On a visit to Lisbon I found that the azulejo tradition is not only more deeply rooted in Portugal’s culture than I realised but that it remains alive and is being continually renewed.

The Lisbon metro has been decorated in azulejos over the last twenty years, using modern techniques like screen printing and styles and themes that are completely contemporary. Then, when we were walking past the Pasteleria Alcôa (the best pastry shop in the city), I saw the tiled shop front made by Querubim Lapa in 1960, a beautiful, softly-painted panel in shades of blue.

Lapa, I discovered, was one of Portugal’s principal contemporary ceramic artists. The high esteem in which tile painting is held in this country meant that after a training and early career in easel painting, he was able to concentrate entirety on ceramics.

The shop in Rua Garrett, originally for a seller of lottery tickets, Casa da Sorte, was a collaboration between architect Francisco Conceição Silva and Lapa. Lapa rated his contribution so highly that he asked for his application for the chair in ceramics at the school of fine arts to be assessed on it alone.

When Casa da Sorte closed, there was concern for the future of this fine ceramic work, but, when Alcôa took over the building in 2015, they undertook not to disturb it.


Josep Aragay, water fountain, Barcelona

I took a break in Barcelona after completing my new workshop. The tin-glazed peasant pottery in the gift shops is similar to the 18th and 19th century work in the expensive antique shops, from ancient pottery places like Manises. There is some nice architectural tile work in the azulejo style, like this water fountain in Santa Anna Square, made in 1918 by Josep Aragay (1889–1973).

Antoni Gaudi’s exotic buildings in the Modernisme style (Barcelona Art Nouveau, not to be confused with the modernism of Mies van der Rohe) employ smashed tin-glaze tiles and tableware in their mosaics. This is seen to very good effect in Parc Güell (early 20th century) and on the ventilation shafts (picture below) on top of La Pedrera, the fantastical block of flats (1880s) in Passeig Gracia.  The same decorative trick was used by Lluís Domènech i Montaner on the Palau de la Música, built at the same time as Parc Güell.  I don’t know who did it first, or whether it was already established before the architects of Modernisme took it up.

Gaudi, ventilation shafts on La Pedrera

Gaudi has large areas of white mosaic made from miscellaneous tin-glazed tiles, which are in one hundred colours of white, from potteries using different recipes over different shades of pink and red clay.

In a funny back-formation, the tourist shops sell gaudy Gaudi pottery this, with printed surfaces pretending to be mosaics of broken pottery.