Portuguese artist Ana Aragão is fascinated by the city. Her detailed works draw on her background in architecture, yet rely more on the imagination, the personal experience and the fractured memory of the urban area. We talked to her to better understand the thoughts and processes involved in her intricate pieces.
For Aragão, the thing about cities is that they stand for a sort of order, yet can never fully control the chaos of the people that inhabit them. Yes, streets may guide us in our navigation of the urban arena, but we are ultimately in control of how we interact with the place. It’s this intuition of movement, as Aragão describes, ”Although I am the creator of the drawings, I do not control nor define everything about the drawing. It is as if it has its own life. So, partially I do incorporate theories, and as for the rest, I just let go of theories and admit to be surprised by the result. ” that informs her artistic practice.
Just as she would navigate the winding streets of home, or the commanding boulevards of visiting European capitals, does Aragão draw her vast layered portraits of cities - part real, part imagined, with a true sense of wonder. As much as there is an idea behind them, there is no plan. The pen does as the pen pleases, or at least, as her unconscious dictates. This link between how Aragão sees a place and how she adopts the same mental mechanics to depict it is essential in how we can understand her artworks.
When discussing the any possibility of change, Aragão is clear that she is where she wants to be. “I am very traditional in terms of mediums. I’ve tried different things, but my predilection is for the analogical and sensorial aspects of a hand drawing on paper. That’s what I am passionate about.” There’s a reason for this too. Aragão’s free movement around her surfaces is a result of a finely tuned hand. First she learned the rules, then how to move around them.
Perspective is a focal point of her art. Whether we are onlookers or participants, we’re active in the drawings of Aragão. “In architectural representation, perspective gives you the equivalent of a possible view, so you don’t need disciplinary tools to decode it. It is before your eyes, you understand it, so it creates a closer relation with the viewer of the drawing. In a way, I draw to be understood.”
Her cityscapes aim not to create questions as much as situations. That is, scenarios that cause the viewer to reflect. Aragão admits her memory isn’t too great, meaning that various people, places, names and ruminations are bound to coalesce. That’s what these drawings offer her audience - their own place, like her memory, to be submerged in a world that is at once recognisable and unknown.
Thinking about a city as a living, breathing organism informs Aragão’s ideas about how they’d look in an idealised future. We are becoming disconnected from our environment, largely due to top-down decision-making that isolates regular people from the world they once knew. Contemplating this, Aragão believes that “We should probably, given the extension of those artificial territories, think locally, selecting and characterizing species of neighborhoods. I think urban politics, to be effective, have to be local and work with the inhabitants.”
Each area is unique by the process of bilateral influence. The people influence the place, which influences the people, who influence the place again. This organic cycle repeats, usually until the two become so disfigured that they're barely able to recognise each other. Aragão’s art is clearly defined by the urban, but really, her pictures of the built environment are stories and reflection of its people - a mutual dialogue whereby the best results arise when both pay attention to each other.
Aragão’s drawings, then, aren’t really cities, but they’re the people contained within them. The dreams of urban planners and regular citizens made manifest, but also ignored. Like cities, her art will continue to develop in unforeseen ways and, just as she prefers to navigate the city, with unexpected and delightful outcomes.
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