In the studio with Roberta Cavallari

In the studio with Italian artist Roberta Cavallari. We met with Roberta to tell us more about growing up in the province of Ferrara, drawing on themes from the private and immaterial spheres, and compromised communication as a constant through her subjects.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

I started drawing when I was four and I have never stopped doing it, it has always been a life need as well. The definition of “artist” has never particularly interested me, I drew for fun. Over time I have felt that creating favored a spiritual dimension, and make me feel above the system. This too had a very strong influence on the choice to undertake artistic studies despite the family’s disapproval. I first begin thinking of myself as an artist when I was in Berlin, for a student exchange. The University gave me a wonderful atelier with other artists in Montbijou park and here I decided to devote myself to work. I did my first painting exhibition there and from that point I started to “walk on the art side”.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? 

I come from the province of Ferrara, a boring plain, and as a well-known song by a historic punk group (CCCP) “Emilia Paranoica” mentions, boredom and sometimes paranoia were life companions. In the early 80s, my childhood years, the media represented a rapidly changing world: technology was entering homes through promises of well-being and happiness, everything seemed to lead towards a wonderful future that I idealised. In front of the color TV with cathode ray tube I dreamed, watching music videos and American films. Rock music has had a strong impact on me since I was a child, pushing me to research and listen, becoming a source of inspiration. The city I come from, Ferrara, is a city of art that blends the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, home to great historical and contemporary artists. I caught Ferrara’s long perspectives and deserted squares, which also inspired Giorgio De Chirico in his stay. The historic buildings, the library, the Castle, were places familiar to me but so strongly charged with history as to leave an indelible classic imprinting in my memory, and partly also in my work.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? 

I simply choose to do what I loved to do. I didn’t graduate at an art high school, so I decided to enroll the Academy of Art of Bologna.

During my academic years I experimented in search of my mark and identity, but only in Berlin I find the energy I was looking for. My pictorial production gave birth to many works and in parallel I dedicated myself to photography and performance. My teacher at the Art School gave me the opportunity to do my first bi-personal exhibition, maybe this was the pivotal moment when I felt I were on the right track. They have been intense months, in which work and life merged into a single journey.

What’s the message of your work? 

The linguistic roots of my work are in Pop Art, but the themes draw on the private and immaterial sphere. The subjects are waiting rooms, offices, small rooms that appear immortalized by a steadicam. Sometimes they open onto external panoramas, as if we were observing from large windows. Atmospheric estrangement seems to lead towards a new metaphysics. It is only apparently realism, but if anything it’s the immaterial world that wants to be heard. I draw on various sources: old photographs, archive images, internet, and I mention the artists I love such as Hopper, Hockney, De Pisis, Morandi. I create psychological environments in which I don’t worry about the correct spatial location, or hyper-realistic rendering, but I look for an alienating tension, which brings me closer to abstraction and the immaterial. The recovery of the classic that almost takes on a nostalgic and at times decadent value is just one of the styles I use to build my rooms. The point at which we arrive is also that of interrupted communications (Disconnected), cut cables are the metaphor of the impossibility of dialogue and also allude to the solitude of the hyper-connected world. The aim is to define a new metaphysical realism with tools recovered from a past anthropological era to which I try to restore a magical value.

Who are your greatest influences? 

Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Giorgio Morandi, Giorgio De Chirico.

An unexpected source of inspiration?


What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? 

In my work I would like the public to have the mental predisposition to enter my “rooms”, to be welcomed by the anti-matter of clear but surreal, idealized and disturbing atmospheres, they are theaters of the mind.

I don’t think about the public when I create, I usually define my emotional state as my “bubble”, as I isolate myself from the real world.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practice?

In my work you can see an evolution regarding language and creative process. If the first works were linked to a very free, deforming, and flat sign, to date this sign has built a new plasticism, centered on light and shadow. I focused on everyday objects and interiors, on close-ups that dilate the objects. There is a planning as if I were building a set with various elements that combine to build the “scene”: my private dimension, the cinema of David Lynch, music, the painting of Hopper or De Chirico, old design magazines. I don’t worry about drawing up projects, I prefer to be in contact with my most unconscious and spontaneous part, and to grasp the emotion of the moment, drawing from the most intimate sphere.

The experimentation lies in giving a magical character to my subjects, in balance between non maniacally descriptive figuration and a chromatism that creates tension.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

The ideal condition to create is to isolate myself in my studio with the music I love and look for the vision that gives me an emotion. I go completely inside this mental state, linked to the memory, to a pain or a joy experienced, to the houses I have lived in, to the objects that speak to me.

 Tell us about the inspiration behind your works?

The theme of compromised communication is a constant in my subjects. Indeed, many of my interiors appear blocked in a metaphysical silence. In recent years the theme of communication has always been very important, cables, telephones and computers, screens, often appear in my works even with a minimalist rendering, as if I wanted to reduce them to graphic signs. A very strong sense of isolation prompted me to paint an obsolete but fascinating object (Disconnected), like all vintage technologies are for me. Red is a metaphor for the warm medium and black for isolation, the unknown, loneliness. The severed cable is symbolic of our time, in which we are hyper connected but increasingly isolated from each other.

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I’m curious about NFT art.

Describe your work in three words: 

Psicoambient, metaphysics, plasticism.

What do you listen to while you work? Is music important to your art?

I listen to rock music like Depeche Mode, Nirvana, Inxs, e others rock band of the ‘90. 

Music is part of my creative process, because it can lead to an ideal emotional state for entering in my intimate sphere.

What is your favorite read?

I love American literature.

On the top of my readings are Bret Eston Ellis, Philip Roth, Paul Auster. 

I love also English literature like James Ballard, and Ian Mc Ewan.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There is nothing deeper than what appears on the surface – Hegel

What makes you laugh?

Political TV talks.

What makes you nervous?

Political TV talks.

Is there anything you wish you were asked more often?

My age.

Is there anything you’ve recently tried for the first time?

Eating sushi with my eight year’s old son.

Is there anything you’ve been hesitant to try in the past but you’d like to this year?

To go to rock concert without assigned seat.

Do you have any superstitions?

No superstition.

Would you rather know what the future holds or be surprised?

Surprised please.

What place in your everyday environment do you go to for inspiration?

Actually I get inspired in the baroque Palazzo Gresti, where my studio is located, in the old town of Ala (TN). I need the antique to get inspired and then we have internet -)

What are some things you’re most passionate about outside of your practice?

I’m completely in love with music, discover old and new music, collect it and listen to it. I love also cinema very much.

What is your relationship with social media?

My relationship with social media is definitively bulimic, love and hate.