The son of Abel Manta, a key painter of Portuguese Modernism, João Abel Manta is a painter and draughtsman himself. Professionally trained as an architect, and accomplished in many other creative areas such as poster design, he is mostly remembered as an outstanding and unique caricaturist and cartoonist with a very idiosyncratic style. His very thick contour lines, grotesque plastic-like figures, flat colours and sharp use of collage have turned many of his images into perennial icons of post-Revolutionary Portugal.

His first graphic works date from the mid-1950s, having collaborated with many newspapers and magazines, some of which associated with left-wing circles, a somewhat dangerous environment during the Estado Novo dictatorship (1926-1974). His main output are illustrations for dozens of books by Portuguese authors, both historical and his contemporaries, with whom he had a strong friendship. A particular project worth mentioning is Dinossauro Excelentíssimo, a scathing satirical pseudo-biography of the dictator Oliveira Salazar (in power between 1928 and 1968), without ever mentioning him by name. Written by José Cardoso Pires, and with magnificent illustrations using collaged papers by Manta, it was published in 1972 and sparked a wide controversy with the censorship of its time.

After the 25th of April 1974 Revolution, that would bring back democratic rule to the country, Manta would publish many of his iconic cartoons in newspapers such as Diário de Lisboa, Diário de Notícias, O jornal, and, later on, in JL, not to mention the many posters he designed for the MFA (the Movement of the Armed Forces, which lead the 1974 coup). In 1978, the book-length Caricaturas portuguesas dos anos de Salazar (“Portuguese Caricatures of the Salazar Years”) was published, reminding the post-revolutionary generation of what was like to live under the aegis of a non-democratic regime. Especially in relation to this project, writer and art critic Mário Dionísio called him a “Post-Picasso Goya”, and indeed much of Abel Manta’s work functions as extremely pointed sarcastic, even virulent portrait of the Portuguese reality of the time: its backwardness, rural nature, anti-intellectualism, isolationism, and so on.

An acute observer of the national peculiarities but also a poet of the absurd, Abel Manta was an artist who both admires his country, culture and people and relentlessly criticizes them in the most scalding manner. Never interested in gaining fame for fame’s sake, and spotlight-shy, he would almost completely abandon his graphic production in the early 1990s to dedicate himself exclusively to painting.

–Pedro Moura

Further Reading

  • Abel Manta, João. 1992. Obra gráfica. Lisbon: Câmara Municipal de Lisboa. Print.
  • Cotrim, João Paulo. 2008. João Abel Manta: Caprichos e Desastres. Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim. Print.