Sometimes you don’t even have to open a door to go inside. In Funchal—the capital city of Madeira—I penetrated the mind of the Portuguese painter by examining Door Art Funchal. Walking down an alley in Old Town (Zona Velha), I discovered a riot of color, character and circus on parade. I produced this video of the door art on my FemaleSoloTrek YouTube channel.
Picture if you will a narrow street filled with some chairs and a table where you can enjoy a meal of fresh seafood caught that day. You then see a mermaid with copper and teal scales and ginger curly hair sitting in a lagoon on a wooden door near where you sit. She is life-sized and aquatic.
The dreamy expression on her face invites you to ponder the realm below. I think of T. S. Eliot’s poem from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea /By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown/ Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
You then turn your head to look further down the street and you see a succession of painted doors. It is an outdoor art museum on steroids. Discover Madeira describes it as a stimulus. Madeira Amazing advises don’t miss Rua de Santa Maria.
Funchal once had a bad reputation so tourists were advised to ignore it. But then in 2010, with the support of the local government, local artists were able to put a fresh coat of paint on a bad neighborhood.
Here are my Top 10 favorite door art (aka “painted doors”) for Door Art Funchal in Zona Velha.
I love the whimsy of the young mermaid sitting on a swing in the water, her back turned away from us. Part fish/part female, she hypnotizes. A dolphin swims over to be petted. The vibrancy of the sapphire blue background pulls you underwater with her.
This door will you make you have to puzzle out all the aquatic images that predominate including the anchor, merman, mermaid and sailing vessel—all symbols of Portugal’s sailing history. I particularly enjoyed the calligraphy style border that edged the door.
Girl & Cat Door
Introspection is on full display here with an brunette girl and her black kitten closeted away. The feline looks so real staring out the window that I want to reach down and pet her. I wonder why the young girl seems so sad.
There is something so playful about this farm image of the goose and the gander. The artist chose to go with a black etching which is so stark yet real against the enamel white page background. I think he was also playful to choose to paint only one chick in yellow!
Skeleton Man Door
I am not sure what is happening with door but the image reminds me of a skeleton. I love the starkness of the image – just black and gold. This is a riveting example of Door Art Funchal.
Woman In Green Eye Shadow Door
This mural reminds of the eyes on the iconic cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. They are all-knowing. I swear this woman was watching me walking down the street. She knows things.
Corn on the Cob Door
It was perfect how the door at unit 55 bedecked with modern yellow flowers was situated next to the door painted with corn on the cobs in blue silhouette. I would feel very thankful eating at the table nearby draped in green tablecloth counting my blessings!
Dona Maria Door
I feel like this painting harkens to the Fado singers famous in Lisbon singing of their woes. The woman’s ruby red lips contrasts with the all-black etching of a woman who is crying as she tells her story.
This door begs you to go inside. But you may be surprised what you find. The sidewalk is a multi-color tile walkway that leads upwards the mountains, sky, dove and sun above. I wonder if the painter meant to suggest that Madeira was the inspiration for the imaginary island described in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia: “Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”
City on a Hill Door
I spent a lot of time during my two days exploring Door Art Funchal and climbing up and down the city’s hills. Believe me, this is a city where you easily walk 20,000 steps a day, usually on an incline. This painting captures the way the homes seem to tumble down the mountain side.
Black Cat Door
While this door painting didn’t make my top 10 list, it did capture my attention as there is a little black cat sitting in the corner. This was the second black cat who was painted on a door. I like how the artists celebrate felines in their work in their Door Art Funchal.
I’ve spent a lot of time spotlighting Funchal’s door art on Pinterest. Often the art painted a story about Funchal’s history as a people. I found it exuberant and playful.
I also loved how the local artists often took over an entire block to paint their street art. Even when a buildings were in a state of deterioration, the vibrant sweep of the painter’s brush transformed the exterior.
Thought Provoking Art
As readers of my blog know, I delight in cities and towns where I find street art. Even though the art might not be a permanent installation (as is the case in an art gallery), the street art (and door art) help to brighten an alley or enliven a dark corner of the neighborhood. Where are some of your favorite places to see street art? Why does it stick with you?
“Art is subjective. What might be beautiful to one person might be low-brow to another, but it’s hard to deny that even though these pieces of art have been put on walls, doors, city streets, and in abandoned buildings, they aren’t meaningful, thought provoking, or beautiful.” (Source: www.Ranker.com)
The “Art of the Open Doors” program helps to exhibit the different styles and proclivities of local artists. The gentrified area then attracted new restaurants, poncho bars and craft stores that helped to further enliven the Old Town and attract visitors.
P.S. Comments (or emails) are welcome!
MichaelFebruary 15, 2020 at 7:24 am
Terri-Thank you for sharing the beautiful artwork from the streets of Madeira. You hit the nail on the head with Women in Green Eyeshadow. Very reminiscent of Gatsby!
