Focus on… Jorge Batalha

Today’s artist in focus us Jorge Batalha

Imagine a huge shed with a creaky door and cobwebbed windows that don’t really let the light through anymore, in an area surrounded by trees that’s well off the beaten track! It’s like a scene from a movie – We don’t really want to go in but something inside of us says “go on, do it.”

The day that Foundarte caught up with clay sculptor Jorge Batalha was just like that, we crept up to the door and asked the ominous question “hello, is there anybody there?” to our surprise we were greeted with a timid and slightly amusing voice telling us to come in, “it’s okay” he said “I don’t bite!”.

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As we entered his atelier (which actually looks more like a museum with literally thousands of curated pieces), he was sat at a small work table with a large clock in front of him, hands roughened and orange from the clay he was working with and accompanied by his faithful four legged companion behind him in a shady spot on the floor.

After a long introduction and conversation, Jorge tells us how he got started in the clay world.

I started when I was 12 years old and my father didn’t want me to to study he tells us as he works a small piece of rich reddish clay.

What could I do when I was that age,  I couldn’t really argue with my dad, and after all , we were in the land of pottery it was the job that we all usually started in – especially the men.

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The region of Mafra (about 40 km Northwest of Lisbon) is famous for the amount of pottery and ceramic it produces; with utilitarian pieces found in every other shop.

“I didn’t like the usual ceramic crockery that was in production at the time, but I really did like playing with clay and I remember sneakily working clay the way I wanted when I had an opportunity,” he explained whilst chuckling reminiscently – of course there were consequences when we were discovered doing so – he concluded.

Inspired by probably the greatest Portuguese potter of all time, José Franco, Jorge eventually left the crockery making behind and began to dedicate his time to his pieces, Most of them are still to be found in his studio.

I have pieces here that are more than 30 years old – they are my family.

As we examine the pieces, the detail and precision leaves us open-mouthed.  There are religious themes with satirical twists, Gods like Bacchus (Roman god of wine, grapes and intoxication) and a plethora of caricatures expressed in all manners.

We found out that his wife Helena is also making contributions to some of the pieces, “she paints them, although she sometimes takes more time to paint it than I do to make it!” he exclaims laughingly.

We really witnessed a true gentleman at work and it was such an honour to meet someone who shows so much dedication to his work – At the moment Jorge is also giving sculpting classes to children aged between 3 and 9 years, it started as a small proposal to a couple of friends but has escalated into a recurring class at the request of parents.

Jorge Batalha has given Foundarte an exclusive behind the scene look at his work and we have showcased some of the work he has to offer on our website. Please take the time to see it for yourself.

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