Gabriela UrtiagaJune 1, 2018
On the occasion of our exhibition Mariano Ferrante: Monocromo opening September 21, 2021, below is a conversation with Mariano Ferrante by Gabriela Urtiaga (Chief Curator of the Latin American Art, California) published in the book Ferrante (2018).
Expandable painting: The wall as a limitless canvas
GU: Far from muralism as the use of the pictoric to capture and encompass ideological content, your work presents an existentialist and dynamic spirit. Is there an intent to dialogue with art history in your work? What signs do you give your audience?
MF: My work is quite far from traditional muralism, but every action implies ideological content and my work does, too. It is precisely this existentialist and dynamic spirit which you mention that becomes ideology. When you observe my work, there is an idea, there is precision in what is done, how it is done, in valuing and cultivating the trade, the use of colour, the palette, the use of shapes, recognising history, constancy. Trying to carry out an idea marks a kind of ideology that is captured in the action.
I think that there is always a dialogue with art history, whether we seek it or not. So, the idea is to choose the topics of that conversation and to be as precise as possible. My work has a kind of precision in concept and shape. I think that the spectator can directly and naturally connect, without the need for any type if signal.
Working outside: The ephemeral work, far from the traditional concept of artwork
GU: How would you define, from your perspective, the concept of “artwork”?
MF: Firstly, in my opinion, an artist is a person who, through an action or a set of particular actions, tries to analyse, reformulate or even, in some cases, can in fact modify the limits that reason stipulates. So, what we call “artworks” are metaphors, or the same representations of these attempts, these ideas that resist to being just that.
GU: Nowadays, what are your challenges in art?
MF: I like to practice and try to maintain this constancy in work. This creates conceptual and formal options, always opening new possibilities –even small ones– or simple excuses to paint tomorrow. This also has to do with resisting and with that which constitutes a work of art.
Personally, I don’t have any challenges related to a specific objective, my challenge is always the same: to maintain this constancy, this continuous dynamic, to keep on creating possibilities…
Geometric abstraction. Colour and line: The protagonists
GU: The prominence of colour and lines is evident in your work. How do you work with rhythm and tension in your compositions? Are you interested in balance?
MF: It’s true. Lines and colour are structural to my work. There is a lot of information contained in a line: intensity, direction, pressure, speed, material and colour; taking into account that the last two can radically change the previously mentioned features.
For example, Construcción dinámica N46-12 (Dynamic Construction N46-12), which was presented at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires (2012-2013), was necessarily done in situ and is directly related to the space it occupies; the drawing is a result of a programmed action. We constructed a line that is surrounded approximately 140 times, using a colour code made of seven colours. This code is repeated about 20 times, generating a reading pace. So, in this case, rhythm is provided by colour.
Tension emerges from the material, the use of oil pastel is due to its physical and spiritual features: it is a material that marks the stroke, but also highlights the features of the surface, because it leaves an amount of matter depending on the graininess of the wall. This creates a textured, moist and viscous skin. Since it has a lot of oil, this material is difficult to handle when constructing a straight line over ten metres long. This creates certain tension that is also recorded by the material. That is why I choose oil pastel to work and I think it is an interesting resource.
Now, clearly there is a balance between these situations. Lines are articulated through colour, pressure, speed and repetition, comprised by the purity and precision of shape. This balance makes the composition work.
GU: What role does movement play in your compositions?
MF: To me, movement is a conceptual issue, not just an optic or retinal game. Both at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and in Fundación PROA (2010), I occupied walls with natural light, and its continuous change causes a constant transformation of colour and rhythm. If colours are constantly modified by the change in light, the work also changes. This is essential.
Array of materials
GU: If you review all the materials that you’ve used, which one would you say is your favourite and why?
MF: I’ve always worked with many materials: watercolours, pencil, ink, chalk pastel, oil pastel, oil, acrylic… I mix and modify, making my own materials; always taking into account the needs of the experience.
For example, oil pastel, as I mentioned before, has a very characteristic behaviour: it captures light and records changes. This is why I always use it in works under natural light, so that the piece can change with the light of day.
My favourite? All of them… they’re very different. They each have their virtues, their spirit. What chalk does to a wall is incredible… what used to be a flaw in the wall chalk turns into a charm. It has that alchemical capacity. Oil caresses the canvas; acrylic is more robust and concrete. All materials have their particularities, their charm, and what interests me the most is to get the most out of them.
