Although it has only been a few months since I first met Piedmontese artist Gianni Depaoli via the web, a deep mutual trust and esteem has been established, as well as a great admiration for the elegant conceptual works he creates. Gianni Depaoli is the only conceptual artist in the Contemporary Italian Art in the Netherlands project because his intense artistic poetics have shaken my innate distrust of this contemporary art form. Gianni Depaoli’s art is based on the principles of eco-sustainability and bio-diversity, which are conveyed to the observer through the creation of installations and works (pictorial and sculptural, figurative and abstract), which gather different meanings and take on identities that can be traced back to historical and cultural contexts that are always closely linked to respect for the sea and organic waste, which is charged with artistic, lyrical and poetic value and can be called a “new icon” and a “contemporary fossil”. The Piedmontese artist is already internationally known and has been present in the Netherlands for several years; after his absence in the last decade, he has decided to show his new conceptual works at the Manzoni Kunst Galerie in Oosterwolde.
But let’s finally give the opportunity to Gianni Depaoli to speak:
You are a conceptual artist and creator of new crystallised and lyrical contemporary icons: how did you get on this path? Tell us about your artistic journey.
It all began in September 2007 when a courageous director like Marco Valle of the E. Caffi Museum in Bergamo, after seeing a project of mine that was still in its embryonic stage, decided to dedicate an entire exhibition to me: “Mare Nero” (Black Sea). That small number of works – just seven – represented my first public appearance. From that rather fortunate debut, a tam-tam started that involved many other museums. These days, my ‘Constatazioni’, as I call them and not denunciations, since these situations have always been in the public eye, are on display in many museums and institutions. They have managed to arouse curiosity and finally arrive at the first art museum that has welcomed me in the Gallery of Modern Art in Genoa, directed by Maria Flora Giubilei, with whom I came up with a certainly bizarre idea: to “pollute” the museum by combining desecrating works, such as mine, with the masterpieces on display. A gamble that will lead to the production of an entire catalogue, plus an extension of another three months and a page on “From Genoa to Genoa”, a book by Andrea Ranieri, councillor for culture of the Ligurian capital. A great satisfaction. From the creation of works that unequivocally pointed out the disasters caused by man, to the use of organic waste material, the step was short, that is to say, to ennoble with its waste one of the primary foods that has always nourished the World: fish.
Your atelier is very different from a painter’s atelier and is almost on a par with an alchemist’s laboratory or an operating theatre: would you like to discover the veil of mystery and describe it to our audience? What tools and materials do you use, what techniques…?
My studio is the warehouse that was used for importing, processing and distributing fish, i.e. a former refrigerated warehouse now renamed Menotrenta Museum, the exhibition rooms are the former cold storage rooms, the former laboratories are my studio, the offices are partly a reception area but above all a condensation of past, future or never completed projects. The new research developed around 2014 using inks and cephalopod skins treated to preserve and maintain the natural colour of the livery, thanks to a method patented by me, and manipulated with steel needles and surgical scalpels, leads to transforming the material to discover its beauty and transparency. This new study gives new life to organic waste, which I consider the link and indelible memory of the product that nourished the Human Being. “From the edible that nourishes the body, to the art that nourishes the spirit”. Material painting becomes the strongest impulse for the search for natural colour, which will become the only colour used, regulated by the manipulation of the chromatophores existing in the product, without adding artificial colours. With the Abissi project, he investigates the known and the unknown and the tortuous paths of human thought. He discovers and highlights the wounds and excrescences of lacerated skin that become abysses and meanders where thought is lost and regenerated, revealing the suffering I have undergone during my life journey, which I define as my Via Crucis.
In 2010 you had the opportunity to attend the Affordable Art Fair in Amsterdam and the Open Art Fair in Utrecht: how did you find it at the time and how do you hope Holland will be in 2021?
It was a unique experience for me, also due to the fact that I had worked with Holland for more than 40 years: from the ports of Urk, Volendam, Harlinger, Jimuiden, I imported Dutch fish for schools, plaice. When I came, I brought a project representing Holland’s fishing history, told to me by local fishermen and producers, and the incredible and extraordinary combination. A small country like our region has a product, the plaice, that is known and appreciated all over the world, and another combination that links the morphology of that fish to Holland (but I will only reveal this when a Dutch public institution invites me to do an exhibition in Holland). From there my research started and the first exhibition with these materials was held in Holland, all the works were made with plaice skin, historical fishing nets, wooden crates from the 1960s which are now obsolete. It was a great success and I even got an article in a local newspaper with a photo of one of the works (Het Urkerland).
What are your future projects for the coming months? What are you working on?
I have many future projects, both in terms of new research that I am conducting and exhibitions that we are preparing. There are many events already planned that have been postponed due to Covid 19, I am a finalist in two important competitions, I am preparing a personal exhibition that will have an important institutional venue and that will be supported by a museum where I will donate works that will be sold to an association that deals with the fight against cancer, as I have done in the past, and that will be my main prerogative for the future (a promise I made to my wife before she flew away). I will also be present at some important events in Italy and abroad that have already been scheduled.
What is the ultimate goal of Gianni Depaoli’s highly personal and innovative Conceptual Art? Aren’t you afraid that only a narrow niche of art lovers can understand the profound message that your works convey?
Observing reality and shaping it so that people can enjoy it and become aware of it, by extrapolating my inner self, my sufferings but also the daily enjoyment of the beauty that nature gives us. My works feature faces and silhouettes, sometimes clearly revealed, sometimes hidden, which underline my relationship with the unknown and my search for the lightness of being. Restlessness, anguish and fear are represented by lacerations, abysses and meanders that wound the skin, but are exorcised by the transparent beauty of natural shapes and colours.
I have always been interested in bringing out the “detail”, imagining the backstage of life, discovering the hidden construction rather than enjoying the final result. It is the detail that differentiates us and makes us unique, our indelible and recognisable signature. No, it doesn’t worry me; on the contrary, it fascinates me. When you cross the border for an experimental process you already know that you will encounter difficulties, difficulties that the great masters have also encountered, Burri, Arman, Penone, Pistoletto to name but a few, and now let’s see where they have arrived. Now the people of art are prepared for these new processes, they themselves are looking for new productions that can amaze them. Fortunately, I have always met collectors who wanted to invest in something innovative and unusual and museums that wanted to present something particular, in terms of the material, its handling, but at the same time expressing very strong concepts.
With immense gratitude, I thank Gianni Depaoli for his availability. I would like to remind readers that they can read and see other videos on the page dedicated to the artist on criticoarte.org: Gianni Depaoli – Italian art by ELisa Manzoni (criticoarte.org)