Awaiting Venice Biennale 2024: Francesco Zanatta

We met Venice based artist Francesco Zanatta in his studio on the island of Giudecca.
by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Francesco Zanatta

LM Let’s start with your genesis as an artist and your background..

FZ I was born in the Venetian countryside, in an isolated place but near some industrial areas. In fact, my grandparents were farmers and workers. So from there, I believe, came my manual skill. Moreover, my grandfather was a singer and played the trumpet, so the first approach to art came from that. In fact, as a child I studied music for many years, so the studies I have done are classical studies, I also studied a lot of art history and from there, the interest in visual arts and painting was born. So then, at some point I decided to enroll at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, where I was met with a very strong school of painting and especially a community of young artists that has since continued to nourish my creativity, and has led me to do what I do now.

LM What are the recurring themes or motifs in your practice?

FZ My artistic practice is based mainly on drawing, painting and on this practice that I have been carrying forward for a few years, which is about collecting materials that are now part of my archive. This type of practice is linked to a central aspect of my research which in some way, belongs to all painters: this sort of obsession for the observation of things. That’s why, over the years, I have collected a huge amount of visual material, mainly photographs and many drawings. These are mainly in my studio, indeed, my studio is very important to me, even though it has this tiny dimension, actually, this intimacy has a function, I believe, very important to my research because it is a place where I feel that energies are gathered and where I can observewith greater concentration and intimacy. Some of these are displayed in my studio – I observe them every day, some of them, given that they are made of organic material, over time they deteriorate. This process has a huge influence in my pictorial practice, thus leading me in the work to pay greater attention to surfaces, to the quality of the surfaces that I paint. Moreover, the stories that I narrate arise, partly, from these compositions that occur by reconfiguring these objects in the studio. So yes, narrations also arise from accidental combinations of objects that trigger mechanisms, also leading to a modification of certain aspects of content and, perhaps, narration of the work. In virtue of this transformative element in observation – there is also a very dreamlike and hallucinatory presence in many of the paintings, there is a mythological element, not so much in the content, but rather in the atmosphere that many of these works create.

LM Can you talk us through a key piece of yours?

FZ ‘Palaeozoic Aquarium’, portrays a close up of an aquarium, from a strange perspective, ‘Paleozoic’ because it contains aquatic animals and plants that come from the Paleozoic era. A visual paradox is triggered from the title. As in many other works, it takes up the theme of still life, precisely creating narrative games on a non-existent era and yet, represented are many floating shapes, these dazzling lights that attract and repel the gaze at the same time, creating a sort of paradoxical mystery.

LM What is your relationship like to the city of Venice today?

FZ I have lived in Venice for 10 years. It has changed, first as a place of education and then in the meanwhile I decided to continue living here – to make it my base, at least until now, so I decided to take a studio. It’s a place that I have always been attracted to, yet at the same time, it has repelled me in every way. It has always had this ambivalent nature. For an artist here it is difficult to create a 360 degree career path – I, along with many young artists of my generation have decided to stay here, creating a community, and we have created a bit of a counter-trend. So, the ‘difficulties’ are primarly for this reason. But, on the other hand, however, from the community point of view it’s a place that gives a lot, and I hope it continues to – I feel that a lot of energy is being put in this direction. It is great to stay for many reasons, but it’s also nice to detach from it and for some reason, even not related to one’s own will, return here. For me this has happened many times, and perhaps it is precisely the charm of this city that in the end, always brings you back in some way.

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