Mário Belém

Mário Belém is one of Lisbon’s top and most exciting urban artists. After 15 years of working as a commercial illustrator, Mário is now spreading his talents through the artistic world, fast becoming one of the most prolific artists in his generation. His deep knowledge of Lisbon’s streets and corners obviously make him a top target for our Meet the Locals interviews, and of course we love to hear what he has to share with us.

His interview, below:

– Secret location?
Lunch at Cantina das Freiras in Chiado.

– Best view?
Park Bar has one of the most original views in town, it’s really integrated into the urbanscape.

– A guilty pleasure?
A beer at the end of the afternoon, with any friend, at any garden in the city.

– Where can we find you on Sunday?
Sunday is definitely a stay at home day. Everywhere is nicer and calmer on a weekday.

– A trend for Lisbon’s future?
More nature in the city. This is already happening, but there is always room for more.

– Favourite drink in the city? Coolest place to have a drink?
Always love going to the bar at 100 Maneiras Bistro, they have some of the best cocktails in town. My favourite is the Gin Mare Sour…

Whats your favourite summer drink?
A good cold white wine.

– Where do you like to unwind?
Going into the sea and catching some waves at least once a week is the best way to keep your head clear and your serotonin levels high.

– Something you cannot resist?
I am completely addicted to the salmon tartar at the Tartaria in Mercado da Ribeira! It’s better than good. Just be sure to go there off the busy hours…

– What can you do here and nowhere else?
Lisbon, is one of the places where you can live the good life (the trick is never to expect to get rich and you must be very very patient with everything and everyone). Portuguese don’t know how good they have it.

– What’s your favourite beach?
Praia das Furnas near Sagres.

– Someone NOT to be stuck in an elevator with?
Donald Trump.

– Which one of your works do you believe had most impact on the community?
One of the projects that still keeps on getting mentioned regularly are the stairway murals inside Pensão Amor, made with the help of Hugo Makarov some years ago, love the way that people relate to the cheesy-cheeky tone in which the paintings were made.

– Where do you find inspiration?
I love our language, mostly I love little gems that can be heard every day, in forms of slang, archaisms or just in the way that different Portuguese people appropriate their language and make it their own. I’m always writing down these treasures, they fuel a lot of my creations.

– Do you have one favourite colour? That you always use?
More than a favourite colour I love the way that different colours work together. Right now I am addicted to the colour transition that goes from warm yellow to orange to indigo to pink to purple (very important: no green!).

– Do you have any peculiar “ritual” you’d like to tell us about? 
I have to write a lot before actually sketching anything, ideas have to be super organised in my head before I can actually see the image in my mind and then, only then, do I attempt to draw it.

– Why do you think Lisbon is on the forefront of this contemporary muralist tendency?
Wow, a lot could be said about this, but as briefly as possible:
– I honestly believe that this tough economic situation fuels creativity – people focus on their love of making, without considering so much the financial aspect of each project. You can see this happening transversely in most creative fields here in Portugal…
– We have an insane amount of grey and decaying walls in our city, which are crying out for some colour.
– We have a lot of sun, which allows for a much larger span of time throughout the year where you can paint outdoors.
– And most importantly, I believe that the local generation of street artists is very very talented.

– A dream project?
There are so many things I would like to do, but one that definitely I fell in love with (I heard this one from a great local designer, Pedro Albuquerque), if I won the lottery I would rent out all of the outdoor advertising billboards in Lisbon and invite my favourite artists to exhibit their work for as long as possible…

– Tell us about your latest piece for Gin Lovers in Principe Real?
The palace (Embaixada) where Gin Lovers opened their new bar is amazing, one of the things that is immediately apparent is the amount of different decorative styles that are cramped into every little corner. I tried to create a mural that reflected both this overwhelming overlapping of styles, with the vibrant and sophisticated Gin culture that’s conquered Lisbon. I believe the result was strong, but as in any project, if I did it again I would do it better 🙂

– It wasn’t your first collaboration with a restaurant, you also did a piece for 100 Maneiras and designed a label for Absolut Vodka. How are these projects different from the ones you have done in the past? What was your biggest challenge?
I’ve been working as an artist for the last three years, but I still have a lot of the commercial illustrator in me (that was my main activity for over 15 years). So I still am very much into trying to figure out the best way to interpret different projects, in order to make the strongest piece possible. Mostly I love trying out new techniques and approaches. I still always get kind of nervous before actually working on each project.