On the cover: René Ricardo Bernal

Until September 1st, Station 16 Gallery is hosting “XVII – XXI”, the solo show of renowned street artist Diogo Machado, better known as Add Fuel. During his short stay in Montreal to launch the show, our team had the opportunity to meet with him and discuss his journey as an artist, his creative process and the highlights of this exhibition.


Can you tell us a bit about your background and when your journey as an artist started?

As a kid, I was drawing all the time. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. At the time, this interest for drawing was what pulled me through graphic design. I got a college degree in graphic design. However, I understood very fast that that was not what I wanted to do. So, I started working as a freelancer, creating illustrations for different brands. I was doing t-shirts, skateboards and other cool stuff like that.


Do you think your studies in graphic design helped you develop your style as an artist?

Definitely. It helped me understand things like structure, composition, typography. All of those basic concepts that are necessary to create a beautiful art piece. You need to understand balance, colour matching and composition. It also gave me knowledge to use of graphic design softwares. So, for sure, even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, it gave me the basis to be able to do what I do today.

Photo by René Ricardo Bernal

Can you tell us more about your creative process?
For me, my work in the streets and my gallery work are two completely different things. When I’m in the streets, I work with stencils and paint. I had done some graffiti and some tagging, back in the day, but I wasn’t good. However, it gave me more confidence when I started working on my art. As I had already created in the streets, I felt more confident about exhibiting my art outside. As for my gallery work, I’ll use more fine mediums, like ceramics and tiles.

In general, I draw everything manually and scan it after. All the patterns, all of the illustrations are hand sketched first. From there, I can recreate the drawing on ceramics or turn it into a stencil, for example. I’ll repeat the pattern to see if it looks good. If it does, then I’ll retrace it in Illustrator. For me, it’s important to create by hand first. If everything’s done on the computer, then you kinda lose the human touch.


You chose to sign your artworks ‘Add Fuel’, where does that name come from?

It comes from the expression “Add Fuel to the Fire”. When I started working as an illustrator, as my name, Diogo Machado, is not common outside of Portugal, I came up with an artist name that would be easier to remember. This name helped me get more recognition for my work.

Your art reinterprets the language of the Portuguese ‘Azulejo‘ ceramic tile, what first attracted you to this art form?

It was a happy coincidence. Back in 2007, I was invited by my home city to do a project with them. At the time, I was still working mainly as an illustrator. This project was a turning point for me. I wanted to create something that would represent my city and its culture. Azulejo tiles are very characteristic of the Portuguese landscape. So, I decided to use this element in my work, while also incorporating more modern elements from my own universe, like references from video games, graffiti, sci-fi movies, cartoons, etc. I’m a child at heart, so a lot of my art is influenced by things I grew up with as a teenager.

Your art has allowed you to travel a lot. How do the various cultures you encounter on your travels influence your work?

That’s actually a very important part of what I do. So, even if my work is mainly about azulejo tiles, a Portuguese type of tile, I still try to incorporate a little bit of the local culture into the mix when I travel. I look for traditional tile or textile patterns or heritage imagery like a coat of arms, for example, and try to mix it to my Portuguese style.

For example, in Rome, there are these beautiful ceramics with geometric patterns and a cream and bordeau colour palette. Or, when I was in Scotland, I heard about an old tradition, where they would decorate entrances of old houses with small tiles. So, I mixed these to the Portuguese azulejo pattern to create murals that are more integrated in the culture of the city. I like the idea that what I do could feel familiar to the people living in the city. So, there’s an emotional connection that creates itself between the art and its audience.

You recently did 2 murals in Montreal, how has the city’s culture influenced these pieces?

For Montreal, it was different though. For the exhibition, I wanted to bring a little bit of Portugal to the city. They’re more of an extension of the show, pieces of what you’ll find in the show at Station 16 Gallery.


The first one I did is on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, at the corner of Rachel Street and the other one is Downtown, at the corner of Sherbrooke and Drummond Street.


Can you tell us more about the concept behind the show?

As you know, the title of the show is “XVII – XXI”, so I’m exploring the relation between the 17th and 21st century, the relation between the old and the new. It’s a semi digital and traditional process. Nowadays, we have a sort dependance to technology, connectivity and social media, so I’m also exploring that issue in my artwork, as it is for me a big part of what defines the 21st century. I’m working an old medium, with traditional techniques, while incorporating elements from very modern situations. It makes for a very interesting contrast.


Photo by René Ricardo Bernal

What are some of the highlights of the exhibition? What should we not miss?

The complete show is not to miss of course! This has been in the works for like 9 months, so there’s a lot of work that have been put into this. Each piece is special to me in its own way. Each one has a different vibe and sends a different message.

Photo by René Ricardo Bernal

Amongst others, I really like the mirror piece, for example. It’s called “Selfie Mirror”. It’s so different from what I’m used to doing. Besides, the idea of creating a piece that’s made for people to take pictures in is interesting.

I also brought some copies of a book I self-published recently. It’s called Square One, as it is the first book I’m publishing and it hints to my tile work. It’s a recap of my body of work for the past 10 years, all the murals and ceramic artworks I created.

Photo by René Ricardo Bernal

Are there other projects you’ve been working on and that you can tell us more about?

Next month I’ll be heading to Denver for the Crush Walls Festival. Then, I’m also working in collaboration with the Tile museum in Lisbon. They’re organising talks about tiles in the 21st century with other people that are working with this medium and historians and more. So, I’m looking forward to talk about my vision and my work with azulejo tiles.