For artists who’ve worked with tile, the appeal of the medium is wide ranging. Sometimes, they’re interested in playing with the social, cultural, and socioeconomic history of tile painting. Others are intrigued by the architectural or utilitarian uses of azulejos, or their shape-shifting formal qualities.
For filmmaker Ricardo Cortiço, the appeal of the material has everything to do with family, home, and memory. Cortiço is one of four brothers who own and operate Cortiço e Netos, a company started by their grandfather in the 1960s to preserve and sell painted tiles that had been discontinued or discarded from factories where they were mass produced. Their Lisbon shop is an archive of tiles that went out of favor in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. But today, they’re seen as beautiful, novel, or even moving to most who pass through.
“The majority of the Portuguese customers, or passersby, always recognize one or two patterns at the store,” Cortiço told me. “It usually triggers old memories of their families’ houses. There is something about the tiles that makes people very emotional.”
Cortiço’s brother, Pedro, is an artist who’s recently taken to using tile from Cortiço e Netos as the basis for large-scale mosaic wall pieces. For him, the material is deeply personal—but also universal. Like photographs, they represent memories. And when found long after they were created, they’re like jewels, meant to be collected and preserved.