In conversation with the artist Bordalo II

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

The artwork is a reflection of what we are

2017 - Half Rabbit - Gaia, Portugal - photo by Bordalo II

We had the pleasure to interview one of the most remarkable Portuguese contemporary artists, Bordalo II, while aiming to discover his main artistic vision as well as future plans. If one walks carefully through Lisbon streets, there is a high chance to notice interesting animal sculptures surprising you from around the corner. In the recent years, through his Big Trash Animal sculptures produced from waste materials, Bordalo II managed to raise awareness on the issues of over-consumption, as part of a wider global manifest for sustainability. His artworks blend interestingly the ’ugly’ aspects, as well as the fragility of humanity and the environment.

1. In a previous interview you mentioned that, apart from art, nature is a big passion of yours. We are not surprised, as Portugal has stunning nature. Being born and raised in the capital, we wonder which places you go to, to relax and fill your lungs with fresh air?

In Portugal I like to visit Serra do Gerês and Serra da Malcata. While on vacation, last year I went to Madagascar and the previous year, to the Peruvian Amazonia and Bolívia Desert.

2. “ The artwork is a reflection of what we are ” -- as stated by you in Bordalo II: A Life of Waste; how would you define yourself? How was Bordalo II then (in the past) and how is he now?

The relevant parts of my individuality haven’t changed much with time, I still hold the same values and concerns and above all I’m in awe of our Planet and the creatures that live in it.

3. You started doing graffiti in your younger years, then you wanted to switch style and eventually kicked off with the Waste Animal sculptures. How did you start exactly? Did you ever question your artworks at the early stages?

There wasn’t a change or switch in the type of art I do; graffiti and my art are two separate things. If not, it’s like saying I started playing volley and then evolved into playing football, they’re different things. I always question my work in search of new solutions and ideas, it is a habit of mine.

2015 - Raccoon - Lisboa, Portugal - photo_by_Bordalo_II

4. What does or should street art stand up for, in your opinion?

Art should be free and I believe that having visibility and working on the street means you should have something to say, because you’re communicating with a lot of people and so you can highlight and make people aware of relevant issues.

5. You describe your style of working as a freestyle process, through cutting, drilling and assembling all the pieces together. You cut the materials into panels, and then use an image as a reference in order to complete the work. Do you think you improved your ways of putting the artworks together over the years? In which ways did you develop?

It’s obviously an evolving process and I’m always curious in trying new techniques, solutions, tools.

6. Describe your artwork in three words.

Intervention. Impact. Social.

Bee installation by Bordalo II - LX Factory, Lisbon - Picture taken by Artrootz

7. What exactly did you expect to get out of the Big Trash Animal project at the very beginning? And did this change in the meantime?

In the beginning (although the concept was the same as today), I used to be concerned for the aesthetics, how pleasing it is, in order to captivate the viewer’s attention. Although I still do that today, I’m more confident or comfortable to create something not so aesthetically consensual; but I do think it is worth it because I still believe in the idea.

8. Your art combines the ugly side of humanity with beauty through vivid colours and realist representations of animals. Why are animals chosen as the representatives of your ideas and warnings about over-consumption and climate change?

Big Trash Animals is a series of artworks that aims to draw attention to a current problem that is likely to be forgotten, become trivial or a necessary evil. The problem involves waste production, materials that are not reused, pollution and its effect on the planet. The idea is to depict nature itself, in this case animals, out of materials that are responsible for its destruction. Animals are the direct way to make a portrait of Nature, because they have expressions, movement, feelings and act in a way that can raise our awareness.

Iberian Lynx installation by Bordalo II in Parque das Nações, Lisbon - Picture taken by Artrootz

9. It is since 2012 that you have been creating these sculptures across multiple continents and countries. Is there an installation that you would consider your personal favourite? And if yes, we would like to know why ☺

My favorite is not part of a Big Trash Animal, it is a gift made from a trash container and all the trash that was around it. It was done for Christmas a few years ago, it’s the top of the meaning of my work: consumerism vs. waste. It was one of the first artworks that I created without caring about public reaction and going straight to the point of consumerism during Christmas, which is a time of year that gives me mixed feelings usually.

Portrait of Bordalo II @ Lisbon Studio 2018 - photo by Miguel Portelinha

10. People often say that a mixture of talent, luck and perseverance leads to success. Which factors do you believe have had a big impact and contribution to the success of the Waste animal project? What was the trigger and the message behind it?

That mixture undoubtedly is the key, but nowadays social media (even if many times it has an evil role) is a great tool for exposing artistic content. The animal sculptures are built with end-of-life materials: the majority found in wastelands, abandoned factories or randomly and some are obtained from companies that are going through a recycling process. Damaged bumpers, burnt garbage cans, tires and appliances are just some of the objects that can be identified when you go into detail. They are camouflaging the result of our habits with little ecological and social awareness.

Portrait 2 of Bordalo II @ Lisbon Studio 2018 - photo by Miguel Portelinha

11. You are getting more and more popular, especially the animal installations for the “Wild Wild Waste Project” got lots of attention. When did you exactly realise you are one of the big fish in today’s art scene? And did you expect this successful outcome?

My goal is not to be a big fish, because actually it may lead up to consuming more resources and that’s not sustainable! Still, it’s great when a project like that one in Las Vegas got such attention,

even if it was created in an environment that is all about consumerism and all those things I criticize. However, I’ve always believed that the only way to change the system is to be a part of it, so you can create a dialogue and spread ideas of change.

2017- Half fox installation by Bordalo II- Cais do Sodre, Lisbon - Picture taken by Artrootz

12. With your work, your main aim is to cast light on environmental problems, such as waste production, materials that are not reused and pollution. Between the influence of climate activists nowadays and countries’ policies on climate change, where would you say your art stands in, in what way can it be influential?

Policies and activism won’t work independently, there has to be a dialogue between them. My art stands precisely in the middle of both spectrums, which is the best way to influence.

13. And in regards to that, what would you like to see differently with respect to Portugal’s environmental policies? Is it also possible to implement an environmental revolution through art? What does it need to be implemented exactly, in your view, on a local or more general level?

There’s still a lot of work to do, even if there has been an evolution, but it’s not enough. We must find a way to work on a local and general level, because we live in different realities. We have to understand that economic interests cannot be at the top because without environment, there’s no Life and without Life, there’s no economy. It is all a circle.

Frog installation by Bordalo II, Beato, Lisbon - Picture taken by Artrootz

14. In your view, should art become more accessible to the public nowadays? Should it convey more meanings and ideas on social and political issues? Any opinion on how artists can make this possible?

There’s a lot of public art nowadays, so it is obvious it became more accessible. I believe it can be possible that artists find a balance between an elitist or intellectual art and a more approachable art, without doing something popular or banal. This is something tricky, but some renowned contemporary artists were able to do it, like Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor, for instance.

Portrait of Bordalo II - photo by Raymesh Cintron

15. In the future you will create many exciting artworks for sure. Does art necessarily have to have a message for you? Or could you also just create something only for the beauty of it?

Of course, it has to have a message, it is a must.

16. Which future projects or plans would you like to achieve? What can we expect from Bordalo II?

I hope I can stick to my principles and that I will be able to create many artwork series. Also, that I can use my art to create social projects and possibly make a difference.

Bordalo II's workshop in Xabregas, Lisbon, now officially closed - Picture taken by Artrootz

Explore more of Bordalo II's artworks and future exhibitions on his website and Instagram page!

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