Tosco Studio is led by Joana Esteves, an upcoming Portuguese artist, and designer who creates otherworldly unique concrete sculptures, furniture, and pavement. Her creations are full of energy, presence, modernity, and color. A beloved collective member Joana Esteves welcomed us at her studio in Lisbon for a conversation about the Tosco Studio, herself, nature, and upcycling.
For this edition of The Collective, we are in Alcântara, one of the coolest districts of Lisbon, where authenticity is still present and real. It used to be one of Lisbon’s main industrial areas, so here you can find old shut-down factories and warehouses that today are very sought after by the creative industries. Across the road from the train station is a warehouse, the headquarters of Tosco Studio.
As I enter the studio, I recognize that the visual information all around me is exciting: Tall and old brick walls, people moving around, and a beautiful equilibrium between mess and organization, is exactly what you expect from a creative studio. You feel it as you enter, a lot is going on at Tosco Studio. Sculptures, molds, pieces of stone, gravel, wooden blocks, patterns, books, dust masks, pigments, furniture, and music. Across the main room, there is a staircase and a large door. Behind Joana Esteves is working on the dough, it feels a bit like a bakery, but instead of flour, there is cement. As she looks at us, we can feel her welcoming smile behind the dust mask, a few minutes of preparation, and all is set for our conversation.
Hello Joana. Welcome to The Collective.
Hi everyone, thank you for being here. Thank you for your interest in Tosco Studio, I am looking forward to our conversation. What the Trema project is doing by promoting other people's work is a very noble cause - let's get into it!
Tell us, who are you and what do you do?
I'm Joana and I'm a designer and founder of Tosco Studio. My training is in drawing, later I became a designer. Now I work with concrete. My passion is to give life and energy to concrete. We have this material, on which we have a very standardized mindset to its use: making of houses, roads, etc. I want to give a different approach to cement usage. Cement as a material is not considered noble, typically beautiful, or aesthetically appealing. My goal is to give the material a new life and prove it to be noble, beautiful & interesting. It is creatively and technically challenging. I love the material and the creation process.
And that's how Tosco started?
Exactly, and that's how Tosco began. The studio was founded in 2019.
I have always felt somehow drawn to the arts but I had not found the means to express myself. I kept looking for it, but it wasn't writing, it wasn't photography, neither painting... I wanted to find a material that would allow me to express my inner creativity. It turned out to be concrete. The endless option for shapes, colors, and patterns make my job super interesting and fulfilling, it is a beautiful challenge to have. It is such a versatile material with such a wide range of uses: from a wall to a floor, a statue, a vase, a cup. The possibilities are endless.
What does Tosco Studio create?
Anything we want, as long as it has concrete! That is the cool part, our creations are only limited by our creativity. We work with concrete, and the objective is to create handmade unique pieces. Most of the time it is furniture-related. Tables, shelves, counters, sinks, or pavement. We also create decorative objects, such as statues, lamps, vases, and frames. There is no real limitation, it is in the end a combination of what we want to create and what the clients are looking for.
Who are, typically, the Tosco Studio clients?
We have mainly two types of clients, and we are proud to have our creations overseas, in countries such as Spain, France, Italy, the US, and Canada. Some clients are people who want to buy a specific piece, such as a vase or a lamp, or to develop a specific single project, it can be for example a sink or a kitchen counter. We also have our institutional clients, with whom we develop specific projects. Ranging from tabletops for a hotel in Portugal, pavement for a specific construction project in Spain, or a set of coffee tables in Italy.
What can you tell us about concrete? Is it the same as cement?
No. Well, commonly yes, people tend to think concrete is the same as cement. Cement is one of the ingredients used in concrete. Concrete is a dough, a mixture of aggregates and paste. The aggregates can be several different things, it can be sand, crushed stone, or sorts of gravel. The paste is water and cement. Together they create concrete. As time goes by concrete gets harder and it does not require a lot of maintenance, which explains why everyone uses it.
Tell us about your background and your story, so the other Collective members can know you better.
I'm from Lisbon, Portugal. I have always lived here. I have always had a connection with the arts, and studied arts but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I enrolled in Universidade das Belas Artes, in Lisbon, to study drawing. However, it did not hook me. Later I began working at an advertising agency, despite being a Photoshop rookie! I worked there for 5 years, so I became a designer. I knew I did not want to stay long hours working behind a computer screen. I missed getting my hands dirty. Which is what I always liked to do, making beautiful things with my hands.
Do you come from a family of artists?
No, not at all. I was the one who started the art trend in my family. After I began working as an artist, my sister enrolled in cinema school and my brother turned to music - I guess they needed motivation! But no, my family background is not related to the arts.
Apart from arts, did you ever have another job? Any experience you want to share?
I did the typical teenager jobs. Once I worked in a clothing store for a while I clearly understood it was not for me, It was a perfect mismatch. I have to admit I did not like it! It was the farthest I had ever felt from my true self, and I took that as a lesson. I think everyone should find something to do that they love, by doing so, life gets brighter and you feel alive.
Who is a creator you admire?
Gaudí. I will never forget my first trip to Barcelona. What I saw inspired me in a very deep way. Gaudí is truly a visionary. The things he has done are just breathtaking and incredible. He disrupted architecture in a way that to my eyes, was truly unique and coherent. Those are not just buildings, those are art! It's concrete, but it's art.
What themes inspire your work and creations?
Nature and form. The form has a very nice duality, as a concept, it is abstract and real at the same time. I am always paying attention to the shape of things: how they start, how they end, and how they make me feel. What volumetry an element occupies, its real space and its physical existence are for me, as real as life gets. I see it as a way for Nature to communicate with us, it is something I understand. It can be the continuously changing shape of a wave until it settles on the sand or the brutalist shape and impotence of a cliff. Elements in their pure and raw state, intrigue and fascinates me. My inspiration is the shapes I see in the world, every day.
