Hiperrealistička apokalipsa. Anđeli otimaju djecu, pokolji, eksplozije... Povijesni usisavač - gravitacija više ne vuče prema dolje, nego prema gore.
Merry Karnowsky Gallery is proud to present a solo exhibition by Nicola
Verlato entitled Zero Gravity. Painting with the hyper-realistic style
he has become known for, Verlato executes with a virtuostic hand and
classical eye to produce masterworks of choreographed chaos.
In Verlato’s newest series of paintings, the human form reacts, pushes
back, contorts and defies impact, or rather, gravity itself. Resisting
confinement, the work reveals complex non-linear narratives to convey
beauty and order in a world turning upside down.
Nicola Verlato was born in the countryside of Verona, Italy, in what he
describes as ‘near isolation”. Surrounded by art books, classical music,
and the animals on his parents’ farm. He began painting at age 7 and
was selling work by age 9. At 10 years of age, he began to study drawing
and painting under Fra Terenzio, a monk painter at the Friars of Lonigo
monastery. Verlato considers this period the most important in his art
education. Trained extensively in Classical music, he also studied lute
and composition at the conservatories of Verona and Padua.
Of painting and music, Verlato has said “I’m not sure if the avant-garde
was incarnating the progressive spirit of the twentieth century.
Instead, I think about it as a cultural and social resistance of an old
aristocratic order that needed, and still needs, the language of art in
order to create social differences through the use of complex linguistic
codes of difficult, and sometimes cryptic, interpretation. This
situation reminds me of what happened in the music field. In the last
forty years we have faced the complete failure of avant-garde music in
shaping our cultural landscape. For the old high musical forms, the only
way to survive has been by reconsidering what was thrown away by the
avant-garde: tonality, rhythm and harmony. Young composers today,
especially in America, are trying to combine the language of pop music
in the complex structures of high music. This is what I’m trying to do
in my paintings, as well as what other painters are doing in this
country.” – Nicola Verlato, Art Impulse Magazine
Of Zero Gravity, the artist says “we can enjoy for a potential endless
suspended moment the illusion of liberation from the most constrictive
of all the physical laws, gravity.” – Nicola Verlato
Verlato’s work has shown internationally in venues such as the Venice
Biennale, Prague Biennale, Sandretto re Rebaudengo foundation in Turin,
MART in Rovereto, Victoria Memorial Hall Calcutta, and in numerous
spaces in Italy, Germany, Norway, Holland, and the United States. His
work has been featured in publications including Flash Art, Juxtapoz, Hi
Fructose, & Lodown. His first monograph will be published by Ginko
in 2012. - www.wreckthetapedeck.com/
A Vision of the World - Interview with Nicola Verlato
By Domenico Quaranta
This interview started, as often happens, a long time ago as an informal conversation, when I first realized that the work of Nicola Verlato, an Italian academic painter who seemed to be miles far away from what I was interested in at the time, had something in common with video games. I asked him about it, and was surprised when he told me that this link was something more than a frivolous resemblance; it was instead rooted in the core of his work. I was even more surprised upon discovering that Nicola shared, with many artists working in the “new media” field, an anti-modernist approach having nothing to do with Postmodernism. That is surprisingly fresh and challenging in an age when Modernism appears stronger than ever.
Finally, speaking of surprises, Nicola Verlato’s work was – for me – the most surprising in the least surprising pavilion of an underwhelming Venice Biennale. That is why we decided to put this interview on paper.
Domenico Quaranta - Are you a gamer? If so, when did you start playing? Which games do you like?
Nicola Verlato -I have to say that I’m not a great gamer; I’ve always preferred to watch other people playing than play myself. When I was a kid, what I liked the most were the aesthetics of video games, without being too involved in the play. The games that I considered the best at that time were the ones built with “vectorial” graphics, which reminded me of Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello’s perspectival drawings. However, over the years, I played some video games such as Tomb Raider, Castle Wolfenstein, Tekken, and Stalker. A couple of years ago I also asked one of my assistants to play City Life in order to use its urban landscapes as a background for some of my paintings.
