A room full of sketchers eagerly awaited the two performers of the Desenho Cru session of March. Some of them had heard that they were in for a special surprise. Warm up took some time as one of the performers couldn’t make it. A substitute had to be found.
Viktorija came to the rescue. The make-up artist from Lithuania turned into her own model and demonstrated on herself the transformation of make-up. She showed the long process women go through privately or in pairs, in bathrooms, languidly and meticulously, sipping red wine and enhancing her red lips, in front of 20-something sketchers. All the while, in the backstage, a different make-up strategy was taking place.
Suddenly, and after headlamps were distributed, the lights were out! A chilling, shrieking, spooky song started in the background. A horned silhouette approach from the outside. It came to the center of the stage, dark robes absorbed all the light. Its red eyes gleamed as the demonic figure threatened to impale all of the sketchers to their seats with a blood-stained pike. Pens and pencils were in awe of the imposing and macabre visage of Kina Karvel, demon-performer of the night.
After the music was over, suspension of disbelief was broken, as the demon started speaking in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice, and proceeded to strike a few poses during the following hour or so.
It was some impressing minutes, those of Kina Karvel’s performance. Hard to picture them in a sketchbook.
In 2012, Desenho Cru was created as a one-night monthly gathering of artists and performers, in the unusual stage of a gay bar in the heart of Lisboa. It was actually named after the bar. The drill is simple: the performers perform, and the artists sketch them. Creative spirits in both sides of the (imaginary) fence are free to deliver their own art in whatever form they feel is best.
Now, the Desenho Cru sessions are held in a small studio in Martim Moniz, another heart of Lisboa – the multi-hearted city. I attended my first Desenho cru in the beginning of february, weeks after coming back to Lisboa. It’s a fantastic group experience, where concentration levels are high, but everything feels somewhat different from a regular sketch meeting.
The intimacy of the moment is enhanced firstly by the narrowness of the space, where fifteen to twenty people elbowed each other for some arm movement space. If more were to come, they would have to sit on the floor.
Secondly by the unusual nature of the performances – and those are entirely dependent on the performers themselves – it’s an artistic lottery. You get what they bring for you. First-time performer Veronique, tense at first, on account of the thirty-something eyeballs on her, finally let herself and some garments go, and played around with postures and the mirror she had leaned up against the wall. I’d say she managed quite well.
The andalucian José Gomez brought his guitar and some electronic equipment that, for some reason, started to fail him right in the middle of his act. The gadget recorded a sample that he would play, and then it would playback on a loop, while he added some more samples to the texture of the song. A one man band, fretted unfortunately by faulty equipment.
The awesome cooperation between Urban Sketchers Portugal and the Dance School of the Conservatory (EDCN) allows for sketchers to attend some of the classes and doodle the classical ballet and contemporary dance students in action.
Taking advantage of this very intimate hours of these youngsters feels very weird at first – like an invasion of a private moment and space. But soon after the concentration levels are high, everyone just minds their own business and focus on what they love best – the students, the sketchers, the dance teacher, even the pianist who’s setting the tune for the whole act.
It’s an extraordinary weekly opportunity for sketchers to grasp the shape and movement of bodies in their finest moment. Although it is very challenging at first, the exercise pays off in the end. It’s also an excellent visual memory stimulant, to save in the mind’s eye a single pose, or a single movement in the myriad of elegant steps and twirls these students undertake for the three hours of the duration of the class.
Four years ago, in my architecture office in Lisboa, we started to work on a restoration project of a historical building in the northern section of the city. The Bensaúde manor was built during the final years of the 19th century, surrounded by an estate in Paço do Lumiar, an old hamlet that was absorbed by the growth of the city. The manor has had a series of eminent proprietors and was designed and altered by some of the most notorious Portuguese architects of the 20th century.
It is presumed to have been designed initially by Ventura Terra, one of the most renown architects of the turn of the century. Then, in the twenties, Raul Lino intervened, expanding the house and laying out plans for great decorations on several rooms of the manor. Mural painings, painted ceilings, boiseries (panelling), azulejos (tile works), decorated fireplaces and wrought iron designs were added all over the manor. In the sixties, França Ribeiro designed the expansion of a façade, to make room for an extra compartment and a terrace.
In the more recent years, the manor has been under the guise of public institutions, presently IAPMEI, who mobilized efforts to see this built heritage renewed and used again. A great part of the preservation work is to keep a building occupied. The vigilance gained from having people daily interacting with a historical building is what can save it from deterioration.
The preservation of Raul Lino’s paintings and tiling was a complex task of the project, and was assigned to a specialist crew who had to delicately redo some of the paintings, based on the ones that were intact, clean and refit the wall tiles, preserve the wrought iron works and repaint and polish the fireplaces.
Taberna do Vilarinho is a restaurant at the base of the castle hill in Lisboa. The menu is traditional portuguese cuisine with a focus on special delicacies. This means for starters, you’ll be recommended some juicy cabeça de xára (slices of slow-cooked pig’s head), somewhat similar to galantine. If you’re in for a safe choice, the bacalhau à brás (cod-fish with scrambled egg and straw-cut fries) much enjoyed in Spain, or the borrego com batata doce (roasted lamb sided with sweet potato). But if you keep on with the staff’s recommendation, you’ll go for the samos de bacalhau com grão (cod-fish swim bladder stew with chickpeas), an organ used by many fish to control depth. It’s kinda spongy and squishy and all the fluids add to the thickness of the sauce, but you can really taste the cod-fish flavours there. Would eat again!
The manager was a friend of ours, so we got to hang out in the small cosy restaurant after the doors were shut. Bottles of wine were popped open and leftover deserts were served. That’s when we got the chance to taste pêra bêbeda (drunken pear – a pear dipped in port wine), the delicious and sugary tarte de ameixa (plum pie) and the surprisingly refreshing ananás de coentrada (pineapple with coriander).
More people arrived, friends, and friends of friends. All of a sudden, there was a party! The cell phone connected to spotify went around as everyone added a song to the playlist in some sort of “who plays the coolest song” competition. The accuracy of the sketching quickly waned as it was getting in the way of more dancing and drinking. As the evening drew to a close and everyone started to get the munchies, the chef, who also doubles as a jazz drummer, discreetly slid to the kitchen and brought back plates with heavily spiced raw tuna slices. Not quite sashimi, actually much better!
Here’s a place to definitely come back to.