The Independent, Arts & Ents

December 29, 2012

In the Studio: Tonico Lemos Auad, Artist
‘I have to try new things… but I have no idea what will happen’

Tonico Lemos Auad was born in Belem Para in northern Brazil, arriving in London in 1998 to study art at Goldsmiths College. He was shortlisted for the Becks Future Prize in 2004 for works incongruously if ingeniously made: animals sculpted from carpet fluff and bananas seemingly sporting blackened portraits.

Auad moved recently from Gasworks, the communal studios in Kennington, to another studio complex in Bermondsey. His single room on the top of an industrial building is light and bright.

On the windowsill sits a museum of the artist’s practice in miniature: a carved wooden sculpture, one of his works in the Folkestone Triennial 2011 that appears and disappears with the tides; a few dried-lime slices, which he points out to me look like stained glass when you hold them up to the light. There’s a desiccated pineapple reflected in lace, an example of his Brazilian roots mingled with his new European interest.

On the wall hang a few examples of the embroidered pieces that are in his recently opened West End show. “They were an incredible amount of work. I had to have assistants and they told me that it was ‘meditative work’. It had to be or you would go crazy. There is a simplicity in the gesture, you withdraw and you have something rich in the thing.”

Auad studied architecture in Brazil although, “throughout my architecture course, I knew I wanted to be an artist”. He sees his entire practice to be “architecture in a quite broad sense”, something that makes particular sense in his most recent installations. “I love drawing and that is important for architecture. And I was motivated in college to draw.”

The limes, a recent experiment, reflect Auad’s love of playing with natural materials. In the past he has made touching sculptures of grape stems studded with glitter. He admits that the fragility leads to problems, but tells me that through playing with the limes he can find new things within them – their cell-like structure – their changing colour.

Auad says that following the success of his carpet works, he was approached by a number of museums to repeat the commission but he couldn’t only make one piece, modestly stating, “I had to earn the right to shift to what I wanted, to excuse myself working with bananas, carpets or chains.” Moving forward in search of new ideas he affirms that he needs to “try things that I have no idea of what will happen. I couldn’t do it any other way. It might kill me but I could not do it any other way”.

Tonico Lemos Auad continues at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London W1 (020 7494 1434) to 26 January