The work of Italian-born artist Fabio D’Aroma straddles the line between the beautiful and grotesque, the classic and the futuristic, if you will. It’s better in his words…
When recreating a work that means something to you personally as you did with “St. Matthew and the Angel,” is it a bundle of nerves to try and get it right or do you just trust your hands?
The project of the recreation of St. Matthew and the Angel was the final step of a long-term fascination with Caravaggio. I fell in love with his paintings when I was a teenager, and during my years in Rome I studied his technique exhaustively. I was reading books about the Old Masters’ techniques and any publication I could find about the restoration of Caravaggio’s paintings. By the time I decided to approach this project, I had already done many small and medium-sized copies of his work. In this situation, the challenge was working from the only black and white photo shot before the destruction of the painting during World War II. Through the comparison of the other Caravaggio paintings, I had to guess what might have been the color scheme of “St. Matthew and the Angel.”
I guess, like all of my paintings, I know that if I’m not 100% present while I’m painting I will spend a lot of time fixing mistakes later. I guess I wasn’t tense but more concentrated because my work requires a lot of attention.
What did that experience teach you about your own creative process?
My research on Caravaggio is at the base of my current paintings. For as much as my work might look dissimilar to Caravaggio’s, that period of experimentation is at its core. I think that the St. Matthew represented a sort of closure, after which I could dedicate myself to my new production. It also occurred to me how fictional the backgrounds in Caravaggio’s paintings are and how the illusion of a space is resolved simply with variations of dark colors. I decided to go in the opposite direction by staging my characters against textured and pure white background. This would allow me to emphasize the figures and their interactions.
With the digital manipulation that took place with your Retrocorionica project, do you feel like the images gain something new when the oils lose texture in the scanning?
I love the texture and the surface of my paintings and I will try to transfer that feeling to my prints. I hope I will be able to apply my knowledge in the preparation of supports (canvas or paper) to the printing process. An oil painting is an image at its best. It has intrinsic value in the texture, uniqueness, craftsmanship, and it will last for centuries.
On the other hand, I’m approaching printing not as a mirror reproduction of the paintings but as the only possible way to make single paintings and characters interact with each other in the Retrocorionica frieze. I like to see the single painting lose its autonomy and gain new nuances if seen in the larger context.
With the changes we’ve seen in social media in recent years, what with the infatuation with image and the narcissism that the web has bred, has it changed anything about your work?
My work is a lot about what is innate in humans and what changes in time. In particular, I focus on the crisis in the Western world that is spiritual before economical. And I use the word crisis referring to the Latin meaning of turning point, so not necessarily with a negative connotation.
From this point of view, the question is if the social media are really social and if the ease, velocity and quantity of information exchanged (many times at the price of quality) that forces us to longer hours in front of a device really help us to interact.
For my work, narcissism is essential. My characters are completely self-involved. Also when they cooperate, they do so in an awkward way that is difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless, they have no second thoughts or doubts. They are charged with a nervous energy that keeps them from stopping and thinking.
And what’s your next project?
I’m planning to keep working on this project for a few years. I imagine a large procession, a sort of great diaspora with hundreds of characters departing to the left and to the right from an initial central group. It is a very demanding project. Every picture (usually 30×56 inches) takes an average of two months between the conception, the drawings and the actual painting. So I guess this will keep me busy for a while.
Interview by Lance Scott Walker
Photography by Kennon Evett