David Dalla Venezia and his atelier in Venice

It was some rainy afternoon in November a few years ago when David Dalla Venezia showed his atelier in Venice to my small group of teen-agers. I looked at their eyes, while they explored that fascinating and unusual space where a painter works. And he didn’t only talk about his paintings, but explained how to hold a brush or to prepare the canvas, for instance. How to use a mirror. The light. They listened at him with rapture. An aura of the way artists’ workshops had to be in the past surrounded everything. And yet, it definitely felt contemporary.

The art and the technique.

David Dalla Venezia in his atelier

David Dalla Venezia in his atelier

David Dalla Venezia in his workshop teaching oil painting at the Bottega del Tintoretto, Venice

David Dalla Venezia in his workshop teaching oil painting at the Bottega del Tintoretto, Venice

The physical nature of art

David Dalla Venezia was born in 1965 in France and his family moved back to Venice when he was still a child. A family of artists with many artist friends. In Venice they lived near Campo San Stin, near the Frari church. And it was there that David, at that time an 8-year old boy, had a chance to see the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Titian. Not just the painting, but the back of the painting itself, too.

From a very close perspective, he told me, the heavy wooden boards of this almost 7-meter high painting impressed him for their overwhelming physical presence.

When narration happens through images

But the first thing in our conversation he mentioned to me was how a feeling of loneliness could overwhelm artists like him. In fact, David loves figurative painting and narrative quality. Not exactly what you would call “mainstream” art nowadays.

Figurative painting is narration as the time it takes to observe a painting is the time of the narration it develops. Step by step: I observe, I try to understand what I see, time passes and the story is narrated. David mentioned the famous cycle of Carpaccio at the Scuola degli Schiavoni. I thought of some mosaics in St. Mark’s basilica, too.

Venice, Scuola San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Vittore Carpaccio

Venice, Scuola San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Vittore Carpaccio: St. George kills the dragon and saves the princess of Selene

Moreover, it occurred to my mind that according to a survey, the average time a visitor in a painting museum spends in front of each work of art is 13 seconds. However, longer time is spent in front of paintings that tell a story and feature a lot of characters. In the tradition, art was the easy way to communicate through images. But it’s more than just a matter of some “easy to read” art.

Venice, Scuola San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Vittore Carpaccio

Venice, Scuola San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Vittore Carpaccio, St. George baptises the inhabitants of Selene, Libya

Moving forward or getting Kitsch?

If this is how art would be in the past, today figurative art in the academic venues is not welcome. “You must move forward” is the mantra of the academic fine arts schools in Italy, also in Venice. However, surfing the Internet has helped painters like David to understand they are not alone. In fact, there are more artists that cherish

a figurative focus, its cultivation of narrative and its strong valuing of technical skills.

The Lowbrow Movement and Kitsch Art

In the West coast of the United States you encounter the so-called “Lowbrow Movement”. Alienated from the world of museum curators and art schools, lowbrow movement artists work in fields such as illustration, tattooing and comics. In Northern Europe you can check the so-called Kitsch Art movement and his well-known representative painter, Odd Nerdrum from Norway. His controversial work, The Murder of Andreas Baader, representing a terrorist as a religious martyr, got removed from the art gallery in Oslo in 1978 because it was considered obscene. Caravaggio would have loved it.

Odd Nerdrum, The murder of Andreas Baader, 1977

Odd Nerdrum, The murder of Andreas Baader, 1977

Art versus Craft

In the Renaissance there were no expressions such as “work of art”. While there was the science of the art of painting, art as an “autonomous” label did not exist as painting or sculpture was a means to reach a goal and not an end in itself. In Nerdrum’s view, the concept of art and artist changed through Immanuel Kant’s and Friedrich Hegel’s theory: the painter would no longer be considered an artisan and moved away from storytelling (and therefore from drama, intensity and sentimentality) as “craft became mechanic and inferior”. Furthermore, learning from past masters was replaced by originality in Art: the former was labelled as copying and identified with Kitsch.

