Conversation with Bislacchi
by Mario Verre
Mario Verre: Bislacchi, born in 1995 in Cittanova (RC), Italy, has lived and worked in London for 6 years. He is a young artist we would say “minimalist”, if we wanted to cage him in pre-established categories, despite being his poetic characterized by instances of another nature. “Bislacchi” is a stage name: why did you choose it? Do you think the term “minimalist” defines you comprehensively?
Bislacchi: I understand that using “labels” is a bit part of your critical work, but I would prefer not to use them since Bislacchi is already the label of my name. I didn’t choose it, he came out a bit as a game and I immediately liked it. Anyway going back to the “label” discourse, I don’t call myself minimalist tout court because I’m not a minimal in all respects. Certainly my work has minimalism in it, but also abstract and informal influences. In fact, my research starts from Informalism. This also embraces some aspects of post-modern art by adopting a pictorial language which, using the canvas as an expressive medium, is concerned with issues of space, shape and color.
Mario Verre: Having been born in Italy, some experiences in the history of Italian art are likely to exert some influence on you. If that happens, who are your favorite artists and what strikes you about them?
Bislacchi: I have always looked at painting for its historical importance, consequently all Italian art exerts a great influence on me. However, since I live in London, I came across another story that did not exist for me before. My real artistic path begins in art school. I began to paint by transcribing works of Italian masters into contemporary works; I made a transcription, a version of mine, of Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ in a painting that had Burri-like qualities. I repeated the operation with La Maestà by Masaccio, preserved at the National Gallery in London, and with Simone Martini’s Annunciation elaborating them in much more personalized works to the extent that my course tutors called me Baroque, which irritated me a lot. What strikes me about these artists? I would say that I like everything about them, there is the world represented in those works in a multidisciplinary way and this has crucially affected my practice. Exactly What I wanted (and that’s what I still want) was that my work had to do with the history of painting. I strongly share Sean Scully’s idea about painting. He stated that painting is not only about what you can get out of it, but it is also about what you can add to it. The international artists that influences me are first and foremost the aforementioned Scully, whose coloristic qualities and expressive rigor I love. In fact, I have a great inclination for abstract art at the moment, mainly for its strong spiritual connotation. Other artists I’m looking at are Carol Bove, Peter Halley, Lee Ufan and Anish Kapoor.
Mario Verre: Focusing on the main features of the works, your minimalism appears marked by “Mediterranean” and discursive veins. “Mediterranean” by virtue of the presence of colored and curvilinear structural elements, therefore neither cold nor rigorous. Discursiveness is an intention that you sometimes achieve by trying to convey a message through the image.
Bislacchi: Yes, I agree with the fact that my work has those strong Mediterranean features and this connects me to what I was saying before. Despite international influences, I always try to keep alive the elements that have a great relevance to our Italian and Southern culture above all. Once a fellow artist once very spontaneously told me that I make Italian art “in English”, but I never understood if his joke had a positive or negative tone. Contemporary English art is very brutal and in a city like London it becomes extremely contagious. But I chose to do what I do precisely to express a feeling of opposition to the Anglo-Saxon thematic and stylistic canons. In London most artists you paint what is trendy compared to what is essential. I believe that art has to emerge from a situation of tireless need that goes against any stylistic trend. I always try to create harmony between narrative and painting. Bacon used to say that a good painting needs to disorientate the viewer because, once it ceases to be emblematic, the image loses its power and, if narrative dominates painting, boredom creeps in. However, I am working on an exhibition project in which the works will be loaded with a discursive value linked to my territory. But I don’t want to anticipate anything yet …
Mario Verre: Why are some works in the format of the diptych and others in the triptych? Is there a reference to the Italian artistic tradition?
Bislacchi: Yes. Diptychs and triptychs not only refer to the Italian artistic tradition but also help to increase the narrative function of the work, which you have identified as a characteristic of my minimal sui generis.
Mario Verre: In my opinion, two artists you take as a point of reference are Robert Morris for his declined minimalism in an anti-formal key (see the Felts cycle, for instance) and Barnett Newman that I see, revisited, in your extensive backgrounds of color with a strong spiritual charge.
Bislacchi: Yes, they are two artists who have deeply influenced my artistic research. Morris from a formal and conceptual point of view. Newman, on the other hand, belongs to that circle of abstract artists among my favorites. When I saw his Stations of the Cross at the National Gallery in Washington, it seemed to me that I had seen one of the most dramatic pictorial representations in history and it is from there that you see how abstract painting can have a strong mystical resonance. For this reason, I prefer American abstractionism very much, which is also the most successful from a historical point of view.
Mario Verre: In your opinion, how can an artist aspires to be contemporary, that is, in step with the times? Thought or technique: must there be a preponderance of one over the other or must they be balanced?
Bislacchi: The main issue to be contemporary today is to first understand what is going on around you. Consequently, you have to travel a lot because things should be experienced in the flesh before Instagram. Then, if one is also fortunate enough to live in a city full of artistic stimuli, that’s an advantage. I decided to live in London because, being one of the most important metropolises in the world, art comes directly to me and therefore I don’t always and necessarily need to travel (even if I do it anyway). I have always been taught that the attendance between artists is absolutely essential and I must say that I have been able to take advantage of it. However, everything else depends on the artist, it can be a matter of thought or even technique, it doesn’t matter much. But in the art world, a lot of determination, perseverance and self-esteem are needed. All ideas matter and are important but it is up to the artist to decide a path and a goal.