All this also requires particular skill and concentration. I like simple materials that give me freedom, pencil, for example… Working with pencil is –to me– an opportunity to explore the qualities of a minimal resource and take them to their maximum possibilities.
I think that the key is to find the right material for each work, and the process has to be attractive. There are feelings in the production, challenges. And I like the material to even record and account for them. When I work, I have to feel that kind of symbiosis between the surface, the matter, the concept and I; all that makes the practice a special moment.
GU: What materials are you working with now?
MF: Now I’m working with acrylic in the construction of these paintings that I call Monocromos [Monochromes]. They are large paintings, constructed with six-millimetre lines that form a pattern. The palette is reduced: it is made up of just four colours. Although they are not constructed by only one colour, I call them monochromes because, from two metres away, you can only see one tone, which does not actually exist, we construct it in our own eyes. When we get closer and try to focus, we discover the four original colours. It is a study that takes as its point of departure the analysis of the pictorial approach of pointillism and explores its possibilities and alternatives, more than a century after its appearance in Europe at the end of the 19th century.
But I’m also working with pencil in a series of large drawings. I always come and go, I do many things at once, and they intertwine and enrich each other inadvertently.
The choice of surface: Two-dimensional / three-dimensional
GU: My understanding is that experimentation is fundamental to your work. It can be seen in the diversity of the surfaces on which you work. Do you have a greater affinity with the bi-dimensional or the three-dimensional surface? Is it an important factor when you begin a project?
MF: I’m interested in this almost research-like behaviour that I was telling you about. Once you decide on a practice, it is necessary to look for the right material and surface for that experience. The more precise this combination is, the better the idea will work.
It is not the same to work with pencil, oil, acrylic, ink, chalk… on canvas, paper or wall. The physical and spiritual features that each material provides change when they interact with each other; and the possibilities are many. The same material on different surfaces will be different, it will transmit different things; the colour is different, and the interpretation, too.
I’m very interested in this point. Experience is vital. So, it is important, for me, what happens when the work is being developed, everything I feel while I’m performing a task, even when I have to delegate certain actions. What happens to me, what material I can use when I delegate, when others paint for me. Do I want to benefit from that information, the different stroke, or not? I analyse these issues all the time.
Materials and surfaces, their relationship, are structures that help me construct the story. Pencil on wall is not like on paper; it is not the same. The same thing does not happen to me, so it does not say the same. Each material has its own features, it has a behaviour, and depending on how you use it and on what surface it will work one way or another, they are different operations.
Regarding two-dimensional or three-dimensional, I am very comfortable with both situations. And I like that freedom of movement.
I am a visual artist, but a painter by trade. I like painting and today it is the place I choose when I see the world. I understand painting as a window to another possible space in which I reflect on geometrical-mathematical propositions, on movement, on space and on time in contemporary painting.
However, I move in space, and I like to construct. My work has a lot of this. Many times, I feel, at different times during the production process, like a constructor, always keeping the balance between the technical and the conceptual, regardless of the dimension with which I work.
GU: What do you consider to be the limits and scope of both surfaces for your work?
MF: The limits and scope are proposed by the work itself. I always try to keep that kind of dialogue with the work during its development and, in that exchange, the possible limits and scope are evaluated.
Work and sites
GU: Your work is developed in many different sites, from museums to parks, beaches and subway stations. What is your priority when you begin your work and/or develop an idea? The composition or the selected site?
MF: I like to move through different sites. My work is in constant development, there is always a prior idea –or several–, issues that can’t be solved in the studio and I’m interested to see how they work in different contexts. So, the sites I’m offered are always an opportunity and can be adapted to some of these ideas. The prior idea comes with a shape and certain features, but a site also has them. What is interesting is to develop a relationship, expand the possibilities and make room for the site to work as a trigger for something new.
GU: How are they related? How is that encounter?
MF: The relationship can be given by formal aspects, colour or concept, they are the tools which I have beforehand, but the link can also be formed by the experience: a relationship must be built, then certain logic between the idea and the space has to be found. They must be working continuously.
Public site / private site
GU: What limits do you find in the clean walls of a museum or a gallery, and what advantages in the walls of a public site? And vice versa. From the works that you’ve done in public spaces, is there any one that has been a particular challenge to you?
