Artists  •  Featured  •  Spotlight on...

Pancho Guedes, a Portuguese grandmaster

Featured in Singulart’s exclusive partner sale with the Perve Gallery in Portugal, Pancho Guedes’ expertise and philosophy are making us travel to Mozambique in the 1960s. Discover here the life of a unique postmodernist artist and architect, Pancho Guedes.

His life

Portugese Artist, Amancio d’Alpoim Miranda Guedes (known as Pancho Guedes), was born in Portugal in 1925 and was a pioneer of Lusophone African architecture. He moved to Mozambique with his parents when he was 5 years old, he grew up and lived in Africa for most of his life. 

Pancho Guedes wanted to be an artist and paint for a living. Yet, he quickly learned at the University of Witwatersrand in 1945 in Johannesburg; that architecture was above all an art that combined many different artistic and design fields. From the beginning, Pancho had a unique talent as a designer. Artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Joan Miró, Paul Klee, Picasso, Juan Gris inspired him.

His most creative period was in the 1950s-1960s, Guedes designed more than 500 buildings mostly in Mozambique and a few in Angola, South Africa and Portugal. It is said that if he had been an architect in the West, the media would have made a lot more of him and his unique style than they have done now. One of his most famous buildings as of today is the Smiling Lion Building, built in 1956 in Mozambique. 

The Smiling Lion, Maputo, Mozambique, 1956 – Credits: Pinterest

Guedes also travelled Europe in that period. He found his way to Paris where Team 10,  created by former members of the CIAM architectural group led by Corbusier, invited him to their inaugural meeting. There, he met architects such as Aldo van Eyck, Alison and Peter Smithson. Pando was well received as the group recognised the originality of his work and his honest criticism. However, described as “un enfant terrible”, Guedes left the group a few years later and continued his solo career. 

After this period, Pancho Guedes became a professor and director of the architecture department of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for 15 years. He continued his sketches and showing his art. In 2007, he exhibited at the Museum of Architecture in Basel, Switzerland entitled “Pancho Guedes, an Alternative Modernist”. Prestigious international museums and galleries such the Museum City of Cape Town in South Africa presented his work too.

Considered as a post-modern artist and architect before the term was even invented, Guedes died in 2015 at the age of 90 leaving behind a heritage of buildings, sketches, paintings and sculptures.

Sagrada Familia Church, Machava, Mozambique (1960-1964), Amâncio (Pancho) Guedes – © Family archive Pancho Guedes

A unique style

Africa created a primeval energy in Pancho. The way people created their own projects captivated him and influenced his organic approach to design. Guedes paid attention to the nature of a site, the climate, local materials and traditions. He found beauty in the history of places, buildings and aimed at restoring rather than destroying to recreate anew. 

Guedes’ art has many different influences: such as African art and surrealis. He merged such influences into one and created his unique, post-modern, complex and eclectic design. With a rebellious mind and a passion for opposition and debate: Pancho Guedes was against all types of trends. Feeling like he belonged to another world, he found in Africa, the liberty to explore outside the norms of the artworld. Guedes’ work represents multiple figurines, a variety of materials, forced smiles and grimaces fitting into a surrealist approach.

Throughout his architectural career, Guedes never ceased to paint nor argue for the merge of artistic borders, forms of art and the discipline of architecture. He continued to draw, improve and make models of his own buildings long after habitation. His sketches were the bridge between his artistic and architectural fields. 

Pancho Guedes (n.d) – Credits: The Architectural Review

A tribute to Paul Klee

One of his latest sketches, made in 2015, entitled Tribute to Paul Klee is available during our exclusive Partner Sale with the Perve Gallery. In this drawing, Guedes pays a tribute to the artist Paul Klee. He displayed his admiration for Paul Klee in his end of career works. In fact, Pancho purchased famous prints of Paul Klee in 1948 and made sculptures inspired by Paul Klee’s Angels.

As mentioned above, drawing combined Guedes’ passions together. Here, we can observe a black and white drawing in Indian ink. It represents a faceless figure with a distorted body covered by connected straight lines with a left hand raising a finger. 

Tribute to Paul Klee (2005)- Pancho Guedes – Drawing sold at the Perve Gallery

The surrealist style of both Pancho Guedes and his inspiration of Paul Klee is recognized here in this childlike theme. The straight lines may be interpreted as a giant spider’s web: capturing the character and limiting his movement, thoughts and actions. The lines are connecting the hands to the head and the legs on the ground.

In this artwork, Guedes was perhaps highlighting how our thoughts and society influence our actions. While the drawing remains a tribute to another artist, one might wonder whether this might be a representation of Guedes feeling of coming from a different world and being trapped (in a spider’s web) in a world where he does not belong. 

“’Many of the ideas of my architecture originate in drawings, which are common to my paintings and sculpture. Others are paraphrases or distorted quotations from other artists’ works and ideas […] I believe that paintings and all other creations grow out of each other, that each artist invents his own precursors, that there is an incessant dialogue with many pasts. […] My task is now to scout the borders of architecture and art. To expand their territories, with new ideas and possibilities and signpost them for students and myself.’

Pancho Guedes

Leaving behind a “deluge buildings” according to Lars Lerup; Pancho Guedes built bridges between Modern Art, African Art, Surrealism and his visual art, whilst reminding artists that art can be a mix of all practices, studies, times, materials and inspiration. The Perve Gallery exhibited an anthology of some of his works in 2005, in a retrospective called “VIVA PANCHO”. The restrospective included the artwork “Tribute to Paul Klee”.