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An interview with painter Chiara Smirne
for Or does it explode blog

 december, 2015

I. - Tell us about Milan and the people.

C.S - I have always considered Milan a wonderful city to live in. I moved here nine years ago, at twenty-six. I was born in Novara, a very provincial town. Generally speaking, most of the people in Novara are very narrow-minded. Milan is really different in this respect, since moralistic attitudes and ways of thinking are much less common: people are more focused on their own life, rather than judging those of the others. This is one aspect, but right now Milan is not going through a happy time. Chances are much less than in the past and it is really difficult for an artist to have a good visibility and the right opportunities. In addition, I have the impression that, especially in Milan, most of the people who can spend their money prefer to do it on fashion and luxury items, rather than investing in art, especially if emerging art.

I. - Who are your favorite artists?

C.S - I have always been fascinated by Surrealism and Metaphysics. Max Ernst, Dennis Hopper, Mario Sironi, Giorgio De Chirico, Alberto Savinio are certainly in the list of my favorite artists, as well as, and perhaps most of all, Renè Magritte.

I. - Many of your pieces showcases places, entrances, and windows - Where is your favorite place to be?

C.S. - There is not only one place where I prefer to be, but one has a special role in my painting, Venice. For its dark water, its narrow alleys, its glimpses and for the atmosphere that takes on with a crepuscular light, Venice has always inspired me particularly. But it's not the only one, also Milan, Berlin, Genova... Every place is potentially a place for my works, because I don't care about the specific features of the different places. I'm interested in creating "an open scene where a spectator can construct the plot" (cit S. Cortina ). I objectify real places, remove unnecessary elements. Therefore, even if I start with a recognisable landscape, I always tend to purge it, making it an urban glimpse that could be of any city. I really like stimulating the imagination of the viewer: in my paintings what you see is the “external” reality, but what actually matters isn’t even represented on the canvas. More than the representation as an end to itself, more than painting something that already says everything, I prefer to raise perplexity, questions, reflections.

I. - What roles do figure and color play in your work?

C. S. - Figure and colors play an essential role in my work. Starting from the figure, it's always present, even if sometimes it's hidden. Even when there are no people, you may feel that there are instead some objects created for man’s use: like a car with the headlights on, hinting that someone is sitting in the driver’s seat (Work In the street, 2013). Other times figures appear in solitary landscapes, with very few focused and defined details. Every element in my works has the function to evoke something, it is never there by chance, just to fill an empty space, but it has to create a particular atmosphere. I don’t need to add realistic decorative elements. Staying figurative, however, I want to try and take myself out of reality. What I paint is more an intimate reality, rather than a physical and tangible one. It is the reality of dreams. Figures and colors (and the particularly the light that I create with color) and their combination, allow me to create a dreamlike atmosphere. I never paint “instinctively”, each layer of colour is studied and mediated on to give the desired emotional effect. My challenge is to put the emotions on canvas also through the use of colour. My colors are always an augmentation of those of the reality. For example when in a nocturnal environment I choose to use true black (ivory black and/or mars black) for the sky, it is because I really like exaggerating the chromatic graduations found in the real world. But, I'm very careful not to make the palette too violent. I don't want to make a too strong use of the colour, unless I want to bring attention to a precise point in the image.

I. - You've stated that your work is about the subconscious. In your work, the subconscious appears to manifest itself as places with the lingering presence of people. It appears to have a mystery that yearns to be revealed and yet it doesn't. Why do you feel that this is the case?

