A Conversation with Stefano Giordano about his latest work and ‘the work behind the work’ for his upcoming solo show ‘Untitled (green)’ which will be on view at Lorfords.

15 September- 13 October

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Kate Williams: When I visited your studio, you talked about the initial drawings originating from children's colouring books which I thought was wonderful! Suddenly it made perfect sense as to why I feel so drawn to their nostalgic simplicity.

Stefano Giordano: Nostalgic simplicity… I like that. The idea for this series of paintings started from a friend buying a colouring book for my 35th birthday. A silly joke, kind of ‘oh you are an artist, so you can colour this’, which made me think of my childhood. When I was little all I had in my bedroom were pictures of [the cartoon] Snoopy hugging a big heart or chilling on the beach, while in the living room were my grandfather’s still life and landscape oil paintings. So I thought that taking inspiration from those images might be a way forward in my work. 

I have been attracted to the black line for a while now; I’m attracted to its simplicity, elegance and to the fact that it connects to [so many] other things. It breaks and creates space at the same time. They are a human invention, things of the mind.

The motifs in the paintings are positioned very centrally, particularly the landscape pictures. Perhaps it's this, as well as the light that appears to emanate through the layers of paint, that makes me think of stained glass windows.

This repeated compositional decision also reminds me of works by Piero Della Francesca. Together, these hint at a deeper sense of seriousness once you have spent some time with them.

I like the paintings to have a structure behind them, something they can hold onto. Plus they became somehow monumental when they are composited in that way, without a narrative. 

I have always enjoyed going to the National Gallery looking at Piero della Francesca, Pollaioulo or Da Messina’s paintings and the way they split the space in a painting with a cross. One of my favourite painting is Da Messina’s Christ Crucified, it’s such a little painting but the space in it is infinite.

The things you refer to remind me of the experience of being in a church which I guess makes sense with me being Italian, having spent so much time in churches. I do think that painting has to do with some kind of spirituality, if we can call it that.

These references might seem to contrast with the notion of a colouring book which is light hearted and often funny. However, if we assume that colouring books act as visual information for children to learn from in a similar way that stained glass windows did historically, then perhaps we can consider that both offer up boundaries to follow or rebel against?...

When I was at college a tutor called Frances Richardson suggested that my work is “deep in light way” and I still think a lot about that sentence. 

In the process of painting the black lines are made and destroyed, leaving traces of the process coming through the colours which are applied after a satisfying result has been achieved. Black lines could be seen as a metaphor for our social conventions and rules, and somehow we live our lives filling the space between these rules established by something bigger. 

I always liked to think of painting as a way to think about life; the paintings have some sort of violence, pain and destruction together with love, naivety, fun and beauty. 

As a viewer of your paintings, you respond immediately to these simplified, bold outlined images. A spaceman drinking a carton of orange juice or being inside a space shuttle soaring into space are childhood dreams to many of us.

This recognisable imagery is something that you have worked with since I first met you, please would you elaborate and give us an insight into the work that we can see in the show?

I love direct, simple imagery which invites you in, that wants desperately to be liked but at the same time it tells you to fuck off and keep a distance!

When I started thinking about this project, I was looking for images of colouring books that I loved. I have always liked the landscape made into minimal shapes, just enough to understand that what you look at is a simplified landscape and then I thought, it was necessary to enlarge it. 

In regard to the idea of space [travel], that is [an] adult dream now too! The space paintings followed the landscapes, and after reading 12 Bytes by Jeannette Winterson, I got interested in Elon Musk’s space program and how these “boys” want to colonise space instead of cleaning up the mess here on planet earth.

How do you approach making a body of work?

S G :  I struggle for sometime to make clear in mind what is it that I want to do. Researching painters and paintings that interest me is an important part of the process. I make preparatory drawings to work through composition and marks, using images that speak to me at the time. I play around with them digitally, then I make small works having researched materials, paints and supports. These are then photographed , and coloured in on an iPad to have an idea of how I want them to look. All the while during the process of making, ideas for another series will come up. I already have an idea for my next project and I’m very excited.

K W: The use of an iPad to plan the colour is really interesting in that you are now working with digital colouring in ‘books’ and an iPad screen does give backlit colour, so the sense of light coming through is very much a planned element to your work?

SG: I always put my paintings or drawings through the “digital” in the making process; I like to think that they live a life similar to ours before coming to completion. When I started colouring the paintings digitally I loved the floating blocks of colours; two thin layers of colours activate each other, plus the blue light of the screen made the whole experience very seductive. I then tried to recreate the effect of having the ‘light coming from within’ on canvas; the process always influence the product and vice versa.

Can you talk about Time and its importance to your work?

Paintings are made of actions and choices through time; this process is left visible through the materials on the support. In painting one cannot avoid time. One artist who understood that fully was On Kawara, making time the subject of his paintings.

Which three people strongly influence your work?

3 painters. 2 dead. 1 alive.

Raoul de Keyser for his informal and intimate way of painting. He also played around with the idea of a work of art being unfinished but completed at the same time.  

Sigmar Polke for his continuous inventions, bravado and intelligence with dealing with popular contemporary culture and the history of paintings; in his work he touched almost on every subject you can think of and experimented with a variety of materials. A real artist. 

Carroll Dunham for his reinterpretation of classical themes into a comic painting style combined with abstract expressionism and minimalism. 

But I’m trying to misunderstand them as best as I can. 

The work in this show is dominated by a heavily saturated green palette? Which is naturalistic in the landscapes pictures but imagined and disassociated in Untitled (Astronaut) - please can you comment on this choice?

Partly green was in other paintings I made in the last couple of years, but on the sides or in the details, and so I decided to amplify it to the max! Another reason for going green and black is because I loved the combination of these two colours in the painting Payasage by Miró.

That’s right when we think about the landscape we think green, however I love when children colour things with dissociated colours. A green sky is something you can find in science fiction, while a green space somehow takes us back to the landscape which I find quiet poetic. 

I think about these paintings as MULTIMONOCHROME, they are all greens but different.

What did you want to be when you were little?

When I was little I wanted to be a professional snowboarder, but I never got on a snowboard in my life.

What is your favourite place on the planet?

I have too many for different kind of reasons; this is an impossible question…

As an artist, what actions do you take to try to minimise your impact on the environment?

I have a recycling bin in my studio and I try not to waste paint/ pour paint into the sink. But to be fully environmentally friendly I should probably stop using the paint that I use now and find a “green” one. 

Stefano, thank you so much for letting us delve into your practice, it's been brilliant! We can't wait until the show opens later this week!

Untitled (Paysage 3)

Untitled (Paysage 4)

Untitled (Paysage 5)

Untitled (Paysage 6)

Untitled (Paysage 7)

Untitled (Paysage 1)

Untitled (Stars and Moon 1)

Untitled (Paysage 2)

Untitled (Clock)

Untitled (Space Shuttle)

Untitled (Astronaut)

 

For any enquiries, please email gallery@lorfords.com