Reflections on the Making

As a social anthropologist and painter, my goal is to translate social interactions, constructions and paradoxes within visual language. I see the canvas as a ‘heterotopia’, using a term by Foucault, as another world within this world, mirroring and yet reversing what is outside; a space of experimentation in which the constructed mechanisms of social life are revealed. When I paint, I feel and think this, as if it was a basic thought there in the back of my mind. In terms of process, I generally first reflect on what I want to represent. The answer comes in the form of a mental image, which I then go to reproduce straight on to the canvas. Other times, I proceed with a preparatory drawing on paper, which I then copy on the canvas (while other times I work from a photograph). On some occasions, when I am particularly inspired or charged with some intense emotion, I simply ‘make’ without thinking about what I am doing (generally with a musical background). I like to see images and shapes flowing from my hand to the canvas, unmediated by a pre-established thought. While the resulting style from all of these approaches is similar, they originate from different mindsets.

            When I make, I generally feel satisfied and fulfilled. However, sometimes I get exhausted, because I often work non-stop until my work is completed in just one session. I usually only realise that I am physically tired at the end, since my mind is happy and energetic throughout the process. If instead I feel stressed or disheartened during the process, it could either be that I am trying to change my artistic personality, or that I am running behind a methodology that I cannot yet master. However, I understand that the struggle can be useful to become a better painter day by day. When things come naturally, I feel full of purpose and glad to see that I am able to express my voice and my ideas in a very personal way. I believe that the encounter with my new tutor and fellow students, all of whom are artists, has had a positive impact on my approach already, pushing me to be myself in a larger world of creators, in which each person does their part with their own individual ideas and abilities. 

            The materials that I use (oils, mediums, enamels, solvents and markers) are not very healthy and as such I try not to touch them and I work with gloves. However, I do use my hands from time to time to define the colours’ texture. While protecting my skin and keeping the studio ventilated, I physically engage with my work moving around it, approaching it from different angles, scraping the surface of the canvas or rather smoothing it to obtain different sensorial effects. I see the texture of the painting as a crucial aspect of the artwork, as if it were a living being of its own kind, another dimension with its own senses.

Paola

Chiaroscuro - San Matteo e l'Angelo, Caravaggio (1602)

‘Hindering the artist is a crime, it is murdering life in the bud’ – Egon Schiele

‘If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint,
and that voice will be silenced’ – Vincent Van Gogh

Self-reflections

Being an artist can be tough, akin to looking for the right words to describe a storm at sea while stuck in the middle of path, and metaphorically speaking, this scenario is not at all uncommon for an artist, because even when they are only observing a storm, it is like they were really there fighting against its waves. It can be fantastic too, when we finally manage to express what we see and what we feel. At the age of 29, I know that the time has arrived for me to take a step forward in that perilous sea. With a restless ego, an artist needs to self-reflect, and so it is crucial for me to try to put into words what is that I have been doing and thinking so far. As a social anthropologist and self-taught painter, I am interested in exploring human society and showing some of the insights of sociological research through visual representation. Consequently, my work is mostly centred around translating social interactions, meanings, constructions and paradoxes by decoding and re-encoding visual language.

My works sometimes originate from imagination or else from photographs from which I develop further experimentation, often drawing upon fieldwork research. Stylistically speaking, much of my inspiration comes from the observation of reality and my artistic method principally involves the use of oil on canvases or wood, and of enamels and acrylic pens on small, medium and large surfaces. I also experiment with other media, such as acrylics, pastels, inks, enamels and charcoal.
I have been using oil paint since I was eleven, when I started representing imagined domestic situations inspired by impressionistic imagery. As I grew up, my interest moved drastically from those peaceful domestic scenes to a new world of enigma, contrasts and sufferance, to which I was lead, I believe, by both the expressionistic influence, my personal biography, and classic high school studies. Very strict and perhaps somewhat unrewarding, those studies opened up my mind to the dramas of human history, the obscurities of the Middle Age, and the modern wars, and while I was in the middle of all of all that, only the production of poetry, narrative and visual experimentation could give a semblance of peace to my accelerated thoughts. This fresh look to the world brought me to produce spontaneous works, in which lines and paint balanced each other in a harmonious space. Then I faced a dilemma, to study art, or to study society. I had no doubts: I wanted to study society so that I would be better able to express it through art. In fact, I believe that artists can play a critical role in addressing social ills. I view anthropology itself as an art, a creative discipline based on extended research and observation of specific socio-cultural contexts with the goal of drawing broader reflections on the human condition. Art and anthropology are therefore inseparable and intertwined in complex ways. I cannot imagine a world in which anthropology does not use art to complete itself, and in which art does not need the critical social engagement offered through anthropology.

