An Artist's Life
CULTURE: JAMES WILKINSON
It’s no surprise that the team at Q&C are big lovers of art. That's why we’ll be profiling our favourite working artists who are inspired by, or live in the countryside. First up is Maurizio Bongiovanni who lives in Berkshire and has exhibited his works in some of the most prestigious galleries across the world.
Maurizio Bongiovanni, 38, was born in Tettnang, a small village in Baden-Württemberg, southern Germany, which borders France and Switzerland. He later grew up in other small villages in Sicily and then spent his later adolescence in the city of Milan, Italy where he attended the art school Santa Marta under the tutelage of several great art professors.
He later went on to study fashion photography and subsequently won several scholarships that led him to travel internationally. He arrived in the UK three years ago and has since made Windsor in Berkshire his home, where he lives with his cat Ciccione. Painting is his full time profession, which he says is a "victory gained with a lot of effort."
Tell us how you first came to paint?
It happened in a very spontaneous way. In fact, I like to think that my love for painting arrived silently on tiptoe. Through the medium of painting I was able to realise and present my passions. To fight or to love in secret.
At a young age, I really liked drawing and enjoyed seeing my mother or grandfather drawing.
Mom was drawing beautiful princesses for me and my sister, while my grandfather, the few times he drew, once depicted an incredible pinocchio with a striking appearance and a face that scared us. He had only one eye.
What are the integral qualities to approaching your work?
Sincerity, honesty and fun. My most important tool is my imagination and my irony. Also, it’s important to me to be always working and learning no matter what. Because that helps me to move, to revise, to find new approaches.
How has your practice changed over time?
I would say it’s changed a lot and continues to do so. Previously I’ve made paintings with a very technical approach, almost cold. But that’s all changed now, and my paintings are much more instinctual, more carnal and sensual. Furthermore, I find digital painting fascinating. I believe it will be the future.
You seem to focus on the male form and the naked body, can you tell us more?
It used to be the temple of the soul, but in the future the body will be capable of great performances. The male body is something that I know deeply well, and while I think everybody is pretty unique, I still have a lot to explore. In any case, I feel attracted to various aspects of the male form. Through my body and the bodies of others I could give shape to my pictorial aesthetic. Today I am fascinated by the male body inhabited by different elements or futuristic elements. The body, masculine and feminine, is always a form in continuous movement, a form capable of uniting with something else, a form that will always be of great interest to me.
Is there anywhere at the moment where we can see your work?
Yes, currently my paintings are displayed at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London. The exhibition is based on the book by Michael Petry called Nature Morte: Contemporary Artists Reinvigorate the Still Life Tradition. The curators Roberto Ekholm and Katherine Pearce have done a great job and the Guildhall Art Gallery is a beautiful place that I recommend people visit. If you are lucky you can find a Roman gladiator as at the base of the building there is a wonderful Roman amphitheater.
Also you can find some of my paintings in Soho in the elegant Century Club in London. The curator Leo Babsky has selected an incredible collection of paintings among the most interesting artists in the country and the drinks are fantastic. Again, I highly recommend a visit.
Your work has been exhibited in some of the most prestigious galleries across the world, and you’ve travelled extensively as a result. Where do you feel most at home?
I have to admit I have two places that I really love, England and Italy. Both for me are two perfect lovers, full of contrasts and beauty. But above all, both are generous. England allows me to gather many inspirations and in Italy I can achieve my projects with serenity. Time in the two places flows incredibly differently.
What’s been your scariest experience, in or out of the studio?
Obviously when I could not find my cat! I'm lucky to own a beautiful sacred cat of Burma, named Ciccione (Fatty), he lives in the studio. I do not know how he did it but he managed to hide behind a hanging painting. He’s a real artist of hiding.
Who or what is your greatest inspiration and why?
I think it is the Sex. I find sex to be an expressive form that is really difficult to grasp and I feel it deeply ancient, rich and complex. I was always intrigued by my strong appetite in this "discipline" and I want more and more to understand better. This great inspiration has always been an integral part of my life. At the moment I'm lucky enough to be in a beautiful polygamous relationship and I have to say that many of our daily experiences joyfully enrich my art making.
The million dollar question: Why painting?
Because it's the only way that I know to communicate about life.
What memorable feedback have you had to your work?
Recently an Italian painter named Valerio Melchiotti wrote to me via Facebook describing my artwork as impactful and wonderful. It's always encouraging to get positive remarks.
Queen and Country magazine recently launched its Men in the Wild campaign which aims to continue the conversation about mental health, and find solutions to improve it. Some say the the artistic life is a lonely one, while others extol the therapeutic benefits of creating art. What do you do to ensure you maintain good mental health?
To this your question I’m reminded of the great Greek philosopher Epicurus who founded a school based on friendship. (Between 307 and 305 Epicurus settled in Athens. He purchased a house and a large walled Garden where he taught and where he and a group of followers formed a close community based on friendship). His school became known by the name of the Garden––Kêpos. Friends have always been my sweet medicine.
Is there anything you dislike or find unpleasant about the art world?
I don’t like its economic system, it has destroyed a lot of expressive freedom. There is a huge gap between older established artists and young artists in term of visibility. All the system is pretty old fashioned.
What’s the situation like regarding funding for painters like yourself? Is there a need for more of it? Can you recommend any advice for new artists?
I'm not an expert but I consider myself quite lucky. I have a lot of artist friends in London who struggle with their double roles.
Also I think it depends on which geographical area you are living. An African artist will not have the same benefits as me and this is quite sad.
I received several scholarships that allowed me to travel and learn new cultures and above all to meet young artists with the same dreams or indeed similar problems. I think these artistic residences are really important for the formation of a young artist.
Nowadays I don’t think funds are a problem as there are so many ways to ask for support from associations or crowdfunding. I think the important thing is the content of the projects.
Who has been your most memorable client and why?
The word “client" reminds me of when I worked in a high-end jewellery shop in London frequented by really bizarre customers, who I suppose were not living in the real world as we know it. I remember a rich gentleman who wanted to purchase a watch and when he knew I was Italian began to sing aloud in an unknown language. He thought he was singing in Italian. Everyone looked at us and the security guard came to rescue me. I must admit that it was a very amusing situation. In the end he didn’t purchase the watch of course.
What is your dream project?
I don’t really have a dream project. I am realizing my dream of painting every day. I prefer to think that everything is possible. Whilst it might not always be true I think it makes the journey easier and more interesting.
After spending some time living in London, you now live in Windsor in Berkshire. What brought you there?
After three years in the hectic capital, I needed a break and thanks to one of my collectors who is now a friend, I discovered this delightful town of Windsor - elegant and perfect for my research.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A simple tip. From a special friend. One word. Constance.
What’s next for Maurizio Bongiovanni?
At the end of the year I hope to start a ceramics course in the beautiful Italian city of Faenza. This idea was suggested to me by someone in a delightful gallery in London called MADEINBRITALY directed by Marco Venturi and Viola Emaldi. Ceramics have always fascinated me so I hope to translate my paintings into something more sensual.
You can follow Maurizio and his artwork on Instagram: @maurizio_bongiovanni or www.mauriziobongiovanni.com