“Painting allows you freedom, distance from the seduction of the image and above all, honesty”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
FC: I was born in Erba, a town even smaller than Como. I spent most of my childhood there and, as one could expect , there wasn’t much going on about contemporary art. Not that I even cared about it. The first painter I remember being told about, and shown, was Piero della Francesca, during a summer holiday at my father’s relatives in Umbria and Tuscany. Later on, while attending high school, I became fascinated by Terragni and Sant’Elia, whose architecture I saw every day, going back and forth from my mother’s house to school. As a child, I loved drawing but I wasn’t interested in colors at all. Now it is quite the opposite.
AT: When did it become serious?
FC: Rather late, I must say. By the end of high school I was already into painting, a practice I indulged in even while attending my studies in philosophy. But it was nothing more than a hobby, something very naive that now, thinking about it, seems so far from me. It became serious after I didn’t continue with my PhD, so we’re talking about some 5 years ago. But again, thinking back to those days, it doesn’t seem more serious than my childish drawings were. It’s always like that, we do tend to move the “now it’ s serious” moment forward. Still, it did set up a direction and at least it means I like what I’m doing more than what I was doing back then. The real serious moment was probably when I decided to join the Academy. Thanks to it, or despite it, I did find friends and colleagues, people to artistically grow with, and even someone to learn from. I think this, paired with keeping up my attendance to the milanese project space and galleries scene, laid the bases for things to get serious.
AT: Are there any people who have been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
FC: The list might get too long perhaps, but I’m sure the people I’m grateful to will recognize themselves in these words. So, for sure there are, not only those who supported me but also those more inclined to criticism and even distrust. This job not only requires you to constantly become more aware as an artist, but as a person too, and often the best advice comes in the shape of difficulties and impasses.
Homeward, 2021, Oil on linen canvas, 200×200 cm
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
FC: To me it is important that my home and my studio are in separate places. I like the fact that I have to walk or bike from one place to the other, usually the best ideas come on my way. There might be times when I go to the studio just a few days a week, and others when I spend entire days there. When I go I already know what to do there, and when I don’t go I prepare for going there: reading, watching films, walking. Once I have an idea I dig into it, I try to see how I can convey it through the practice of painting. I shape, take notes, work on photographic references first, then draw a lot in order to catch something peculiar from the image. Speaking about painting, it’s something I came back to rather recently and it’s definitely the best way to find out what you’re really looking for. It allows you freedom, distance from the seduction of the image and above all, honesty. You cannot cheat while painting. Usually, I try to refrain from putting myself at work too fast, let the whole thing cool down for a while. Then, if after some days it still makes sense to me, I finally go to the studio and work hard until the work is done. At first I do a little bit of the hard work everyday, such as stretching canvases, building frames, and preparing backgrounds. This way one canvas will be ready while I’m working on another. This dull routine also helps to get back to work gradually, not immediately confronting myself with the proper work. It’s some sort of stretching, a little workout before the real job. When it comes to painting, I’ve already chosen sizes and colors. I tend to work on series and on a very limited palette, therefore each aspect must be well thought and previously arranged. This doesn’t mean there is no room for chance while working, but rather that chance can only happen among a previously defined set of possibilities.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
FC: I am a painter. Painting is my medium. Unfortunately, I am quite a brainy person, and my background and education as a philosopher can only make it worse. Hence I have often confronted myself with a way to bring together my attitude toward thinking and the deeply embodied urge of painting. For instance, I understand the possibility of something purely aesthetic, let us say a colorful stripe on an otherwise monochromatic painting. There’s no reason for it except it looks good. It’s ok, it’s something fine when it comes to art, no further explanation needed. In the same way you might appreciate a natural phenomenon, you don’t ask for a reason, you simply look at it and say “I like it, it looks good”. Well, that’s something very far from me. Not in the way that I cannot appreciate it in other artists’ work, but that simply is not my way of working. I must always find a reason to put this or that color, to choose one subject or another. On the other hand, since what I’m doing is painting, I’m not interested in a mere conceptual approach. Doing something by painting means you want to take advantage of the medium itself, so I always ask myself: “why painting? Could I do this better by writing, filming, singing it?”. To cut a long story short, what I aim to reach with my work is finding an Idea I’m interested in, a question I want to pose, and put in a way that is essentially pictorial, in a way it couldn’t be done but with painting.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
FC: Of course, painting is not only about brushes and oil colors. I think its very essence is shape and color, and every tool is legitimate. I’ve tried a wide range of instruments and materials so far, that said, what I feel myself more at ease with are still brushes and oil colors on linen canvas. With time, I’ve come to appreciate the inherent quality of colors and support. A painting is an object before being an image, it’s made of wood, canvas, of those weird colored pastes that mixed, overlapped, spread, will eventually confront you with an image. Therefore the quality of materials and of the object itself is not something that can be underestimated.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
