Briefly describe the work that you do.
In two months, I will finish my MFA studies at Boston University. I work primarily with drawing, painting and printmaking. My older paintings were more figurative; I was interested in creating images of people as performers of bizarre social interactions. During my MFA coursework, I moved more and more away from figuration and certain ways of thinking about figuration towards semi-abstraction. I also moved away from intimate scale to large sized canvas, which I was encouraged to pursue as a challenge. I could say that my most recent work is informed by three main ideas: my interest in the concept of humor; my own private narrative; and my interactions and reflections on history and history of art. Formally, this translates into an investigation of the relationships between line, color, and scale.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
At the age of seven I realized I could make exact copies of my subjects, it felt like having magic powers. In a way, it allowed me to own any object or animal I wanted. From reality to imagination the step was quick: observation, imagination, and invention are all part of the drawing process. Drawing allowed me to make sense of the world around me. It allowed me to simplify reality. Growing up, drawing gave me a copying system for my daily life. I never pursued art as a career until I turned thirty, then I asked myself: what can be my contribution to this world? That is when I started studying art at The Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I am originally from Basilicata, in Southern Italy. I moved to England and then Scotland in my late twenties; I lived there for almost twelve years. I started studying art when I was thirty, I earned my BA in Painting and Printmaking from The Glasgow School of Art (in my third year I also spent a semester studying in Brittany, France due to an Erasmus scholarship). After I completed my degree I was in Florence, Italy for four months with the John Kinross Scholarship (awarded by the Royal Scottish Academy). Before dedicating myself full time to art I studied Economics in Rome, I also did various jobs, such as waiter, receptionist and night-duty manager in hotels and more recently, I worked part-time in a museum while keeping a studio practice in Glasgow until I moved to Boston two years ago (in 2012) to study for an MFA in Painting at Boston University.
My private narrative certainly feeds into my work. In fact, painting is the primary way through which I explore my own visual relationships to the societies and cultures, which have contributed to my personal formation. It becomes a way to ask myself questions about identity, displacement, and the disconnection between being and appearing. Painting becomes this funny place where two histories meet, your own history and history of painting. It is the arena where you can move and shift constantly. It’s problematic, scary, and exciting. In an interview Dexter Dalwood described being an artist as “dragging a trolley of cans behind you – the everyday, history, and all the things you like”.
(Dexter Dalwood interview with Cherry Smith in Kaleidoscope magazine, issue 8 (http://kaleidoscope-press.com/issue-contents/dexter-dalwood-interview-by-cherry-smith/), last accessed on March 12th, 2014.)
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
Painting is for me both a document of movement and physical presence, it is able to generate images of an increasingly indecipherable world; images of the world’s superficial appearance and its deep political and social contradictions. For this reason the formal issues and dilemmas intrinsic to painting (for instance line and color; figure and ground; and the physical and the optical) become, for me, metaphors to reflect on deeper social issues. For instance: sexuality and gender; the conflation between public and private; and surveillance and forms of social control.
We live in a world where information moves really fast, everything is accelerated and consumed quickly. I believe painting operates in a very poetic and slow mode and that it is able to create a pause in life. It is during this moment of pause, when real life is put on hold, that the viewer can understand the painter’s worldview. The viewer has the time and a reason to feel an emotion, which can bring a new level of clarity, empathy and understanding. In this sense I use painting because it allows slowness and freezes both my psychological (mind) and physical movement (hand); it allows my ideas and mistakes to overlap and exist on top of each other on the same surface; it reflects the experience of its own creation and it can time travel because it is constantly present. I remember Leidy Churchman, an artist which I really respect, saying something along the lines: you can never turn a painting off.
(Leidy Churchman in Conversation with Amy Sillman, BUAG at Stone Gallery, Tues Sept 24th, 2013.)
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I must agree with Chuck Close. The ritual in the studio and being in the studio is what make things happen for me. It can be reading, drinking a coffee, thinking, listening to the radio but it must happen in that very specific space in order to become something else. Probably the biggest motivation is the excitement about the unknown, about what it might happen during every day of work in the studio. I mean the excitement about the possibilities and little discoveries that painting can achieve only by doing. There is a subtle link and shift from the imagination to formal invention, which I believe can only take place through the motion of the hand on the canvas. Jerry Saltz during a recent lecture at BU said something along the line: artists, unlike people in more regular jobs, are different because they wake up in the morning with one idea and by the end of the day they have changed that idea many times.
(Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith in Conversation at BU College of Fine Arts, February 24th, 2014.)
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
Alberto Giacometti and Edgar Degas are two artists I have always found very interesting for the performative aspect of their work. More recently, I have been looking at the work of Raoul de Keyser, Thomas Nozkowski, and Norbert Schwontkowski. Babar’s illustrator Jean de Brunhoff, Persian Miniatures, and Early Renaissance artists from Siena such as Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti have also been a big influence in my most recent work.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
I love cinema, and I try to go and watch as many movies as possible at the movie theatre. Living really close to the Harvard Film Archive has been a great advantage. I enjoy going to gigs and concerts; practicing yoga; and cooking. But most importantly I love being a Flâneur in cities.
Born: Basilicata, Italy. He graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a First Class BA Honors in Painting and Printmaking. Currently lives and works in Boston, USA, where he is a 2014 MFA candidate in the School of Visual Arts at Boston University.
In 2011 Giovanni was invited to take part in the Biennale nel Mondo, part of the 54th Venice Biennale. Most recent exhibitions include: Just Like a Washing Machine: Think Pure Thoughts (BU Commonwealth Gallery, Boston MA); House Rabbet Society (LAP Gallery, Waltham, USA); The World that is Full of Anything (Sherman Gallery, Boston, USA); Boston Young Contemporaries 2013 (808 Gallery, Boston, USA), and Resident 13 (Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, Scotland). Giovanni is the recipient of numerous awards; among the most recent are: the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, BU, Rare Books Prize, the Boston Young Contemporaries 2013 Jury Prize, and the Constantin Alajalov Scholarship 2013. His work is held in both private and public collections, such as the Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center (Boston, USA) and the Royal Scottish Academy and Richard de Marco’s Archive (both in Edinburgh, Scotland).
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.