IN CONVERSATION WITH STEFANO PERRONE.

Bislacchi, March 2018

The artistic journey of Stefano Perrone (b.1985) began just 4 years ago. Stefano worked in a communication office by day, and in the evening retired to his studio to paint. It took him a year to understand his full dedication to painting and another year to mature his style from being a self-taught painter. He has shown with Melzi, the gallery that represents him, and has traveled abroad, exhibiting in Japan, Germany, Switzerland and England, where his paintings have ended up in auction houses such as Phillips.

Oblio Blu, 2017, 100 x 80 cm, oil on canvas

© Image courtesy Stefano Perrone and Melzi Fine Art

Bislacchi: Stefano, you are a self-taught painter, interchanging painting with working in an office in Milan until you quit your job. Since then, you have dedicated yourself entirely to painting. How did this all happen?

 

Stefano Perrone: I graduated in Industrial Design at the Milan Polytechnic ten years ago, but I was already working full-time in a local communication studio. I decided to continue working in this sector, and after a couple of years I joined the big advertising agencies, starting my career as an art director. At the beginning, it was the work of my dreams, but in after a while, it turned out to be the normal work of the office: stressful, binding and suffocating. When my working day ended, I felt the need to work on personal projects outside the advertising world, without constraints and briefs, and without supervisors or creative directors. Therefore, in the little free time that remained to me, I began to dedicate myself to projects with a more artistic mark.

 

I started painting a few years ago. It took me a year to learn the technique as a selftaught artist. I went to museums to closely observe the works of the great masters of the past. After a few months, I decided that this was what I wanted to do. In 2014, I quit my job and dedicated myself entirely to painting.

 

B: This was a great act of courage, sacrificing your full time job for the sake of painting, but instantly it seemed to pay off. In fact, very quickly you attained your first gallery representation with Melzi.

SP: Yes. After I quit, I travelled for a few months between London and Berlin, where I worked exclusively on new artworks. Finally, I started to see something interesting happening. These paintings were still expressionist, focused exclusively on portraiture and I was still painting with acrylics. In the meantime, when I was in Berlin, I had a first contact with Melzi Fine Art in Milan via Instagram and we agreed to meet on my return. In other words, four months after I quit my job, to my surprise, a gallery was already representing me. We worked together for a few months then, before my solo show, I signed the contract.

 

Melzi's work was important at the beginning, he gave me a lot of confidence in my ability. It was fundamental for me that I took a huge risk, jumping into the void by handing in my resignation from a full-time position.

B: In fact, this was at a very early stage of your career. What sort of impact did this have on you?

SP: It was very important to have someone who trusted me from the beginning. I never expected such a starting point. The impact was so important that my technique has evolved very quickly and unexpectedly, leading me within a few months to create something totally new from a stylistic point of view. This was in part thanks to the fact that I abandoned the acrylics in favour of oil colours.

The artist in his studio

© Image courtesy Stefano Perrone and Melzi Fine Art

B: I have to acknowledge that you made great strides, because the evolution of the technique you’re talking about has led you to your current paintings. And it’s very extraordinary. But since this development has taken over, I would be curious to know how the environment where you work also stimulates you. Coming from Monza, a little town not too far from Milan where you’re currently based, how does an artist like you live and work?

 

SP: The artistic scene of Milan is not in any way comparable to that of other European capitals. In recent years the interest in contemporary and emerging art has been growing, but we are still very far from European standards. But saying this, having a studio in the center of Milan isn’t cheap at all. For my first exhibition with Melzi in 2016, I worked in a flat on the fifth floor where I used to live, carrying large scale canvases up 5 flights of stairs. After my solo show, I decided to rent a studio in Milan for almost the whole of 2017, until I had the opportunity to buy my current home-studio in Monza, which I refurbished in order to be able to work there. Obviously, I chose Monza because is cheaper than Milan, but still a few tube stops away from the center.

 

B: As an Italian artist, I guess you frequently feel the need to travel abroad?

 

SP: Travelling abroad is fundamental for me. It isn’t only from an artistic point of view, but also because I easily get bored staying too long in the same place. I feel free when I travel. I like to be in control of my time, to leave suddenly. However, to stay up to date from an artistic point of view it is essential. The contemporary artistic scene in Milan is poor. I travel very often to London, where I draw inspiration, and then return to the studio to create new work. Some very important international exhibitions don’t even land in Italy. For example, in Milan there is no civic museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art (fortunately there are some private foundations that fill this absence).

“Instagram has given artists a powerful tool to promote themselves, and they are doing it very well" 

B: Do you think these are also the same reasons that drive Italian galleries to focus on foreign artists these days?