FC: When I go to the studio, when I work there, I tend not to think at all. I already know what to do, I’ve already been through the thinking part. Colors have been chosen, materials are ready and the canvas is hanging on the wall. It’s just movement. Even the big sizes of my works help me not to think, and in some way not to see, as well. This way I’m surrounded by the canvas, it’s higher and larger than me. I cannot see it all at once, I cannot be seduced by the image, I can only work on the painting matter. If somehow a new idea breaks in, I stop painting, I smoke a cigarette and eventually go home. The day is done; ideas are faster than my hands and so they might end up screwing the whole work I’ve been doing so far. While walking or biking back home, and later on maybe, I think about the new idea then I put it aside for a while. If it keeps coming back in the following days it means it’s a good idea, which I should consider. If I forget about it, then it is not worth remembering. Working on series, I always have a vague idea of what the final outcome should be. That said, the single work is always a negotiate: not only chance always finds a way (and he’s way better than me as painter, sometimes I notice it when looking at some backrounds I prepare without caring too much), not only chance finds a way but you always must mediate instances of control toward painting and acceptance of the inspected. If you impose yourself too much on what’s going on, you end up with a dead work, something with no life by itself and that will allow no room at all for the spectator. On the contrary, if you let yourself be overtaken by the work, it will probably go out of control, screwed, to the dogs.
Fitzcarraldo, 2020, Oil on linen, 200×200 cm
Contro il mondo contro la vita, 2021, Oil on linen
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
FC: I used to think there was no answer to this question (except for ironical ones, such as Gottlieb’s when he said “I ask my wife”). Now I say that the work is finished when I reach the bottom right corner of the canvas.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
FC: As I said, I don’t necessarily go to the studio. When I go it’s a fast paced painting session, it takes almost all day long and there’s no room for thinking. But to allow this, I need previous preparation at home, at other peoples exhibitions, around the city. Memories, films, literature, photos can be a source of inspiration, you just have to realize (or come to realize) what you’re interested in and what you can credibly work about. I draw my inspiration from books, music, films, advertising, video games. Once you find the peculiarity, many things sum up, mix up, some thoughts slowly put their roots in you; in everything that catches your eyes you begin to see a trace of what you’re interested in. Images and thoughts find their way, until one day you know what you have to do. Of course, it’s not something punctual, a precise moment of epiphany: it’s just the necessary outcome of all the inputs you’ve been taking. When the jar is full, it simply overflows.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
FC: Even if someone answered “no” he would actually mean “yes”. There is no such thing as an innocent sight, our very vision as a faculty has a history, whether one acknowledges it or not. The things you see, and the very way you see them, among the infinite amount of visual possibilities already tell something about your visual culture, a culture that the viewer himself must not necessarily be aware of. So yes, many artists from different fields have influenced my work, and some of them I might not even know.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
FC: Social media are a useful tool for me, but I don’t give them enough time to fully take advantage of them.
Deer Hunter, 2020, Oil on linen
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
FC: I think there actually are a variety of art systems. The overall rules of the game might be the same but each one has different home rules and different standards, of course. This involves quality differences in behaviors, players, works and spectators. And the amount of money involved. It’s just up to you matching which club you’d like to belong to with which club you’re able to fit in.
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
FC: It’s always a challenge, especially with yourself. Not only do you have to accomplish works that satisfy you from a technical, aesthetic, conceptual, economic perspective, but you also have to keep yourself up to date with what’s going on. And not only by going to exhibitions, but reading, sharpening your eye and your mind, writing, learning how to deal with your work and how to fit it in the world. Besides, all this is impossible if you don’t learn how to pursue your aim with constance and discipline, telling the subtle difference between don’t giving a damn nothing about criticism and stupid stubbornness, between accepting informed critics and being subdued to others opinions. I think that just being able to tell those differences it’s quite a reward.
AT: What do you do besides art?
FC: Many things, luckily. I listen to a lot of music, sometimes I even play. I’m quite a nerd about gaming and definitely I love cooking and taking care of my plants.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
FC: I have a new studio and I’m working on a series I’m pretty satisfied about. Moreover, I’m very happy many friends and colleagues returned to Milan after this lockdown period, and I feel our cooperation and confrontation will be stronger than ever.
Filippo Cristini in his studio.
Filippo Cristini was born in 1989 in Como. He lives and works in Milan. Graduated in Philosophy in 2014, he later attends a MFA at Brera Academy of Fine Arts. His work mainly focuses on western philosophy themes approached through contemporary visual culture.