British artist Kate Toledo was born in Tanzania, grew up in Africa and New Zealand, and lived in Brazil for many years before moving to Dubai a decade ago. Influences from all these places can be seen in her paintings. Her latest exhibition, The Portuguese Collection, a retrospective on Portuguese history through modern travels is inspired by the traditional Portuguese ceramics she has seen in Lisbon, where she has a second home. Toledo’s vibrant paintings present her contemporary interpretation of the hand-painted designs on 17th and 18th century Pombal tiles and faiança pottery. She has also created a collection of silk scarves printed with some of her paintings.
Toledo has a keen interest in the history, culture and artistic traditions of different places. In Lisbon, she was fascinated by the hand-painted tiles used for decorating the interiors and facades of old churches, palaces and public and private buildings. She spent a lot of time at the ceramic museum and in libraries researching the evolution of the tiles, and the work of faiança artists such as Reinado Wanili, who is among the few known names in an artistic field where artisans remain largely anonymous.
“I love to walk around the historic area of Lisbon and look at the beautiful tiles painted with forest scenes, exotic animals and flowers and intricate floral and geometric patterns. I also have a great love and respect for Portuguese faiança pottery. I have studied these ceramics extensively to understand the story, heritage and culture from which each piece began and has now come to represent. Through my work I want to honour these scenes and patterns, preserving them while also offering them a new life and perspective,” she says.
The artist has combined, expanded and reinterpreted patterns and motifs from different tiles and pottery to create her own compositions. Her paintings feature scenes from the forest with deer, gazelles, rabbits, lions, tigers, birds and trees. She has embellished the figures with floral designs taken from tiles, and intricate patterns appropriated from the robes of the saints on the carved wooden polychromes decorating the baroque churches in old Lisbon.
The scenes are surrounded by borders of 17th century floral and geometric patterns or Chinese inspired dragons and monsters that she found on some 16th century tiles. Although she has used the blue and white colours of the original ceramics, she has added her personal touch to the paintings by using her signature Brazilian palette of bright oranges, ochres, greens, and gold.
“Before I began painting I spent a lot of time doing research on Portuguese ceramics and antiquities and taking photographs of the tiles all around the old town of Lisbon. But when I start a painting, I have no sketch or colours in mind. The bits and pieces from various sources just come together on my canvas like the patterns in a kaleidoscope. Some of these designs are from tiles on buildings in my neighbourhood that I pass by every day. Yet, every time I see them my heart fills with joy. I hope my paintings will give that same joy to my viewers,” Toledo says.
The Portuguese Collection will run at the PROART gallery in Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah until November 30.