“The artist for me was a man, a male. In that row of well-ordered books, only one monograph had been dedicated to a female artist: Artemisia Gentileschi. I truly believe that everything began in that house”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
LL: Ever since I was a little girl, my parents kept my drawings, constantly encouraging my creativity. I used to make collages by adding buttons, colored ribbons and silhouettes cut out of magazines on cards. At my grandparents’ house I would flip through the catalogs of the great masters of art. I imagined artists as gods with heroic and extraordinary lives, beautiful men of the highest moral level. The artist for me was a man, a male. In that row of well-ordered books, only one monograph had been dedicated to a female artist: Artemisia Gentileschi. I truly believe that everything began in that house. Many of my ideas were born in that period, inspired by the need to imagine things that weren’t there, to capture a kind of beauty in the domestic interiors that surrounded me, as if the furniture and objects were alive. My works almost always tend towards this sort of further extension of reality and in parallel to a perennial process of redefining the “familiar lexicon”.
AT: When did it become serious?
LL: I don’t think I have ever felt a fracture, an official passage between the dimension of the game and the professional one. For me, being an artist has to do with a way of living, of seeing the world, even before creating. I can’t deny that the work of an artist is something all-encompassing and absolute, but I believe that the game is too. After all, I’m not so different from that little girl who in her grandparents’ house tried to convert the invisible or experience a symbolic exchange in which the essence of the world was manifested.
AT: Are there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
LL: My grandfather, an atheist and anarchist farmer, son of a southern Italy devastated by war and poverty. He possessed an overwhelming charisma and a humble soul, always inclined to help others, had a strong sense of immedesimation and empathy towards the weakest people. He was a self-taught artist with pure and lofty ideals who made portraits with charcoals and carved stone. He taught me that just as there is black and white, there is truth and lies, the beautiful and the ugly, the right ideas and the wrong ones, and that the path of intellectual honesty is the only one to take. To him I also owe my attraction to the visceral and the putrid, my taste for the horrid and the macabre. My parents tell me that, even as an infant, he used to recite to me Lorenzo Stecchetti’s “Canto dell’odio”, a poem he had learned by heart during the period in which he had been exiled to Ustica, during the dark years of the fascist regime.
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
LL: I dedicate myself to a personal point of view on anthropological themes related to current events. That is, I try to analyze the social evolution that surrounds us through a visual language. Describing one’s own practice is not an easy matter, but I find in my work a great need for narration. It is an open field through which to experiment with a dialectic of the possible and the complex, and in which the imagination transforms existential experiences, personal and collective mythologies, symbols, signs, desires and needs, into a material that takes unexpected or coherently definable forms, where inside and outside, high and low, concave and convex mutually assume the position of the other.
La ragazza di città, 2020, exhibition view, TEMPESTA gallery, Milan | ph. Alessandro Zambianchi.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
LL: I think any artist just pretends to get to the next point from what they had previously planned, without asking themselves rigorous questions in their journey.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
LL: I have adopted the concepts of concave and convex, positive and negative, as fundamental when using epoxy resins, now elected as my speculative material. At the same time I love to collaborate with old fashioned craftsmen, for example much of my recent production is in iron. In any case, the materials are always functional to the concept that I intend to dissect and never vice versa. My work is not just the end or the purpose of a production process, but a means, or a tool that empowers the faculty of imagining a space of multiform co-evolution, through which to search for culture in nature and vice versa, the contingent in the permanent, identity in difference and in which to experiment with new alliances.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
LL: Designing a work, researching appropriate materials and finding solutions so that physically it corresponds and adheres to my idea allows me to wake up in the morning and be excited about my life. The first approach is through drawing, so yes, from the beginning I have clear in my mind what the final result will be. Often it coincides, and when it’s not completely identical it’s only because, during processing, the materials have responded differently. It sometimes happens that certain needs and technical requirements influence the path of working on a work.
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
LL: When I have realized my idea.
Focolare sospeso, 2020, Iron, steel, 204x70x20 cm | Courtesy TEMPESTA gallery, Milan | ph. Alessandro Zambianchi.
