work is like you inviting your friends to dinner at your own place to try your new meals; what happens is that this time you do have to clean the house, invite people, buy the ingredients, set the table, make dinner, wash the dishes and clean up the house again.

I don’t know if this even made sense :~)

How are you influenced by the spaces that you normally go to? Do you prefer online or offline inspiration?
I've had my phase of going through blogs and ffffounds to collect ideas and inspiration, but it stopped to happen gradually. Some other things came to me via Facebook but again I started paying less and less attention to it.

I've had folders in my computer with references, and they still there, but I do rarely open them. I do not really know what inspires me...

Inspiration comes out of nowhere – I can explain it as several micro-ideas that are bound to failure at the very beginning but when joined together form a macro idea to explore.¶ More important than a space for itself is how you connect with it and with whom you share the space concerned. People tend to attribute value to spaces depending on the persons with whom they normally frequent it: Tell me where have you been and I will tell you who you are.

Your work is developed with different kinds of media - digital, watercolor, three-dimensional objects among others – this without losing a recognizable and undeniable cohesion. Do you feel the need to reinvent yourself by experimenting techniques?
Yes yes, and I hope this continues to happen. I always thought I should not be comfortable with the first thing that comes your way, at least in this aspect. On the other hand and in other things in life, I agree that I should definitely make an effort in order to maintain that comfort. It's one thing I insist on controlling.

I saw a movie a while ago called Nothing Personal and one of the lines still recorded in my head – it was more or less like this: The talent knows when to stop. It seems essential to me to know your own limits, to know when it is time to stop and move on to something else. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes goes wrong, but I really do think that there is some logical way of progressing.

Describe your relationship with the place you chose. What would make you recommend it to a stranger?
"Hey, do you want to see the place where the Oporto’s mafia hides corpses?"; "Hey, do you want to see where toxic wastes lie in Oporto?"; "Hey, do you want to see the snitches killed by Oporto’s mafia rising up from the underworld and now, thanks to the dumping of toxic waste, glowing in the dark?".

I chose this place because it always seemed to me a very mysterious place. There was a time I had to pass by it every day, twice a day (in my way to and from work), always without making the slightest idea of what it could be. A natural park in the middle of Oporto? It seemed pretty much intact and full of those prehistoric animals that resisted the various eras of history of the planet. Or so they decided to construct buildings and avenues and avoided constructing in that area because it could be cursed or have a secret underground lab or even to be inhabited by a family of zombies that (again) glows in the dark.

I picked this place because it gave me the chance to picture it as I wanted, unlike many other places in Oporto that what they have to offer does not require any kind of imagination by those who normally frequent it.

Then it was featured on Vice, telling that this was the parcel of land where the Salgueiros’ stadium would be built, which due to frauds ended up like this. My Oporto’s mafia assumption should not be very far from the truth.

What about the pros and cons of living in Oporto?
Pros: There is an illusion of a cultivated and evolved civilization.
Cons: It is more expensive than in Fafe; the roads are (depending upon the perspective of the observer) always up or down; people are always the same ones (and so are gossips); Sundays still depressing and it remains a quite small town.

Where do you see yourself in the future and doing what?
Version 1: all dirty and starving to death.
Version 2: with jetpacks and working on computers as the ones in Minority Report.

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