Artists’ homes and workspaces are spread across four of the island’s small towns, long ago anointed with names like Deep Bay, Tilting, and Joe Batt’s Arm. Otto-Knapp remembers the dramatic setting of her first studio. “Both the architecture, from the outside, and the views, from the inside, were so striking,” she recalls. “The windows frame these incredible seascapes.” Each of the four studios on Fogo were designed by Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders. They are luminous, elegant boxes on stilts, inspired by traditional Fogo vernacular architecture, and situated on public hiking paths abutting the volatile sea.
Otto-Knapp didn’t paint her surroundings during her first stay on the island. But its “stark separation between sea and land and the horizon,” as she explains it, began to seep into her work after she left. Some of her ghostly, grayscale paintings have become populated with hazy seascapes that aren’t direct representations of Fogo, but capture the place’s severe terrain and mystical energy.
The artist has since returned to Fogo almost every year. But it’s not only the striking landscape that brings her back. “Obviously it’s a very beautiful place—the seascape is very barren and very striking. It sounds so isolated, but I actually found it to be a very social place,” she tells me. “That’s one of the reasons I like to go back there—I feel like I’m part of a community.” She describes boat rides with locals who’ve become friends, and regular conversations with a local artist over his organic vegetable and chicken stand.
Beyond making a short, public presentation about their practice, residents aren’t required to interact with the landscape or the local community, but most do both. “We don’t want to instrumentalize artists; they are not at the service of Fogo Island,” says Nicolaus Schafhausen, the Strategic Director of FIA and Shorefast Foundation. “But inevitably they do interact—not only on an intellectual, academic level—but also emotionally, with the people.”