“Deep down I think that I am more a contemporary folk artist than an illustrator,” says Mantraste. Raised by a family of farmers in a tiny village in Portugal, it’s easy to understand why he sees his practice in this way. The drawings and paintings that make up his colourful portfolio frequently bear resemblance to traditional folk art. Like much of the work within this genre, his work draws inspiration from the culture of a community – more specifically, the tight-knit group of families that make up his small hometown. Though his own family greatly influenced him during his childhood, his time spent exploring a nearby forest and caring for the village’s animals also played central roles in shaping him.
These wholesome pastimes were accompanied by exposure to pop culture TV shows such as Dragon Ball, which along with his surroundings, were very important to Mantraste during his youth. In his artworks, we can see the marriage of these two influences, the contemporary and the traditional, and they speak to both his ancestral roots and his personal worldview. The old-fashioned clothing of the figures, which is depicted using a modern style of illustration, is a nod to his early years and to the past in general. “[The outfits] represent a certain simplicity that I feel is lacking nowadays. It’s a return to home, to childhood, but it’s also a way of calming down – it’s my mandala.”
Other than the physical appearance of the characters in his illustrations, he also incorporates elements of nature and popular mysticism, which he was surrounded with as a child. “I grew up very close to these two things… to popular celebrations, fairs, pagan home remedies, and religious rituals – it’s hard not to be influenced by that,” he explains. This world finds its way into his work through classic symbols of flora, fauna, the sun, tools, tinctures, and sacred objects. According to Mantraste, this may at first glance appear to be representative of Portuguese culture and tradition, but in reality, it speaks more to his own history, background and emotions. “Even when this is not really visible, I think it can be felt, and the ones who feel it are those who identify more with my work, maybe because they feel in very similar ways without being able to express it.”
Mantraste explains that he thinks often about these relationships, about the connection between the audience and the work, and especially between the work and himself. He is interested in “how we let ourselves be defined by what we do”. At its core, his creative practice is so clearly driven by his own experiences and understandings, that it comes as no surprise that he views his art as an integral part of his identity. “It was very important for me to discover that I do not even see myself as an illustrator and that I don’t want to do the best illustration ever or to be the best illustrator in the world,” he says. “I just want to be able to inspire someone and help the world to be a better place. I realised that I don’t need to be an illustrator to do that. But for the moment, it is where I find my voice.”
Mantraste: Reliquiario de Santa Luzia (Copyright © Mantraste, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.