Interview: Simona Elia

Interview: Simona Elia

Interviews | March 14, 2024 |

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Image courtesy of Simona Elia

Interview: Simona Elia
Luca Curci talks with Simona Elia during FUTURE LANDSCAPES, second appointment of the 19th edition of VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2024, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.

Born in Salerno in 1981, Simona Elia graduated with honors in Electronic Engineering and obtained a PhD with a thesis on nanotechnologies applied to neurostimulation. Always interested in the functioning of the brain, psychology, and art, she has produced a large number of paintings and lyrics, awarded at about forty national and international literary competitions. Some of her works are included in the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Poetry 2017, published by the Mario Luzi Foundation as a result of the selection for the homonymous International Award. She has published a collection of her compositions with Aletti Editore, “Frammenti d’identità”, with a preface by Alessandro Quasimodo, well-known actor and son of the famous poet. He performed one of his poems, “Sunset on the Tana degli Arabi”, within a project of the aforementioned publisher. In 2021, she won First Place in both the Narrative Section and the Poetry Section at the National Poetry and Narrative Award “WRITING IN C.I.B.O. – Identity Cuisine of the Villages Nowadays”; she also received Second Place at the National Prize of Naturalistic Poetry “City of Castelbuono”, and First Place at The National Prize of Poetry San Martino – Versi tra le Stelle” in August 2022. Her paintings often depict or subtly suggest a fragmented (distorted) reality where the perfection of realism breaks against the wall of subjective re-elaboration of reality through the vibrating soul of the artist. Thus, strips, segments, breaking points, replication, or explosion of faces into pieces have started to appear in her works. These patterns reconcile realism with symbols, fusing reality with elements useful for its interpretation. They discuss the contemporary dissociation between the inner parts of humans. Outside versus inside. Inside as a fragmentary contradictory world. Strips as curtains partially unveiling and partially distorting reality.

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Image courtesy of Simona Elia

Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Simona Elia – I believe that each one of us has an innate artistic side to some extent. Life and experiences can either facilitate or hinder its development. I have always been a curious and attentive person, overwhelmed by “whys?”, looking for patterns, “rules”, and means of expression that explain things and simultaneously capable of expressing the “melting pot” within me. My fascination with psychology and the relationship among numbers/proportions has been irreducible; thus, I have always been interested in the functioning of the brain. Consequently, I pursued a PhD in nanotechnologies applied to neurostimulation after graduating as an Electronic Engineer cum laude. This led me to approach the “digital world” from a privileged perspective, and I became captivated by the world of Digital Art, particularly Digital Paintings. The secret to my deep involvement in art lies in the place where I was born. I have always lived near Paestum, the ancient Greek Polis, a destination during the Grand Tour for scholars from all over Europe. Situated in the south of Naples within the geographical area of Ancient Magna Graecia, it is rich in cultural and mythological references, full of contaminations and foreign dominations, and a UNESCO heritage site. I have been continually exposed to the dichotomy arising from the Apollonian perfection of classicism, very evident here, as opposed to the Dionysian, almost orgiastic and chaotic arrogance of nature (in a Nietschian sense). Natural elements and their atmospheric agents possess a germinative power to invade and modify, over time, what man has been able to produce, creating a sort of alchemical transformation. The effect of the passing of time over things has always evoked a series of reflections/emotions/suggestions within me, capturing things, producing chaotic random and deep modifications on their original rational perfection, just as it happened with those majestic temples and the entire archaeological zone. This inevitably triggered a poetic narrative within me. Making art became the natural, almost inevitable result of a fortunate intertwining of history and cultural references of my native place, my way of questioning myself, and the contradictions of today’s multifaceted world. A perpetual motion was triggered between the classical nature of Paestum, ME, and the fragmented – often destabilizing – experience of contemporary times. I felt like the diaphragm asked by an innate force to interpret things and make a synthesis. I started writing poetry and drawing/painting at a very young age and later became fascinated by the very modern and compelling techniques of Digital Painting. Art for me is vibration, a consonance between individuals. Everyone is a spectator and co-creator of the work together with the author. Our senses, portals to a multiverse, bring us stimuli that we re-work according to our personal feelings and historical context. Art is therefore a possibility for human and social revolution, a space of authentic relationship, and expression, and an accumulation point of life’s instances, where our dark sides and our bright ones find the exact moment of “Eternity” and “Sublime”, conveying meaning to our entire existence. Art is the cathedral where everyone participates in a liturgy in their own way, with their sensitivity, their experience, their rationality, and the complexity of their inner world: the celebration of life in its entirety, elusive and never completely describable, but only perceivable on a more subtle level. I have produced a large number of lyrics, some of which have been published in a book, “Frammenti d’identità” by Aletti Editore. Many of my paintings have been awarded prizes and have been exhibited all over the world: USA (New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington), London, Carrousel du Louvre in Paris, Gaudi’s Casa Milà in Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples.

