The Portuguese artist Add Fuel reinterprets the language of traditional tile design, in particular the Portuguese azulejo (glazed tiles).
His technique of revealing and obscuring surfaces beneath or on top of existing structures and walls creates a unique optical illusion effect. From a distance his vector-based or stencil works appear to be recreating traditional motifs but are in fact brimming with pop and contemporary art references. On closer inspection it’s possible to discover a hidden world filled with humour and rendered with a masterful attention to detail. At the core of his practice is this desire to encourage the viewer to think about the history and heritage that lies beneath the facades and pavements of our cities.
To contextualise his street pieces, Add Fuel researches traditional patterns from the region in which he is working. For his participation in NuArt Festival he worked with traditional ‘Rosemaling’ patterns taken from the Rogaland region.
Today we share our interview with Addfuel along with video and photos of this production for the festival. Special thanks to Martyn Reed, the entire NuArt crew and all the participating artists for making Instagrafite having such a great time!
Julie: It was lovely finally meeting you, I am really interested in your artistic background
Addfuel: I have a university degree in graphic design and I worked for a long time as a graphic designer and illustrator. I don’t really define myself as a graphic designer considering I haven’t worked as such for the past ten years. Illustration has always been a passion for me, I’ve been drawing for a long time and I felt that graphic design wasn’t the right path for me so I moved on to freelance illustration.
Back in 2008 I had the chance to do a project in my hometown of Cascais, a steeped in history coastal town near Lisbon, so I really wanted to do something that would translate its legacy and history and that I would also identify myself with as a Portuguese.
I incorporated my illustration in a simple pattern and used the 17th century blue and yellow colour scheme. It worked quite well and as I was pleased with the result I really felt I needed to explore and develop this theme further.
I checked out some ceramic techniques and got a few machines for my studio to make tiles. This is when I felt I had to put my work up on the streets. I kept exploring that area using the ceramic tiles to create several limited editions but I also started delving into the stencil technique onto the walls.
These days I’ve been working on stencil works, murals and ceramic based on tiles and patterns mostly azulejos (glazed tiles).
Julie: Could you talk me through your acquired style by contextualising your street pieces?
Addfuel: It’s very important for me to contextualise my pieces. My work is essentially based on the visual thematic including the reinterpretation of the traditional Portuguese tiles and how these can be integrated into a more contemporary and urban set up.
This is also mostly why I incorporate the ripped effect. I’m working with something old, something that always existed, so when I rip the wall or the surface I want to reveal what’s underneath our cities and our cultures. However it doesn’t always fit. When I travel and I get to paint in another country where I do a lot of research about the location I am visiting and its background so that I can try to find elements for me to work with. This was the case with Tunisian ceramics, textile patterns from Mulhouse in France and the Rosemaling designs here in Norway.
I keep exploring the same trompe l’oeil visual effect that I do with the Portuguese ceramic tiles. If you look at my work from a distance you’ll see something that resembles a very traditional and typical patterns but if you look up close you’ll then discover all the elements I include in there, my own elements from my illustrative universe. Sometimes I add figures in my murals instead of just patterns. This is something quite new to my work and that I am really enjoying exploring. I had the idea about adding figures when I was researching some tiles for a mural. I became fascinated by the details on those large scale 17th century ceramic panels that represented daily life scenes and landscapes, and not just patterns. I only do these figures when it makes sense for me, when there is something or someone I feel could be a nice addition to the final piece.
Julie: You mentioned it earlier, your outdoor mural for Nuart is based on the ‘Rosemaling’ pattern. Could you tell me a bit more about this choice?
Addfuel: The Rosemaling reinterpretation for Nuart was something that just felt natural for me to do. As I mentioned above, I do quite a lot of research about the country I’m travelling to.
Rosemaling was something that came up almost instantly and during a conversation with Martyn, the founder of NuArt, James and Marisa from the NuArt crew, everyone really liked the idea so the Rosemaling was a perfect match for this mural.
While sketching for the mural composition I felt I needed to destroy the rhythm of this pattern as it was so homogeneous and steady. Then the idea a of disruption and breaking the pattern to create this feeling of a familiar comfort in people came up. The flawless blue Portuguese-tile-like squares achieve this.
Julie: Having seen you progressed on this piece and the work itself I could not only help but notice your attention to details. Could you talk me through your process?
Addfuel: I do care a lot about details and I’m willing to add them in my stencils in so many ways. My drawing style is very detailed and I do like adding hidden elements in the artwork itself. I like to create details within details, layers of communication, so it gives my work room for interpretation.
For this specific piece I added the natural and organic flow from the Rosemaling, mixed with the patterned rotation of tiles around the theme of disruption as explained earlier as well as some elements left to be discovered in the stencil itself.
I think each mural, each intervention has it’s own life cycle and story. In Stavanger, I didn’t get much interaction with people while painting up on the lift all day, but the feedback I got from locals was really good, people really related and connected to the Rosemaling and recognised it straight away. It gave me that mission accomplished feeling!
Talking about the lift… it got stuck in the mud twice in a same rainy day, it was fun but at the same time a quite stressful experience as you can imagine.
Julie: Your indoor production at Tou Scene was made in collaboration with the artist EVOL. How was the experience?
Addfuel: I’ve been following EVOL’s work for quite some time now. I really like it, loving the details! It was great having this opportunity to accomplish something together, it was a really exciting experience.
Julie: Let’s talk about your indoor production in more details. What was your approach in terms of layout, arrangement and colours?
Julie: What were your highlights during NuArt Festival?
Addfuel: NuArt was an intense but really enjoyable experience for me, I worked really hard and as far as I am concerned I’m really pleased with both the indoor and outdoor pieces.
I am both very happy with the end result and grateful for the amount of work and patience the printer put into my print “mulig possibilitās” for the Nuart Utopia Box Set.
I also got to meet really good people and see some friends as well. Overall I had an awesome experience!
Julie: Any exciting projects coming up next?
Addfuel: After NuArt I travelled to Northern Portugal to ESTAU in Estareja where I did some small paintings in power boxes, which is always good fun for me.