Délia de Carvalho


Interview: Joana Jervell

Born in France, she went to school in Porto — studying Design at Porto’s ESAP (Higher School of Art), followed by Industrial Design at ESAD (Higher School of Art and Design) — after which she decided to live and work in Guimarães. Drawn, in particular, to the many and varied worlds, stories and emotions that faces bring to mind (just for starters), Délia de Carvalho’s creative muse is a spontaneous “dialogue with whatever occurs to me, whether it be shapes, colours, lines or tone.” With little patience for conceptualising and research, the only abiding rule she stands by is “there are no rules.” We met her to get to know her better.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your upbringing… What influence did it have on your artistic practice?

A: Since I was very young, the world of drawing would be my hideaway and before long I knew without further ado I wanted to be an “artist”. It was a fantasy world where anything was possible, my own private kingdom where pen and brush would do their magic. I also had the approval of my family and primary school teacher, which was just the incentive I needed to go on. One of my still-fresh childhood memories is the smell of new board markers.

Q: A few years ago when we talked, you said your work was intimately linked to the “emotional tensions” that you love to explore. Do you still feel the same?

A: I have to say my work these days has less to do with this theme. I’ve intentionally drawn a line between myself and those faces burdened by worries, doubts, loss, and hints of melancholy. At that time, I was more interested in imprinting on the canvas a face which told a story, and which simultaneously was imbued with other layers needing to be revealed. I wanted to stamp my faces with a certain mystery. I continue to explore the human face, what it is to be us daily but the feel is lighter. My use of colour has also become increasingly important, endowing my recent work with a certain joie de vivre. At present, I’m more interested in passing on a feeling of harmony through painting, a state of “order” with our surroundings.

Q: As for the faces you portray, what makes them so fascinating and challenging?

A: As I’m a figurative painter, I’ve always been fascinated with drawing things, but with a particular focus on the human face. Faces express endless possibilities which deserve to be explored somehow. As a theme, they represent a tangled web of complexities: what you see and what lies beneath the surface. The painting of a sit-down portrait can, to a certain extent, function as a therapy session between the model and portraitist, as the painter gets down to capture what he or she sees. The act of posing for a portrait is no less a moment of sharing “oneself”, exposed to the painter’s clinical eye. If it’s not a portrait, but rather a snapshot of anonymous faces, we should still go in search of a glimmer of personality. It’s still vital to imbue the face with an identity and a story to be shared with the viewer. Expressing this “essence” in a face is what is fascinating, and challenging.

Q: What other references can we find in your work?

A: I’m always open to new references, but in my case I paint what I see around me: people, landscapes, animals, places, my immediate surroundings. It can happen that sometimes I feel painting a particular theme in a certain way has reached its logical conclusion. That’s when I need to find new ways to express the same theme, or distract myself by seeking another motif or focus. This normally happens when my process begins to feel like it’s going by the rulebook. That’s when I lose interest. I’ve nothing to add, it’s stopped being a challenge to me.

Q: What’s your ideal setting to create in?

A: As time’s gone by, I’ve understood how important it is to follow the whims of my muse, make the most of it while distancing myself from what’s happening beyond the four walls of my studio, and be totally focused and present in the moment. I lose track of time (and even forget to eat)! Even better, if the rain’s coming down outside, with music on.

Q: “A painting, when it’s done, always means a part of me has just revealed itself,” you also said at the time. Is drawing the natural “stage” for you to access the most private, intimate of places?

A: When I start on a canvas, or a piece of paper or any other painting medium, I bring all my “mes” with me, my different facets, my influences, my certainties, my vulnerabilities, and misgivings. And as I do, believing in the unfolding of the creative process, between choices, questions, solutions, and my impulsiveness — in my “struggle” to make the possible happen — all these “mes” are summoned to partake in the act of creation. I think it’s inevitable a part of me is captured in this “birthing process”. Each painting is unique and unrepeatable, they all have their identity, as they emerged at a specific moment, in harmony with my spiritual state at the moment, my experiences, and lessons learned.

Q: With what materials and on what scale do you prefer to work?

A: My paintings can be big or small, but I would say I prefer working on a larger scale where my technique is more relaxed and free, and my brush strokes and lines can be more expressive. In smaller works, I tend to get more detailed, my technique becomes more controlled and restrained. As for the painting materials, anything goes, whether enamel paints, watercolours or something more opaque. Nonetheless, acrylics are my go-to medium and I like dabs of pure pigment to enliven the colour scheme.

Q: Special people and moments that have impacted you?

A: I’d rather highlight two important events in my career, namely, two solo shows outside Portugal. One in Macau was a chance for me to experience a completely different culture, new ways of being and doing. I remember how at the opening, the entire gallery was decked out with flower arrangements. Here, you’d think you were at a funeral, and it was in line with protocol. The other exhibition was in Brasilia, where I lived out my dream of getting to know a little of Brazil.

Q: Where can we see your work? Is there some future project you’d like to tell us about?

A: The place where you can best see my work is on my website: deliadecarvalho.art or on my Instagram page. At this current time, I have some work on display in the boutique and art gallery, 9 Séculos, in Guimarães.

I’m also involved in other projects, one of them being ceramics, where I’m taking my baby steps, but I’m keen on exploring this further. Soon, a collection of custom bags stamped with some of my paintings will be launched.

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