Manuel Bonifacio: My Imaginary Cave

Above image: Manuel Bonifacio, Aeroplanes and Spades


On 29 April, Pallant House Gallery welcomed a new exhibition showcasing the work of Manuel Bonifacio; one of six Outside In 2012 Award Winners. The exhibition is a colourful array of Bonifacio’s imaginative characters and creatures, and is definitely a must-see if you’re down on the south coast in the next month.

Born in December 1947 near Lisbon, Portugal, Bonifacio pursued his interest in drawing and pottery after dropping out of school at the age of eight. His most recent collection of work, which features the award winning ‘Mermaid’ and a selection of pottery, is inspired by his passion for archaeology and animals. Bonifacio paints, draws, sculpts and makes at ArtVenture – a creative day centre for adults with learning difficulties – for four hours every Wednesday and Friday. Since his Award win, Bonifacio has exhibited in Birmingham and London and now has work in collections in Switzerland and New York. In recognition of Bonifacio’s talent, an Outsider Art collector will be travelling over from Switzerland to attend this much-anticipated exhibition.

Manuel Bonifacio, Jungle Animal

Manuel Bonifacio, Jungle Animal

“Manuel’s thing at the moment is mermaids, but he loves motorbikes,” his niece says. “He likes to do things his own way; he thinks ‘I’m the artist and I know what I’m doing’!” Bonifacio’s mermaids (one of which one him the Award in 2012) have an interesting narrative all of their own. “They live in Lisbon, but they go all over the world,” says Bonifacio. Lisbon is in fact populated with several mermaid statues, including eight in the large fountains in Rossio Square. Bonifacio adds: “All the children used to say ‘Look, there she  is – the mermaid!’ She waves to the people, and then goes under water again when the boats pass.”

At a young age, Bonifacio joined the fire brigade as a volunteer and his life’s ambition was to be in the army. Many of his works reflect his passion for army transportation, depicting helicopters, aeroplanes, motorbikes and boats. His work is also inspired by politics and everything he sees on television, but most of it comes straight from his colourful imagination. His sister describes the huge variety of subject matter he depicts: “The birth of Jesus, the circus, the Pope, the Queen, Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron, dancers, Christmas-inspired pieces, motorcycles, musicians, buskers, birds, divers, fish, helicopters, dogs, horses, wolves, mermaids, and always people. There are faces in most of his work.”

Manuel Bonifacio, Motorbike and Man

Manuel Bonifacio, Motorbike and Man

Keen to explore and take on a challenge, Bonifacio has previously experimented with printmaking and wood carving and he occasionally dabbles in watercolours and oils. His portfolio also includes an array of distinctive ceramic mugs, vessels and faces. Walking from Cobham to Kingston regularly – a 20 minute drive – Bonifacio notes down road names, makes sketches and absorbs nature and life, which are ever present in his work. One of his figures was inspired by a statue on a roundabout in his hometown, but more generally, the characters he so vividly creates come straight from his mind. There is a sense that he could conjure anything; a donkey, a bullfighter, or various forms of transport.

Bonifacio’s sister, Maria Odone, says: “Manuel’s work has been a valuable asset to everyone who knows him as it is also a way he likes to communicate. His ideas and perception of what is going on around him both locally and nationally are very unique. His ambition as an artist is to travel around the world, finding places and people that will inspire him.”

Manuel Bonifacio, Ball Games

Manuel Bonifacio, Ball Games

Roger Cardinal, who coined the term Outsider Art in 1972 as the English equivalent of Jean Dubuffet’s Art Brut, was one of the Outside In: National judges. He speaks of the moment he first saw Bonifacio’s Mermaid at the Gallery: “It struck me as entirely familiar and made me think of the Frenchman Guillaume Pujolle, an early star of Art Brut whose lyrical images I cherish. This brief and decisive moment established Bonifacio as my top choice. The Mermaid is a perfect reality for him [Bonifacio]. I see her arms and elongated fingers as enacting the motions of swimming, although she can also be said to be flying. Hence she is capable of traversing earth, sea and air, and becomes and emblem of the artist’s unfettered imagination.”


Entry to Manuel Bonifacio: My Imaginary Cave is free. The exhibition continues in the Studio at Pallant House Gallery until 1 June 2014.


To see more of Manuel’s work, click here.

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