Original versus Copying

If you are not original, then it cannot be “art”, but “craft” and therefore something inferior to “art”. But being a kitsch painter also means you choose the values art enjoyed of in the Renaissance, values that got cast out. Being a kitsch painter brings to reconsider the relation to the society the artist lives in and to focus on the utility of art. Here’s a painting by David and some infos about it can be found here: www.whokilledcattelan.org

David Dalla Venezia, Who Killed Cattelan?, oil on canvas, 130 x 97 cm, 2007

David Dalla Venezia, Who Killed Cattelan?, oil on canvas, 130 x 97 cm, 2007

David Dalla Venezia, Who Killed Cattelan?, oil on canvas, 130 x 97 cm, 2007, detail of the brush

David Dalla Venezia, Who Killed Cattelan?, 2007, detail of the brush

Tattooing the city ephemerally: The relation with the past art in Venice

A really satisfactory experience David Dalla Venezia recalls of his activity in Venice is the collaboration with the Japanese artist Hiroshi Daikoku. In 1987 the two artists started painting large compositions on the wooden fences surrounding work in progress areas in Venice. In a couple of years this brought to 12 paintings and in 1989 David Dalla Venezia arranged his first exhibition at the BAC Art Studio gallery in Venice.

“We want to paint the world!” was the motto.

Venice Urbs Picta

They surely wanted to re-paint Venice and to reconnect to the past. Although now the remains are barely visible, the city was once particularly colourful. Venice as “urbs picta” appears in the paintings by Vittore Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini and Giovanni Mansueti. A city unhappy to be bare. Covering its architecture and sculpture, bas-reliefs, columns’ capitals in colourful paint. And even when a façade was in marble, even the marble could be painted or covered in gold leaf. Not to mention that stucco would be painted as if it were marble with its veins in symmetrical patterns.

Venice, Van Axel Palace, details of a frescoed façade

Venice, Van Axel Palace, details of a frescoed façade

Giorgione di Castelfranco, The Nude, fresco of the Fontego dei Tedeschi in Venice, detail

Giorgione di Castelfranco, The Nude, fresco of the Fontego dei Tedeschi in Venice, detail

David&Hiroshi

David&Hiroshi dedicated their work to the children in campo San Polo, and then more in campo San Cassiano, at San Moisè, in the Ghetto Novo. A comics style featuring a character one can identify oneself with, but never banal. And then dared some murales at the entrance of the Fine Arts School at the Accademia with the result that the director Nedo Fiorentin ordered to remove them immediately. So, while the residents welcomed the art works, the director had them blackened out. While the residents brought food to the two young artists during their night work and respected their murales (and the news talked about them with praise), the official art made their works of art more ephemeral than they were expected to be. A censorship against something meant to spontaneously disappear soon is quite brutal.

David&Hiroshi, Murales at Campo San Polo in Venice, For the Kids' Summer, 1987

Campo San Polo in Venice, For the Kids’ Summer, 1987, David&Hiroshi, Murales

David&Hiroshi, Murales at the Fine Arts School in Venice

The Fine Arts School in Venice, August 1987, David&Hiroshi, Murales

Provocative or social?

However, David&Hiroshi’s experience was also an attempt to enhance the social role of the artist and to raise the question whether an artist can express an artistic commitment to a city and participate in the social life of a city. And how. Their artistic experiment was connected to the past and to the role of the artist in the ancient times, but failed in being stimulated and supported by the city political leaders. As artists in the mainstream vision are nowadays supposed to surprise and provoke the art system, rather than merge together with the city as their open-air atelier.

by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy
www.seevenice.it

David Dalla Venezia moved to Triest a few years ago but regularly comes to Venice to hold painting classes and workshops at the Bottega del Tintoretto. You can also reach him at:

www.daviddallavenezia.com
www.facebook.com/daviddallaveneziapinxit/

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