The stories of a label: Albuquerque Mendes

The stories of a label: Albuquerque Mendes

Since 1985, we have invited a Portuguese artist to create the labels of our wines Esporão Reserva and Private Selection. This year, it was time for Albuquerque Mendes – one of the boldest painters and performers from the 1970s – to accept our challenge.

Entering Albuquerque Mendes’ studio in Leça da Palmeira is like entering his mind. The path from the door is taken among books, magazines, works, his three children’s toys, collages and items people give him – basically, anything that can provide inspiration to create. Those who enter have a sense of chaos and confusion but, for the artist, everything is in the right place.

The window at the end of the room provides the light Albuquerque needs to work at the large table where he spreads out his watercolours and paintbrushes. Always standing – for the sensation of moving with the paints and materials – he paints and forgets the world outside. There are no watches here, few visitors, and problems or worries stay on the other side of the door. The time is told by the sun, which is often wrong, especially in the summer.

«When I come in here the space is still the same, but something inside me changes. When I enter the studio, any studio, the space becomes an extension of myself. I lose track of time, of the space itself, of my body. I might have a cold, feel sick, have a fever, be depressed but, when I come here, it all disappears. I don’t feel a thing. I feel good. It’s a magical place.»
1 / 3
2 / 3
3 / 3
His studio acts as a magical place. A portal to carry him somewhere else. And, maybe because of this, it is so hard not to be here. He spends his days in these one hundred square metres that seem to have no bounds.

«Painting has always been like breathing for me. Very natural. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always painted, sketched, made things with my hands»

The fact that he was born in Trancoso, a small city in the district of Guarda, didn’t keep Albuquerque from dreaming and finding his sense of the arts. He was transported to other places through the numerous books his father had at home, and from these he would also absorb the culture that, in the 1950s, didn’t exist outside his doors – in his home town.

«In Trancoso there were the books my father had at home. We had many books and they would transport me. In terms of painting, we only had some paintings by Eduarda Lapa, who is a painter from Trancoso, and a copy of a Picasso.»

At the age of 10 he moved to Coimbra, which already had cinema, theatre, ballet, opera – everything he was interested in and curious to experience. It was a new world where he felt more at home. He began by taking an engineering course but then decided to dedicate himself entirely to painting and art. In 1970, he joined the Círculo de Artes Plásticas (Visual Arts Circle) in Coimbra, the place that gave him the freedom of thought and values that mark his identity. There, he rubbed elbows with Ângelo de Sousa, João Dixo and Alberto Carneiro who, with him, made important headway for the arts in Portugal.

Albuquerque Mendes
«In 1974, I started to add performance art to painting and exhibitions. That need came from what I had learned, from the freedom and space I gained at Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra. For me, everything could – and can – be transformed. Anything is possible. I can use theatre, ballet, music, words and sounds to produce a work of art and contaminate through painting.»

For him, his first performance was one of the most striking. In 1974, for the anniversary of the Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra, he produced thousands of paper flowers and distributed them on the way from Porto to Coimbra. “Art is beautiful, everything is beautiful” was the slogan for the construction of a giant carpet of flowers. From that moment on, he never stopped performing and using his body as a complement to painting.

«I like to use my body to create and convey art. Anything my body does has a message, tells a story, adds something. And I like this place that is my body.»
Among his art we find many self-portraits, which originate from this pleasure of feeling, of using his body and finding himself.

«The performances led to the desire to paint self-portraits, because for me, self-portraits are me telling a story about my body. It is something I do because each self-portrait tells my story. I am saying exactly what I am. And the story of my body. The presence of my body not only in the work but also physically.»

Albuquerque presents a certain anarchy in spaces, in the techniques he uses and even how he presents himself but, when he begins a creative process, it is in his deep search for the elements that he shows his methodical and almost “obsessive” side.

1 / 3
2 / 3
3 / 3
«It is at that moment that I fill my mind with images and memories. When I received the invitation from Esporão, I did a thorough study of the history of bottle labels, in other words, when the first labels strongly identified with wine and the product in the bottle began to appear, when the bottle changed and then, in the 20th century, when the label starts to tell a story about the contents of the bottle»

When he was invited by Esporão to create the new labels for Esporão Reserva and Esporão Private Selection, Albuquerque wanted to bring that memory of wine to the memory of the label, in other words, he wanted  the label to be experienced like the wine. He wanted it to have a memory when we look at it, to understand its story, which doesn’t end with the wine itself, but continues on in art, in design and in the context it is a part of.

His own story and relationship with wine were very important during the creative process. Although there wasn’t much of a wine culture in the Beira Alta region in 1953, there was a wine cellar in his house where his father vinified grapes brought by friends from the region, and created his own handwritten labels.

«There was always wine in our house and I’ve known how wine is made since I was a child. And after some time, I also started tasting and appreciating wine, especially red wine. I don’t like any other alcoholic beverage and I think I enjoy wine not only for its flavour, but also because of the respect I have for its story until it reaches the bottle. This is why I never lose moderation, I don’t want that moment of pleasure to be lost in my body, my mind and my memory.»

Wine is always associated with parties, moments of pleasure and celebration. There is always something festive and joyful about opening a bottle. This has been true for a long time and it was essential in creating these works.

«To make this label I went to see paintings from art history created by other artists that presented Bacchus and the whole history of wine. Bacchus, by Caravaggio, O Fado, by Malhoa, the Triumph of Bacchus, by Velazquez. This was a classic and recurring theme in classical painting, which was associated with pleasure and wellbeing – an allegory of pleasant moments in life and the idea that those pleasant moments should be celebrated with wine. And I wanted these labels to show that side, to also convey that idea, that history.»

In watercolour and then acrylic, Albuquerque drew figures, vines and grapes that tell a “story of love and memory”. The characters blend with the grapes.

In watercolour and then acrylic, Albuquerque drew figures, vines and grapes that tell a “story of love and memory”. The characters blend with the grapes.
«These elements are part of the story and of Nature. As though the vine was Nature, growing from it and giving the wine – the nectar of the gods. And when these nectars enter our body they never leave. They stay in us as memories.»

The artist wanted the label to be seen as a whole, as a unique piece – an artistic object, a work of art where they are no spaces between words and painting. Therefore the partnership with the designer Eduardo Aires and his team was very important to achieve this.

«I am used to working collectively. I like sharing the enthusiasm, discussing and embracing things with other people. Eduardo and his team were not only great in helping me understand the story of Esporão labels, but also in creating the final work. This dialogue and partnership were important to make the label work as a whole. To feel the label as a whole. There is a series of factors, how the label is placed, the design, how we go from the design to the label, which is crucial in the design.

The dialogue between art and design is what makes a label a success. It is still my watercolour, but it’s also an Eduardo Aires label. These two elements come together»

Designer Eduardo Aires
At the age of 65, painting still represents Albuquerque Mendes’ vision of the world. The extension of his own mind and his own eyes. Today, with more experience but not less sensitivity, he remains the same irreverent and bold artist who seeks art and beauty in everything he sees. 

«Always ahead of his time, Albuquerque is one of those very special artists who can be compared with some wines that need time to be appreciated. As the years pass, he has gained maturity and recognition. His art makes more sense in the world today.» José Mário Brandão, from Galeria Graça Brandão, Lisbon