It’s almost impossible to write an article without mentioning the need for good produce to make good food. Any type of cuisine is only good if it is based on that principle: the produce one has.
In Portugal, when it is said that our food is not particularly rich or sophisticated, we can always respond by pointing to the quality of our agricultural produce and livestock. Culinary habits are the result of long-standing traditions, but produce is the result of a constant effort to improve what Nature has given to us. And rarely do we sing its individual praises.
The artistic representations of this produce are often fanciful and appears to be almost accidental, or a basic instrument for the purposes of aesthetic construction. The produce is there, but we only appreciate and recall the whole picture. When we suddenly remember the fantastic still lifes of Josefa de Óbidos, we all associate the profusion of raw or cooked things in our memory, and rarely recall the pomegranates, the cheeses, the brimming bowls or complex sweets represented there.
Various artists, Portuguese painters, dedicated their time and art to the painting of different types of produce in still lifes. Still lifes are almost always associated with a sense of inaction that José de Monterroso Teixeira attributes to those pictorial representations: “…a process that can lead to significantly vigorous and rich works. However, they are no more than objects that are often pleasing but limited, many being veritable marvels that surpass the «limits of the impossible», but still lifes are irreparably only a taster of the style.”
We find the representation of food in the still life paintings of many major Portuguese artists. Apart from Josefa de Óbidos, I would like to mention Baltazar Gomes Figueira, also from the 17th century, Joaquim Manuel da Rocha, (18th century), Morgado de Setúbal (18th and 19th century), Sanches Ramos (19th century), Luciano Freire, José Queirós, Simão da Veiga, Manuel Bentes and Abel Manta (all from the 19th and 20th century), as well as a wide variety from the 20th century, including Maria Toscano Rico, Eduardo Nery and Jacinto Luís. Good produce can also be found in the aesthetics of painting.

However, nowadays, and compared with painting until the late 19th century, the designation of still life seems to make less sense because of the dynamic that contemporary painting itself possesses. Contemporary painting moves far beyond the portrayal of objects and produce. These things acquire movement; they fly and help give meaning to feelings.
And it is in this sense that I am writing this piece and thinking of a great painter and friend of mine, Graça Morais. It is difficult to write about friends. Words acquire other meanings. To make things easier I am not going to write about her but her painting, which is probably more difficult.
Graça Morais does not paint still lifes. Her subjects are very much alive. And when she paintsstitulo.jpg, and particularly when she draws earthly produce, they almost seem like the consequence of women’s work. The produce is a better way of exalting the arduous labour of her Chosen Ones. Even when in isolation, the produce has a soothing poetry about it, as it transports us to the rural world from whence it comes.
When we look at Graça Morais’ painting, the first impression we have is one of the strength of expression and then we have to study all the details. With the Terra Quente (Warm Land) series, the fineness of the drawing of the produce leads us to a second interpretation, not satisfying us with easy elements. However, later we discover them; the cereals that give us bread, the potatoes, the livestock… And there, in the Goddesses of the Mountains, we discreetly find the produce that feeds us, which provides some wealth after difficult work on the land. Idade da Terra points us in the direction of that same agricultural work magnificently. And in the series Metamorfoses II and III, the power of the image, with its negligible variation in colour, is such that it is only later that we see what the women have in their hands.
Still on the subject of the Terra Quente series, we cannot forget the simplicity of the sprouting potatoes, of the cherries, of the produce of the vegetable patches, of the young goats, the partridges, of the hens, … and of course, in other series, the omnipresent olive tree and the olives, and the slaughtering of the pig.
This does not mean that Graça Morais is a painter of agricultural produce. They have a natural place in her painting. They are a constant supporting reference that the painter makes in relation to her experiences and particularly to her birthplace. And that constancy of representing her memories, and which naturally moulded her taste, imbue her art with its vigour and strong character. Even in the Cabo Verde and Japão series, and more obviously in the Os Olhos Azuis do Mar (The Sea’s Blue Eyes) series, which has seafood, fish and shells… and seagulls.
Graça Morais does not paint still lifes. Her produce is very much alive. It leaps from the canvas or paper with the cheerful dynamic of contemporary painting and with her feelings. The produce is the result, but it only illustrates Life.
It makes one feel like asking: when will there be a thematic exhibition that makes reference to this produce?
To illustrate this piece, I have chosen a simple drawing on sheet music paper. The simplicity of a product of Nature: a pear. The rigour of drawing with the poetry of music. Plus a painting that also has a pear, with another dimension and function but one that also possesses music and poetry.

Drawing and painting:  ©Graça Morais