MF: Sites have their own features, and whether they are a public or a private site is one of those features. Public spaces are usually turned into private spaces, and vice versa; what is different is the process, the mechanics, and this also modifies the work, or better said: this is taken into account when developing an idea. It is not the same to work in the street, in the subway, in the museum or in a gallery. All sites create different behaviours and attract different audiences.
The street has that kind of rock: you have to take advantage of daylight, the weather… If it rains you have to stop, then the sun comes out and you start again. Even the materials are different than those we use in the studio. When we painted Cosmorama 2015 at the Belgrano station of Buenos Aires subway line E, we could only work at night. It was seven nights and we built a great team and it was amazing, there was even a short film… It is an image with which I started to work in 2009 and I thought it was a good place to close that idea. The total area was almost 600 square metres and it was amazing.
The experience of showing my work in different contexts, in different cities and countries, is really a great opportunity: the experience with the public is different, you go around, you meet other artists, you are enriched, so it has an impact on your future work. I’m always thankful for that.
The work and the public in different contexts
GU: Keeping in mind that every project is unique: What is your target audience? Besides inaugurations in art spaces, are you in contact with the spectators that see your work in public sites? What do you observe? How do they relate to your work?
MF: The audience always somehow completes the work, but many times I work without thinking about it. For example, when I made those big drawings at the beach in Mar del Plata in 2004, in that space that the tide leaves when it comes in and goes out, that work was only based on experience, on doing. The drawings captured in photographs are the trace of a conversation with the sea, I never thought about the audience. And I think that was right, because if I had it would have changed the result.
But, in other cases, as when we did Partitura para exterior N27-16 [Score for Outside N27-16] at the Parque de los Laberintos of Tecnópolis –a labyrinth built in metal, 30 metres wide and 7 metres high– I thought from the start about the audience. Because it is a work for a specific use, a labyrinth as a game and child-oriented, but also for the general public. This reminded me of something that I liked to imagine as a child: being inside a painting. So, I worked with that idea of stepping inside one of my paintings, imagining the children walking around the labyrinth.
In general, I am in contact with the audience and I’m interested in seeing how they relate to the work. When I come up with an exhibition, I think of a varied and global audience. I want as many people to see it as possible and I want them to connect with the work naturally, without intermediaries. This way, future experiences and possibilities are multiplied.
Referents and aspirations
GU: In which aspects do you consider yourself an innovator of the abstract-geometrical movement and in which a follower of tradition?
MF: I am a follower, I’m trained as a follower. I’ve been painting since I was a young child, always watching and trying to do… That great attitude of copying to learn is surprising. At some point, and without realising it, you find yourself outside the copy, making your own way, reformulating and even contradicting the original.
I love to look at paintings, it is necessary to see what happens. That reaffirms and modifies your decisions. It is part of the process.
In what way am I an innovator… I have a very personal way of working and I’m very honest with myself and with my work. I think that originality has to do with one’s exercise. The technique and the concept go hand in hand when developing an idea and, as the idea grows and becomes more personal, the manner of working also develops and becomes more personal; so, you’re creating your own technique. The way in which I construct my images today is truly my own. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I haven’t seen the same construction system anywhere else.
I am an artist who is constructing images in a particular way, images that behave differently and have other timing, they take other risks. In this and in the way in which I approach work with colour, I consider myself an innovator or a different artist.
For example, in the series Construcciones dinámicas [Dynamic Constructions], done in oil pastel, a basic element, such as a line, a square or a triangle, is surrounded a certain number of times, so that –if the scale allowed it– in all cases it would form a circle. This transformation of shape by continuous repetition is very interesting and rich at the same time. I was fortunate to show it in Fundación PROA, at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (2011-2012) and at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. The concept and the technique are my own and were very original at that time.
The attempt to innovate is almost a natural question, there is some commitment and appreciation, even with history. It has nothing to do with ego, it is just need, a vital impulse to go a little beyond… If someone in history has reached a point, why not take it as a starting point and not as an accepted continuity in the form of legacy? I simply speak of suspending the “ought to be” of historical continuity as an act of will, of not accepting what has been done as a constant present, but as a possibility of compulsory continuity.
Buenos Aires, June 2018