Artist spotlight

An Interview with Matteo Carazza  – ‘Old and young faces’

The first part of this interview was recorded on the streets of busy Groningen midday, with all the noises a bustling small city like Groningen has to offer. Traffic, people, the sound of footsteps, intermissions created by the precarious walking on the pavement (and sometimes accidentally on the road) have made us feel like we were in a movie, immediately adding to the feeling of excitement and exclusiveness, one would even say, the recordings are quite cinematic.

Interviewer: ‘Is there a specific reason why you painted mostly your grandparents?’

Matteo: ‘Yes. It’s twofold…threefold, actually. Firstly, because I needed muses and I didn’t have anybody else. I do prefer painting somebody that inspires me a little bit, and I guess, you know, my grandparents inspire me. Secondly, because I had good pictures of them, of course, I didn’t have live sittings, they were from photographs. So, since I had good pictures from them, it was also handy. And thirdly, since I was just starting out, I knew that it’d be easier to paint elderly faces because they have more pronounced features. So, it would be easier to get a likeness.’

Interviewer: ‘Ooohhh, really? How come that it is easier (for you) to paint elderly faces? I would’ve thought the opposite.’

Matteo: ‘Hahahah well, a young face, it doesn’t have as many lines, as many features, as many creases…’

 Interviewer (while rudely interrupting Matteo): ‘Really?? I thought that young faces, and because they are young, their skin is tighter around the edges, have more pronounced features.’

Matteo: ‘Well, no. I would say that’s flat, not pronounced.’

Interviewer (sheer goggle-eyed expression): ‘That’s flat?? So, young faces with tighter skin do not equal having more prominent features? Can you explain it to me just a bit more, I am still confused.’

Matteo: ‘Yeah, so even though the skin is tighter, there is no detail then. Everything is flat, you don’t have any creases, I mean it sounds awful to say it, but it’s true. Even professional artists say that it is easier to do older faces because they have more lines, more details to get a likeness. Otherwise, it’s really hard just to get it similar to the real face, it’s almost like giving the illusion of getting a likeness. Here, for example, it came out well.’ referring to the drawing ‘Pastel of Artist’s Grandfather’

Interviewer (silently waiting for the interviewed individual to collect his thoughts, while still herself not completely sold on the whole-young-faces-are-flat sentiment): ‘?’

Matteo: ‘Let me explain it: hmm, it’s harder to get a really good likeness from just a few primary elements: the eyes, the mouth, nose, etc. But, if you’ve got more, lines and wrinkles, more facial plains, then there is more for you to latch on to…to get a similarity.’

Interviewer: ‘Does that also align with that hmmm, mentality or sentiment that says that your life is seen on your face as you get older?’

Matteo: ‘I guess, yeah. Yes. And, I do find it that painting somebody that is older, has more gravitas, I guess. When you do a painting of an older person, they’ve got more weight, more presence, than maybe like a young person. I could be wrong, but when I painted a younger person, I didn’t like the end result.’

Interviewer: ‘Really? Would you maybe like to try again, to paint a younger person?’

Matteo: ‘Yes, I will. I do have an idea brewing for a painting of my little cousin.’ 

Interviewer: ‘Oooohh…glad to hear that. On the other note, was there a drawing/painting that was harder to make? Is there an easier one between the two paintings/drawings?’

Matteo: ‘For these two in question, the painting of my grandfather came easier, unexpectedly. Not because I was expecting it to be hard, but I didn’t expect I would be able to really be satisfied in transferring what I had in my mind’s eye onto the paper. I instead struggled a little more with the painting of my grandmother: while painting her was all right, I could not find the right background that would work well to complete the whole. In the end, I settled for another shade of gray (the photo is not really representative of the colors, unfortunately), but ultimately I wasn’t too convinced with it all.’

Interviewer: ‘how come that you decided to do a pastel drawing of your grandfather instead of your usual oil paints?’

Matteo: ‘That one was from a series of pastel drawings I made when I was still beginning early on. I had made a couple of oil paintings, and while the proportional likeness of the sitter was good I wasn’t satisfied with my color matching. So I decided to experiment with pastels because there the colors are already prepared for you, you don’t have to mix them yourself as you do with oil paints. I was able to focus entirely on matching flesh tones, and I do think it helped in my general understanding. It was prompted as an idea by my art teacher.’ 

Interviewer: ‘Very interesting, so would you say that you have a preference when it comes to the drawing/painting medium?’

