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Interview with Simone Bertuzzi and Davide Infantino

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by the editorial staff

In Fine Arts Academies, the ornamental repertoires had their own specific disciplinary territory, Ornamentation, the learning of which was transversal to all languages, both two-dimensional, such as painting and graphics, and three-dimensional, such as sculpture, architecture and scenography. Today, things are different. Artists encounter ornamental motifs often at random and reuse them in a strictly individual way, out of context. The ornament is something like an objet trouvé, an entity one often comes across by chance. But unlike the Dadaist objet trouvé, each geometric motif is loaded with resonances, symbolism and subtexts rooted in the distant past. The risk of falling into kitsch, pandering to the stereotypes found in large numbers on the web, is always just around the corner. To test today's sensibility on these issues, we posed some questions to two students of the painting courses at the Brera Fine Arts Academy, Milan, Simone Bertuzzi (Asola 2003) and Davide Infantino (Milan 1985), both of whom are engaged in the search for minimal, modulable and repeatable forms in a pictorial space that's always ready to split into real space. Their works intersect, through highly effective technical inventions, the structural and utilitarian, rather than expressive, aspects of decoration, reflecting its constant presence in the human environment.

What were your first significant contacts with the art world?

SB  I grew up in a special context, surrounded by parental figures in various ways sensitive to art issues. Certainly the most important were, and still are, my father, a painter-decorator, my mother, a primary school teacher, and an uncle who was a restorer for Superintendences for Historical and Artistic Heritage. Initial input came to me from them.

DI  Like many teenagers from the Milanese suburbs, my first contact with the art world coincided with the discovery of Graffiti Art on the walls of the city. Then I started to frequent exhibitions and galleries and, in particular, the Milan Triennale. Here I became acquainted with international design and architecture, being particularly impressed by the work of Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group. Those communicative aesthetics (I am thinking for example of Nathalie Du Pasquier’s graphic sensibility), that way of understanding design, straddling art and craftsmanship, immediately struck me. But my interests have never been sectorial and I have also been attracted to primitive and non-European arts.

Davide Infantino, Composizione segnica, 2023, shaped felt, variable dimensions (photo © D. Infantino).

Technical processes through which your works are created present quite unusual aspects compared to the standard brush dipped in colour. Can you tell us about them?

SB  Renunciation of traditional tools is an established fact in contemporary art. It’s all about knowing how to invent the tools and materials best suited to one’s needs. For the type of work I am currently pursuing, it became necessary to devise a ‘rake’ consisting of a broom handle and a toothed spatula, screwed together. I was thus able to create geometric effects by working more comfortably, and directly on the surfaces that aroused my interest.

DI  Painting is one of the many aspects of my artistic practice. Through my work I do not aim – as is often said – to ‘express myself’, but rather to bring out an anterior, universal idea. I prefer a strictly functional way of working that covers the whole range of my expressive interests. So, when I paint on a wall, I try to work with the bare minimum. I believe that the real challenge for an artist is to measure himself against different media, adapting his language to the environment in which he is placed.

Simone Bertuzzi, Geometrie imperfette, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100  cm (photo © S. Bertuzzi).

As a corollary to the previous question: your works give life to images that are often indirect, and seem to have matrices, moulds, geometric patterns behind them, matured in contexts other than ‘pure’ painting. Where do you get these thematic cues from? Do you rely on chance or on a strategy?

SB  In the paintings of the series I am working on, nothing is left to chance; there is a technical rigour that involves many steps. Initially, patience and attention is needed in every detail, from the construction of the frame to the cutting of the canvas from recycled fabrics. An initial frame is used to prepare the canvas, with Bologna chalk and vegetable glue. Then the canvas is removed from the frame to be painted with a quick action, laying it on the chosen surface. By spreading the colour on the surface and passing the rake over it, a double geometry is created; the first and most visible is the trace left by the tool, while the second comes to life from the pressure of the rake on the surface (tiles or other), thus forming a frottage that gives depth to the painting. The final stage involves the final framing and any retouching.

DI  Reference to history of art is essential for me, and initially Piet Mondrian’s reflection on the discipline of colour and line played a fundamental role. Verticals, horizontals and diagonals – seen in their reciprocal relationships – and primary colours were my guide to a possible idea of the world, with its own visual, communicative and architectural set-up, as seen in the series Untitled Block-Manifesto, later taken up in a variant, Manifesto Segnico, in which the curved line, previously excluded from my practice, appears. I also attach great importance to the concept of sequence, in which ever-changing combinations of lines give rise to potentially infinite compositions, as occurs in music. In this sense, my work is more like that of a designer than that of a painter tout court. I must admit that architecture, as an anthropological experience inherent to civilisations of all ages, has given me valuable suggestions. Suggestions of visionary writers such as Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and H.P. Lovecraft have also had a certain influence.