 

SP: I don’t know, I think it's a guilt contest. Unfortunately, Italian galleries are quite lazy. This generally penalizes those who seek to emerge in our country, it happens in all sectors, but especially in the creative and artistic sphere. However, I think the trend is changing. I notice a certain interest in the work of emerging Italian artists, thanks to the fact that Instagram has given artists a powerful tool to promote themselves, and they are using it very well. There is a lack of courage. Italian artists who can compete with the emerging European art scene are not lacking. But I understand that it’s easier to focus on foreign artists, who have more opportunities to show off and are already enjoying a good response from the public, which in the end is what interests the galleries.

B: That’s a good point. Let me go back to your early work that had this expressionist mark, underlining your first reaction to the paintings of the 20th century.

Mandarini, albicocche e rete di mandarini, 2018 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel

© Image courtesy Stefano Perrone and Melzi Fine Art

Since Vertigo your first solo show with Melzi, your work evidences a sort of expansion and an evolution in style, adopting a language that is much closer to that of the digital age. But returning to the paintings of the 20th century, how does your work respond to that now?

 

SP: As I said, I am self-taught. I picked up the brushes a few years ago and the easiest and most immediate way to start was with expressionism. I started to make my first series of ‘faceless portraits’. I was working almost exclusively on portraiture, constantly looking at the works of Cezanne, Bacon, Modigliani, and the early Picassos. Imitating the old masters was an obligatory rite of passage for me, because I haven’t had academic training, but I obviously felt that I had to take a different path.

There were two important works that marked the evolution of my style: La partita (2015), the first work in which two figures are seen interacting, playing chess, in a structured physical space. The second one is titled Limbo (2016), where I established the technique as it is today and the decomposition of the figure. It was from this that I built my entire solo show Vertigo.

 

But twentieth-century painting still remains an important reference. The masters that I pursued with a certain obsession are now impressed in my visual memory, and sometimes they are subjected to the filter of my style and pictorial vision, without reappearing in my works. It can remain a trace in some chromatic juxtaposition, in some composition, in some lines, or simply in the subject of the painting.

 

My language is very tied to the digital: vectorial illustration and graphics, it’s basically due to my professional background before my artistic career, as an art director and graphic designer. It emerged in my works accidentally, marking a breakthrough in my painting style.

“The masters that I pursued with a certain obsession are now impressed in my visual memory"

Limbo, 2016 100 x 100 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas

© Image courtesy Stefano Perrone and Melzi Fine Art

Limoni secchi, auricolari e trementina, 2018 50 x 32 cm, oil on canvas

© Image courtesy Stefano Perrone and Melzi Fine Art

B: How do the subjects of your paintings originate? What’s the atmosphere in your studio before an idea gets going?

SP: I start looking for images. I go to the bookstore, flip through photo magazines, fashion, design, or do research online. I don’t go in search of a particular subject, I let my visual memory store as much information as it can. In the end something remains more impressed than anything else, both subjects and colours. Then I return to that subject and I start working on it. The first phase of the work is a study: a pencil or an oil pastel on paper, in which I reinterpret the subject in my own way. This phase is very important, because I study the composition of the work, lines, shape, and light. Often there is no color study, I decide that the day I start painting, according my mood. Generally, the conception of a work often takes longer than its realization, it is very slow, I want the subject to be clear in my mind. Although the study on paper requires a couple of hours of work, maybe I will spend a couple of days to convince myself that it is the right subject. A glass of whiskey sometimes is very helpful to dissolve some of the doubts!

B: I’m particularly keen to know how the colourful line that you call “Vettore” (vector in English) functions in your work. I really liked what you mentioned earlier, when talking about it, you said that it can be both insidious - suffocating the figure within the paintings, and sinuous - holding them together.

SP: In fact, if I think about it, the "vector" as I call it, is a line that came from the decomposition of the figure, without precise intentions, if not those of giving more movement to the figure. I saw that between the various surfaces and gradients it was possible to slide, "to channel" this line like a streak of water, like silicone or filler to fill the cracks. Seen in these terms, it has the function of keeping the figure together. On the other hand, in relation to the figure or the portrait, this line seems more to represent a rope or a noose, that binds, tightens or suffocates the figure. Which is perhaps a more accurate interpretation and in line with my pessimistic view of contemporary society.

B: You know, I was in my studio the other day, and I happened to read something that strongly caught my attention. It was a quote about painting from a Turps Banana article, which was praising the intelligence of it, saying that: “Intelligence in painting is knowing how to express a circle without tracing any circle, how to draw a single straight line to mean a vase full of flowers, how to make a political statement exploiting the sole absence of tonal contrast”. Actually, I really get this sense of discipline in your work, where the vector functions as the intelligent tool that directs the viewer through this sort of process. I believe it contributes to the success of your paintings.

SP: The vector, at the beginning, happened almost by chance, but immediately became the protagonist of my work. Being often in contrast with the rest of the painting, I started using it to highlight some movements, or parts of the subject that interest me. It is another level, which gives a new dimension to the work. Sometimes it completely distracts attention from the subject, sometimes it enhances some aspects. I like that I can decide to keep this line tone-on-tone and then make it an integral part of the subject, or use a contrasting colour to distort the entire painting, leaving it as an undisputed protagonist. I like to distract the viewer, confusing them, and leading them to follow the path the vector traces along the painting, and then bring them back to investigate the painting in its entirety.

