May 2016_by Federica Tattoli
With this new work, I'm exploring the body’s skin as a seal for holding stories, using thick skins of paint to create human skins that are shed and remade, broken and resealed.
They're intimate portraits, painted in an assertive, physical language. Heavily pigmented, abstract slicks of paint, become skins - for wrapping the tender emotional, spiritual and physical experiences of the body.
In general my work explores relationships between embodiment and liminal spaces; the poetics of intergenerational memory, gender transition, and other states of in-between-ness. My approach to figurative work, is as a kind of re-membering.
How would you present your work?
Generally in a gallery, but once in a castle ruin and another time in a field.
Because it’s ancient and slow and physical. People have been making marks to tell stories for over 40,000 years. It’s a kind of instinct. Comparatively the technology of painting hasn’t changed much. Pigment and Oil. Like a potion. It’s like speaking a really old language. Mark making. Feeling-finding. Story telling.
Where do you make your works?
In my studio, which is an old corner store, a stones throw from the ocean, on the fringe of a big city.
What can’t be missing from your worktable?
oil paint, latex gloves, coffee, palette knives, brushes, rags.
A collection you wish at least one work of yours was part of?
Anywhere the collector feels the work.
A museum where you’d like to have an exhibition?
Just somewhere small, maybe MOMA ;-)
The market or your need to express?
I guess I don’t really think in those terms.
If I’m feeling excited by what I’m making then I wake up hungry to get into the studio. Being loyal to that energy is the most important thing to me. If I disrespect it, I loose my motivation and stop making – which in turn would make both the market and expression irrelevant anyway ;-)
Lightness or depth?
Day or night?
Dawn and Dusk.
A question you’ve never been asked but one you’ve always wanted to
answer? Answer that question...
This is such a great question but I’m too tired tonight to feel that imaginative!
Could you briefly describe one of your latest works?
Selkie is big, the colour of the sea and coral reefs. She has presence. She presides over the gallery at the moment like a guardian. If you stand close to her she dissolves into pure abstraction, but when walk away and look again from a distance, she’s taken form.
Could you tell me something about your last exhibition 'medicinal skins’, how was born and developed?
The work grew out of thinking about the energetic and spiritual nature of gender transition - as a kind of ecdyses (a term usually used to refer to skin shedding in reptiles).
Popular discourse around transgender people often fixates on assumed aspects of our physical experience, and tends to either mock or fetishise our bodies based on how we appear to others.
With this work I’m trying to shift the gaze off just our physicality (but by going ‘through’ the skin, and the skin of the paint), hopefully inviting a wider reflection about the otherworldly nature of transitions.
Medicinal Skins is a reference to transformation and healing, a reflection on how those words (transformation and healing) sound soft, but how those processes are usually kind of brutal. They require some kind of breaking down. And, that’s how the magic happens.
Transition, relations, liminal spaces, what’s the meaning for you and in which way influence your poetic?
Humans changing form is ancient. Greif changes us. Love changes us. When people die or are born, we are changed. Gender transition is one contemporary (and ancient) expression of this magic but it sits inside a much wider practice of shape changing, loss, bliss and transformation - that we all have some embodied knowledge about.
The works in my recent show are titled to invoke the magic of these in-between-spaces, with names like ‘selkie’ who were shape shifters in Celtic tradition, moving between human and seal bodies; and ‘solstice’ referencing another type of transition or shifting in between time.
By cutting and spreading paint with knives, I’ve been able to explore the tactile relationship of human skins and paint skins, charging the marks with my own sensations of ‘changing skins’ and living between worlds.
What are you reading?
Merciless gods, by Christos Tsiolkas.
The secret life of words, by Isabel Coixet
I have so many complex feelings about this film. It goes there.
Where would you like to live?
I love living in Aotearoa, but definitely intend to have another chapter in Europe at some stage.
Do you have reference artists? Artists you’d like to work with?
I do have visual artist heroes but mostly I find myself soaking up works by makers in other art forms like dance, theatre - and kapa haka. I don’t think I could paint with anyone else but there are plenty of artists that I’d love to hang out with and talk about making.
A project, related to art, that you’d like to do?
There are so many things I’d love to do but I’m trying to focus in (on painting), plumbing the depths and not wandering outside for a while. I was born with massive curiosity, so this is a real challenge for me.
If you weren’t an artist, what job would you like?
Choreographer, theatre-maker, curator or pastry chef.
Let’s imagine a group show. Who would you like to exhibit with?
All my shape changing artist friends.
Yes or no to curators? If yes, who would you choose?
Yes. In terms of who – again, whoever is feeling my work I’m feeling theirs. It’s that synergy I’m attracted to.
A dream of yours?
I had a dream once where we were a small crowd, it was dusk, in a whitewashed cave in Italy or Spain somewhere, it was the opening night of a show I’d made. My beautiful sister Jacinta was singing a spine chilling opera in the cave with the paintings. We were all spellbound. I have a feeling that might happen one day.
Selkie, oil on canvas, 120x140cm, 2016
Trance, oil on canvas, 40x50cm, 2016
Slipping Skins, oil on canvas, 40x50cm, 2016
Lahar, oil on canvas, 40x50cm, 2016
Detail from Slipping Skins
Detail from Atlantis
We’ve always been here, oil on canvas, 180x240cm, 2015