Let’s start from the beginning.You were born in Milan and in 2007 you got your degree in Scenic Design at the Academy of Brera. Why did you choose this path? Where does your passion for scenic design come from?
Well, actually it was not a real passion, it was not love: I had just finished a very troubled and difficult scientific school. I realized immediately that I had not undertaken the career I really wanted, but changing at 15 years old was frightening. In the end I made up my mind and decided to complete my studies. It really gave a wide and varied culture.
After graduating I took a risk: I enrolled in Scenic Design Academy. Was I in the place I really wanted to be? I could not figure it out. However, my path was exciting and full of amazing people and teachers who gave me a lot.
During your studies, you led and made the scenes for Bokapa Ekopo, a ballet company funded by Francesco Ventriglia, a dancer at Scala di Milano. A great task and a great start. What can you remember about those days? Was it your first work as set designer or had you had other experiences?
I remember it was in my 3rd year of college. It was a sort of competition. The ballet company was making its debut and they did not have much funds. So, Mr Ventriglia decided to rely on students of the Academy who had to propose a project for both stage costumes and scenes. The ballet was inspired on African tribal music.
In order to plan the scenes, I read an old book of mine about cultures in the world until one day I came across a wooden Maasai totem. From it, I developed my entire project that was selected! My mates and I managed to complete it in few months: seeing it on stage was a unique experience.
After your degree, your artistic path oriented towards fashion: as visual, you curated the set up of Loro Piana and Roberto Cavalli windows, and as designer you made textures and fabrics for Patrizia Pepe from 2007 until 2011.
Can you explain why you had this sudden change? Was it an opportunity you seized or did you willingly choose to work in fashion?
My work with Loro Piana and Cavalli was just a one-time thing, whereas I worked for Patrizia Pepe for a while. This opportunity was unexpected and out of the blue! I was not planning to dedicate myself to fashion. However, it turned out to be a winning choice: once again, seeing my work was amazing!
Let’s speak about your works. Browsing on your Facebook page (www.facebook.com/va.grilli), I looked at your works and I could appreciate your details and their richness. Your precision could be compared only to the Flemish one, couldn’t it? Could you tell us about your style and influences? Are there any artists you take inspiration from?
My works can be divided into two separate sections, almost diverging from one another and made with different techniques. At the beginning I would use mixed media: watercolor and graphite. Very spontaneous, I’d say kind of wild.
After ,when I got to know Gianluca Corona and Maurizio Bottoni my life changed. They are great contemporary artists who gave me some pointers to paint the Flemish way. Since then, I have revolutionized everything and my subjects accordingly. Before, I would concentrate on an inner search, an effort to redeem my sorrows.
Now, I look at what’s outside, at those things that healed me. There you see more and more animals, wildflowers which gradually have gained more space becoming the protagonists.
My mentors are Bottoni, Durer, Marzio Tamer and Andrew Wyeth: I love his dreamlike scenes.
Every artist favors a specific technique. I noticed that you often use graphite, and I suppose there are preparatory studies for every work. Could you describe how your works come to life? What are the steps? Where do you take inspiration from and how do you select your subjects?
Every work originates from a sketch and I observe what surrounds me much . As for animals paintings, I made my partner go to the Cornelle park! After that, I do charcoal drawings on a canvas or on a poplar board fixed on rabbit glue just like it was used to do in 14th and 15th century. Then, I use colors. My subjects call me, and I try to chase them the way I imagined them.
Your subjects are like trapped in a silent, suspended space as if they asked spectators to investigate, to look for a way out from the world they are caged in. If you were not an artist but only an observer, what would your opinion of your paintings be? Would you feel the same emotions when looking at them?
I would describe them as” dreamlike” works, dreaming, suspended in a place where time stops, an ancestral dimension where emotions blend. Emotions are human beings’ alphabet. This is what Art does in the end, it speaks a universal language.
Your style owes a lot to your deep and passionate study about Marcel Proust. Indeed, I was completely fascinated by the comparison between Petites Madeleines and the objects you collected and portrayed. Could you explain the reason why you chose to put it and quote him indirectly to our readers?
My first works originated from my memories. Our memory gives us the chance to go back to past moments we associate to specific sensations. This easy and true concept is what I found in Proust, in the Madelaines whose tasting after so many years reminds the protagonist of his childhood spent at his ill aunt ‘s at Combray. I was constantly looking for my Madeleines to feel how the past is so present. That was my goal. Now, I have concluded that stage and I mainly focus on my present and reality.
Any future projects?
Next September I am doing an individual exhibition at Galleria Crespi in Milan . I am working very hard on a series of sleeping animals: fingers crossed!
Article & interview by Loriana Pitarra
English translation by Chiara Vilmercati
Cover image: “In interior homine habitat veritas” courtesy of artist Valentina Grilli