Conversation on the role of the painting
Massimo Mininni, Thomas Kratz and Vincenzo Schillaci.
Massimo Mininni The hosting location of the exhibition is surprisingly exuberant and animated: a stable and a horse riding space which obviously is inhabited by horses and where people who share the love for this animal usually gather. Not to mention the surroundings, which likewise are characterised by a vibrant nature and landscape: how did this choice come about? And which exchanges you believe that can happen between the artworks and the surrounding environment?
Thomas Kratz Earlier this year I was asked by Giorgio Galotti and Carlo Pratis if I would like to take part in HYPERMAREMMA, a contemporary art exhibition held during the summer in Maremma, South Tuscany. For my participation, Carlo and Giorgio invited me to respond to the stables at ‘La Capanna di Sant’Irma’ in Capalbio, so it was thanks to them that I made a site specific intervention.
It was a big challenge to exhibit outside a 'known art space' and to meet an unprepared audience, but I like unexpected situations and at the stables the unexpected situation was the rational. Here I could just work with horses as my new audience. However, during the installation the owners of the farm proposed ideas based on their own expectations. It was their idea to have a yellow wall opposite their restaurant and it made total sense to include this colour in my Colourchart for Horses. I also displayed two more 'traditional' artworks, a chocolate brown relief made out of resin and a sky blue relief made out of ceramic installed adjacent to my Colourchart for Horses. So, finally the intervention became a show for horses and people. A bit like CI (Contact Improvisation).
Vincenzo Schillaci The choice is the result of Giorgio and Carlo’s proposition, who in the past few months were motivated by the desire to activate the landscape of Maremma, by inviting artists to generate interventions highly related to the history of the surrounding environment.
MM I would like you to tell us something about the specificity of your pictorial processes, let us understand how your formally abstract paintings, can in this occasion, make the viewer live an experience that highly differs from the one usually felt inside art galleries or more in general, inside locations intended for exhibiting art.
TK What is abstract? I painted a colour chart for horses on the outside walls of the horse stables. Each colour is coating one wall. A monochromatic language. At the location you will find a very bright nude tone. The basis (tint) for mixing skin shades. On the wall next to it you find the pantone colour of the year 2019 (living coral). A ready made colour shade. This colour works as my signature and date for the intervention. The next wall is coated in aluminium pigments. The aluminium shade plays with the sunlight in-situ and contrasts the gold-ochre tones of the landscape around. All those coloured walls are a colour chart. Its placing a precise and non-hierarchical colour system inside and outside the whole farm – just for the horses.
VS My work can be defined as a reflection on the manifold components of the paint as a raw material, even when the artworks do not explicitly address to the pictorial medium. I often combine a philosophic research on the nature of the image with a more concrete exploration on the material. For my works I usually stick with a very strict range of materials, and I often allude to historical, sociological and art historical references.
Concerning the exhibition Pampa, I have not intervened directly in the space, rather I installed a series of paintings in proximity to, and inside the stables. The titles of the works are linked to the movements and the actions (being them real or not), of the horses. The idea was to create a kind of portraiture, taking as a starting point the typical features present in the rhetoric of art history that dealt with such animals, like the idea of speed for instance.
When I first visited the stables, I immediately understood that my intentions were not to address the viewer’s sight upon something “else” than what was inside of them. The space, being a horse farm in use, implies a very direct relationship with what is inside: from the animals to the several tools present. Therefore I tried not to be invasive, imagining that the artworks could act as a catalyst of the environment that would host them.
The two big paintings for instance, usually possess a sort of autonomy. However, in this space, they become the screens that directly reflect the relationship between the man and the horse. They have been installed as if they were an intrinsic part of the stable, further adorned and camouflaged with a series of objects that brings with them all the rhetoric bound to the place, such as a saddle and a horseshoe.
MM Do you think it is possible to define your painting process as a “classical” one?
TK If 'classical' means 'timeless', my Colourchart for Horses is a classical painting. Colour experience is something timeless as it is touching something next to a rational perception. There is a saying that colour could not only work as a reference, but could also heal and resolve something we had not intended.
VS As an immediate reaction to the present moment we are living in, I would say yes, although I am not entirely sure…
MM Do you ever confront yourself with the past?
TK I think it was Philip Guston who said, that for a good painting you have to send out all the ghosts from your studio and, at its best, you also have left. Studio work is full of ghosts and zombies. Ghosts like Mantegna, Giotto di Bondone and Francisco de Zurbarán, or zombies like Balthus, Emilio Prini and SALVO.
VS I believe it is impossible for an artist not to do so…
MM Have you had the need to experiment with new and specific techniques in order to realize your paintings?
TK ’To experiment' is not the right image. One painting is a door for a coming painting. Eventually, the doors guide you through a house, a village, a city and a universe sitting around your head.
