An Interview with Artist Marco Casentini

July, 2009

Marco Casentini was born in La Spezia, Italy. He graduated from the Liceo Artistico in Carrara in 1980, and from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Carrara in 1984. Casentini has exhibited his artwork in Italy, the US, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Australia, and Austria, and as had 40 solo exhibitions since 1983. Casentini’s work appears in many private, corporate and public collections, including: the Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Germany; The Progressive Art Collection, Cleveland, OH; Mestna Galerija, Nova Gorica, Slovenia; and in Italy, Civica Raccolta del Disegno, Salò; Fondazione Bandera per l’Arte, Busto Arsizio; Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Sesto Calende; MAPP Museo d’Arte Paolo Pini, Milan; Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Calasetta, CAMeC, La Spezia; and the Università degli Studi, Pavia. Casentini was the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2005. He and his family moved from Milan to Hermosa Beach in Los Angeles County in 2007, though he frequently travels to Milan where he maintains a studio and teaches painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti.

Julie Karabenick: Are there particular sources of inspiration for the geometry in your work?

Indian Summer
Indian Summer, acrylic and plexiglas on canvas,
140 x 130 cm (55 x 51 in), 2008

Marco Casentini: My paintings are inspired by urban space—by the geometry of its forms and its architecture.

City Scape
City Scape, acrylic and plexiglas on canvas,
119 x 109 cm (47 x 43 in), 200
8

When you’ve lived in a metropolis you relate to its geometry. When I moved from La Spezia, a city on the sea, to the metropolis of Milan in 1988, the view out my studio window was an urban space.

studio view-Milan
View out the window of Casentini’s studio in Milan

Our lives are full of geometry. There are a variety of ways to work with these forms. You can use geometric shapes to create rhythms and tensions or quiet and relaxing spaces.

  Through the Sky  Blue
Through the Sky, acrylic and plexiglas on canvas,
171 x 150 cm (67 x 59 in), 2008
Blue, alkyd on aluminum, 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 in), 2004

The constant in my work has been the lack of a compositional center. The concept of the center is an important aesthetic issue in the history of Italian and European art. Important examples can be found in the art of the 1400s: the figure of the Madonna or Christ in the center surrounded by figures of saints. Such images have been incorporated into my visual memory since I was young. Probably at first unconsciously, I rejected this use of the center in my own work. My paintings are landscapes seen from a train—no principal figures inside pictures, only geometric forms that could extend outward beyond the canvas.

Beautiful Morning
Beautiful Morning, acrylic and plexiglas on canvas,
90 x 90 cm (35 x 35 in), 2007

JK: And in installations you sometimes extend this landscape to include the surrounding walls.

Melissa Morgan Fine Art installation
Installation at Melissa Morgan Fine Art, Palm Desert, CA, 2009

MC: Wall paintings are my favorite form of expression, and I include them in solo shows whenever possible.

Torrance Art Museum installation
Installation at the Torrance Art Museum, CA, 2008

I want to develop a relationship to the larger space and modify the viewer’s perception of it. The wall paintings are developed in relation to the particular interior space involved.

Buonanno Arte Contemporanea
Installation at Buonanno Arte Contemporanea, Trento, Italy, 2008

The wall paintings and individual paintings are born separately, but when I join them, they both become stronger as they work together. These installations tend to produce strong emotions in viewers.

JK: Have you always worked geometrically?

MC: When I started to paint at age 16, I was a figurative painter. I was inspired by Deutsche Neue Wilden—by artists like Rainer Fetting, Martin Disler and Helmut Middendorf. Even in these early paintings, I avoided a focal center. I began to paint fragments of the body, working only in black and white. I worked in this fashion for 10 years until 1993.

Untitled 1984
Untitled, pastel on paper on canvas,
165 x 150 cm (65 x 59 in)
, 1984

At that point, I started to present body fragments in relation to two or three geometric areas, juxtaposing organic and geometric elements.

UNTITLED 1994
Untitled, oil and acrylic on canvas,
160 x 120 cm (63 x 47 in)
, 1994

Finally I omitted the body fragments, leaving only the geometry.

Untitled 1996
Untitled, acrylic and oil on canvas,
41 x 41 cm (16 x 16 in), 1996

JK: And the geometry gradually became more and more complex, as we see from the paintings below from 2000 and 2004.

MC: Yes. At first I used no more than 6 geometric shapes, over time increasing this number to at least fifteen.

  Landscape  Every Sunday Afternoon
Landscape, acrylic on aluminum,
22 x 22 cm (8 3/4 x 8 3/4 in), 2000
Every Sunday Afternoon, alkyd on plexiglas,
58 x 51 cm (23 x 20 in), 2004

JK: This complexity reached its maximum in a painting like Every Sunday Afternoon #2, below.

MC: By the end of 2004, my paintings had become very complex, until I was using some 80 different shapes of different sizes and colors.

Every Sunday Afternoon #2
Every Sunday Afternoon #2, acrylic on canvas,
170 x 150 cm (67 x 59 in), 2005

JK: The titles of some of your recent exhibitions—Have a Nice Day or Beautiful Morning—convey a spirit of happiness and contentment.