VIDEO GAMES AND THE RETURN OF REPRESENTATION
D.Q.- Do you mean that you are using video games and 3D software as a source for your paintings? Wouldn’t it be easier to look at the world or to copy photographs as other painters do? Why did you choose video games? Is there any narrative or aesthetic reason beyond this choice?
N.V. -Yes, absolutely! I don’t care about reality itself; I’m interested in the way we perceive it and manipulate it through models and representations. Thus, the aesthetic environment that video games shape is very akin to somebody working with my methods and intentions: drawing as the painting’s constitutive principle, images as the result of a model’s construction instead of as a document of reality, etc.
Moreover, I think video games are the best proof of the return of representation, fostered by digital technology, in the Western world after almost two centuries of images as documents. Thanks to 3D software and the entertainment market, we are getting back to an aesthetic-cognitive path of representations and models. When a video game is successful, it’s able to spread a specific vision of the world. For example, the way a leaf is designed is determined by the software used: that software can set an aesthetic standard, changing the way I paint a leaf. In the same way, when Piero della Francesca painted a leaf or, let’s say, a mountain, he was sharing a vision of the world supported by the cultural system in which he was living and working. In short, video games are producing new aesthetic standards and models, and I’m interested in these standards.
D.Q. - What about from a narrative point of view?
N.V. - I have always liked non-linear narrative structures, complex and layered, from polyphony and counterpoint in music to the most involved compositions in painting. Thus, I have never liked opera and prefer a Mottetto by Josquin Desprez to a Notturno by Chopin, a Sacred Conversation by Bellini to Constable’s landscapes. I don’t like to be led along a narration by its author – instead, I need to stop and come back as I want.
When I saw a video game for the first time, I immediately understood that it represented the possibility to get out from under the nineteenth century aesthetic of novels that (through movies and romantic music) has been the dominant format in art for the last two centuries. During that phase painting suffered a lot, to the point that it almost disappeared in the twentieth century: in such a context, it couldn’t help but be the weak link in the system.
AVANT-GARDE AND KITSCH 2.0
D.Q.- To tell the truth, there is a lot of Toryism in video games. Some weeks ago I was on a panel with some conceptual artists, those who design landscapes and characters for video games, and I was astonished when they told me that they drew inspiration from… John Singer Sargent. Anyway, I see your point: a video game is like a bomb hidden in a Vuitton bag. What’s really disruptive is its inner machinery.
Moreover, if low and popular culture – from cinema to video games, from comics to fantasy card games – inherited the traditional approach to storytelling, they turned it into something completely different. What’s your relationship with this low-brow approach to storytelling and image making?
N.V.- If liberal democracies and industrialism were what made modernity different from the previous models of society, the low and popular narrative forms have probably been the real cultural product of modernity: they were produced employing industrial processes and they were intended to reach as many people as possible with a clear and intelligible language in the spirit of democracy.
I’m not sure if the avant-garde was incarnating the progressive spirit of the twentieth century. Instead, I think about it as a cultural and social resistance of an old aristocratic order that needed, and still needs, the language of art in order to create social differences through the use of complex linguistic codes of difficult, and sometimes cryptic, interpretation. If the video game artists you met told you that they were inspired by Sargent (an artist considered conservative in a modernist perspective), it is probably because the language of the artistic avant-garde is completely useless in the process of making a videogame. Furthermore, if video games are the artistic-technological avant-garde of our times, we should probably start looking at the relationship between Sargent and the avant-garde in a different way: while Sargent is still extremely influential, Malevich has already exhausted his role in shaping our times.
This situation reminds me of what happened in the music field. In the last forty years we have faced the complete failure of avant-garde music in shaping our cultural landscape. For the old high musical forms, the only way to survive has been by reconsidering what was thrown away by the avant-garde: tonality, rhythm and harmony. “One day the postman will whistle my melodies,” said Arnold Schoenberg. It never happened. What happened instead was the invasion of rock and pop music in every recess of our lives thanks to the industrial processes of production and distribution and the use of a kind of “conservative” language that Boulez, not so long ago, called “a fascist product.”
