Conceptual Realism. Cartoon-tainted abstract surrealism. Low Brow. There are quite a few terms to describe the subversive art form that arose from the 1970s underground comic book world, but there is no one like Tiago Azevedo, one of its most practiced and passionate disciples. The artist, based in Germany but raised in Portugal, uses pop culture, fantasy, fables, religion and even works by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen to influence his artwork, which blends classical techniques from the Baroque and Pre-Raphaelite with contemporary concepts, like his unmistakable signature: wildly manipulated eyes, whose dimensions he alters because “it’s the perfect way to directly transfer to the canvas the emotions I want to convey.”
The end result are creations like his most recent “Historical Characters” collection, a seven-piece series that depicts re-imagined figures like Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Louis XIV and Queen Elizabeth immersed in a surrealist milieu. “It started with the desire of coating figures that inspired me with layers of fantasy and mystique,” he says. “These figures touched me either for their life journey or their legendary beauty.” Though blessed with a wild imagination, Tiago found painting actual people liberating. “I do not have to think about how the character will be,” he says. “The image just comes to me in my mind, all I have to do is to gather a series of techniques to translate it to the canvas.” For the charismatic queen of Egypt, he strove to depict “her mesmerizing gaze that seduced two of the most powerful rulers of the Roman Empire” while for the French resistance heroine, he wanted to show “her sensuality despite of her aggressive and masculine charm.” His favorite character, Napoleon, challenged him to capture “his austere figure while also imaging the splendour of his era.”
His preferred method is oil painting “because it allows me to work with multiple layers and achieve the transparency effect I desire,” the artist says. “It also provides contrast and vibrancy of colors that would be difficult to achieve with any other technique. Oil also dries a lot slower, so this gives me time to work on details.”
“Painting is a way to say everything I want, everything that fascinates and inspires me in one single image,” continues the artist. “I have an idea of a particular subject, then comes a blurred image on my mind that I convert into a quick sketch to capture how I want it to be, this is the most creative part, then when it is time to paint, that turns out to be a sequence of technical steps that end in a finished canvas. It is a laborious process with a lot of attention to detail, expression and texture.”
“Historical Figures” is Azevedo’s third major collection, and his only based on real life figures.
“I paint mostly portraits of imaginary characters that touch me the most. I have always been passionate about fables,” says Tiago who was born in Portugal on Terceira Island. The lush landscape of the terrain – part of Azores archipelago -- triggered his early imagination and trained his budding eye to the fantastic. “I love the imaginary, the mystique and fantasy inherent to them.”
The artist’s previous collections -- “Fairytales” and “Religion” – were critical hits in the pop surrealist art community, leading to exhibitions at both the Louvre and Vatican. “My audience tends to be very diversified,” Tiago says. “It consists mainly of people who love the fantastic, but as almost all my paintings are portraits, sometimes people simply fall in love with the way the painted figure looks at them, as if they were talking to them, and curiously these are the people who often purchase my originals simply because they fell in love with the subject.”
The “low brow” technique has appealed to him since he was a child -- “I spent most of my time painting figures related to fantasy,” he explains – but he put his art career on hold to pursue a more stable profession: architecture. “I felt the social pressure that art was not a profession,” he remembers. He enrolled in Lusíada University in Portugal, and upon graduation worked on several major projects, including Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich. “Architecture was undoubtedly an impulse to paint,” he says, adding it was in Germany the seeds of his childhood fascination with fantasy began to take hold. “It was there I became more and more in love with the original version of fairytales, which although a little darker, contain much more juice and matter to work with. The Baroque and the Middle Ages also fascinate me because of the strong contrast and dramatic effecta.” Though he enjoyed the artistic element of his new profession, the experience steered him back to his true love. “I discovered that painting was something that was my nature,” he says. “Painting gradually took over my life and I decided to make it a productive profession. I am sure I made the right decision because now feel complete for doing something that is my true passion.”
So consumed with painting, he has taken to teaching his technique and the form online. His YouTube channel -- youtube.com/user/tgoazevedo -- gives viewers lessons in painting history, art and tutorials.
“It is a great satisfaction to see such a large number of people understanding the concept behind what I create, it makes me feel like my mission of stimulating emotions within people has been fulfilled,” the artist says.