Portugal is known for its beautiful buildings with their incredible facades covered in decorative glazed tiles. Whether it’s a glamorous palace or a crumbling house, the unique patterns of tiles have become an icon of the country. This is the azulejo style, which arrived in Portugal via the Islamic Moors who occupied the Iberian Peninsula for hundreds of years, the term Azulejo itself originating from the Arabic word for polished stone. Although azulejos can be seen in a variety of colours, the predominant one, as is clear from a stroll around Lisbon or Porto, is a vivid blue created from cobalt pigments which are byproducts of metal extraction. The initial part of the word (“azul”) in fact means “blue” in both Portuguese and Spanish.
It is this traditional azulejo style that Portuguese artist Diogo Machado builds upon from his workshop in Cascais, Portugal, where he takes the classic and intricate designs as inspiration and then applies a modern twist. His work, known by the name ADD FUEL, can be found throughout the country and in many others all around the world.
At first glance, Machado’s work can seem to be just another work of azulejo, however a closer viewing reveals the layers of his art. The traditional patterns are interrupted, and you can spot other references interspersed in his work; a reference to pop culture or politics, and the recurring theme of quirky looking robots. Stylistic images that contrast with the classic florals of azulejo. Sometimes the modern patterns jump out at you, other times they are hidden, visible only to those who really look.
Sometime’s Machado’s works are huge, spanning entire walls and buildings, visible from rooftops and pavements. Sometimes they are smaller, hanging on a wall in a gallery for visitors to gaze at and discover the layers. For his larger works, Machado creates three-foot-square stencils of his patterns, a mixture of hand painting as well as colour added in by computer to produce the designs for the stencils. Although inspired by his country’s artistic heritage, when working in different locations Machado researches each place, incorporating local elements and symbols into the work he creates there especially for them, unwilling to impose Portugal’s history and style on other countries
It was in 2008 that Machado’s interest in the azulejo tradition began. He was asked to design a cover for a building in his hometown of Cascais for the Cascais ArtSpace Festival, and he wanted to reflect the heritage of the city. After considering Portugal’s cross-stitch lace work and various other typical cultural traditions, he decided that as he was covering a building a tile motif would be best. He was right, and the Cascais building was a great success. This was the start of Machado’s new work. He taught himself how to paint and glaze tiles and today works with a well-known tile company in Portugal who print his tiles for him.
Machado uses a clever combination of artistic training, skill and style, combined with his Portuguese roots and the cultural heritage that comes with this, to not just create a unique and modern adaptation of the azulejo style, but to take this concept and adapt it to other locations, filling them with the colour and vibrancy of his art in a work made just for them.