Francesco Joao Scavarda and humidity (an interview)

Marta Galli  -  June 29, 2018

A group exhibition opening next Monday at PAC in Milan takes stock of emerging Brazilian art. Francesco Joao Scavarda is part of it. We sat down with him while he was preparing the works that are going to be exhibited.

Past is experience, future is hope. What about the present? The thrill of something unexpected. This is essentially what Francesco Joao Scavarda thinks as it emerges from the enigmatic press release of one of his latest gallery’s shows. It also comes to light that his work is more than ever rooted in the present time while revealing ancient painting’s technique. Although he is not so keen on the brush, which he puts away to talk about art through his archetypes.

The work of the artist, born 1987, has now found his museum exhibition in Italy at the PAC, in occasion of hte show ‘Brazil. Knife in the Flesh’ curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti and Diego Sileo.

Holding both Italian and Brazilian passports, Scavarda has lived between the two countries and has now setteld in Sao Paulo, despite still having a studio in the family house on the Lake Maggiore, an historical country house of a faded pink, located close to the Rocca di Angera. This is where his twany-head dog Toby Dammit lives and where we met the artist some days ago, on an afternoon when the Brazilian team was actually busy playing on the World Cup field.

We hear the bustle of the stadium coming from the TV… speaking of the devil…

I actually love footbal, although my support is proportional to the percentage of AC Milan’s players playing in the national team. There were many when the Azzurri lost the finals, precisely against Brasil. Baggio missed the last penalty which determined the final result. I was in Brazil that night and while the country was celebrating the victory, I was alone crying in my bedroom.

Do you ever have premonitory dreams?

Once I dreamt that Richard Prince was reassuring me by saying that I was on the right path.

How about nightmares?

A waking nightmare is probably life without internet connections. I was recently invited yet again to the fazenda of my dealer. Well, not only you don’t have connection, also mobile phones have no signal. I lost sleep.

There are people who are paying in order to escape to relais offering digital detoxing packages.

To me it’s a matter of info-sphere; disconnect is equal to the feeling of twiddling my thumbs. I feel incapacitated.

Let’s move to your working routine.

I don’t love painting and I spent as little time as possible in front on the canvas, also because all the work is first structured on the computer. To be honest, I don’t have a daily routine or if this is the case it starts in bed. When I wake up I get hold of my computer and until lunch time I spend time researching,

What do you search?

Images. In the canvases for the exhibition Brasil at PAC I start from a collection of pre-existing photographs; among which there is a shot of the Nevada Desert and one of an archaeological site in Wales. However, this doesn’t really matter. What I’m interested in is that they are dealing with ancestral representations. They are all rocky landscapes, an immediate reference to the idea of the divine of the iconic period of Romanticism. Some of the them relate a more complex narrative, like that of the bronze age monolith which was vandalized with a “smile”. It’s an act reinforcing the idea of memory.

After gathering images from the bowels of the web, what happens next?

I import them on Photoshop and I apply filters in order to increase the contrast, so to achieve sharp silhouettes. The last phase is the effective production, that is to say the painting on the raw canvas; after applying a monochrome basis – the palette is dirty and has an ink-taste – the transmigration of the images from digital to analog takes place through a projector.

A projector? What a paleo-tech fetish!

It is indeed a liminal situation. My canvases, despite being made with brushes and hyper-traditional methods like the gouache, they call to mind silk screen paintings or rough ‘pixel plotters’. The paradox is that they are meticulously hand-produced, with little brush-strokes, pixel after pixel. The work sessions could be quite draining but this kind of painting doesn’t really allow you to break off: the canvas has to be completed before the color dries out.

Regardless of this, some purists of the ‘bel disegno’, if they still exist, may wince.

I don’t really care about the technical virtuosity, actually I repulse it. I borrow here great romantic cliché, as far as the image is concerned, and pop, with regards to the silk-screen painting’s technique, in order to ponder over the artistic production as such. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like painting and I find it hard. However, iIm interested in painting as archetype of the work of art. Moreover, its promptness allows the work itself to exist, regardless of where, how and why. At the same time, it allows you to speculate for hours on the Great World Systems or simply looking at it and saying: “Ah, it’d look so good hanging above the couch at my place”.

Tell us more about the couch.

I am in no way ashamed of thinking about the artwork as a commodity. And if you ask me whether artworks are images or messages, well, first and foremost, they are objects to me. This force between commodity and object to admire is ultimately what fascinates me the most.

Can you give us an example?

I will resort to the case of my favorite masterpiece in the world: the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. As once being banker, that is usurer, meant having a damned soul. Enrico Scrovegni, in order to save his father Rinaldo from the hell, turned to the pope asking him what he could do. “don’t worry and follow my advice” the pope reassured him. “Donate to the city of Padua the most beautiful work”. That was when Scrovegni jr. commissioned the most established (and expensive) painters of the time the famous frescoes. The moral of the story? The city of Padua has gained its new Via crucis, Scrovegni’s father went to heaven and also the Pope was happy. Ultimately, the entire humankind benefits from this.

Are you saying that the reasons beyond the creation of an artwork are not going to determine what this work is and will be?

The intrinsic spiritual side is independent from the work’s narrative which mixes up with economic issues.

If that is your favourite artwork, is Giotto your favourite artist?

Absolutely. Closely followed by Stanley Kubrick, then Ed Ruscha, Robert Longo, Olivier Mosset, Paul Sietsema.

Have you also worked deeply on the things’ surfaces in order to set free from subjective and personal elements?

It was the result of a disciplined growth. However, I’ve never presumed that someone could be interested in my own demons.

Do you like to think that you are contributing to a broader discourse?

Surely so. Also Robert Longo works on pre-existing images. And both oafs, purists of ‘bel disegno’ and the most sophisticated ones like him. In my opinion he is above all a refined scholar of our time and a critic of the mass-culture. Few people remember that Longo is also a film director. The movies or videos (he has shot, for instance, those for the New Order) are possibly the best key to access his poetics. Johnny Mnemonic, by the way one of my cornerstones, was directed by him.

How does Johnny Mnemonic concern you?

I had painted a series of canvases which referred to that movie, albeit indirectly, cyberpunk, anarchic – as a matter of fact they had nothing to do with it aesthetically. One of these works, a very small gouache painting, was then chosen last year for a collective show at Mendes Wood FM in Brussels. It was already reserved when a collector went in and wanted to have it at all costs; at the end he managed to come up trumps. Only later I found out that this collector was no less than the film’s producer, Johnny Mnemonic himself. I’ve never discovered whether he had spot some affinities, nevertheless this is for me like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and I’m glad he owns the work.

Do you collect?

Above all works which go in this direction. That is, not only that “I could have done them” myself, but also the first person you bump into in the street.

Is your work honest?

I prefer the term sincere.

Classic or modern?

In my opinion everything falls into line at the time of perception and I can’t stand ennobling the old in face of the new, which brings along beasts like the refusal to talk about economics and the glorification of the romantic artist.

What’s wrong with the romantic artist?

I think that art should be an act of responsibility and keeping it locked up in a studio, as per romantic art mythology, is irresponsible.

Did you want to be an artist since you were a kid?

Yes, or as an alternative, an F1 driver.

What’s your best memory from childhood?

When I used to go crocodile hunting with my grandpa on the Amazon River, at night.

How about your childhood time in Italy? Is it Milan or Angera?

This house in Angera, where I have my studio now. I think it’s because of the connection with nature.

Surely, both places are quite humid.

Yes, like gouache painting. It is a concept I can live with, in fact it belongs to me.