Young composers today, especially in America, are trying to combine the language of pop music in the complex structures of high music. This is what I’m trying to do in my paintings, as well as what other painters are doing in this country.
D.Q.- Nonetheless, your polished, cultivated style has nothing to do with low-brow imagery. In your work there is a sharp contrast between your subjects – from James Dean to rock and rave culture, from hooligans to burlesque divas – and the way you paint them, with references to altarpieces and mannerism. Are you deliberately pursuing this contrast?
N.V.- Not really, I’m just painting what excites my imagination. My work is about bodies and narrative and so forth, about mythologies, specifically mythologies of our time. I like to gather visual information about these phenomena and combine them together in a new and more complex kind of representation, a very finished painting in which all the information is organized in a coherent and structured way. This is thanks to a very articulated process that passes through drawing, three dimensional models in clay, 3D software and finally painting.
Even the use of altarpiece typology is not a reference to a specific historical period of Catholicism, but rather to something deeply embedded in our brains, which neurologically, connects these kinds of shapes with mysticism. Catholicism just used these formats for their ability to create specific emotional reactions; however, the same shapes were used in neolithic times in cult structures, and are still used by the Barasana tribes of the Amazon River for the same purpose.
REGENERATING PAINTING (BY MEANS OF A LAPTOP)
D.Q. - One of the problems with your kind of painting is that, no matter what your conceptual approach is, you are always dubbed conservative. As an example, while visiting the Venice Biennale this year I couldn’t help but notice that there are a lot of consonances between your work and that of the Russian collective AES+F: similar maximalist aesthetics, similar cult of beauty, similar allegorical approach. Now I discover that you both use 3D software… but you create paintings and they make huge video installations. You were next to Sandro Chia and they shared the space with Marina Abramovic. How do you deal with this?
N. V. - Maybe one day somebody will understand that it could be interesting to have us both in the same show, but for now just a few people are able to understand something beyond the use of a specific medium. Actually, I like their work but I’m not a big fan. I always feel the limitation of collages involving different media. I think this resource is not enough to produce what I want to see in a work of art.
Honestly, I consider both Abramovic and Chia part of the same cultural environment that, I hope, we are finally getting out from under. Painting has always been dubbed conservative, above all in conservative countries like Italy where the supposedly progressive elites are trying to get rid of what they consider an embarrassing past. I think that painting is still a very important medium, if not the most important, in art, and I also think that today painting could have the possibility of regenerating and enriching its potential with a strong alliance with digital technologies, 3D and the Internet.
We’ll see what will happen, but I think that we should reconsider our definition of what is conservative and what is progressive in art, and probably in other fields as well.
EK Interview: Nicola Verlato
What was it like spending the majority of your teens and early twenties in the 80s?
I didn’t like it at all…my family was very poor in that moment and I didn’t have any money…
It was really frustrating to be in that situation in the midst of the explosion of the Reganomics of those years.
When did you move to LA? How do you like LA?
I moved to LA only few months ago, I was living in NY before, for 7 years after moving in the states from Italy. I really like LA a lot, amazing weather and I also like the very specific culture of this city.
What was the inspiration for your “Martyrdoms and Miracles” series? Where were you personally for the series?
The inspiration for this series of paintings came from my interest in iconography. I wanted to verify how the old compositional strategies of the old masters would have worked applied on the ‘martyrdom’s' of our time, it is like to say that the way to compose the painting of the baroque era is for me a tool to reveal the continuity of the narrations of our time with the ones of the past.
The same I said before could be said for the hooligans series. Through the making of the painting I liked to formalize the riots in the stadiums as “modern” ancient battles, the painting itself in the end is a filter through which reality assumes a symbolic meaning. The hooligan is transformed into a hero.
Painting has its own morality which differs from the common one…the violence of the stadiums is an amazing pretext to narrate stories, it talks about the impossibility to reduce humanity to a certain model of civilization, it reveals that humanity is always the same, it’ll never change…
What kind of critical response have you received from “Mothers”? How has it differed or aligned with your own interpretation of the series?
