Artist Luciana Rosado on painting, parenthood and the power of words

What’s on Cambridge talks to artist Luciana Rosado, whose first UK solo exhibition The Spare Room is currently  showing at Murray Edwards College.

Head just out of the city centre and a (very) short hike up Huntingdon Road and you’ll find Murray Edwards College, one of Cambridge’s three women-only colleges, tucked just out of view from the main road. As a modern building a little way off the beaten track, this isn’t a part of the university that features heavily on most visitor itineraries. Which is a shame, because the college boasts a phenomenal collection of art by contemporary female artists.

Whilst there’s little in the way of dedicated exhibition space, the works, which are rotated regularly, line corridors, staircases, gardens and student areas; armed only with a flyer outlying some of the most pre-eminent works and a map of where to find them in the college, exploring the college in the near-solitude of the summer holidays is a thrill of its own. Stroll across a courtyard and you spot a Barbara Hepworth sculpture. Follow the spiral staircase into the dome and you find Maggi Hambling’s iconic Gulf Women Prepare for War incongruously hovering on the empty dining room wall. It’s an art-lover’s treasure hunt.

Whilst most works belong to the permanent collection, a single sunlit corridor is dedicated to short term exhibitions of new work. At present, that honour goes to Luciana Rosada, a Portuguese artist living in Cambridge, who has waited four years for the opportunity.

Rosada’s work combines fragments of text from song lyrics, books and poetry with layer upon layer of acrylic paint, watered down enough to keep its vibrancy but spread like watercolour. This tension between the stable definition of words and the free flowing movement of the paint forms the basis of her work, which is inspired by the human need to control the uncontrollable, containing fleeting memories, sensations and emotions.

“People often ask me if I choose what to write first and then paint or the other way around,” she says. “It’s intended as a relationship between writing and painting.”

Rosada, whose elder brother is a musician, grew up surrounded by music and finds words to be a powerful muse for her work. Certain lyrics, she says, would spark an almost synaesthetic response, suggesting powerful colours and images that are captured in her paintings. Because much of the music she was exposed to was sung in English, she continues to focus on English words and phrases and has recently begun exploring English translations of Portuguese poetry for inspiration.

Despite this strong connection, her work is first and foremost about the visual and is not an exhibition of words. “I’m really passionate about words, but I don’t have any ambition to be a writer,” she says, laughing.

Since moving to Cambridge from Lisbon five years ago, Rosado says has found the lighter feel of her early work evolving into something heavier, darker and more thoughtful. “One of the things about the exhibition is that I’m reflecting on living abroad, being an immigrant, adjusting to a new setting,” she explains, pointing to how her paintings deal with these experiences by exploring the qualities of water – movement, transparency and the ability to mix and disperse.

This change in style also reflects the demands of motherhood, she says, which in the past two years has made her previously gentler pace of production “almost impossible,” but at the same time sharpened her need to create, reminding her of how precious and essential artistic expression is to her identity. Rather than spending most of her time at her canvas, she now allows an idea to ruminate and take shape over an extended period of time before realising it in frenetic 20 minute bursts, bringing an immediacy and intensity to the final images.

These limitations, says Rosada, have made her more disciplined and effective. “I spend a lot of time not making art,” she explains. “So I keep it all inside, and when I have time to work, it has to work.”

Luciana Rosado: The Spare Room will run until 20th September at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge CB3 0DF. Admission free. Click here for directions.