Prosperino, 2020, Iron, alabaster powder, watercolor on paper, epoxy resin, pigment, 25x10x28 cm | Courtesy TEMPESTA gallery, Milan | ph. Alessandro Zambianchi.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
LL: Always from the observation of daily life, represented in concrete narrative techniques. For example from the peri-urban bangs, the same precarious structures that remind us of an agricultural and humble past; built not as abusive interventions, but rather as forms of resistance of the rural past to the urban present, connected but at the same time alienating of modern cities. I believe that suburban shacks are much more than shabby tool sheds, battered chicken coops, or worse, places to spend leisure time. They are artifacts of what remains of Man and his dignity. Illegal vegetable gardens are today – in my opinion – shining examples of much of anthropology: the self-subsistence of the individual, the art of making and an innate aversion to the standardized products of mass distribution. From the raw and frank sincerity of the Italian rap/Milanese scene (I listen especially to the undisputed kings: Fabri Fibra, Marracash and Guè Pequeno), from the street vendors with their dented vans. The arthouse cinema, the most extreme research filmography and the most popular TV series. From the creative and extroverted gaze of the great starred chefs to the sense of sadness and loneliness that I get from the non-EU workers hiding behind the windows of their little stores. But also from the city of Milan, which is constantly changing and, specifically, in the hybrid places that I frequent and where I live: Corso Buenos Aires, for example, where the centrality embraces and clashes with the suburbs. From the dichotomy between biotic and abiotic as cognitive oppositions such as the natural and the artificial or relativism the universalism. In recent years, the concepts of “creole”, “second generations” and “métissage”, especially in reference to social mutation, alterity in the construction of new identities, and the related sense of personal and collective indeterminacy, have inspired much of my research.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
LL: In a certain period I looked at Mario Sironi’s urban landscapes and industrial suburbs. Almost as if it were a sort of personal and self-imposed exercise, I liked to leaf through his catalogs dwelling on the images. After closing the pages, from memory, I would reinterpret his compositions by mixing what remained of the memory. This gave rise to the very first pencil drawings on paper of abstract compositions, the starting point and reflection for the realization of some sculptural works.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
LL: At first glance I might say that battles today are played out on social networks, that good post-production of an image can attract and intrigue on a superficial level, but then I think that by now the observer goes beyond all that. The art system is developing aesthetic antibodies to Photoshop. The low quality of an idea cannot be circumvented with software.
Padre, 2020, Iron, bread, 124x40x78 cm | Courtesy TEMPESTA gallery, Milan | ph. Alessandro Zambianchi.
Partoriente, 2020, Iron, 155x38x74 cm + Raccoglitore di carote, 2020, Iron, fabric, pigment, epoxy resin, soil, 142x50x40 cm | Courtesy TEMPESTA gallery, Milan | ph. Alessandro Zambianchi.
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
LL: It’s a privileged point of view, because I’m part of it.
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?
LL: The work of an artist is a continuous laying bare, showing to others the most intimate thoughts through a certain language and a personal style. Whether he is a visual artist, a writer, a musician, a director, etc… An artist materializes obsessions, desires, personal interests, ambitions through his works. The final product, the work itself – in fact -, is nothing but a mirror that reflects the interiority of the same. A narration that is to let one speak and therefore also to relate, a possibility of encounter addressed to the other who observes and is always called into question in the dynamics of reciprocal appropriation and dispossession. I think that these are, in equal measure, the most stimulating and discouraging aspects of being an artist.
AT: What do you do besides art?
LL: I work for the Ministry of Public Education, in particular I deal with the scholastic insertion of minors who have just arrived in our country, who are not yet Italian speakers and children with a migratory background. The relationship with families, their stories and narratives, as well as a particular point of view on multiculturalism – for sure – has become part of my artistic research as well.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
LL: We live in one of the least predictable historical eras ever, even art and its system has changed profoundly in these months. Therefore I feel like saying that my expectations are simple, similar to those of many: to go back to making great projects and research: in public places like institutions and museums, as well as in project spaces and private galleries. I think it is more than a wish: it is the mission of every sincere artist.
UòvoteKa, 2020, Iron, eggs, temporary tattoos, plaster, 43x46x8 cm | Courtesy TEMPESTA gallery, Milan | ph. Alessandro Zambianchi.
Lucia Leuci (b. 1977) is an Italian visual artist currently living and working in Milan. Her artistic practice focuses on the use of drawing, painting, sculpture and installation as primary needs and means of expression. She explores reflexive actions that transcend individual choice – primitive performative acts that perpetually scale between intimate manual skill and collective action. The latter involves a process that is based on the transmission of knowledge, experiences and actions as part of the creative process.