I think it has been the most successful of all my groups of paintings until the present moment, probably many people consider those paintings as my trademark: swirling composition with naked crazy girls floating in a space filled with objects and debris…
I think that the most interesting thing about those paintings is the ambiguity with which they have been received. Some people thought that they were made by a woman (my name in America could be believed to be a female one) therefore they interpret them as a feminist statement, while, other people, saw them as the result of a misogynist mentality… fortunately the majority of the viewers approach them as the materialization into painting of some kind of visions, anyway, I’m always interested in provoking controversies with my paintings.
What do you like about oil paints? How do they feel physically? What are the limitations? What are the capabilities?
Oil paint is just a part of the different materials i’m using to make a painting, it is extremely useful for certain things, and to me is mandatory to use it to get those kind of subtleties of light and shadows impossible to obtain with other techniques…I like to use them over a very precise construction made with charcoal or water based colors, oil colors spread over the lines of the charcoal or the brushstrokes in such a soft and sensual way, the only problem of oil paint is how slow it takes to dry….
How have your books been received?
I published just one book, in Italy, which was poorly distributed…I will have a book published by Gingko Press very soon during the summer, this year, the title is “From Verona with Rage”.
What was your experience with Jonathan Levine Gallery in 2010? How has your second showing there this year been?
Either this year show and the one of 2 years ago have been extremely positive experiences!
How have you, how has your work matured since then?
I think i’m progressively getting closer to what I really want to do in my work, each exhibition is a step further in that direction.
How does illustration and painting differ in their expression? How do they feel to you?
I think the difference stands only in a different compositional approach. Illustration is a painting made mainly for a specific media, printed paper such as books magazines or newspapers, it is also always intended to be a visual support for a text.
Painting is made for another media, which is mainly a wall in the real space and usually it doesn’t support any text at all, it is a self explanatory image.
Composing an image as an illustration differs from composing a painting because the relationship between the image and the viewer’s change between the 2 different media. In illustration the viewer is reduced just to his eyes, in painting the entire body of the viewer is involved into the experience of being in the space and looking at the painting.
Many people think that it is all a matter of thick paint that make a painting a painting….it is just silly…the illustrations by Norman Rockwell are painted with very thick paint and, notwithstanding, they are still illustrations, while, for example, Botticelli’s paintings are made with extremely thin layers of color and they are clearly paintings…It’ all about how the image occupies the real space…And how the image is composed in the space of the painting itself.
Nevertheless I love illustrations, and Rockwell as well, and I think that, for illustrators, is easy to became painters and for painters to became illustrators, it is all about adapting your skills to the different compositional strategies which the different media media require.
What have you learned about your work and yourself from the shows that you’ve had?
I think I learned a lot. Shows are just the necessary steps in time where you put together some works, but they are not the main thing in your career, I hope, soon, I will able to consider them just the preparation to something bigger I have in mind.
What is a useful piece of advice that you’ve received, or concluded on your own, that you can tell aspiring artists? How long have you been an artist? How has your work changed since you first began? How has the content changed?
I would say that you should first recognize if you have natural talent as the premise of your engagement in painting, then, if you really have it start to study as much as possible comparing your work with the best masters ever…Michelangelo, Leonardo, Durer etc… Be always honest with yourself and never look for excuses…Painting is a very difficult job and you should get into it trying to pursue only the best, otherwise try not to be an obstacle to other people which are more talented than you…
I started to paint in oil when I was 7, and to sell paintings when I was 9…the funny thing is that I don’t think I have changed at all since then…I was just trying to get better, my idols are still the same, Caravaggio, Michelangelo Correggio etc…It’s true that I changed a lot about subject matter, when I was a kid all my paintings were about religious stories: crucifixions, resurrections etc even despite I haven’t received a religious education form my family.
What changed now is that I found the same kind of intensity of those religious themes in the narrative of our time mythologies.
Do you miss the food from home? What’s the food scene like in LA?
No, I adapt very well to any kind of food….i’m still exploring the food scene in LA it seem to be very interesting…