Have a Nice Day
Have a Nice Day, acrylic on plexiglas, 68 x 220 cm (29 x 86 in), 2007

MC: My recent multicolored paintings are lighthearted and optimistic. Their colors are strong and bright and were influenced by my frequent travels to Southern California—where I now live with my family in Hermosa Beach. The palette brings to mind Pop Art, the Los Angeles urban space, or the bright hues of Mexican architecture.

Guilia and Matteo
Guilia and Matteo on Hollywood Boulevard, acrylic and plexiglas
on canvas, 170 x 170 cm (67 x 67 in), 2007

Their light suggests the light of California—a very special light that you can only find there and perhaps in New Mexico. The colors are luminous—the colors of nature, of the sea, water, sky, and grass.

California Swimming Pool
California Swimming Pool (to David Hockney)acrylic and plexiglas
on canvas, 170 x 170 cm (67 x 67 in), 2007

These active, multicolored paintings are also inspired by cartoons and by the world of Disney—fantastic, hyperreal worlds. I often use silver and fluorescent colors as well as the colors of billboards and the urban scene.

McDonald's Breakfast
McDonald’s Breakfast, acrylic and plexiglas
on canvas, 122 x 91 cm (48 x 36 in), 2008

JK: Do you plan out these paintings in advance?

MC: I used to begin my work with precise drawings. Over the years, I began to feel that my paintings began to take on a “machined” quality. I missed a more organic process usually involved in creative work. Gradually, I began to rely less on drawings and notes and more on intuition. I believe the freshness of my work is due to the immediacy of its implementation, to its improvisation.

JK: Your monochromatic works have a very different energy.

MC: My multicolored paintings address the realities of life around me; my monochrome works reflect my interior life. They can be meditative, but also sensual and dramatic. To me, they suggest an interrupted story or a fragment of life.

Urban Landscape in Red
Urban Landscape in Red, acrylic and plexiglas on
canvas, 
140 x 130 cm (55 x 51 in), 2008

JK: In your multicolored work, the sense of the city—of an urban geometry of space—is enhanced by the extension of the paintings onto the sides of the canvas.

MC: I feel that giving a greater physical presence to my paintings enhances a sense of the reality of the geometric structures. I generally make my work 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.

Architect's Dream and Landscape (Island)
Architect’s Dream at left and Landscape (Island) at right,
each acrylic on canvas, 58.5 x 56 cm (23 x 22 in), 2008

In some smaller works, the depth can reach 4 inches.

Midtown (Open Window) and Midtown (Las Vegas, at right)
Midtown (Open Window) at left and Midtown ( Las Vegas) at right,
each acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 x 10 cm (8 x 8 x 4 in), 2007

I love minimal art and the work of Donald Judd, and I sometimes make 3-dimensional works like these small boxes—both objects and artworks.

  Untitled 2008  Utitled 2008
Untitledacrylic on wood,
38 x 38 x 38 cm 
(15 x 15 x 15 in), 2008
Untitledacrylic on wood,
38 x 38 x 38 cm 
(15 x 15 x 15 in), 2008

JK: You often incorporate individual squares and rectangles of plexiglas into your paintings.

MC: I like the reflective surface of plexiglas. I’ve always been fascinated by large urban buildings whose exteriors are primarily glass. Everything is reflected on their surfaces—like a big plasma tv. I’ve also painted on steel, aluminum, copper and brass—all materials used in construction.

Up and Down Las Vegas Strip
Up and Down Las Vegas Strip, acrylic and plexiglas on
canvas, 
170 x 170 cm (67 x 67 in), 2007

JK: You’ve recently been introducing linear elements into your paintings.

MC: Although the geometric structure is slowly becoming less complex, I complicate my work with areas of plexiglas or with lines. I overlap lines to break up the structure beneath them.

Large Landscape with Swimming Pool
Large Landscape with Swimming Poolacrylic on canvas,
130 x 170 cm (51 x 67 in), 2008

I’m experimenting with how far I can take the lines. I want to achieve a balance between the lines and the structures beneath.

  Untitled 2009  Untitled 2009
Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 x 6 cm
(12 x 2 x 2.5 in), 2009
Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 x 6 cm
(12 x 2 x 2.5 in), 2009

The two structures must speak to one another even as the lines break up the underlying geometry.

  Untitled 2009  Untitled 2009
Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 x 6 cm
(12 x 12 x 2.5 in), 2009
Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 x 6 cm
(12 x 12 x 2.5 in), 2009

What I enjoy in my work are the continuing changes. I like trying new things and still experiment with materials and ideas. I hope viewers will find my work a very human abstraction—not a cool abstraction, but an abstraction that begins with emotion.

Marco Casentini in his Hermosa Beach studio

More information about Marco Casentini at: marcocasentini.com

Interview images and text copyright © 2009 Julie Karabenick & Marco Casentini All Rights Reserved.

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All text and artwork reproduced by permission of the artists.

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