In the studio with Leonardo Guglielmi, a visual artist whose work focuses primarily on the refusal of said academic art rules. We met with Leonardo to tell us more about growing up in north-east Italy, what inspired them to first pursue their artistic journey and unexpected sources of inspiration.
When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
Selling my first piece was a big moment, I definitely felt like I was in the art business then. As much as seeing myself as an artist, I think from my childhood. I was constantly drawing, at school, at home, whenever there was a piece of paper. Since I can remember everybody always called me “the artist”, “the art kid” and such. I think at some point during my developing year that kinda stuck with me as part of my identity.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?
I come from the far north-east of Italy, very close to Venice. That region of the country usually has conservative tendencies and traditional minded people.
Being part of the LGBTQ+ community, I always felt like it wasn’t the place for me. That got me to moving internationally just two weeks after graduating highschool. After that I lived in Portugal, the United States, and more recently in China.
The big influence my blace of birth had on me is the curiosity to move around and find out about different places and cultures. In a more artistic way, Italy has obviously very strong roots to its past and that is still very much how art is thought in art school. I never enjoyed that too much, knowing about human anatomy and proportions is great but it’s not what I want to bring in my work. So in a way, another way I got influenced, is to shy away from the classic accademia way of art.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice artistic work?
I remember the pride I felt as a kid when my teacher would praise me for any drawing related assignment, even more when my pairs would compliment me. After getting into art school I remember it became harder for me to be artistic. Somehow being expected to do such work would take all the fun out of it. I remember getting into manga and anime and having the best time drawing my own stories and as that wasn’t an assignment I was expected to turn in, that became very fun. When I first picked painting up with a professional approach I was doing mostly abstract work, focusing on very heavy textures and very thick materials. When I finally switched to light texture, airbrush and thinned out colors, I started feeling very good about my work.
What’s the message of your work? Where do they come from?
The main themes of my work are the digital renaissance we are living in, the vastness of the humanity experiencing it, and the conversation between these two elements. I like to think that my work has an edge to it, meaning it’s straying away from tradition, doing something that feels modern and true to the times. I like to reference pop culture, painting tattoos and little details that would make you understand the subject definitely is alive in 2022. I like to reference the digital times we are living in and to make a painting look like a glitchy PNG or something not loading on your laptop. The purpose is really to create a connection with the viewer.
Who & what are your greatest influences?
When I first started I was doing mostly abstract work, with heavy textures. I was inspired a lot by Bram Bogart work and he has been a great influence in earlier works. There is this Italian artist that recreates Roman and Greek statues and adds Japanese tattoos to them. I love the conversation between present and past that he manages to create. That is also part of what I want to create so he serves as a great influence in my more current work. Yet the biggest influence on my work is the digital world and what happens behind a screen. It’s a huge part of our life at this point in time and I think it deserves representation.
An unexpected source of inspiration?
I have a fascination with computer errors. A software crashing, a slow loading PNG, something that went wrong behind a screen. It’s not supposed to be there, but it’s right in front of you, and I find an erroneous and unintentional beauty in that.
What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?
I like to think that when people observe my work they see something fresh, interesting, with a different perspective. I hope for the viewer to understand a reference, to feel included in a conversation. If I were ever to bore someone with my paintings, that would be a great loss to my self esteem as an artist. A great focus of mine is also bringing current times into the canvas I paint on. So I hope with my work I can make someone feel a little more represented in a space like modern art. I don’t really target a specific audience, if anything, just open minded people.
What events in your life have mobilized change in your practice?
Moving a lot between different countries has had a big influence on my work. It allowed me to see the sea of humanity out there and it got me very interested in representing it. Another big event has been becoming part of the LGBTQ+ community. It made me more critical of things, even art, and I find myself painting subjects that might be less represented. I like to think I can do my part to bring more representation to less included groups.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
A rainy day, good lighting, being alone, and something in my mind that I need to get out. It’s mostly about that, the sensation of something in your mind that needs fiscal representation outside of you, an idea you want to share. A rainy day always helps.
Tell us the inspiration behind your works?
You know that feeling you get when you are at the airport, you look at someone, anyone, and have that realization that each individual around you has their own life, their own inside world, just like you do? That is a driving factor in most of my Head+neck tattoos portraits.
One has a mustache, one has a mullet. One has a tiger tattoo while the other one has a flower tattoo. Why do they have them? That’s part of their back stories, which you probably will never know about, but each moment they lived got them to have a mustache, a flower tattoo, and to be in front of you at the airport.
Something in the future you hope to explore?
While I do mostly Figurative paintings, I do hope to explore more abstract subjects in the next future. Abstract pieces are very powerful in their own way, I want to dig into that and see what comes out.