Corrado Zeni is a stunning artist who lives in Genoa, Italy. His work centers on what I call, “Peoplescapes” http://www.corradozeni.it/ or people in the midst of activities either on city streets or on vacation or wherever. Corrado is clearly mastering this process with great success through painting and sculpture. How does he do it? Here’s our cool chat …
“… ‘Why create art?’ Is an eternal question. Human creativity has long been here and I think that also for me, it is necessary to survive, to feel alive every day and to find a reason and to find an explanation. It is the way I feel human ...”
MICHAEL: Corrado, your work is amazing. I love the way you paint people in so many places and settings. How do you do this? When you're creating a painting, are you recreating a real scene or are you painting individual people and putting them into a scene?
CORRADO: I start my paintings by shooting thousands of photos around the streets. Fortunately, I travel a lot and I can take photos all around the world of many different people. When I go back to my studio and I see the photos, I start choosing the subjects that I find interesting. I erase the background and I begin the new layout of the painting, putting them one by one on the white background. None of the persons in the final layout was in the same place or in the same time with the others. In that way, I recreate new relationships and feelings between the subjects. When the sketch is ready, I paint it in the most traditional way, oil on canvas.
MICHAEL: Wow. That sounds like a lot of work. I love your white backgrounds and the way you use color. It's do deep and rich, almost like cinema or even advertising. What do you think about using color? Do you ever do paintings in black and white?
CORRADO: Yes, it is a lot of work! As any painter knows, the balance between light and shadow, the tone, the saturation are among the most important things for visual perception and for the mood of a work of art. Of course, I’ve tried to paint in monochrome (monochromatic painting or Grisaille was used as a preliminary step to plan the tonal values), but I think that for my subjects, it’s much more important to use the right relationship between colors.
MICHAEL: And what about cinema?
CORRADO: I see a lot of movies and maybe my unconscious is a little bit influenced by that. I would like to make a film with the same mood and I even shoot some short films with my smart phone, but I always want to master the technique before doing something. Maybe in the future, who knows?
MICHAEL: Your sculptural works appear to be an extension of your paintings. What are they made of? Wood? Cardboard? What inspires you to create them?
CORRADO: Yes, it is. As in the paintings, I want to focus on the people’s behavior, their gestures and the chance of new relationships. They are made in iron or cortex and sometimes in carved mirrors; in that way reflecting themselves into character, the viewers can be a part of the works, “we” are the “others.”
MICHAEL: Hmm. Clever. How old were you when you first got involved with art? What happened? Do you come from an artistic family? Why create art?
CORRADO: I don’t come from an artistic family, but from a family that looks very curiously at the word. Anyway, I started drawing very early and when I was 14, I began art school. My first job was as an illustrator for books and ads, but I always wanted to be an artist.
It became possible more or less when I was 30 and after a couple of exhibitions, I started working with very good galleries and the collaboration still continues.
‘Why create art?’ Is an eternal question. Human creativity has long been here and I think that also for me, it is necessary to survive, to feel alive every day and to find a reason and to find an explanation. It is the way I feel human.
MICHAEL: What is your daily routine like? Do you create art every day? What inspires you? How do you start a new work?
CORRADO: I do not have a real daily routine. If I’m not under pressure for an exhibition or whatever, in the morning I run for an hour, I check email, I read news on the net, I work on my Mac or I walk around taking pictures, but for me this is all part of my job. I’m inspired by people, by what happens around me; usually I start painting at Noon and I go ahead all the afternoon, but my paintings begin in my mind much before. I have ideas for new works of art that sometimes need months to be realized.
MICHAEL: Italy remains such a culturally rich country and so many artists like you are Italian, but do everyday people in Italy buy art? Can regular (not rich) Italians afford art? What do you think it will take to get more people interested in contemporary art?
CORRADO: Italy is not yet out of the big economical crisis since 2008 and contemporary art suffers a lot from this situation. People from the middle class, who were very interested in art are no longer in the middle class, but below. They prefer to wait for better times.
For rich people, it’s very different, but they prefer to spend money for very established artists or for historical artists of the second part of the last century. Fortunately, I also work with European galleries and especially in northern Europe the situation is better.
About the last question, I think it’s necessary to start teaching contemporary art to very young people and bring them to museums, galleries and art fairs, but also to talk about contemporary art and help people understand. Sometimes galleries or museums seem so far from normal people. I think much more in Italy than in USA for example.
MICHAEL: Finally Corrado, after you die and your work is left behind, what will be the message of your work? What do you want your paintings and sculptures to say?
CORRADO: My works have been investigating contemporary society at least since the 90s … and in the last few years, particularly young people including millennials, hipsters, digital natives, earth and animal lovers. I trust the younger generation and I hope they will improve our world.
Maybe in 50 years someone can look at them and think, “Okay, I was that guy! I belonged to that generation that I can see better now in those old paintings we were born in a difficult world, but we did a very good job.”
MICHAEL: You’re doing an excellent job. Thanks for chatting Corrado. I love your work.
CORRADO: Thanks Michael for everything.
Check out Corrado Zeni at http://www.corradozeni.it/.