Accidental beauty turns artist Fabio Almeida’s head. Shapes created incidentally, the aesthetics of happenstance and the drama in the mundane – like some ordinary garage doors, or a neighbour’s fence alongside a dustbin, “scenes that are nothing special, but which create interesting images that weren’t intended.” That TOAST’s seasonal theme is Everyday Theatre feels fitting to his work, not least the piece that went on to become a silk scarf in the Autumn Winter collection. With its fruit bowl colours - a spiral of triangles “exploding away from the centre”, as Fabio puts it - the design is like an aerial view of a tent, suggestive of a circus.
“It’s quite an unusual piece for me,” he says. “My work usually looks like structures or buildings within a background. I see them as a cross-section or a plan.” Glancing around the small edit of his work on his living room walls in south-east London, it is true that much of his work has a blockishness and gravity – a horizon line at the bottom, and a sense of pulling downwards rather than the weightless, spinning motion in the silk scarf design. “I asked myself how it might be if I started this piece in the middle rather than from the bottom. I’d been to an exhibition of Alfredo Volpi’s work [a Brazilian painter known for painting the facades of buildings with banderinhas, or bunting] and took inspiration from the happiness of the shapes.”
Fabio now cites the South American modernist movement as a key inspiration for his work, but this wasn’t always the case. Born in Porto Allegre in Brazil in 1968, “a city which is new new new,” he was engulfed by, and enamoured with, Europe’s many textures; “I think I needed to distance myself from Brazil in order to be here,” he says, “and it took me a while to realise that where I came from had an aesthetic value and that it was influencing me all the time.”
He describes himself as “a cultural migrant” to London, having moved here not out of necessity but interest, and almost by accident. He tells me he’d been studying sports but, after sustaining an injury, had time on his hands and so joined friends on their European travels. As “an indie kid” who loved British bands – The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division – London was seductive, but on arriving here, he became an art groupie. “I lived in galleries, and started to read art history compulsively. I memorised early Dada to contemporary, studied painting and sculpture at City Lit and did an art foundation course at Chelsea”. Then he just started making work, and held down a catering job to pay for his studio.
Fabio admits that he is possibly obsessed with contrasts. Take South American modernism: the concrete architecture, plus the climate and vegetation makes, he says, for a meeting of the natural and manmade in a very particular way. “My work is about those contrasts: brutal meets softness,” he remarks, “and when you start thinking of these juxtapositions, you can’t stop seeing them.” He motions out of the window at the layered London skyline, one of so many ages that it is ageless: the London Eye laid over Big Ben, the Scalpel (the horizon’s own “play” button) and St Paul’s, the O2 arena and housing stock from virtually every decade in the last two hundred years. “I also find the stretch of time that we live in to be fascinating – you could be typing on a computer but in a house with cornices that was built in 1889,” he says, gesturing outside once more, “and I will admire those crappy garage doors as much as a nice fireplace – I can accommodate the bourgeois as much as the rawness.”
While Fabio describes himself as coming from a post-punk scene with a love of “DIY aesthetics, safety pins and tape”, he resists labels, either for himself or his work. He says that his work resists narratives, that it is merely a visual representation of what he sees and feels in a moment, or draws on from memory: rough walls, digital glitches; newsprint, plywood, deadstock fabric, even rubbish pulled from a skip. “I like the idea of looking, glancing, registering – there’s a narrative in terms of visualisation of the world, but not necessarily relating to event.” He makes everything his own, he says, usually by painting it, and then recycles it into a new thing. “In this way, I reference the past but the work lives in the now – it is part of who I am in the present, what I see, and the materials at my disposal.” It might not set out to tell a story, but each piece is brimming with feeling, I think.
I realise as we talk that, despite the curated elegance of his home space – he and his partner have converted a 1960s house in Forest Hill into a family home which is a canvas for his art and collected objects, like angular ceramics and houseplants that recall the vegetation in Porto Allegre – there is much about where Fabio is now which was unplanned. Perhaps the same can be said of everyone, to some extent: all of us get carried to unexpected corners by the tide of life. But I am interested in his journey: how he fell into London, how he meandered into art, and how his work, on the face of it so put together, is an arbitrary assembly of things found, customised and tried alongside one another. His work channels the accidental beauty of his very self, “making sense,” as he puts it, “of what I see now, and what I’ve seen.”
Interview by Mina Holland.
Photographs by Elena Heatherwick.