Terra di mezzo (Middle-Earth)
INTERVIEW WITH VIRDI
You were selected for the Italy Pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 2011. What memories do you keep of that period?
Lots of positive situations, of the sort that give you a boost, make you more determined and willing to go all out to achieve your dreams. It is not least these satisfactions that keep you going.
At twenty eight years old you’re seen as one of the most promising painters of your generation. Does this make you feel proud or worried?
There are always things to worry about and in any case I believe it’s normal when one has a conscience. As to pride, I’ll only be able to be proud in the future, if I manage over the years and with my next works to confirm the recognition I’ve obtained so far.
Does Verdiana Patacchini today feel she’s grown up?
I’d say no...
Among the paintings selected for ‘La Terra di mezzo’ there’s “La Veronica”, a work that was recognized with the Catel Prize in 2012. When describing this picture you stressed that this work was ‘Italian’, that is originating from an ancient world. Is Italy a word that still has a future?
“La Veronica” is a work with signs and inscriptions that instead of being conceived for a blank sheet of paper are elsewhere. If I think of signs in painting, Basquiat immediately comes to my mind. For this work, however, I searched for the image of a Veronica that was painted today and was Italian. I feel I can say that my origins are in our tradition and I consider it of value if one knows how to let one’s identity seep out through one’s work.
If you ask me whether the word “Italy” has a future, I say it certainly does. Saying we’re living through a difficult period doesn’t seem very original, whereas acknowledging how lucky we Italians are to be born in a country that is unique in its culture and beauty would be. The hope is that we can consider this critical moment a sort of gaining of awareness and a step to be taken in order to embark on a new adventure, including in art.
And how much is Virdi’s future going to be Italian?
I hope so, but whatever the general situation in one’s own country, it’s always good to get new experiences and take on other cultures. I’ve just got an artist’s visa for the United States and so for a few years I’m going to have the chance to be able to try living and working in America. This experience is very important for me.
So you’re switching?
Let’s say that I’m on the move. I’ve got various bits of baggage and works in New York and I’m about to buy a home in Rome.
In your works one can glimpse an ongoing investment inside you. As regards colors and themes your natural elements seem to be fire and earth. With your signs and your subjects you show a recurring uneasiness. Does Verdiana Patacchini paint in order to stand firm?
“Painting is the art of deception” and by this I don’t mean the technique of simulating but I mean that it can trick one’s memory. Painting can be a way of evading. You can paint and draw what’s around you but in my opinion reality is only a pretext. And so I don’t know whether I paint to stand firm, and in fact what occurs is probably the opposite. It’s true that my elements could be fire and earth. My art is one that uses various materials and I love playing with and confounding what people see. I use heavy materials like iron and corrosive ones like acids but I treat them as if they were sheets of paper or watercolors. In spite of this I’d like to go after the air and perhaps I’ll get to lighter forms.
Through art are you searching for a stability that you don’t find in real life or is it the gesture of painting that triggers and feeds your anxieties?
Picasso was right when he said “I don’t search, I find.” I don’t expect and I’m not looking for any sort of self-analysis from painting, even if there is inevitably an introspective part to it. Emotional stability is important for finding the necessary concentration for guiding my hand towards the solution I need to find. And then anxiety is useful in order for such-and-such a sign or color to have the essential strength to ensure that a painting becomes a good painting.
Your figurative works feature single subjects or at most two people, a sort of “me & me style”. Why are groups so rarely present in your works as in figurative arts in general?
It’s a good question. Regarding the figurative concept, I consider that this aspect can even be found in works where there are no figures at all. I mean that the importance of a color or a contrast can count as figurative elements in a painting. Or, on the contrary, a landscape or a mountain can become an abstract shape.
I believe the sense of collectivity, of living together and of not having everything under control is present in my art intrinsically: I entrust the oxidation of iron, with its ability to create haphazard stains, with a role that is crucial, almost ritual and requiring interpretation, as for the time necessary for each work. As regards the dualism present in certain of my paintings, it does not just come from the me & me style. What I like to look for is the meeting point between casualness and intention, attraction and the presence of two opposing and irreconcilable principles.
The search for new materials in your art has led you to experiment with anonymous and commonly used ones as additions to your canvases. This has not altered the poetic chords of your works, capable of expressing an ongoing confrontation between the inorganic and human life; a looking in the mirror at one’s own destiny, including the inevitable and frightening aspects…
Yes, I enjoy experimenting, transforming materials, even if in reality for me the process is always the same. I can see a canvas in paper, steel and iron, and dyes in acids. I’ve realized that in a painting scratches can be as important as brushstrokes. Your guess is totally right. One thing I want to come out of my work is that we are forced to take on every aspect of life, from those we can control to those that are more spontaneous and independent of our will.
You sign your paintings with the pseudonym Virdi. Why?
While I was at the academy I painted figurative subjects, nudes of an academic nature. Then I felt I had to get away from all that and I started to disarrange some still life compositions using collage, as an exercise. Proceeding on this path I found it boring to think that you could grasp the sex of a painter by looking at a picture; I didn’t want to do female paintings. With “Virdi” you couldn’t necessarily grasp the female or male characteristics of whoever had painted a picture signed with this pseudonym. I liked the idea right away. And I’m still signing as Virdi.
Would you like to share with us the names of the people you met in your life who were most crucial professionally?
I can very enthusiastically say that I had the luck and chance to meet some special people, of an extraordinary level of culture and intelligence. I can mention names like Jan Claire, Alain Tapiè, Achile Bonito Oliva, Alberto Agazzani, Walter Rossi, Vittorio Sgarbi and Marco Goldin. But everything started with the most important encounter, that with Carlo Guarienti. I could go into a lot of detail about everything he has taught me and it would deserve a separate section on its own. I can assert that I’d like to be able to see an exhibition of Picasso, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Brueghel or Soutine with the same eyes as him.
Well then, let’s start on this separate section. As the last thing in this conversation, tell us about when you first met Carlo Guarienti.
In 2007 I agreed with my teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, the painter Giuseppe Modica, that my thesis would be on Guarienti. I went to meet him for an interview in his study in Rome near Villa Ada. I asked him some questions to which he replied politely, using irony and a rare intelligence. He started to talk to me about painting by recalling dialogues and episodes involving Ungaretti, Hemingway, De Chirico and Guttuso. I remember that he mentioned Buzzati and Pessoa and stressed the importance of a painter’s relationship with literature rather than with critics, letting me see his sort of justifiable solitude as a painter. That first meeting gave birth to a lasting working relationship that I have found truly rich in teachings and ideas.