Terri MarkleFebruary 15, 2020 at 2:57 pm
It’s uncanny right? I actually went back to look at the iconic Great Gatsby cover. I always loved it. Thank you Michael!
Melanie Choukas-BradleyFebruary 15, 2020 at 12:45 pm
Terri, I love the door art and your characteristically insightful commentary! Another amazing adventure!
Terri MarkleFebruary 15, 2020 at 3:01 pm
Melanie thank you so much! I am always excited when I can find interesting street art and murals when I travel. But the painted doors in Funchal were extraordinary. The range in styles and techniques for the painters amazed me.
SharonFebruary 15, 2020 at 3:41 pm
Another fine article bringing back memories of a great holiday, Terri. So much better to be able to study the doors in depth after our return. I saw them on both days in Funchal but hadn’t appreciated half of what I now see.
Terri MarkleFebruary 16, 2020 at 4:56 pm
Thanks Sharon. I wish I had spent several hours walking up and down the street to photograph all the doors!
ElinaJanuary 15, 2021 at 7:34 pm
These doors are so beautiful! I would love to travel to Funchal (I was so close to visiting Madeira a few months ago…) and check them out myself. The mermaid door is so beautiful!
Terri MarkleJanuary 16, 2021 at 10:36 am
Highly recommend a trip to Madeira. The hiking is incredible. I traveled for 7 days in January 2020 right before the pandemic struck. Funchal is a funky & fun town.
MegsJanuary 15, 2021 at 9:41 pm
Wow! These doors are all so cool and like you, I find street art like this so inspiring. Another reason to add Madeira to my bucket-list.
EmmaJanuary 15, 2021 at 11:40 pm
I’m such a sucker for street art and I love the decorated doors as a concept. I would definitely love to visit and explore all these beautiful doors myself!
Terri MarkleJanuary 16, 2021 at 10:35 am
Me too! I am always thrilled when a city encourages street art, murals and other creativity. I wish we had Painted Doors in Washington DC. We do have great street art. I have written about it.
Josy AJanuary 16, 2021 at 12:54 am
These are awesome Terri! I love them all, but I wonder if there is a real furry dude that was the inspiration for that cat!? 😉
AlaineJanuary 16, 2021 at 8:23 am
I loved these! Seeing beautiful street art always makes me so happy.
Terri MarkleJanuary 16, 2021 at 10:34 am
Alaine I am the same way. I look for outdoor art, cats and nature when I travel.
Holidays from HelsJanuary 16, 2021 at 9:37 am
I just LOVE this door art. I’ve always wanted to go to Madeira for its natural beauty but had no idea it was so artistic too. It reminds me of the street art in Bristol, but with sunshine! Thank you so much for alerting me to this amazing place. I very much look forward to visiting soon.
Annie HJanuary 16, 2021 at 9:48 am
I’m usually not one for towns or art, but was fascinated by these doors when I came across them in Madeira a few years ago. Thanks for the memory.
Terri MarkleJanuary 16, 2021 at 10:34 am
Annie I am so glad that my photographs brought back fond memories. There are over 200 painted doors in Funchal!
CourtneyJanuary 16, 2021 at 10:41 am
This is wild! I’ve never heard of the painted doors in Funchal but this is incredible! I’d love to visit this in the future.
NehaJanuary 16, 2021 at 10:49 am
I had seen wall art but door art is the first time for me. What an incredible form of art. It is amazing to see these creative creations and hats off to those artists. I
Terri MarkleJanuary 23, 2021 at 7:45 am
I agree. I wish every city in every country had a door art program. Inspirational!
JyotiJanuary 16, 2021 at 12:51 pm
I absolutely love street and community art!! These doors in Funchal are so vibrant and striking. Thank you for sharing.
Mayi MacJanuary 16, 2021 at 4:07 pm
Impressive. I would love to see this. I was due to go to Madeira last year so hopefully I will do this year and see these amazing painted doors in real life.
Terri MarkleJanuary 23, 2021 at 7:45 am
You definitely want to visit Madeira when you can safely fly there. It is a hiker’s paradise!
kariss AinsworthJanuary 16, 2021 at 6:10 pm
SOme of these are really stunning!
Alanna KoritzkeJanuary 16, 2021 at 6:11 pm
Love the mermaid door with the knocker as her hair! What a beautiful area.
SharynJanuary 16, 2021 at 7:51 pm
What beautiful artwork. I love the mermaid door the best.
BrittanyJanuary 16, 2021 at 8:00 pm
Wow, such beautiful artwork! Thank you for sharing this post and the gorgeous photos.
Terri MarkleJanuary 23, 2021 at 4:51 am
Thank you! It is a really special place. I love DOOR Art!
AgnesJanuary 16, 2021 at 9:23 pm
What a fantastically cool way to use art! Madeira has been on my list for a long time. Saving this for later!
KarenJanuary 17, 2021 at 4:01 pm
I love photographing old and unique doors so I would be in heaven here. I love the idea that the artwork is an opening to somewhere. It’s a great metaphor.