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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

August 7, 2023 3:24 PM


‍In seemingly thickly textured depictions of close-up moments with a cinematic quality, Norberto Spina paintings immediately draw you in, bringing these different everyday moments in time to life. wtf? had the pleasure of visiting the artist in his studio at the RA to discuss his technique and the concepts of his most recent body of work. 

There is a very consistent and distinctive visual language in his work. While it’s very textured, consisting of many layers of cross-hatching of markers and oil paint the depicted imagery is very defined. It’s almost, at the same time, velvet-like and metal-like. 

He got to this technique starting with drawing. Like many artists, he began sketching as a child, finding it a direct and expressive way to express his ideas. Even today, drawing and serves as the foundation, but he has developed a unique technique that involves layers of crosshatched sketching with markers and layers of oil paint. 

This process allows him to recalibrate and reinterpret reality, using photographs taken on his phone from his everyday life as a basis for a composition. In a way, painting them with this technique is a way for him to relive these moments. His work feels cinematic, like a movie with intense emotions captured in close-up shots. This way of quickly sketching and refining each layer into a finished piece through redrawing gives his works a distinct texture and weight. ‘It’s about layering traces together.’

‘It’s about layering traces together.’

Originally starting by depicting the scenery he’s seen around the neighbourhood when he was still living in Milan, he shares that he’s trying to widen his perspective. Especially after moving to London, he started to become more aware of the different facets of his culture. This let him to explore the different and complex facets of Italian history and culture. 

So in a way, he layers different traces together in a technical way, but also in a historical way. Exploring deeper historical contexts of his country, he researches and questions the wide-ranging elements that make it up. In these works, he depicts parts of his personal life, old family photos from the 60s, for example, but contrasts them with other imagery. 

‘You can feel all of these contrasts when you’re walking down the street - they all co-exist together.’ 

For example, images taken on a recent trip to Naples. He explains how it’s an intensified version of certain quintessentially Italian elements, ‘It's like being in Italy on steroids.’ He describes it as beautiful and poetic but also intense and violent. ‘You can feel all of these contrasts when you’re walking down the street - they all co-exist together.’ 

Completely complicating the ways of looking into Italian cultural heritage, he looks at the history and ramifications of fascism. Norberto shared his cautious approach to this subject, emphasising the sensitivity and responsibility of discussing such a difficult and dark part of his country's past. ‘We successfully managed to rewrite our history and with this idea of italiani brava gente, meaning (Italians, good people), using books, movies, to erase  aspects of fascist history and rebuild the past.’ He’s still researching and considering the different ways how he might explore this topic, but he started to photograph some of the different fascist memorabilia he came across, such as sculptures of Mussolini in Naples. 

These contrasts are the crux of what he explores in his work: family pictures, everyday moments on the streets of Milan, tender moments between friends, but also the violent past of the country are all put together. ‘It's a metaphor for humanity in different ways you could find this everywhere. It’s reality, humans are not just one thing, we’re very complex, with good and bad things in contrast. I wanted to combine different moments of different pasts together, from my personal life, the life of my family, and the history of my country.’

In this way, Norberto grapples with the complexities of reality, commenting on the complexity of our history and its links to the present. 

You can follow Norberto on Instagram

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