In the early years of the 14th century, the Order of the Knights Templar which had been in existence for nearly 200 years, was about to be abolished by Pope Clement V using a Papal decree. The Knights would subsequently be brutally persecuted all over Europe, their lands seized, and their members accused of heresy that resulted in their mass slaughter.
The Order had been in place in Portugal since its inception and was head-quartered in Tomar in the centre of the country. Don Dinis I, the King of Portugal, refused to take part in the persecutions and instead reconstituted them as the Ordem Militar de Cristo and negotiated an agreement with Clement’s sucessor, John XXII, to allow the newly-created Order to inherit the properties and assets of the Templars in Portugal.
Don Dinis then used the services of the Order during the ‘Reconquista’, to expel the Muslims out of the country.
The Order of Christ’ would eventually locate itself at the strategic coastal town of Castro Marim at the mouth of the Ria Guadiana and remained there until 1397 during which time they would serve Henry the Navigator at the beginning of Portugal’s Age of Discoveries.
On the approach Castro Marim today, you will be struck by the well-preserved castle that overlooks the town but as you draw closer, right there in the centre of the road stands an enormous Ordem Militar de Cristo knight on horseback. It is, in fact, a magnificent sculpture fashioned from steel rods and plate so as to make it seem almost translucent – an ethereal figure still protecting the fortress town after more than 600 years.
From agriculture to metalwork
This spectacular work of art was conceived, designed and built by the esteemed artist and sculptor Carlos de Oliveira Correia.
Born in Huambo, Angola in 1955, he spent a brief time as a boy with his family near Aveiro, before retuning to live in Portugal permanently when he was 20 years old. He studied agriculture in Lisbon and at one time had the largest agri-nursery in Algarve giving work to more than 70 people before the enterprise was destroyed by the wild fires here in 2004.
Some 15 years ago, while studying at the University of the Agarve (UALG) in Faro, he began to develop his skills as an artist working with metal from a warehouse at his old nursery business in the hills above Castro Marim.
He now produces all his work from there and on a recent visit he explained his process to me. But first it is useful to familiarise yourself with some of his sculptures in order to grasp the amount of care he puts into achieving the subtle details that bring his work to life.
Some of his more famous pieces were commissioned by various câmara’s around Algarve. For example O Polvo, the Octopus, in Quarteira; Os Corticeiros in Silves, Liberdade and
Hidrovião (Flying Boat Plane) both in São Brás de Alportel, and Ronaldo´s Bicycle Kick which was on display at the Hotel Ria Park during the national team’s visit.
Whilst the Hidrovião is practically a life-sized replica, built from sheet metal and includes a rotating propeller that spins in the wind and was engineered to millimetre perfection, the other pieces are fashioned from literally tens of thousands of punched metal disks each one bent by hand on a work bench into a desired curve or shape and then spot welded onto a skeleton frame of steel bars.
The ‘Ronaldo’ piece took three men 21 days to complete. Carlos studied videos of the famous goal that Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid against Juventus many times over to achieve the right body angle, ball trajectory and even expression on the footballer’s face.
The Liberdade piece was originally conceived as a flock of birds bursting out of a cage, but was changed to the ‘Family’ we see today. Unfortunately, the piece was badly damaged shortly after its installation by a motorist who ploughed through it one night, but happily it is back to its original glory now. ‘
Os Corticeiros in Silves celebrates the locality’s cork industry . The artist has also created an installation on the river bank in Silves of a set of four figures each one alluding to the importance of sport and well-being.
Alvor hosts a spectacular piece that shows a child desperately trying to get a cup of clean water from the earth but instead finds a tap fixed to the globe that is only spouting plastic detritus. It’s not the first time that Carlos has created an awareness of coastal pollution from plastics. A few years ago he created a giant fish made like a basket or a ‘piggy bank’ that was sited on the beach in Tavira to encourage beach goers to pick up any bits of plastic they saw on the sands and to deposit them in the fish’s belly. The idea has been replicated on beaches throughout Europe with great enthusiasm.
So many themes
As well as rigid metal, Carlos has also used metal mesh to create some of his pieces, the Golf Buggy at the entrance to Benamor Golf Club in Tavira is one exemple, as is a donkey and cart that is in the Praça Marques de Pombal in Vila Real de Stº António.
One of Carlos’ favourite pieces, O Contrabanista, represents the smugglers of the Guadiana. It is formed from a steel bar Shell, and filled with river stones and seems to hover over the ground.
Castro Marim is famous for its sea salt. Flor de Sal is the ultimate pure salt favoured by healthy eaters and it is harvested there. Pure sea salt is also harvested in a town in Loire Atlantique in France, Guérande, and the two towns are twinned. Carlos created a piece to celebrate the shared interests by depicting the salt harvesters from both regions, the installation in Guérande was inaugurated in June 2018.
Perhaps his most fluidsculpture to date is O Polvo in Quarteira. This amazing piece of art and engineering was created in 2016. As mentioned before Carlos studies videos as a tool to visualise how his pieces will turn out, with this spectacular sculpture he has captured the movement and grace of the octopus – it seems to be writhing from every angle and the shadows it casts enhance the illusion even more. He is currently working on a Dolphin that will be installed in Albufeira.
At his workshop, he showed me a photograph of a small toy dolphin – no more than 15cm long – that he is using as a reference to build a sculpture that will stand about 5m tall when it is up on its plinth. Other installations by Carlos that are coming soon to the region are a Family of Cyclists in Alvor, a man and woman with their donkey collecting water from a well at Montes de Alvor, and a group of three couples dancing along to an acordeonista on stage that was commissioned by the Grupo Foclórico de Faro. Once again, like much of his work, you can almost see the characters moving to the music.
In a section of Carlos´ workshop stand two characters from literary history, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They are an obvious source of pride to the artist who admires the imagination and sense of purpose of The Man from La Mancha. The original title of Cervantes novel was The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. The epithet of ‘Ingenious Gentleman’ can also be attributed to the ‘Man from Huambo and Castro Marim’, the esteemed Sr. Carlos de Oliveira Correia.
Words: Brian Redmond