It’s not like someone working in the post office. For an artist it’s life, it’s a way of life, it’s not something you decide to quit somehow. You’re there the moment you know that you cannot avoid it
As an artist, Italian artist Paolo Canevari says that he is part of the sensitive kind of society. «We live that 24 hours per day in our skin, and we believe in what we do. I don’t go home after the studio and say my work is finished. It’s not like someone working in the post office. For an artist it’s life, it’s a way of life, it’s not something you decide to quit somehow. You’re there the moment you know that you cannot avoid it», he says. In many ways, this moment of crisis contains within the destruction a creative force, a «resurrection of things». Canevari says: «This moment of emergency is the first democratic thing that we’re sharing together and at least if there can be a silver lining is that it’s happening everywhere to everybody, so it’s something that will let us rethink our roles in the world and how we are affecting things». The regenerative power of art has been proven time and again. «Art is where we’re always able to rethink a kind of dramatic moment and come out with a resolve that is astonishing. Art is the hope we have».
After leaving New York in 2016, his home of nearly 30 years, Canevari decided to go back to Italy, in Umbria, where he is living now, that his father left for him after he passed away. Canevari works in his studio there, while also teaching at the Academy of Art in Rome. In teaching, Canevari has discovered a kind of mission. «I can see the change in the students, the way of thinking, and their minds», Canevari says. Young artists also have to contend with the fact that the image itself is losing its power in today’s society. «They’re absorbed in a fast way, first of all. And there are too many. You end up looking at things now in a more superficial way than before. There used to be a difference between an image and a painting. Now if you go on Instagram or any kind of social network those images are losing power, therefore the artistic image is also losing power. The work of an artist is an adventure, it’s a path you have to walk. If you stop, it means that you are either tired of doing that – which is difficult for an artist because it is part of your spirit – or because he embraced a bourgeois attitude towards life. Which is understandable sometimes, and for me it’s something that I’m not concerned with, but for other people it’s a way out», Canevari says.
The artist is, in his own vision, a person looking for a reason, a meaning in life. «If you settle or if you find a comfort zone, it’s somehow the beginning of the end», Canevari says. «Let’s not forget that the figure of the artist symbolizes freedom. I can do whatever I want as an artist. It doesn’t matter. I can scream in the street like a crazy person and say ‘I’m an artist’ and it will be fine. It will be accepted by society. If I do it as a normal person, they would put me in jail. They would put me in the madhouse. So that’s an amount of library that we can have, and we have to administrate that in the right way. That’s a responsibility. This freedom also comes as a responsibility».
Not anybody can be an artist though. Canevari believes that an artist is born with a certain sensibility, a talent, that is different from others and allows that individual to find and express new perspectives. The responsibility lies with the individual as to whether they will choose to develop that sensibility or not, but for Canevari, an artist is first born, and then made. When asked when he first knew that he had that gift, that sensibility, Canevari laughed. «I always knew it. I was trying to avoid it». Canevari comes from a family of artists: his father was a sculptor, his grandfather was a painter, and his great-grandfather was a painter. A complicated relationship with his own family and their artistic environment was part of what made him try to avoid his own calling. He was also aware of the depth and scope of artistic history which he had inherited by growing up in Rome. «I come from a strong historical heritage. Being born in Rome, brings with it problems you have to face. A reality you have to digest. I used to live in a neighborhood that was 500 yards from St. Peter Basilica [where Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel], so to face that kind of dialogue, it’s just not an easy one». «As a child I was trying a bit to escape my responsibilities». Around the age of 12 or 13, that changed. «The work of an artist starts the moment you stop thinking about the formal aspect of things and you start entering into the meaning of things. You enter into what the formal aspect contains», Canevari said. «I was 13, I remember it precisely».
A survey of that path, which has now stretched into a career of more than 30 years of art-making, will soon be on display at the Cardi Gallery in London. Self Portrait/ Autoritratto will show Canevari’s works, including some which have never been displayed before. Fittingly enough, within the show are works from a recent series which Canevari started in 2010 and 2011, called Monuments of the memory. These artworks are not paintings per se; in them Canevari uses materials like gold or oil to create something different. The materials retain their original identities, their substance, while at the same time being given a new meaning in a different context that refers to their spiritual value and not simply their material one. For Canevari, it has been instructive to look at new artworks he created when he was younger, in the course of putting together the show. «You need a period of time to understand what you’ve done. I got torethink those works. They didn’t become old, they live, and that’s what a work of art is.I always look at ancient art or art from the 1600s or the last century, and I believe that its soul resides in this capacity to be contemporary. Not to be dated. You can contextualize them, you can put them in a time and frame, but it still speaks. It doesn’t stop».IMAGE GALLERY
Paolo Canevari is an Italian contemporary artist whose work has spanned thirty years, and been displayed around the world. Canevari, born in Rome, also lived and worked for many years in New York City, and has been active and celebrated in the contemporary art world in both Italy and the U.S. Canevari’s work centers on using everyday objects and materials to create large-scale sculptures, paintings, and more. He has also explored a number of different media, including performance, animation, film, as well as painting, drawing, and sculpture.