Lourdes Castro, a prominent Portuguese artist known for her semi-abstractions making use of silhouettes, died this past Saturday at age 91. In a statement mourning her passing, the Lisbon-based Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which had given Castro a grant early on that allowed her and her husband at the time, René Bértholo, to found the experimental art magazine KWY, remembered her as “one of the most remarkable contemporary Portuguese artists.”
Castro’s best-known works made use of silhouettes, whether she was printing plants on sun-sensitive paper or drawing the outlines of figures on walls. Before she came to work using silhouettes, she created worked in a style known as lyrical abstraction, which emerged during the postwar period, and was involved with the KWY artist group. Taking its cues from movements like Nouveau Réalisme, Fluxus, and Lettrism, the group sought to reconcile art-making with a need for social change.
She showed works made with that movement at the 1959 Biennale de Paris. Soon, she took up collage, gathering odds and ends and putting them in silver boxes.
It wasn’t until the mid-’60s that she began making works based off the silhouettes of her friends, often painted on Plexiglas or embroidered on textiles. Fascinated by the symbolism of the double, Castro became interested in shadow plays, which became popular in 18th century Europe.
Castro collaborated with Bértholo, whom she divorced in 2005, and, later, with artist Manuel Zimbro, her longtime partner, to create shadow theater works using a curtain, a few lights, and her body. The performances involved Castro standing behind a curtain, tracing her own shadow.
Her works grew more ambitious as her career went on. By the end of her life, she considered the plot of land where she lived in Madeira a canvas that she co-authored with nature and Zimbro. “I carry on painting,” she said in Through Shadows (2010), a documentary about herself directed by Catarina Mourão. “A picture. Just one. It’ll never be finished. Even when I’m gone it’ll paint itself.”