VS Many of the works I realized in the past few years have been created with a technique that was employed in order to marbleize surfaces. It is a limiting process, which has become a sort of cage that restrains myself constantly and that forces me to generate some fractures that in turn are able to activate a series of sensible frameworks existing inside the works of art. I repeatedly lay a mixture of stucco made of Carrara marble powder, alternating every layer with the one coming right afterwards, thereby absorbing differing mixtures of paint, ink, tempera… It is a very precise and clear process in which every layer and colour surface is frozen, trapped inside a determined timeframe, ultimately perceived as a sort of echo.
MM How has your approach with abstraction developed? Did it evolve from a previous figurative phase or has it been immediate?
TK I am not interested in abstract versus figurative and figurative versus abstract. All this is not of interest to an artist, it is a political question. I have a hybrid approach to painting. I am also working with performance and as my performances became more colourful, loud and volatile, my paintings became the opposite. It was a long process and is still a vital symbioses.
VS Although it can result as a paradox, I perceive myself closer to a figurative painter rather than to an abstract one. I come from a well-founded “figurative phase”, and indeed the majority of the works I realized in the past ten years can be canonically defined as figurative. Nevertheless, it is true: formally my works embrace all the characteristics that allow one to think they are abstract paintings, however, the starting point is always the willingness to represent something.
MM Gerard Richter believes that elegance is suited for the sciences and the mathematics, but not for the arts. Do you think this is true?
TK I like the writings of Gerhard Richter a lot and I also like his paintings, but there is no accordance between his writings and paintings. I don't have a problem with elegance. He might have been talking about the 'making of art'. When you like to make art, from that moment on you are lost and your work runs away seeking help.
VS I have always thought (perhaps wrongly) of elegance as an element or a motif of taste. I am not sure of what Richter meant….
MM Vincenzo, when it comes about your works, we may talk about a layered painting… more specifically with regards to the process of covering the first chromatic base with many others. What is the meaning of this?
VS The process of layering is the combination that grows inside the willingness to expand in different directions the elements that, in art history, have been the models of representation. The “desire to represent” lays at the foundation of every work of mine. Each stratum of stucco acts as a filter of the previous one, in which a series of marks, forms and colours are incorporated. Every layer describes the ending of a chapter and the starting of a new one, thereby creating an alphabet and a canon that allows the representation of always new ideas and new sensible forms.
MM Thomas, in realizing your wall paintings you thought about the horse’s ability to perceive colours. Has your chromatic choice been influenced by this?
TK Yes, it’s a colour chart for horses and its looking for its future potential. Horses have a colour weakness in red and green. They are also long-sighted. Actually, I share those weaknesses with them so I am meeting an 'honest' audience. This was my starting point and the direction of my intervention.
MM Since 1915 when Kazimir Malevič realized ‘Black Square’, fine art has more than once dealt with monochromatic painting, which led to the gradual disappearing of representation and instead favoured the presence of a single tone as the main element. Each artist provides very different interpretations depending also on the specific techniques employed. What is your perspective on this?
TK I am very happy that Malevič closed the window to the world. From that moment on we could think about painting behind our looking and viewing. I am not sure if there is a mystical or a utopian answer to find in the meaning of Malevič, but at least there is another 'inside' to alter through. Altering and digging via painting.
VS Monochromatic painting certainly represents the fulcrum of pictorial abstraction, and personally I believe it is the most emblematic pattern of modernism. My perspective is obviously related to my work and I could summarise it with one example. Let us think of a vase, which is the “container” object per excellence due to its symbolic value that refers to the women’s womb and its foremost purpose of carrying and nurturing. This object might have the function of containing liquids and solids as, in history, every form has been realized for a potential content. Thus, the monochromatic surface is a signifier because it is the most concrete and perceivable part of a linguistic set of signs, that inevitably contains a meaning. What if this content was not merely a mental concept? I strongly believe that representation is, above all, a symbolic issue.
MM Colour holds an intrinsic beauty, a symbolic meaning on both an expressive and a perceptive level. Is this what you search for, or are you more inclined to find a physical and more tactile feature, thereby employing the colour as a material element which you can experience directly with your body. More specifically, do you perceive yourself closer to Mark Rothko or to Jackson Pollock?
TK I don't know what the right answer is, because colour holds all answers. Maybe not at the same time (maybe sometimes, maybe never) there should be no fear for beauty. Colour transports a ready-made position in a Duchamp meaning, that is interesting.
Mark Rothko, when it comes to an all encompassing experience of painting, and Jackson Pollock, when it comes to my performance.
VS I feel highly close and very distant to both….
MM Which artists inspire your creative process?
TK Me Me Me and my ghosts.
VS Recently I have rediscovered a strong admiration for the paintings of Giacometti..
MM What do you think it means to be a painter nowadays?
TK Nowadays there is more important stuff to do, of course. Our world is falling apart, but painting is meaningful at least.
VS Perhaps tomorrow I will know…
Translation by Caterina Antonaci