Davide Infantino, Composizione-modulo-sequenza n 4, 2021, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 70 cm (photo © D. Infantino).

In light of what has been said so far, do you think that the Academy’s departmental division in the field of visual arts, in which a distinction is made between painting, sculpture, decoration and graphics, is still current or do you consider it outdated?

SB  I believe that the departmental division of the Academy is in step with the times. It is right to maintain a reference to tradition, with the four historical courses, thus avoiding the risk of general homologation. Organised in this way, the Academy also encourages the exchange of ideas and practices between the students enrolled in the different courses. The uniqueness of each one is enhanced and, at the same time, a broad and diverse working group is created.

DI  However, it is important for students to be able to move from one department to another, freely choosing between the lecturers present, if this is useful for their artistic growth. I see the Academy as a gymnasium where one has the opportunity to train and make mistakes, trying to find one’s own way, which is not easy when it comes to creativity.

Simone Bertuzzi, Geometrie imperfette, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm (photo © S. Bertuzzi).

Although you are not a Street Artist, in your work there is, implicitly, the dimension of the street, of urban space with its surfaces. What do you think of Street Art and, more generally, of so-called Public Art? Do you compare yourself with these realities or is it purely coincidental interference?

SB  Reference to Street Art in my works is coincidental; the dimension of space, with its surfaces, is present at the moment when the actual pictorial action takes place on the chosen surfaces. Surfaces that can be of various kinds, from a private place, such as the inside of a house, to the public place par excellence: the square. I pursue a coherent relationship between work and place, a relationship that is indeed proper to Public Art, but is also a basic principle of Decoration, in all its forms.

DI  Being a global and multiform phenomenon, Street Art attracts very dissimilar audiences and artists. I find several exponents of the movement interesting, especially the pioneers, while aspects that do not convince me are the excessively and generically political-ideological connotations of many works and the too many references to pop culture. What attracts me more are those who, for a freer approach to the wall and space, choose the aniconic route; to name but a few, Roberto Ciredz and Guido Bisagni alias 108, the exponents of a kind of ‘contemporary muralism’. As for Public Art, it is perhaps the toughest challenge for an artist. Indeed, the work must not impose itself on the public, but integrate itself into the urban and social fabric called upon to receive it. In this sense, I believe that in recent years, large-scale mural painting has succeeded in the challenge of establishing a dialogue with space and, at the same time, with the viewer.

Davide Infantino, Manifesto segnico n 2, 2023, vinyl emuslion on paper, 29 x 42,7 cm (photo © D. Infantino).

A question perhaps obvious, but always appropriate: who are the artists (besides those active in Brera Academy) who inspire you in some way, and to whom you feel you owe something?

SB  Artists active in the field of Optical and Minimal Art seem more relevant than ever to me; often the two approaches merge, giving rise to highly effective operations. The simplicity and synthesis of Minimal combine perfectly with the illusiveness of Optical. I include among the examples most congenial to me Bridget Riley or, in other ways, Valerie Jaudon; by managing complex linear patterns, they guide the viewer in the space created by themselves.

DI  Certainly a fundamental reference for me, in addition to Piet Mondrian, is represented by Sol LeWitt’s work. I would add an experience like that of Pattern and Decoration, with artists like Joyce Kozloff and Valerie Jaudon, and a master of architecture like Gio Ponti, as well as some contemporary muralists. I am keen to bring together in my work different influences in terms of era and origin, without identifying with just one.

Simone Bertuzzi, Geometrie imperfette, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 90 cm (photo © S. Bertuzzi).

Is there an ideal project you would like to work on?

SB  I am currently going through a phase in which the path to follow is not yet clear to me, also due to the large quantity of suggestions and experiences which, during the years of the Academy, make the identification of a specific path very complex. In the near future I would like to create large private and public wall works, enhancing the place in which they are located.

DI  Carrying out an intervention on an architectural structure, externally or internally, also collaborating with expert craftsmen, to bring together tradition and contemporaneity in an all-encompassing concept. But I also like to work at minimal levels, both in technical and linguistic-conceptual terms, using the means available to create site-specific works that are always different from time to time, in terms of creative logic and environmental context.

Homepage; 1) Simone Bertuzzi, Geometrie imperfette, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm 2) Davide Infantino, Wall Painting, 2021, water paint, approximately 2,5 x 4 m. 
Below; 1) Davide Infantino, Senza titolo, 2020, shaped cardboard, 60 x 20 cm 2) Simone Bertuzzi, Geometrie imperfette, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 140 cm (photo © S. Bertuzzi, D. Infantino).

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