"What I paint is part of what I am, it’s my interpretation of the world and my way of experiencing reality."
Ian Bertolucci's hyperrealistic oil paintings are characterized by strong contrasts and an uncanny attention to detail. Focussing on the beauty of everyday things and their power to encapsulate a story or awaken a memory, they capture the elements of life that often pass us by unnoticed. In doing so, they showcase their interpretation of the world and illuminate the many small experiences that make life worth living.
INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST
Q. Did you always want to be an artist?
A. Yes definitely. I've never had a plan B, and my family has always supported me a lot. Actually, I would say that I have never asked myself this question. For me, being an artist is something that is linked to a certain type of sensitivity and perception of the world - in a certain sense something innate.
Pink Bears, Red Hearts, 2022
Oil on Canvas
Q. You have pursued many creative forms of expression, from design, to photography to performance – are all these different practices related for you?
A. Yes, I think that everything I create is the result of a research that I have carried out all my life, and I believe that every part of my creative path has and had played an important role.
Q. How has your artistic practice evolved over time?
A. Since I was a child I have always painted and experimented with various forms of expression related to my body; from transvestism to the creation of characters, which I painted and documented with photography. During the academy years I continued this research questioning gender issues and how these influenced social dynamics through performance and by presenting my persona in different contexts performing different gender roles. I still do that, and I think that when I paint all my experiences come together, resulting in a representation of my personal emotions.
Oil on Canvas
Q. You have stated that you find inspiration in old Hollywood – could you elaborate on that?
A. One of the things that most fascinates me about old Hollywood is the extreme construction of beauty. it's all wonderfully bright and at the same time strongly artificial. And then there's the light: the black and white of the old films, creates an extremely dramatic atmosphere thanks to strong contrasts and particular light effects, which i love so much.
Q. Contrast and light seem to play an important part in you work. Does this hold a special significance?
A. Light is everything to me. I think it's the most important element in the composition of the scene. I see light emerging from the dark as a reassuring element. I think that nothingness is one of the things that scares me the most. I imagine it as absolute darkness. For this reason, I love intense light and strong contrasts, they make me feel calm and warm, as if it were July forever.
Oil on Canvas
Q. Identifying as non-binary, do social conflicts surrounding gender influence your artistic practice?
A. Absolutely, I grew up immersed in the LGBTQ + community. Many people I grew up with are transgender, non-binary or gay, and I've had the opportunity to experience queer community issues firsthand. My family has always been very open and supportive towards me, and this has allowed me to live my sexuality and gender identity very freely, without ever being forced to label myself. Very often, my work is a reflection on gender issues, and I would like it to be an inspiration for those who cannot live their identity freely.
Q. Some of your work seems to highlight moments of vulnerability, is there a personal aspect to this?
A. Yes, the series of works with the light coming from the shutters, for example, is a reflection on the period of social isolation that took place during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. The home environment has gone from being a passing element of the daily routine to an insurmountable constant for a period of almost three months, preventing encounters with any other human being, including family members.
As the days went by, one of the things I realized is that in a completely hermetic context, in addition to not being able to make pleasant encounters, it was not even possible for me to make unpleasant ones, and / or to suffer physical or verbal harassment. This situation made me think about how much the LGBTQ + community in Italy (of which I am part) is affected. This group sees itself in the news almost daily, due to the occurrence of various attacks, against homosexuals and transsexuals, often by strangers.
One of the most important constants in this context was the way in which light invaded spaces. The light phenomena that occur in the home environment, cannot be observed in urban spaces, where interaction between non-cohabiting individuals is possible. The light from the shutters, at a certain time of day, creates a rhythm that invades all the rooms of the house, alternating areas of shadow and light almost like a code, confirming not only the end of another day, but also that everything is immobile and unchanged within this safe environment.
Q. Are you a cat person?
A. I love cats. I've always had a special relationship with them. My cat Amira is like my shadow, she's always with me, even when I work, and sometimes she is also the subject of my paintings!
Q. What would you still like to achieve as an artist?
A. I want to keep growing, to inspire others and to be inspired. I want to be a voice for the LGBTQ+ community and for anyone who sometimes feels like they do not have a place in this world. I don't think there is a point of arrival for an artist, it is a long journey in continuous evolution.
FOLLOW UP INTERVIEW
Over the past year, Ian Bertolucci's work has undergone some rapid developments in terms of style, technique and subject matter. We reconvened with the artist to ask them some follow up question concerning their recent artistic journey.
Q. Your work has recently undergone some drastic changes in style and atmosphere, what brought this about?
A. One day, at the beginning of June, I woke up, went to the kitchen and spread some strawberry jam on a slice of bread. I looked at it and thought it was beautiful. It was just as if I had spread some oil paint on a canvas. So, I took the colours and painted it (on a canvas, of course). From that moment on, I started looking more around myself and painting whatever caught my attention. Things that we are used to having around every day but which we do not dwell on.
"Very often, we’re used to conceiving of art as something very serious - as something that must present the viewer a scene at the height of pathos, when in reality, our life is made up of so many small, apparently insignificant scenes and actions that we can experience because we are so incredibly lucky to be alive. I believe that eating a piece of cake is a great experience and that every moment of our day is a precious gift that we should never take for granted."
Q. Do you see this change as a break with your previous work or rather as a continuation of your journey as an artist?
A. I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that in life, everybody inevitably changes and that we never stop evolving and discovering ourselves. I can imagine some of the goals I would like to achieve, however I struggle to have a vision of myself in, let’s say, two months even.
Oil on Canvas
Q. What would you like your latest work to evoke?
A. I would like to let those who look at my artworks have fun. I would like to be able to create a world full of joy and light. A world that anyone is able to relate to,without the need for many explanations or complex phrasing. I would like to make people smile.
Happy Dinosaur, 2022
Oil on Canvas
Q. Does nostalgia play a role in your paintings?
A. Many of the subjects I represent have a connection with my childhood, or with a memory that is important to me. I painted “After the party” because whenever there is a birthday, at the end of the party my mother saves the candles that were on the cake. This is an extremely vivid memory from my childhood, and every time I see these kinds of candles I think of my mother. In my paintings in general, many little stories are hidden. I like to think that everyone can find their own memories in my artworks.
Q. How do you choose your subjects?
A. There is no precise way. I started painting gummy bears because one day I opened a pack and put them all in a row. It seemed like a wonderful image to me. The way they cast their little coloured shadow fascinated me. So I could say that the way I choose my subjects is by keeping my mind open to be amazed by everything around me.
Peanut Butter and Honey, 2022
Oil on Canvas
Q. Do you have a specific goal in mind in the direction of which you’d still like to develop as an artist?
"I could answer yes by deluding myself that I have control over what my path and my plans for the future will be; but I’m aware that I barely have control over the cookies I put in the oven."
I think having this awareness is a great thing, because when one has full control over things he is limited in his own vision.