Xico Nico’s remarkable and unusual sculptures present a very personal and disturbing figurative world, where the actors are humans and also a wide range of animals, displaying powerful feelings, sometimes multiple and contrasting, including some with an expressionist approach or coming from the unconscious, and, in the case of animals, stressed by humour and pure inventiveness.
I discovered his work a year ago after buying one of his sculptures – a small, iron, articulated dog – in a traditional folk art and handicraft shop. I then went to his studio, where I entered an astonishing world. There were hundreds of unusual sculptures of different sizes and materials, most of them never exhibited, some deeply hidden. And there, for the first time, was where Xico Nico heard about outsider art, Art Brut or even contemporary folk art.
In September 2011, I, with almost 40 outsider and patient self-taught art lovers, including art historians, psychiatrists, art therapists, and top mainstream Portuguese artists such as Eduardo Nery and Joana Vasconcelos, founded the Portuguese Association of Outsider Art. Its main goals are to discover, study and promote outsider art, protecting and promoting artists, preserving collections and linking art therapy studios across the country, and to try to create a medium-sized outsider art museum via an enlargement of the Bombarda Hospital Museum. Xico Nico, amongst several other outsider artists, was selected for the first large exhibition in April/May 2012 (with more than 80 works) in Galveias Palace, central Lisbon. It proved to be a great success, receiving a large number of visitors and press and internet reviews, as well as spreading the concept of ‘Arte Outsider’ (in Portuguese) and, of course, introducing Xico Nico.
Xico Nico (full name Francisco Manuel de Jesus Nico) was born in 1951, the son of a fisherman, in Peniche, where he still lives and has a studio in the old Fortress. From secondary school, he graduated in metal mechanics and then worked in that field for 22 years. In 1987, he became a teacher at CERCI (a pioneering institution for the rehabilitation of young people with disabilities) of Peniche, and there he began to create his own sculptures.
Most of Nico’s sculpture should be considered outsider art, or near to it, and only through that perspective can it be fully understood and admired. The characteristics appointed by Jean Dubuffet in his concept of outsider art match Nico’s profile: a self-taught artist, using intuitive forms and subjects deriving from their own depths, with little or no influence from erudite art and even creating their own techniques.