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Image courtesy of Simona Elia

LC – What are you currently working on?
SE – Recently, I have experienced a real burst in my artistic expression. I am trying to introduce classic patterns and iconic images into my interpretation of life using juxtaposition, fusion, or distortion of elements from ancient times with contemporary elements and bold suggestions. For example, my “Venus of Milo” is a stylish pink reproduction of the statue, reinterpreted with a contemporary twist: here there is some sort of irony against the contemporary craving for a “fictitious idea of beauty”, implemented by “reducing” her to a fashion icon over a “pop” background, blossoming a dark pink lavish luxury rose and a posh butterfly. The Venus is, thus, even “sanctified”, as contemporary society continuously does with false beauty as a commercial product, by means of a halo/sun over her head. The same process of “contemporization” goes for my reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s David. If we look at stereotypes, they still deflect over time from being monolithically defined. In particular, Michelangelo’s David outlines the ideal of “Male Beauty and Strength” – par excellence. In the Biblical David, however, we find the Hero, with all-encompassing pride and courage: he finds motivation and impetus to defeat what apparently should make him succumb, due to disparity of strength. He overcomes what looms over his path, distracting him from “his Destiny”. Destiny that the classical heroes are bound to “fulfil”, as something ALWAYS dictated from above. “My” David is different again: for millennia, Western man has been influenced by the idea of a counter-titanic effort, capable of eliminating the distance between his own limits and the “task” that awaits him, of expanding his margins of action, supported by supernatural forces, which are supposed to animate “the Good” in him. Contemporary man, however, must learn to deal with his “shadow areas”, his “cuts in the side”, his fragility, his being HUMAN: Michelangelo’s David is already a very humanized “Renaissance David”, but always capable of doing extraordinary things. By David (who represents contemporary man), however, is called to a different – even titanic – task once again: not that of defeating monsters, giants, or mythological figures, in order to fulfil hetero-directed destinies, but finally of laying down his weapons and being able to embrace his “inner shadow” and learning from the Oriental World to BUILD “the ONE” inside of himself. Starting from the academic fragmentation that he had imposed on himself between GOOD and EVIL, now he has to find his unique true identity, just in his distortions compared to an ideal of unattainable perfection. These themes are recurring in my latest production. In this painting in particular, I have “perforated” the chest of the sculpture showing ribs and letting emerge his inner world of colors and fragments and chaos. All the richness of its lights and damnations explodes together with its uniqueness and unity, which is the synthesis of divergent vectors and multitudes of instances that constitute his “true essence”. The style and meaning of this particular work (and more generally in my latest production) represent multifaceted contemporaneity and fuse different tastes and sensibilities. In this and in my latest works, colors tend to remain vital. Indeed, they intertwine in futuristic, almost psychedelic textures, to depict the collective trance of young people dancing to techno music, as if they wanted to disperse themselves, to liquefy in the larger and more shapeless body of the mass, made up of people surrounding them. Paradoxically, we all crave to “appear”, to gain “a place on the stage”, but intrinsically often we desire to dissolve and disappear: the undeclared underlying hope is not being forced to deal with ourselves and our ghosts. The more we push ourselves on the stage with our fictitious perfection the more the only thing we manage to represent is our poor masks: we cancel our real selves. Yet in this painting, but also in general in my latest pieces, I have been working over this sort of contradictions but always without any kind of sadness nor any indulgence in melancholy, observing interior lights and shadows of humanity. Man, especially in this case the masculine side, stereotypically associated with strength, can finally allow himself to break down against his fears and weaknesses; he can let the kaleidoscope emerge of its contradictions and again or, perhaps more importantly, he can allow an even truer and more authentic beauty to come out, for the sake of Authenticity. This is why my latest works cover the theme of fictitious supposed beauty as opposed to “real beauty”, hidden in authenticity instead of a sort of perfection of plastic.