What is the role of nature in your life and work?
We work together! I take raw elements and I turn them into something beautiful. Despite my manipulation, the brutality and strength factor remains unabated. Just like in nature, here at Tosco studio materials are used cyclically and circularly. There is consistent creative reuse. The process of taking used objects, waste, and useless parts in the creation of something new. Reusing something with a different function for which it was initially designed. In my creative process, there is a lot of upcycling and there is very little waste. And whatever waste there is, I always find a way to use it somehow and integrate it into my creations. I see it as a collaboration between Nature and our team.
Upcycling is very present in your art, then?
Yes. Whenever I go out on the street, and I see something that is considered to be waste or trash but contains some potential for repurposing, I manage to grab and take it with me. Just look around you! A lot of what you see are elements that will at some point be used. Even when I pass by construction sites, when I see that buckets of rock and cement are being thrown away, I ask to take them with me to the studio. I make good use of them in my creations. Such as on Terrazo, which is upcycled rock scraps. Upcycling is very present. The options are endless. I just need to find new ways of using those materials making them no longer redundant.
Are there any important symbols for you?
Nope. Not really. I am more into shapes and patterns.
What about the one you're wearing around your neck?
Oh! This one is, indeed. What I have around my neck are Zodiac pendants, they represent Pisces which is my star sign and was my grandad's as well. In my work, I don't explore symbology, but in my personal life, I do. Symbology, for me, is something very interesting that deserves more attention. I often wonder why some shapes are so important to specific people. Maybe I should dig deeper into it!
What is your favorite creation?
And from the Studio, what is your favorite creation?
In my art or concrete, my favorite creation is always the last one I made. I feel like I improve with each sculpture, every new creation I make is more to my liking than the previous one. Adding new technical findings, processes, materials, and colors… well is a never-ending process of redefining what is best for the next creation.
Any specific compliment you want to point out?
I am not very good at handling compliments. I feel like I can always do more and better. Don't get me wrong, I feel grateful for the compliments I receive, but my work is always improving, and I always want to do new and better. What I'm going to do tomorrow will always be better than what I did today. It is an organic process. Of course, others people’s opinions and feedback are important but my motivation goes beyond the opinion of others. So in general no, no compliment stands out.
Who is the person that inspires you the most?
My mother. The person I admire the most has always been my mother, she is my safe harbor. My mother is a force of nature. I've never seen anyone work so hard. She inspires me a lot because I aspire to be like her. She is an idealist, and I think I got that from her. When I idealize something for myself, I want the universe around me to be like that too. What moves me is to make the world a better, more beautiful, and fairer place.
Is the life of a creator lonely?
I feel like the life of a creator is lonely because I spend a lot of time inside my head. It's part of my personality as well, but my creative process is very much based on my ruminating thoughts. My desire to create comes from what I feel, from what I like, and from what impresses me. A significant part of my creative process takes place here in my head and later comes the experimenting. However, being lonely and alone are different things, indeed sometimes the living experience of a creator is inwards, hence, to a certain extent, lonely.
What kind of research do you do?
Besides the hours spent scrolling on Pinterest? (Laughter) Since I started TOSCO, my way of doing research and looking at the world has completely changed. I always look intending to serve myself for my art and my work, even without knowing the end goal. Sometimes I need to sit down and organize specific research actions, however, it mostly happens daily. Everything can be part of a creator's research, at least for me.
What are your goals?
I want to continue to be able to materialize what is going on inside my head into concrete sculptures. My goal is to nurture the necessary conditions to keep doing what I love to do the most, that is the goal.
Being Portuguese, what does it mean to you?
To be cool (laughter). The Portuguese are very persevering people. Despite difficulties, we keep moving forward. That's why it's cool to be part of these people and this culture that I love so much.
Tell us three objects you can't live without
My Pisces pendant is a gift from my grandfather. My notebook and my music loudspeaker.
Are you a collector?
Yes, I am, I collect rocks. I have always collected rocks. Now I work with rocks! (laughter)
What is the artist's role in society?
We all have a more intimate place inside us. Our true self. I think artists, real artists, have access to that place and information. And they help the public to get closer to their true selves through art. This is the role of the artist in society.
Define TOSCO in one word.
TOSCO is a Portuguese word with a lovely meaning, it means a blend of rough, raw, and genuine. So, TOSCO in one word is "Tosco".
… a book
Haruki Murakami. I love his books. They are always so real and at the same time completely surreal. We are floating between our universe and another, surprising and mysterious parallel. It keeps me hooked until I finish the book.
… a song
Wish you were here. It will always be one of the most beautiful songs ever created, in my opinion. Pink Floyd is magical.
… a film
Ponyo by the sea, Chihiro's trip. Any of Miyazaki's movies. They are animated films of unmistakable beauty and depth. I saw a documentary by Studio Ghibli not long ago and I was fascinated with the way Miyazaki makes films, I recommend them!
… a masterpiece
Basquiat. All his art. The rawness with which he painted, the subjects as hard as they are beautiful, his pain and suffering...the emotions are so palpable that we can see and feel him on canvas.
Thank you very much for your time, Joana. Congratulations on your outstanding work and super nice vibes! We are looking forward to seeing and following the growing path of Tosco Studio. We are very proud to have you as a member of our Collective.
Find more of Joana’s sculptures here.
Interview by Vicente Leitão, photographs by Vicente Leitão and Maria Abranches.