The fantastic world of Julia Cotà: Naive art or crafts?
Júlia Cotà was born in Lagoa (Manhente), in the district of Barcelos in 1935. Today, she is one of the greatest living representatives of the "Barcelos Figurado", a traditional and artistic movement, an expression of Portuguese popular culture.
★ 70 years in the clay work
Júlia da Rocha Fernandes de Sousa, commonly known as Júlia Côta, was born into one of the most respected families among regional crafts. She is the granddaughter of João Domingos Côta da Rocha, recognized as the father of the rooster of Barcelos (Galo de Barcelos)
Júlia Côta began working at the age of 9 in her parents' workshop. She begins by helping to shape some pieces such as shoes or hats for 15 cents per hour before she can craft her own pieces. Her artistic sense is so developed that she quickly receive recognition and her parents decide to entrust her with the workshop.
Júlia Côta is 85 years old by now and has been working for more than 70 years. But Julia does not feel tired, she wants to carry on her work until her hands do not allow it anymore.
★ Crafts or naive art ?
Transforming in clay life that surrounds her while letting her imagination free is Júlia Côta's credo. The result is a very distinctive figurative style, a fantastic, happy and colorful world.
Her "dolls", as Júlia Côta calls them, invariably evoke scenes of rural life embellished with mythological figures rooted in the popular imagination. They are recognizable by their ambiguous features, in which the features of the man and the woman mix as well as the silhouette of Men and animals.
Sometimes religious, sometimes funny, sometimes both, her statuettes are always full of respect towards history, traditions and local characters.
Like so many men and women of her generation, Julia Côta did not learn reading or writing. It is a Portuguese art collector who taught her to engrave the initials of her name in order to authenticate the pieces of her own collection. Since then, no pieces has left her workshop without the "J and C" registered at the base.
★ Towards recognition of its singularity ?
So, is this popular crafts or naive art? The question is not truly settled, but blogs or art magazines are beginning to write on Júlia Côta and some of her exhibitions are outside the scope of crafts. At almost 85 years old today, Júlia is a well-known artist. She is welcomed with honors on each of her travels and artists from all over the world move to visit her as an icon, in her little house in Barcelos.
Her artworks are now part of private collections, are sold worldwide and are sometimes gathered for temporary exhibitions or retrospectives. But Júlia has kept all its simplicity, is always amazed at the honors granted to her and continues to mould the clay in her little house by passing on her know-how to her daughter Prazeres.
★ My meeting with Jùlia Côta
Meeting Jùlia Côta is not so easy, not that she is now out of reach, but because at the age of 85, she still exhibits her works throughout Portugal and is rarely available.
On the day of our meeting, I first went to Barcelos, land of choice of Portuguese craftsmen, I joined her village (kept secret) and then I searched the street that bears her name (!)
There, her youngest daughter was waiting for me to tell me that Jùlia was in Pombal, 200 km away, on the invitation of the International Fair of Crafts. Julia, called on the phone, proposed to me to join her there. A few hours later, at the end of the evening, here I am, in Pombal, in the hall of her hotel entirely decorated with his works, in his honor.
Jùlia knew that I was a crazy fan of her work, that I was expecting to meet her for some time and that I was already proposing some of her artworks on our website. Jùlia is someone who immediately induces a flow of emotions when you meet her. She introduces herself to you simply, timidly, all imprint of her personal history and also of what she represents today: a traditional Portugal which is sadly disappearing piece by piece. I must admit that we fell into each other's arms with a few tears.
Her daughter, Prazeres, an artist as well, and the curator of the exhibition assisted her. Julia had asked that someone open the doors of the exhibition in preview. She then allowed us to select all the pieces we wanted from those that were planned for the exhibition. I must confess that the Curator of the exhibition was not so happy that the showpiece of his exhibition would be reduced to a small share.
Late in the evening, I came with Jùlia to her hotel, the car filled with her carefully packed works. I had 3 hours to reach Lisbon and put all his statuettes safe.
Jùlia Côta is not a simple artist. Her country, her region, her village, her family, her personal history crystallize in her works that raise in you a flow of emotions. Jùlia Côta is a great artist!