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Image courtesy of Simona Elia

LC – How is your creative process?
SE – Chaos vs order, unconscious vs rationality, realistic naturalness vs digital artifice. They strangely combine in my mind and give birth to my works. The often exasperated, saturated color clashes (in a sort of stylistic juxtaposition) with a hyper-realistic approach in which the reproduction of details (especially of faces) is sought in an almost obsessive, photographic-like manner, almost as if wanting to capture with every “digital brushstroke” a small piece of the authenticity of the portrayed subject. Then the artificiality of digital cuttings and distortions interrupt this harmonic flow. Space and colors and even faces getting, thus, fragmented, just like the identity of contemporary man in continuous evolution. My paintings often show or gently suggest a fragmented (distorted) reality where the perfection of realism breaks against the wall of subjective re-elaboration of reality through vibrations of the soul. Fragments of natural elements, flowers, leaves, strips, curtains, and geometric patterns are used as means for partially unveiling and partially distorting reality together with segments, breaking points, replication, or explosion of faces into pieces that have started to appear in my works. These patterns reconcile realism with symbols, fusing reality with elements useful for its interpretation. They discuss the contemporary dissociation between the inner parts of humans. Outside versus inside. Inside is a fragmentary contradictory world. Almost all of the elements (especially the portraits) that make up my works are painted (brushstroke by brushstroke) using the mouse as a “digital brush” or the pencil on software dedicated to digital painting on tablets. Sometimes, in a second moment, I fuse my digital paintings with pictures of papers or tabloid or images of golden leaves, playing with transparencies and creating original pattern and effects. Some paintings of mine are intrinsically and visibly multilayered, representing somehow the deposition of superstructures induced by society or the ability of the human eye to look “through”. The famous Italian critic Angelo Crespi wrote about me in this regard in the International Yearbook of Contemporary Art Artists 22, “Crespi Museum” section: “If Braque and Picasso were alive, they would treat with interest the digital technology that allows – as in the case of Simona Elia – to create new images” ….“ in a sort of kaleidoscopic collage; and even the surrealists would benefit from it since new technologies are able to reveal and then represent almost automatically the mechanisms of the unconscious, even the deepest ones, the quantum states. The strength of art is the ability to show what has not yet been demonstrated.” In my works, aggregating and disintegrating forces intertwine. In this regard, the well-known art critic in his book “Porto Franco. Le opere sdoganate da Vittorio Sgarbi” spoke about me like this: “The use of digital technology and graffiti accentuates the loss of identity that characterizes our daily life in large metropolises. The man breaks down his face, and wears those masks, albeit salvific, which allow him to inhabit the character, the role that he must play in the world. His face ends up being violated, offended, as if it were any wall in a degraded urban suburb.” -Vittorio Sgarbi. In my art, the fragmentary nature of the masks and the thousand faces of contemporary man, pushed by dissonant vectors everywhere and almost devoid of identity, is soothed only by the archetype of the One, which I derived from my readings about oriental philosophies. In my art, everything is recomposed into a global unity only thanks to a vision from above of the collection of my artworks. The versions of contemporary “Venuses” that I propose (the many faces of women that I paint and that symbolize the “feminine” that is in me) with the implied natural instinct of fertilization, the deep sense of love and the generative power that they bring with them, somehow heal the wounds. My “Venuses” are an expression of that type of “love” that archetypically is considered “attraction of parts” of the Universe, those that, otherwise would, never be able to find an amalgam. “Love” in my art is somehow the glue. Droplets often appear here and there in my paintings, recalling the archetype of water, an amniotic womb, a cradle, and means for homeostasis of living systems. Only Love with its authenticity and lyrical intensity can coagulate our society which continually deflects.

