I met Francesca Martini (Matete Martini) a few months ago in Italy. At the time, Sotto Sale was still an embryonic idea, or, more specifically, a bunch of confusing ideas. I knew I wanted an exhibition as the first layer of the project, and nothing more. We met through friends in common who showed me her work on a smartphone. I texted her, maybe even DM’d her. We met. It was one of those encounters when you are instantly struck by someone’s work. I knew we had to work together.
I remember arriving in Pordenone (Veneto, Italy) on one of those clammy summer days. The Pianura padana tends to give that kind of infernal weather every summer. Stuffiness and sweat.
Francesca was waiting for me. I was – to no one’s surprise – late. There was no one around, just an old man drinking a Crodino a few tables from us.
We talked for a bit. She told me about herself, her practice, and how everything started.
“At the age of seven I was used to copying some of the impressionist masters like Monet and Renoir. I still remember that day in Paris when I saw the “Summer” by Renoir, I remember it as if it was yesterday…that striped skirt”.
I was charmed, yes, but I was also genuinely curious. By the time we ordered our drinks, the moon had risen.
“When I was very young I feel I followed Schiele’s line of work. As a teenager I was madly in love with Warhol, Basquiat, Magritte and Man Ray. Today, my main reference is the futuristic school and the pittura metafisica. In particular, De Chirico, Sironi and Giacomo Balla, to whom I feel very close. I was obsessed with Francis Bacon’s work for a bit, but he hasn’t really had any influence in my work”. “From Jane Arp I take the smoothness and balance of the line as well as time and the power of formalism”.
I asked her if there was a work of art that was of significant importance for her.
“One work that is extremely important for me is Duchamp’s Nu descendant un escalier, 1912. I am particularly interested in
dissecting, frame by frame, the body in motion.
It’s what I try to do, both with objects and the human figure. The movement is a fundamental aspect of my work. I try to interrogate the body and to question contemporaneity. It almost felt as if I had engaged in a real-life encounter with Duchamp. I studied that work for years, I was obsessed. I was in conversation with that work”.
Where do you find them?
“I think they are almost always appear out of nowhere. I met Iris Roth, Gunter Roth’s daughter in Milan. Her house, the wine, our conversations and the pigments she gave, everything was inspirational. But what really matters is the process, keeping your eyes wide open, it’s fundamental. Looking inside and out of the subject, beyond the obvious and the superficial in order to find every possible connection. Linking events and perceptions of what I see, what I feel. Combining everything together to create something. Nothing is coincidental, everything follows a certain logic”.
Martini defines herself as a treasure hunter, and when she finds her treasures, she archives everything. Each one of her works is a long research on what happens to the people she meets, and ultimately, to her.
Why do you use painting as a medium?
“I’ve always done oil on cotton and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Sometimes I use wood panels instead of cotton canvases because I like the way they absorb colour. When it comes to paper, I use it more for studies and more generally to sketch ideas. I use video and photos as research tools to study movement. They are definitely instrumental because I am able to study and re-elaborate many of my works from digital sources”.
Recurring themes in your narrative?
“I’ve always been interested in people. I go to bars and other places of social gathering to find my subjects. I start distorting them, à la OttonDix. There is a lot of intimacy in that moment. I try to use that as a catalyst, taking these ideas to new levels of perception. I’ve noticed that ever since I was a kid I always paid lots of attention to the body and its effect on the space that surrounds it. That’s why I am so interested in actors and theatre in general”.
Do you work alone, or are you collaborating with someone at the moment?
“I am currently working on two big projects. One close to the theatre world, with Bernardo Casertano, an experimental theatre actor. Lately, I’ve also been working with an Italian journalist on a new project about food. We are trying to analyse it as a metaphorical object, sometimes atypical, or as an object of desire”.
From what I could see, it seemed as if colour was another predominant factor in Martini’s work. And so I asked her if there was a particular meaning behind it.
“Yes, my palettes are quite recognisable! I use them over and over again. It has become an almost automatic choice, an almost automatic movement. I pick, choose, and change them. Sometimes I steal combinations here and there and make them my own, until I reach an equilibrium. I am never happy and I never fully close a project, really”.
It’s often funny to talk about the contemporary art scene in Italy, and so we did.
“I don’t follow the contemporary art scene in Italy too much. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer painting to other mediums and I definitely follow beauty. As an artist I am first of all a painter”.
Which influences are most predominant in your practice?
“It depends on the medium. In my last project about food my influences derive from cinema and painting from the past. In my project with Bernardo, the influences come from the theatre world and from literature. When it comes to video, I am rooted in the cinema from the north of Italy. Inspiration from colours come from my traditional palettes and the Milanese nightlife.
Fashion has also played a huge part in my practice. I was born in Milan and I like to think I dress my works accordingly. My icon would be J.P. Gaultier. What an artist. When I was working on L’attesa (performance giocosa in tre atti), the subject came from the fashion world and nightlife scene, and the location was a vintage jewellery shop. Coming from design studios and interior design, and from my interest in decorative arts. Architecture influences my inclinations. Talking about colour and form, Le Corbusier is a good sintesis
Gordard gave me a name and made me start the research for my practice.
The body is a vase full of energy and truth.”
Maria Valeria Biondo