Matteo: ‘I do prefer oil paints for several reasons, the first being that they dry much slower than other paints, so you don’t have to rush to finish, and can also correct any mistakes you make without too much trouble (as you can just wipe the paint off the canvas). More generally though I’m attracted to the rich colors that they offer, it’s like painting in Technicolour: they’re so vivid and rich and earthy. I also like that they leave visible brush strokes, which highlight the fact it is a painting, created by a painter. That of course is why one paints in the first place, and it also aligns with the credo of Impressionism, which as you know is the style that I’m attracted to and influenced by the most.’ 

Interviewer: ‘Are there certain settings you prefer your subjects to be portrayed in? 

Matteo: ‘On the whole, I tend to go for non-descript backgrounds. Since my focus and main interest are the subjects anyway I usually (try to) give a complementary background color to fit the overall palette scheme. 

At first, though I was especially fascinated with the chiaroscuro and tenebrism techniques, where there are strong contrasts of light and dark, usually to reach a theatrical effect. And you can see I experimented with this approach in the Painting of Ms. Landis; since she was my drama teacher in school it was a perfect – if perhaps a bit too obvious – choice. In it, only her face and hands are visible, set against a dark background, as though a spotlight were picking up a figure on a darkened theatre stage.’ 

Interviewer: ‘Wow, I hadn’t heard of the tenebrism technique before. Fascinating. You said once that you are inspired and intrigued by the personality of the individual, is that why you like painting portraits? 

Matteo: ‘It is indeed. Of course, I love a good landscape or still life, but I wouldn’t be able to engage with them as much as I can with a portrait. Perhaps it’s a similar approach as to acting, where you pick up on the qualities and characteristics of an individual to ultimately embody them. So when I find someone that fascinates or inspires me I am tempted to capture them as I see them in a painting.’ 

Interviewer: ‘Judging by some of your influences such as Anders Zorn and John Singer Sargent, would it be wrong to assume that you paint in the realistic and impressionistic style the most, it appeals to you?

Matteo: ‘Yes, that’s the route I usually (try to) take. I find their approach so appealing, in that they reach a naturalistic realism through painterly techniques: not by hiding the painting process, but by highlighting it, while still not obfuscating the overall aim of depicting an individual. Their most commonly praised feature is loose brush strokes, which from up close appear almost messy, but seen from a distance come together to form an ensemble that creates the illusion of fine detail. It’s perhaps this that I find most captivating, that their paintings engage the viewer to in part fill in the pieces as opposed to presenting a finalized and sleek work that ultimately exhausts what it has to offer before the viewer has had time to digest it all.’ 

Interviewer: ‘Do you think this is substantial for you to know the person really well when painting them? Did you ever consider painting a person you do not know, would the quality of the painting change?’

Matteo: ‘Well, so far I have only painted people that I’m quite close to, and although I’m sure that has its impact, I don’t think that it’s something I necessarily require. There are instances where I might see people on the street that I think have a fascinating air about them, and that would perhaps make for a good sitter for a painting. But that would require a kind of bravado that I don’t think I would be comfortable with! So for now I think it’ll just be people that I have at least an acquaintance with…’ 

Interviewer: ‘A kind of bravado you say, hahaha, well perhaps your ‘bravado’ can be seen in your already distinguished style and medium specificity, meaning you seem like you already know what you want and prefer. For example, profile or full-frontal? Why?’

Matteo: ‘Well, I do find profiles appealing at times, they can be especially fitting in some cases, either based on the subject’s facial features or the overall intent of the painting. But as I usually prefer more intimate compositions I find three-quarter angles work best. They also help in better creating a sense of depth, so that’s also a handy trick! I suppose frontal or profile compositions strike me as more contrived, whereas I prefer my paintings to have a candid air about them – like I said, more intimate. That of course does not mean I put any forethought into choosing my compositions, but I’m generally not as attracted to ‘posed’ figures.’ 

Interviewer: ‘And as the last question, how do you know when you’ve ‘captured’ someone? When you manage to translate their personality into the painting?’

I’m not really sure there’s a concrete answer! It’s mostly just instinct I suppose, and I can only tell when the painting is done if I have “captured” the sitter. If it does happen, it’s usually something about their expression, in their mouth, I find especially, or about the overall atmosphere of the painting, that is reflective of who they are as individuals and how I know them. 

Interviewer: ‘Well, with this interview I hope we managed to capture you to an extent, and therefore bring you closer to our readers and explain your approach to painting a bit more. Thank you very much for this interview and good luck with your further works.’

Matteo: ‘You are very welcome and thank you!’

***

Thank you for reading this interview. Thank you to Matteo for sharing your beautiful art with our community and for this very insightful interview.

If you are interested in sharing your art with us, send us an email [email protected]