Interview with Antonia Aimini by Kenza Chikh (2013)
1. When did you start painting?
My first experience with painting full time was in 1992 when I was employed by a Dutch contemporary artist called Rob Scholte in Japan. I then started painting my own work in 1994 and I haven’t stopped since. As a child I did a lot of painting as I spent time with my grandparents in the UK. Both my parents worked full time so during the holidays I was sent to my grandparents’ house. My grandmother was an artist, not by profession, but as a hobby. She had a small studio that fascinated me and I loved the smell of paint.
2. Where do you find your inspiration?
I try and avoid the use of the word ‘inspiration’ as I find it a little too romantic. I prefer words such as influence, motivation, insight and vision. I tend to absorb what’s around me. It’s like being a sponge absorbing society’s behavior and then commenting on it. Very often my motivations come from things that annoy me and I purge myself through my paintings. It’s important to communicate something. There’s no point in writing a book if you have nothing to say.
3. According to you, what does art mean? Does everybody have talent?
Art can be in everything. It’s a creative process that can be applied to practically everything we do. It can involve the artistic professions such as fine arts, literature, music, theatre, cinema etc or the scientific world and the financial world. Bankers can be creative thinkers. Scientists have creative brains that they apply to their work. For me art is synonymous with progress and evolution. Without this creative process we wouldn’t have evolved and we’d be standing still. Fortunately, not everyone is a creative thinker. If there were seven billion creative thinkers on the planet we would have a lot of problems, more than we already have.
4. In your paintings, do you caricature life today?
Yes. Humor is very important for me even if it’s grotesque. On occasion my work can be misinterpreted, but I can’t control that. Everyone is free to read whatever they like in to my work. In fact I enjoy hearing other people’s interpretations even if it’s far from being my own. At least they bothered to reflect on something which is a step in the right direction.
5. Can you explain why you paint your characters with animal and fruit and vegetable shaped faces?
I haven’t always painted fruit and vegetable or animal faces on my characters. I started in 2008 when I read an article in The Sunday Times Style supplement by Helen Kirwan-Taylor called
‘Busy doing nothing. Just what do housewives with nannies and cleaners do to fill time? Go shopping – and slowly mad’.
It’s an article on women who have nothing to do as everything is done for them by someone else. The article makes some interesting observations. This is an extract that definitely left a visual impression on me.
“Women who delegate everything enter a really nasty place, where they are not working and they are not with their kids,” says Harriet James, a writer and mother of three. “They fall into a kind of vegetative state where life is all about which shade of eau de nil to paint the walls, or what canapé to have for a dinner party. They’ve subcontracted everything else, so the day’s decision becomes where to go for lunch.”
In the same year I found a book in a museum bookshop in Milan called ‘A Privileged Life’ by Susanna Salk which is filled with family portraits of people who have very little to do. This book and the article in The Sunday Time Style supplement acted as the spark-plug to the BWB & CTD series of paintings. It made me reflect on the mindless and meaningless life some people lead and how often we admire this privileged lifestyle without realizing its downside. I took the ‘vegetative state’ quoted in the article and applied it literally. These thoughts then expanded in to family life and family portraiture, my own and other people’s. Sometimes the paintings with animal heads have titles that are a play on words and your knowledge of the English language would have to be good to understand the relevance. The animals in my paintings keep their heads as they’re more intelligent.
This is the type of thought process I go through before working on an entire series of paintings. It gets the ball rolling. After that I allow my mind to wander.
6. Can you tell us how many days a painting requires?
In my case it’s more like weeks and months rather than days. The only work I have done recently that doesn’t require weeks are the cyanotype prints. Most of the small formats can be done in less than a week. The bigger ones require more than a week, but my paintings can take up to a month or more depending on the size and elaborateness.
7. Who are your favorite painters and can you explain what you like about their work.
There are so many artists whose work I admire that it would take too long to list them all. I don’t have favorites as I like different artists for different reasons. Here are a few: Francis Bacon because he’s unique. Lucien Freud for his ability to treat the human flesh. David Hockney and Chuck Close for their use of photography. Alex Katz for being able to reduce everything down to the essential minimum. Leonardo for being able to do everything. Otto Dix and George Condo for their grotesque characters. Wayne Thiebaud for his Americana. Paula Rego for her storytelling. Peter Blake for his collages. Jake and Dinos Chapman for their horror. Frida Kahlo for being a much better painter than Diego Rivera. Andy Warhol for taking everything to a different level. Mcdermott and Mcgough for refusing to be part of our century. Lucas Cranach and Hieronymus Bosch for their quirkiness. Henri Rousseau for his ability to depict thick jungle paintings without ever having been there. Alice Neel for her portraits. Velazquez for making fun of the Spanish royal family without anyone noticing. Piero della Francesca for showing us what perspective is all about. Balthus for being borderline perverse and John Currin, Eric Fischl, David Salle, Neo Rauch…. I could go on, but I’ll stop here.
8. Do you paint when you have free time or is it very important to paint frequently?
I paint full time and make it my priority otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done if it wasn’t my number one concern during the day. It’s important not to stop over long periods of time as you can lose your rhythm and train of thought. I recently moved house and had to stop working to deal with my move. It’s been very difficult to get back into the discipline of painting.
9. Do you consider yourself an artist?
After 20 years I should think so!
10. What is your future project?
Good question. I honestly don’t know. I’m going to wait and see what my new environment dictates to me. I’m now surrounded by nature as I’ve moved away from urban life. I still have paintings and prints to do that I had already determined before moving house. It’s the first time I’ve had a dramatic break in 10 years. It’s quite daunting.
11. What do you want to show through your paintings?
As well as a visual trip I want to make you reflect, stimulate an emotion and arouse curiosity. I want to make you want to know more.
12. Question about art: Do you think that art is important in our societies?
It’s important to turn everything in to an art form in our society. Unfortunately, there are other societies that cannot afford to do this for one reason or another. Sometimes their art happens underground to avoid persecution. We live in a society that tolerates creative self-expression, but other societies oppress it. What’s strange is that it’s always been there. Humans have been producing art since the beginning of our existence, therefore maybe creative self-expression is the most important aspect of our life.
13. Are all painters good? Is there any difference between art now and art of previous centuries?
Whether all painters are good or not is a matter of taste. What I might consider to be good can be seen as worthless by someone else. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong, but there’s always room for improvement. Art of previous centuries was closer to craftsmanship rather than the present day intellectual artist.
14. I’ve noticed war subjects in your paintings. Can you tell us why this subject is important to you?
In 2005 I was given the opportunity to take part in a large project called ‘Notre Combat’ organized by a French artist, Linda Ellia. Her concept was to rewrite Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf by involving as many people as possible to deface each page of Hitler’s book. Each participant was given an original page from the French version of the book to write, draw, paint etc on top of Hitler’s text. The purpose was a demonstration against mass genocide and a reminder of the atrocities performed during the second World War. ‘Notre Combat’ was then turned in to a book and the pages were exhibited in four countries around the world. I have followed this project closely and am still in contact with Linda Ellia as well as being present at all the openings.
In 2011 I was asked to take part in a group exhibition commemorating 150 years of the unification of Italy. Each artist was given a year to depict a particularly important event in Italian history. My year was 1944: the Anzio beach landings – another war subject.
It’s inevitable that when a subject reoccurs in your work the theme sticks with you for a long time. Both projects involved a considerable amount of research which enters your brain and has to eventually be ejected. It’s almost unintentional that my war and military subjects crop up every now and then. I suppose I’m still purging myself. Maybe an entire series of paintings might help terminate the subject of war.