Júlio Pomar considered art to be not merely an aesthetic expression but also a militant instrument for social, cultural, and political causes. In 1946 he joined the uprisings against Portugal’s para-fascist dictatorship, Estado Novo (new state), instituted by António Salazar. After the government’s violent suppression of dissidents, Pomar was imprisoned for a short time.
The Étude para Ciclo do Arroz (Study for Rice Cycle II, 1953) consists of three paintings. Even though each painting bears the title Étude – suggesting quick studies – Pomar approached the subject with well-planned fieldwork. He visited the rice fields of Ribatejo, northeast of Lisbon, in 1953 with four other artists of the Portuguese neorealism movement. The group became acquainted with the area farmers, talking with them about their everyday life, observing their customs, and photographing their harvesting activities. The resulting paintings, therefore, are not landscapes in which people take a secondary role but a glorification of the human subjects – in this case, female peasants.
The oblique line of strong, robust women forms the composition’s rigorous structure. Carrying tools on their shoulders, they walk toward the viewer in a remarkable display of determination. With focused gazes and stereotyped faces, they appear effortless in their movement; the statuesque posture of these monumental figures communicates only strength and energy.
Júlio Pomar has explored both painting and writing to express his ideas. He enrolled at the Escola de Belas Artes Lisboa (Lisbon School of Fine Arts) in 1942 and transferred to the Porto Escola de Belas Artes (Porto School of Fine Arts) in 1944. Inspired by the Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari (1903–1962) and the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera (1886–1957), David Siqueiros (1896–1964), and José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949), Pomar adopted neo-realism to express his anti-fascist beliefs. His activism against the Salazar-regime resulted in his expulsion from art school in 1946. After that, Pomar began to write for art and literature magazines and in 1947 held his first solo show at the Galeria Portugália in Porto. In 1950 Pomar studied the work of Francisco Goya in Spain, which greatly influenced his later works, such as Maria da Fonte (1947). In Portugal during the early 1950s he experimented with watercolor, gouache, ceramics, and printmaking, and painted portraits of many intellectuals. In 1956 he founded the cooperative Gravura. After moving to Paris in 1963, Pomar began to use acrylics for his colorful Neoexpressionist paintings and collages, with gestural brushstrokes, dynamic compositions and saturated colors. He created his first found-object assemblages in 1967.