Andrea Carpita sits down with Erik Sommer to talk about his recognizable palette, his use of digital sketches, the importance of staying connected, and Kurt Cobain.
(ES) Describe your work for us.
(AC) This is the most complex question. I do not have a clear answer to describe my work. I think I am looking for a way to paint everything. As an artist I need to know just a little bit of what I am looking for in a work because there is a large probability of being surprised by unexpected mistakes and solutions.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
I grew up not so far from where I live now, in a countryside area between Tuscany and Liguria. It has been really important for me.
I know it is trivial, but I would not be the same person if I had grown up in a different place.
Where do you live and work now?
I live and work in Carrara, but there is no particular reason.
How do you think this has influenced your work?
Not living in a big city means that I do not have the possibility to watch exhibitions or openings daily, so I feel the urgency to stay connected and discover as much as I can on the internet. Then, I move just when I really want to visit an exhibition.
I am not so far from Milan and this particular condition allows me to have no distractions, just when I want it.
Do you remember any artists as a child that captured your attention?
Yes, there was a particular episode. I was probably 4 or 5 years old and I was watching a TV program for children where they were showing and explaining a painting by Paul Klee (Senecio). That painting gave me a sort of familiar sensation and it was probably my first conscious approach to art.
Any artists today you are looking at?
So many, too many.
The figures you paint are often cropped with silhouetted faces. Why do you choose to show a snapshot rather than a full portrait?
For two reasons: Before working on my recent series I was working on minimal portraits, abstract paintings where I reduced a face to just a few lines on a monochrome canvas. So I just tried to create a sort of chronological continuity in my latest figurative series with these silhouette faces.
I consider my work as autobiographical. In the past two years I painted a lot of portraits about Kurt Cobain and Daniel Johnston and you cannot recognize them because I do not want to focus the attention so much on them but rather about why I am doing these portraits.
The colours you use are immediately recognizable. Tell us about your palette.
This question would not be possible if you were not a painter. Thank you.
My palette is the result of my painting obsession. I use a mixture of techniques, especially oil colours, pigments and solvents. I try to give softness, freshness and a matter solidity. You can easily understand that I really like to make my painter life complicated.
What about your working technique? Walk us through how you start and develop a piece.
Every painting starts from a series of digital sketches. I usually pass 2 or 3 days making drawings on drawings where I try to do a sort of painting simulation. This part of my work allows me to focus on different aspects, like colour, dialogue, balance, size of the work. After this project phase a real and traditional final step takes place: I paint on a canvas.
What is your normal studio practice like? Any routines or superstitions?
A coffee, some cigarettes, something to listen to in the background. Nothing unusual.
How do you remain challenged?
You are asking this in a particular moment. The world is currently shocked by Covid-19 and the art world is in a critical and unique situation.
We are expecting a lot of galleries to close and why not, probably a lot of artists will stop being artists. As one of them, I ask myself what will happen and what I should do every day, and I have an answer: Probably this is the right moment to do what you really want to do.
I simply cannot stop painting. This is what challenges me.
How has your curation experience influenced your work?
It does not influence my work, but it has influenced me. My curating experience gave me the possibility to have friendly relationships with artists I really appreciate, such as Peter Mohall, Marco Bongiorni, Matt Hansel, Ricardo Passaporte, Michael Bevilacqua, and Asger Dybvad Larsen.
Finally, what is your favourite colour?
Black, no doubts.