· Art · · T. Editorial Team · P. Vitor Duarte

Robert Chichorro

«The paintings have to be able to engage with people»

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We travelled to Vale da Perra, half way between Fátima and Ourém, to meet up with a man passionate about his origins and about his childhood, the memories of which bring a smile to his face every day. Roberto Chichorro is an artist of Mozambican roots, who moves his brush over canvas, showing the world the beauty of colour and of African rhythms. The peacefulness of Chichorro’s voice astounds us, an unmistakable feature of a man who concerns himself each day with adding another brushstroke to a history 74 years in the making, with periods in Mozambique, Spain and, finally, Portugal. A Mozambican artist with his home firmly on Portuguese soil.

Is being an artist in your blood?
I’ve wanted to be a painter ever since I was a child. When I grew up I still liked it and I said to my father that I wanted to study architecture but, as there was no course in Mozambique, my family didn’t have the money to pay for me to study in Europe. Then I thought about doing psychiatry, given that I always wanted to understand what was going on inside people, what made people be good or be bad or the reason behind someone becoming mad. Later on, I told my father that I wanted to be a painter and he told me to go and look for a job and explained to me that painters are bohemian and die of hunger. But he was really good at drawing too. 

It runs in the family then…
There is a gene there somewhere. Besides my father, my sister also has a lot of talent for drawing.

When did you start painting?
I started painting more seriously when I was in the army. I had a colleague, who liked to write and we would swap ideas. At a certain point he told me about an exhibition and challenged me to enter my paintings. The gallery accepted my works and it was then that I realised that I could be a painter, given that I had already taken part in an exhibition. Then, it all happened naturally. I sold my first painting to an Englishman, who had a frame shop and who paid me the equivalent of my army salary (3300 Escudos). I found myself thinking: I’ve just sold my first painting.

When did you decide to do it as a profession?
I was already an adult, I was already married and I was already divorced… At that time I was already selling my pictures in Mozambique, mainly to foreigners, and had dealt with the challenge of living from painting. Until then I had done many things: I had been a draughtsman, an advertising artist, a graphic designer, a map draughtsman. When I decided that I was going to do nothing else but painting I was already over 40.

Spain and Portugal came after that.
When I was already earning a living from painting, I was visited by an employee from the Spanish Embassy, who wanted to buy one of my paintingsand asked me where I had studied painting. I had to explain that I had taught myself, whereupon the embassy worker asked me if I would like to have a scholarship to study in Spain and that was how I ended up going to Madrid. I got there and they told me to do whatever I liked and I went and learnt how to do ceramics and engraving. I wanted to go out in the field; I didn’t want to go to a painting school and sit there listening. I was in Spain for three years. Then I returned to Mozambique until someone got in touch with me and asked if I would like to have a scholarship in Lisbon. I came and in the meantime the scholarship came to an end but, as I was already making a living from selling my paintings, I stayed.

How do go about discovering if you have a vocation for painting?
By doing. I want to communicate with people and, as I am a shy person, although it may not seem it, painting has always been my way of communicating. What I paint is apparently unlike what other artists do. There are some terrible things painted, to grab people’s attention. I paint exactly the opposite: a child playing with a colourful ball or on a tricycle, to show that children have the right to have that. I paint women with satin shoes and sequinned gowns because I believe that every woman has the right to be beautiful, to feel pretty. 

Do you believe that painting should show what is beautiful?
Sometimes it hurts a great deal to paint what is beautiful, not least because you need to summon up painful memories. I paint the dream, what people would like to be and should have the right to be.

Basically, you paint what Utopia would be like?
(he laughs) Maybe… But it is also to show that the world isn’t perfect and that, to be perfect, it should be as it is in the paintings.

Is this all influenced by your childhood?
I paint many birds, many cages, tin guitars, midnight moonlit serenades. They are all pillars of my memory, of my childhood and of when I was growing up.

Would you change anything about your childhood?
No, I wouldn’t change a thing. I look back on it with pleasure and with a touch of nostalgia. I like to quote the song by Mercedes Sosa, which has a verse I identify with a lot: «Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto» [«Thank you life, for giving me so much»]. Life has given me everything; I was an extremely happy child and adolescent.

Beyond your childhood in Mozambique, what influences you the most?
I am a man from Mozambique. I grew up there and I studied there, but every day something new comes along. This entire experience in Europe has made me absorb some things. My painting hasn’t become European, but it has been influenced by my European experience.

Do you visit Mozambique still?
The last time I went was five years ago, when I was invited to do an exhibition there. Getting there costs so much money.

Do you still have new ideas with ease?
Yes, because life brings new ideas with each day that dawns. New friends, old friends that meet up again, weddings… I have been married four times and in the end there is always the heartbreak of separation, followed by a renovation and, often, a new passion that brings an outpouring of creativity. Things happen in day-to-day living.

Do you paint every day?
I dabble a little every day: I do some drawings, some scribbles. The hand requires daily training; this is a must.

What exhibitions are you most proud of?
All of them. But at the same time they all leave me a touch unsatisfied. It has nothing to do with being discontent with something, it is being left with the feeling that there is always something besides. On the day I look and feel that is all done, I pack away my brushes and it’s over. I like to exhibit, it’s always a challenge and it always scares me a little; there is always a judgement, an assessment.

Are you interested in knowing what people think when they look at your paintings?
The paintings need to be able to engage with people, to have their own voice. And sometimes strange things happen: I have seen small children, who come with their parents, and then they don’t want to leave, perhaps attracted by the colours; I have also seen people stood before a picture and cry. And then I know that that painting has said something to that person.

Is exhibiting your paintings like revealing your soul?
When you exhibit you expose yourself. You are stripped bare of any lies. Art isn’t taught; it’s personal and can never be based on lies. In art, everything that isn’t honest isn’t art.

Editorial Team
T. Editorial Team
P. Vitor Duarte
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