This interdisciplinary vocation led me to expand my studies with a Masters in Anthropology and Visual Studies (2015) at the University of Siena, which involved theoretical studies in relation to cinema, photography, and various forms of art analysis (such as paintings, African art, movie analysis, semiotics of art and ethnographic artifacts), after which I undertook a one-year course in ethnographic video making (2017). I then moved to conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Australia (2016) and Nepal (2018-2019) on social topics that I explored through both traditional research methods, including interviews and data collection, and through artistic enquiry (drawing and painting). To show the results of my research in anthropology, I developed two major artistic projects, working with oil colours on medium and medium-sized canvases and wood panels. I exhibited the first one, ‘Windows to the World’ (March 2014) at Palazzo di San Galgano, Siena, while the second one ‘Modern Folktales’ will take place in Adelaide in 2021. For this most recent project (which was also the focus of my PhD thesis in Social Anthropology at the University of Adelaide), I was mentored by Gregory Donovan, a lecturer in painting at the University of South Australia who acted as my thesis co-supervisor. A one-year studio practice under his supervision helped me to refine my techniques and to expand my ideas over an extensive project, which is still in progress. However, while in my works to date I have been focusing on both autonomous projects concerning city life, with its crowds and consumerism, and on the results of ethnographic fieldwork, I feel that is now the time to reflect on what I really want to communicate as an artist, and to find the right visual languages for me to express it. For example, during these years I have also been experimenting with the creation of small puppets that I used in stop motion videos, and I am intrigued by the idea of combining this technique with painting.

During my academic studies in the last ten years, I have been systematically approaching human lifeworlds as constructed webs of significance, studying them through the lenses of semiotics and interpretative analysis. That is, there is nothing in this world that does not pass under the scrutiny of our interpretative senses. As an anthropologist, it has been fundamental for me to understand the importance of the point of view, that of the researcher, and that of the subject. In these years, I have also been living in very different worlds, from Sicily, to Tuscany, to the UK, to Australia and to Nepal. I am now reflecting on what exactly fascinated me the most of these vastly different worlds, and what commutates and distinguishes them. And is there something beyond social constructions that I am trying to find? While social sciences identify the specific nature of each society, is there something intrinsically human that art can attempt to express? What do I want to put in my new artworks? How realistic do I want them to be? These are all questions on which I need to reflect in the years to come during my MA in Fine Art Practice at the Open College of the Arts.

Notes on Cognitive Anthropology

This is a brief summary on the contents of the series of five articles that I published under the name ‘Appunti di Antropologia Cognitiva’ (Notes on Cognitive Anthropology) in the web magazine ‘Nel Futuro’. They have been published in 2017, in the order reported in the bibliography. They are adapted versions of some of the chapters of my undergraduate thesis, entitled ‘The Name of Perception’ (2013). In this thesis, I focused on the importance of images within communication processes, by observing, specifically, the non-verbal forms of communication. From this, I started thinking about the importance of using images, pictures, drawings, paintings and movies in Anthropology.

In the first article, entitled ‘Thought and Imagination: the “lack of something” at the origin of the creative process’, I start with a brief review on the studies about the evolution of human creativity and imagination, in order to start investigating the passage from imagination to representation. In the following article, entitled ‘Wittgenstein: theory of the image and ineffability’, I move to the question of expressing interior feelings, emotions and perceptions. In his “theory of the image”, Wittgenstein deals with the expression of those “vital matters”, like ecstatic feelings, happiness, sufferance or love, which are not easy, and perhaps impossible to verbalise. As he writes in his ‘Tractatus-logico Philosophicus’ (1921), the communication of inner feelings is impossible, as no person can ever fully understand another person’s experience of the world.

In the third article, ‘The image of the soul in the prophetic mysticism of Ildegarda from Bingen’, I better explain this concept on the limit between what can be expressed through words and what cannot, with the example of the German medieval mystic Ildegarda from Bingen. While Wittgenstein found limits to discourse, she used art to express mystic visions, those images that she called ‘images of the soul’, and she commissioned painters to create depictions of her visions. In ‘Art between the language and the unspeakable’, I move forward to the analysis of the role of art in mediating between the personal inspiration of the author and the production of an artwork, and I introduce the concept of “pure form”, used by Konrad Fiedler (1841-1895), a German art critic who is recognised as the founder of the “Formal theory of art”. According to him, only through the artwork of an inspired artist can real knowledge of the world be found, as words cannot express the absolute.

Finally, in ‘The contamination word-image in Gillo Dorfles’s art’, I discuss the need for a balance between word and image, taking the example of the artist Gillo Dorfles. My final proposal is to explore the limit between verbal expression and those interior feelings that are difficult to externalise, taking that limit as the richness of creativity and the understanding of human life.

Bibliography

• Tinè, P 2017, Pensiero e immaginazione: la “mancanza” all’origine del processo creativo, in ‘Nel Futuro’ (web magazine), link http://www.nelfuturo.com/pensiero-e-immaginazione-la-mancanza-all-origine-del-processo-creativo.

• Tinè, P 2017, Wittgenstein: teoria dell’immagine e ineffabilità, in ‘Nel Futuro’ (web magazine), link http://www.nelfuturo.com/wittgenstein-teoria-dell-immagine-e-ineffabilita.

• Tinè, P 2017, L’immagine dell’anima nel misticismo profetico di Ildegarda di Bingen, in ‘Nel Futuro’ (web magazine), link http://www.nelfuturo.com/immagine-anima-nel-misticismo-profetico-di-ildegarda-di-bingen

• Tinè, P 2017, L’arte tra dicibile e indicibile, in ‘Nel Futuro’ (web magazine), link http://www.nelfuturo.com/l-arte-tra-dicibile-e-indicibile

• Tinè, P 2017, La “contaminazione parola-immagine nell’arte di Gillo Dorfles, in ‘Nel Futuro’ (web magazine), link http://www.nelfuturo.com/contaminazione-parola-immagine-nell-arte-di-gillo-dorfles