"The vector, at the beginning, happened almost by chance, but immediately became the protagonist of my work"

Caduta Leggiadra, 2016, 180 x 250 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas

© Image courtesy Stefano Perrone and Melzi Fine Art 

B: In the series Le Cadute (The Falls), I feel there is a link with mythology. For example, the myth of the fall that refers to Narcissus falling into the water after having seen its reflected image. But also Icarus, who aspired to power but in a counterproductive manner. Do you find a connection with these subjects or is there something else behind your work?

 

SP: I’ve never referred to mythology, but it might be the same feeling that drove me to create this subject and the great masters of the past to tell us about those adventures. For the series Falls I was inspired by our modern society, the sense of disorientation, emptiness, and vertigo that I often feel in this context. A simple example, when I happen to walk around in a big metropolis like London, in the crowded stations of commuters, thousands of people moving in mass, in this huge confusion it is easy to see loneliness. That's why I've always represented my figures on monochromatic and aseptic backgrounds.

"I was interested in expressing the feeling of weariness that waiting causes an individual. The more we wait, the more we consume ourselves"

I am interested in emptiness. The body of each subject reacts differently to the fall. A bit like in reality, there are those who let themselves fall to dead weight (who let themselves be overwhelmed by the dynamics of society), who are preparing for an impact (who do not want to be found unprepared), those who fluctuate (who try to fall in style), and so on.

B: On the other hand, there is also the series Le Attese (The Waitings) that stops your figures from falling

 

SP: Waiting is a recurring theme in our daily life. In The Waitings, I was interested in expressing the feeling of weariness that waiting causes an individual. The more we wait, the more we consume ourselves. Waiting makes us helpless until something happens, whether negative or positive.

B: Very recently, you spent a couple of months in Brescia for a residency at Palazzo Monti. I have heard it is a wonderful place, full of natural light, which makes it perfectly fitting for a painter. How did this experience affect your work?

 

SP: It was an incredible experience. Initially I wanted to do this residency at the beginning of 2018, in order to compare myself with different artists. Then, I had the possibility of doing it in November and December of last year, because the residence was almost empty, there were only two other artists. I really enjoyed the large spaces available, and to work and live in one of the big frescoed rooms. The light that floods into the palace is magnificent, warm and widespread, but because I was there in winter, artificial light was needed after 4.30pm! The frescoes on the ceiling immediately led me to make two great "falls", a subject that I had set aside for a few months. Meeting Lara Shahnavaz, a young artist residing at Palazzo Monti in the same period, led me to finally tackle the theme of still life. Before this experience, I had never realised a still life - this gives you an idea of the importance that the project has had. The residency ended with a solo exhibition, for which I created sixteen works in two months, including an installation, woodcuts and Raku ceramics.

B: Well, I can certainly see that you had an incredible output in those months and how the experience has benefited you. What can you tell me about still life, since this is a new theme in your practice and perhaps not yet fully matured?

 

SP: It is a theme that is fascinating to me. I want to represent still life in a different way. I like when I see objects on the table that have no relation between them, other than being simultaneously in the same place, like in the work Dry lemons, head-phones and turpentine. I would like to represent the "physical" relationship that these objects have between them, how they interact in space. I’m also interested in a minimalistic approach to the representation of still life, almost like on a photographic set, with a limbo background, to enhance the shape and the line of the subjects through the light. I don’t think I’ve done a work like this yet, but I have already made several studies that will soon become new works.

Above: TAPE, 2018

Variable dimensions, oil painting on tape

Left: L'uomo osservato, 2018

60 x 50 cm, oil and gesso on pane

© Images courtesy Stefano Perrone and Melzi Fine Art

B: What are you working on right now and what can we expect next from you?

 

SP: I get bored always working on the same subject, I like to introduce elements of novelty in future work, both on a technical level and in relation to subjects. I would definitely avoid locking myself up in the "figurative" category - I want to be able to represent reality without such constraints. So I leave the doors open to abstraction and minimalism, which of course are already part of my work, but may be more extreme in the future. I want a dialogue between abstraction, figuration and minimalism in my work. In addition, I will go deeper into the themes I have dealt with at Palazzo Monti, like the Tape project. Masking tape is part of the process of making my paintings, but I found that, out of context they continue to live as separate works because they retain part of the painted gradient left on the edge, preserving the sinuous lines of the figures, and installed on the wall they project delicate shadows giving life to new lines.

 

B: So can we consider your future project Tape functioning as three-dimensional vectors directly into the space?

 

SP: Absolutely. However, the vector is not the tape itself, but its projection on the wall through the light. The tape is once again simply a means and a testimony of my work.

Stefano Perrone

www.stefanoperrone.com

© 2019 by Assemblage Magazine.

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