“While I make art, I am in love. Deeply in love. Art is never boring”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
VP: I am Italian, I was born in Varese and live in Milan. I’ve always liked art ever since I have memory.
AT: When did it become serious?
VP: It became serious at 19 years old, when I went to college.
AT: Are there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
VP: Surely there is more than one: my science teacher at school, Luisa Vercellini; my tutors at Chelsea College of London; my peers Luca De Angelis and Lucia Veronesi, our endless conversations about art as much as the experience of founding and directing Yellow, which gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with so many international artists, each of them enriching my viewpoint. Every artist you meet can teach you something, especially those extremely different from you. I must not forget Lorenza Boisi with her many initiatives on painting. Finally the collectors who has bought work of mine so far, because at the end of the day this is the way to make your work sustainable.
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
VP: I study, observe and think a lot. I spend time in museums. I walk and look around, meanwhile collecting botanical and artificial relics. I explore nature, go back in the studio with some findings, I prime wood panels and stretch canvases, then play with the surface by painting abstract layers of paint. My painting is very much process-based at its initial stage. It deals with time and discovery. Finally I arrange in the space the relics I have collected and brought into the studio and contemplate them. I start questioning their meaning. I try to experience states of thought I want to disclose. Then I paint the elements I have as sort of still lifes, playing between abstraction and figuration, by glazing layers. Music plays an important role, as I get a lot of inspiration by lyrics and sound of specific songs, which transfer me in state of grace I am looking for in the painting too.
Now Our Lives Are Changing Fast, 190 x 160 cm, oil on canvas, 2018
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
VP: I’d say oil paint, pigment and egg tempera on linen and wood, but also watercolour on paper. I like drawing too. I love any type of paintbrush from super-tiny to huge, sponges, brooms, rags, my hands…
AT: Do you leave your work open to interpretation? Or do you think the viewer should engage with your work in a specific way?
VP: I like the work to be ambiguous and to have more than one interpretation. I don’t think you should engage with it in a specific way. Any attitude is welcome. I know what I am looking for but I am deeply interested in hearing what people have to say about a painting they come across, whether it’s something positive or a pitiless critique.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
VP: While I work I feel in ecstasy, free and limitless. It’s like I am traveling space and time. Sometimes it’s tiring and tough, but surely a very powerful experience. Yes, I think of the final result but more as a condition I want to achieve, let’s say I want to get to a certain atmosphere, raise a certain mix of feelings and thoughts and concepts. I want the work to be alive in a certain way, but I never know the result in advance. I don’t make plans. As said, my work is deeply process-based. I discover the destination while traveling.
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
VP: I know it’s finished when the work has charisma, when it is intriguing for myself as if I was not the person who made it. I mean it has to have a mystery and an inner life. It’s finished when it seduces and yet puzzles me. When it’s physical and conceptual in equal parts. I cannot describe it in any other way. It’s contradictory but one at the same time.
Unrecorded, 80 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 2018
We Forgot All the Names, 80 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 2018
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from? Do you find inspiration outside or it’s all inside you?
VP: Both ways work. Inspiration comes from nature, music, films, science, science-fiction, but also imagination, memory and lots of existential thinking!
AT: Do you think art can be learned or it is something innate?
VP: You can have your own peculiar sensitivity to the subject but I believe it can and must grow bigger and be cultivated. Good masters can make a big difference.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
VP: Yes, plenty. In particular the Medieval and Old Masters. There is a conceptual power in their work which I find very relevant to my research today. Also getting to know the work of Luca Bertolo that made me realise something precious about the power of a happy marriage between the sensuality of the matter and the clarity of thought. I look a lot at my colleagues. All of them, especially the Italian ones, have something to teach me.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
VP: It is extremely relevant to one’s practice today as a way to document, update and spread one’s work: I mainly use it for this purpose. Instagram can be a good source of information about what’s happening around you but also a storage room for inspirational and trigger images of all sorts and then again a platform to initiate new collaborations. Facebook works as good agenda, it keeps me informed of upcoming events mainly. Anyhow, I still enjoy the tangible “outside” more than that, and there it’s where my work starts from.
Untitled, 30 x 30 cm, oil on plywood, 2018
Un Tempo su Marte c’Era l’Acqua, 30 x 30 cm, oil on panel, 2018
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
VP: I think it mirrors most of the existing systems in our society: not necessarily based on meritocracy, great networking helps, the power of investments make a huge difference. You have to work hard every day.
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?
VP: The most challenging thing is, to be fully honest, to financially sustain one’s practice, especially in Italy. Then there are so many rewarding things about it: your brain expands, continuously challenged by finding creative solutions and facing different viewpoints; knowledge never ends, you keep learning; you discover the power of differences by getting to see and meet lots of opposite perspectives on any subject matter by fellow artists; and most of all you can be exposed to a daily amount of beauty.
Despite being something specific, art touches many aspects of life, so it cannot or shouldn’t narrow your view, but act contrarily. Personally, I feel art makes of myself a better and happier person. It exposes me to contemplation and meditation. While I make art, I am in love. Deeply in love. Art is never boring.
AT: What do you do besides art?
VP: Mostly I look around a lot. I dance, walk outdoor, enjoy nature, enjoy food, enjoy friendships, teach art, watch movies and think excessively.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
VP: I want my work to dig deeper and deeper in itself, trying to become more and more significant for myself and those who experience it. I want it to be true. Powerful. Sincere.
Tavola degli Elementi, 30 x 40 cm, oil and acrylic on linen, 2018
Vera Portatadino is a visual artist born in Varese, Italy, in 1984. After graduating at NABA, Milan, she achieved an MA in Fine Art at the Chelsea College of Art and Design of London in 2009. Her work explores the tangibility of painting in a Era heading towards virtual realities. Her themes address ecology, space colonization, and scientific manipulation by depicting earthly botanical details and relics in undefined landscapes. In 2014, she founded Yellow, an research project focused on contemporary painting. She lives and works in Milan.