C.S - Yes, often my paintings emanate sensations of bewilderment, mystery and  apprehension. The mystery that hovers in my works can never be revealed, because I think the mystery of human life cannot be known. But the viewer may, or may not, feel, something by observing my painting, something that can be similar to what I felt when I painted that particular work, or something different. This is because it doesn't exist a universal interpretation of the existence and of what we see. I also think that the line between reality and fiction is very thin, if it exists. I put on a surreal show. “The urban glances are like theatrical or cinematographic set designs, artificial architectures showing the emptiness and inconsistency of man-made fictions” (cit. V. Riva) to build a sense. The atmospheres in my paintings are in part influenced by the work of David Lynch, a director who has always impressed me deeply, since I was ten years with the television series Twin Peaks. "The poetic and absurd visionary of David Lynch is closely felt and internalised by Chiara Smirne. She, like Lynch, represents public places of an exaggerated normality that hide terrible emotions. The artist paints worlds belonging to an apparent daily reality, but, like she herself says, they are places inspired by dreams, memories, fears. [...]  It is the time of human fiction that is present in these paintings, where that which really counts can not be seen by the naked eye, but only by letting yourself be transported by the emotions. Behind the placid semblance hides the dark side of human existence, which Chiara Smirne brings to the surface with a representation of the unconscious through slow and numbing visions of an unnatural world created by man, where absurdity prevails over reason." (cit. V. Riva)

I. -The figures in the window and those that wander the streets, are they elements of your subconscious, an expression of your inner state looking upon the dreamlike landscape? Who are they? 

C.S. - The figures in the windows can have many meanings, certainly connected to my subconscious. Normally I use the device of placing huge faces in the work because I’m trying to fix a state of mind connected to that environment and to create a connection between the person and the place. This is the case in my painting Clinic (2013), where the setting is a home for mentally ill people and the face that takes up an entire window was taken from a medical magazine. It’s a stereotyped face expressing universal states of mind, like suffering and unease. In fact, I often use huge faces in the windows, or  large parts of them, to create confusion and anxiety; many people told me to feel being observed by them. In other cases, they are real faces and sometimes we can recognise characters from cinema or music: I put them in my works since I really admire them or since they are closely connected to my private sphere. For example because I feel connected with their way of thinking, or their behavior, or  with their personal life and their choices. The solitary people appearing in my works could be everyone. Awkwardness and alienation characterise my landscapes, which are lonely places. The urban presence is always connected to man’s maladjustment. This is the focal point of my research: in the places I create, I try to underline through the use of essential “scenography” the emptiness around people.

I. - The figures in the buildings that are disproportionately large seem to say to me that they are trapped within square spaces that are too small for them? How do you feel about this statement?

C. S. - I agree with this interpretation, since in most of the cases these figures actually represent conditions and moods related with being trapped, with discomfort and with lack of interior freedom. But this kind of works can also be seen as a specific inner feeling, which is proper of some people too advanced in years with respect to the world they live in: like an adult person, who keeps having a childish inner self, or like someone who stopped, who is trapped in a part of his life, which is very far in time.

I. - You have strong interests in literature and philosophy - would you say that there are any major works that have influenced your art?

C.S. - I like a lot of different authors, but two have particularly influenced my way of seeing and feeling reality, and, as a consequence, also my art. Franz Kafka, for his atmospheres, strongly dreamlike and worrying, as well as for the complete lack of answers to the questions that are unavoidably raised by his works. Surely, Kafka is the author, among those I know, that can induce in me feelings and images full of mystery and anxiety, which are to the largest extent similar to those I try to represent with my art. The same can be said, even if in a less direct way, for the second author I want to mention, Jean Paul Sartre. The first work of him I have read is Nausea and from the very beginning I felt a very strong, even dramatic empathy: I was reading what I was feeling, but which was written by another person. This entailed a strong inner change in me, which had a lot of consequences in my way of looking at reality and thus, I think, also on my main artistic contents.

I. - Many of your pieces are about revelations and perspective - do you feel that this is inspired by your interests in philosophy and literature?

C.S. - I think I have already answered to this question in the previous point; hence, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you something that is really important to me. Art has always to convey beauty and harmony, even if its focus can be unpleasant, tragic or terrifying.

Tasha A. Mathew

Staff Writer

Or Does It Explode


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