My art production wants somehow to wedge itself into this furrow, in a modern way, though inevitably induced by my native place. My works, indeed, make explicit reference to fertilization: in Paestum, there is a special devotion for Our Lady of the Pomegranate, in turn syncretically derived from the myth of the Greek Goddess Hera. Other symbols appearing are mother nature, the explosion of colors, with all the load of vitality, energy, emotional flow and the expressiveness of the unconscious that integrates and amalgamates everything in its own way. My art depicts many versions of the “feminine”, mirrored women’s faces, women’s faces pigeonholed in a golden prison, refined and rarefied features, ethereal women’s faces intertwined in plays of transparencies with tree branches, women’s faces framed by futuristic textures. There are also some abstract works, instead, such as “Flowery Night (Searching for Light/Life)” representing a hymn to water and its power to trigger the miracle of life. My art is a spotlight on contemporary humanity and in particular femininity and its thousand facets. I think that ultimately, a few things guide the artist’s hand: the scaffolding of all the symbols learned by the social group, some fragments of soul and the exact fingerprint of one’s madness.

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Image courtesy of Simona Elia

LC – What are the three hashtags essential to define your poetics that you could not give up?
SE – #experimentation #fusion #boldness

LC – How is it being an artist nowadays?
SE – Perhaps easier than in the past, due to a massive circulation of ideas. Nowadays it is not impossible to get in deep contact with several past and contemporary artistic movements, issues, and techniques even if you have not graduated in Arts. Certainly, an academic education can make a difference but, apart from live schools (that fortunately still exist though sometimes we tend to forget it), we are continuously overwhelmed by critical essays, art e-books, e-catalogues, digital encyclopedias, virtual museums, virtual guides, hyperaccurate step-by-step online tutorials, little daily stories and reels, tips and tricks here and there, academic lectures published on the web, continuous interchange of information and suggestion among artists on the social networks. All this constitutes very easy access to a huge bulk of images, critical documents, and interesting material, virtually granted at low cost to everyone. I am a self-taught artist but I keep on reading, studying art on the web and through books and more than all I keep on finding myself enchanted by other artists’ works. So I try to learn from everybody and I gratefully feel that I absorb a little bit from every inch of paintings my eyes get connected with. Perhaps counterintuitively the difficulty nowadays is bringing an originality touch to your own expressiveness. Almost everything has been said and commented on and analyzed and marked and evaluated and claimed. Sometimes I feel like I were looking for something really and extraordinarily new and then I discover that something similar once upon a time was already implemented in a slightly different way with respect to what I had imagined. I wish someday a really and totally original flame will come and inflate my art because I only feel really realized in an adventurous approach to novelty and experimentation. Being an artist nowadays is easy and dramatically difficult altogether. Being an artist, today means plunging into life and emerging outside from it renewed, bestowed with some sort of an existential upgrade. Art is all around and artists have the clue to unveil the mystery, the poetry, the beauty and the ugliness, the intensity hidden in the things around us. “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” -Leonardo da Vinci

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Image courtesy of Simona Elia

LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
SE – Using human creativity to generate “future landscapes without mental and physical boundaries, in which human beings are completely free”, sounds really fantastic! When I read this statement I said to myself “Wow! We really need to change our perspective in looking at reality, at the borders between nations and at the fixed lines that separate ethnic groups. Who is better suited than the artist to enhance and carry forward the idea of a change in perspectives in this stereotyped way of cataloguing things and people? This is why I chose to participate in a painting called “Duality”, which deals with this very theme: the change of perspectives. An artist first of all must be open-minded, capable of crossing borders or even showing others how those borders can be fictitious, arbitrary, and often damaging. An artist must think outside the box, hoping to help others to jump out of their mind jails.

LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
SE – The painting I have exhibited in Venice is called and conveys the idea of human “Duality”, not necessarily connected with something wrong, but also interpreted as the possibility life gives to us to change perspectives, reversing the point of view or even adding more than one. There are many parts of us and all have dignity and deserve to be looked at with respect even our dark sides. We have to accept ourselves as whole entities, a little bit as the facets of a die or the double face of a coin. Their value is not intrinsically predefined, it depends on the context. We should learn to judge less and feel more.

LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
SE – I am totally enthusiastic about my choice of collaborating with you. In the ITSLIQUID Group, I found a generally great professionalism and at the same time friendliness and care for the quality of the exhibition and in clarifying requests as well as giving advice. I would suggest joining your activities to anyone who is longing for an open-minded, intelligent, and globally oriented-approach to art and its fruition.

LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
SE – ITSLIQUID Group is a wonderful network where art lovers, art creators, and art experts match. Its internationality, the connection with magazines, and the accurate organization of art exhibitions (including visual art, installation, and performances) make it a very modern, intriguing, and attractive environment.

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Image courtesy of Simona Elia

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