Like many of us, UK printmakers Jillian Roberts and Tom Maryniak packed up their lives in London and headed to the alluring Portuguese capital. And, after their fortuitous meeting at Zaratan Gallery, they joined forces to open Lisboa Social Press in downtown Lisbon. Atlas had the chance to find out why they came, what they do, and what the future holds for this Baixa atelier.
Tell me about yourselves
Jilly: I studied printmaking, and also did a masters in printmaking, at the Royal College of Art. After that, I worked at the fashion and textile museum in London, where I became interested in textiles and repeat-pattern print. And then I decided to move to Lisbon.
I did a residency in Zaratan and met Tom there. We kind of had that printmaking connection, and yer, decided to meet up. From that point onwards, that’s Lisboa Social Press, really. That’s where it began.
Tom: I went to Bath Spa University and did printmaking there, and sort of discovered woodblock printing and the German expressionists. And then I worked with an artist for a year as an assistant and went to New York for a few months to work in a gallery. When I got back to London, I started making my own wallpaper — I wanted to do something different. Something a bit more fun and interesting and a bit more ribald and naughty, I suppose. Then I applied for the residency at Zaratan this time last year and met Jilly.
So you both came here for the Zaratan residency, or was there any other reason you came to Lisbon?
Tom: I came here solely for the residency and was sort of meant to go home afterward. I sort of hadn’t planned my life beyond the residency and everything just kind of fell into place, with finding this atelier as well — it was pretty much immediately after [the residency]. And I haven’t left since because everything started going really well.
Jilly: I wanted a change. I was working a lot in London and was making work for myself but it was… everyone has that constant battle, don’t they — income vs time? I felt like things needed to change. So I decided to do a CELTA… [and] moved to Lisbon without a job. I had the residency planned and ended up staying in this huge warehouse. I made work there and managed to get a job within a week and just wanted the lifestyle to extend and keep going. And yer, it’s a bit of a dream.
Tom: But we both had that thing… in London, where we were both artists making on our own and couldn’t afford a studio space, and life was getting harder and harder, and it’s almost like: “Is this all there is?”
Jilly: There wasn’t the breathing space to be creative — there is that pressure.
Tom: And the possibilities as well — when I met Jilly, she said: “I really want to open a shop in Graça and we can have a studio behind it.” I was like, “What the fuck? She is mental.” Having come straight from London, where that isn’t the remotest possibility, you know?
And now, we haven’t exactly got a shop, but what we do have is a platform, and it’s very central. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought this was possible.
So on to the ‘platform’ — tell me about the space.
Tom: In the atelier, on one side there’s a guy who makes signet rings — he’s always chipping away with one of those eyepieces — and then there’s a tailor. I think [the landlady] has been running it as an atelier for the past 40 years, and before that this was residential — a couple with their 10 children.
Jilly: It has a charm to it. You go through a bag shop, up a few flights of stairs and you find this white space — and there are no signs downstairs. I know that’s a negative for some, but I find it positive. If someone wants to find you, it has to be sought out, which is kind of nice. And it makes it really calm up here.
Tom: I was [in the atelier] from July  and Jilly was here from September, and then we formulated the idea of starting our workshops in October. We decorated, went to Ikea, bought a press.
It’s a creative space first and foremost, but there is also the “business” side with workshops and other events. Can you tell me about the space beyond your own creative work?
Tom: We realized how special the space was. It’s a very calming space, a very lovely space. It has a really good feeling and… everything in here is original features — the doors, the windows — and everything’s a bit crooked. So we always wanted to share it. Even before we were doing the business side of things, we had friends here and it’s been a very social space, mainly because of its location.
Is that where the name Lisboa Social Press comes from?
Jilly: The social aspect? No. We wanted it to be an umbrella term, so lots of things could happen under one [name]. We also have film nights and stuff. Like for me, food is very creative, so introducing that into the space makes sense. And creating that community atmosphere and international environment is really important as well.
We did ask every single person for help with a name.
Tom: God, we had lists.
Jilly: That was the worst part of this whole thing. [laughter] We were running the workshops before we had the name.
So tell me about the print workshops at Lisboa Social Press.
Tom: Both of us ran print workshops in London and at our universities. And I think… when someone creates a print, if they’re doing it for the first time especially, it’s really wonderful. It’s a wonderful process.
Jilly: There’s a surprise to it.
Tom: Yer. This “big reveal”. You’re chiseling it out, you’re drawing it, you’re inking it up so it comes to life, and then you’re putting it through the press, which has an element of theater to it, and then it’s revealed.
Jilly: I personally like working with beginners. They sometimes come in and they’re so adamant that they’re “really bad at drawing” and “just really bad at everything,” and I’m like, “Don’t worry about it, you’re going to be fine.” And then they start the process [and] always feel like they have to be so perfect. Then, after a while, people relax, it becomes something quite individual. And when they join together as a group at the press… people are really supportive of each other’s work.
We always start with a completely white studio and then everyone gets to put their own work up, and so they kind of decorate the space themselves as the workshop progresses. It goes from something that’s quite private to something that’s quite public.
Can I have a rundown of the individual events that happen at Lisboa Social Press?
Tom: We’re building on them. I’ve done a few [film screenings] in the past, in London. And that sort of came about through an interest I had in immersive theater and performance art. The Jan Svankmajer screening was our first [here], but it won’t be our last.
Jilly: And we’ve got the monoprinting. Every Thursday, we run a monoprinting event in the evening. Instead of “drink and draw,” people “print and drink.” It’s… like Tracey Emin style, with different subjects and colors each week. Everyone gets a glass of wine, and it’s kind of an informal evening event.
We also do repeat print pattern tiles and print-your-own-postcard workshops. Some of those are predominantly focussed on people that are visiting… and they can create cards, postcards, or a series of artworks that they can send home — the workshops include stamps so you can send your postcard home after it’s finished.
Tom: And it’s also pattern-based, to some extent, based on the tiles. People can use that template to see how the tiles everywhere are made — the azulejos.
And do the azulejos inspire your personal work as well?
Tom: In terms of pattern making, it does. If I’m looking at wallpaper design or panel design or something. I wouldn’t say the tiles specifically do, but the techniques do. They are often half-drop patterns or they’re constructed in such a way that they can be printed and turned to create a central motif and then one that branches off.
Jilly: I think my influence is less linear.
So, if not the tiles, is there something else about Lisbon that influences you?
Tom: I don’t think there is anything specific that does influence me. All I know is that I have a freedom of movement and space and light in which to be creative and make what I want, which I didn’t have living in London. I think it’s more of a state of mind than a direct, literal influence.
Is there anything else?
Tom Maryniak has a solo exhibition opening on May 10, 2019, at FICA in LX Factory. Go check out some of his work!