Roberto Calbucci examines the world through a macro and micro lens, investigating every nuance of the artist’s experience as well as the philosophical theorems that ordain the universe.
Installation Magazine: We were first introduced to your work through Hollis Brown Thornton. In our recent interview he cited you as a peer who has had an influence on his practice. How did you and Hollis meet? In what ways, if any, have you collaborated?
Roberto Calbucci: I first “met” Hollis through the web years ago, but we have never actually met in person. We have never collaborated on anything, but I appreciate his work and his dedication to his art. I think our work has some similarities in the subject of “landscape” and the research of the graphic sign.
Your biography cites you as having resided in Tokyo, Milan and the Italian countryside. These are three distinctly disparate environments running the gamut from a source of technological innovation, to a site of commerce in fashion, and rural and serene landscape. How has your experience living in these environments influenced your work?
I’m currently living in Montecarotto, Italy, a small country town in the Marche region. My wife and I are actually planning to move to Los Angeles. I lived in Milan for many years, then after I met my wife we lived in Tokyo, and from there we moved to Montecarotto. I consider living in a place like Montecarotto more chaotic than living in a city. Here, isolated in the middle of the country and the hills, my concentration and thoughts are more extended. More silence equals more chaos. The concept of my work takes a look at the “information theory” related to the theory around order and chaos. Since we’ve been living in the country, I have been focusing mostly on my paintings on canvas, and compared to the work I was making before, I think my work has become more minimal. Little by little, I’m eliminating the structures of the subjects. I realize that my environment has influenced my work. I think that living in the country and having an open landscape, where I can walk outside every morning and “breathe the space,” accentuates the minimalistic and metaphysical qualities of my work.
What informs your practice? As an artist and graphic designer what subjects pique your interest?
Growing up in Italy, I was surrounded by and studied Classical art (literature, poetry, painting, sculpture and architecture.) I was always interested in art and drawing, and I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. My father is an engineer and growing up, I was surrounded by his piles of books with graphic diagrams and mathematical formulas. I saw these materials as a vast landscape of possibility. That visual information had a big influence on me, trying to find a concept behind all of those “graphic signs.” My first years of high school were spent studying science, physics, mathematics, and Latin. Then I changed to a school that was based in art history and literature, where I studied art. This second school was based on the system of the Bauhaus school, where we had a lot of technical laboratories.
What artists or luminaries do you look to for inspiration?
I have always been fascinated by Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian art. My attention was captured by the Archaic sculptural types of Kouros and Kore, the relief sculptures depicting Fidia, the empirical perspective of Giotto without the visual pyramid and his spatial research, his conceptual spatial depth and his use of art as a means of communication. Artists such as Masaccio for the unity between time, place and action; Fra Angelico for his “mystic value of light” in the relationship between geometric form (structure) and light (concept) in the sublimation of the material-light in spacial substance; Paolo Uccello for his geometric structure and mastery of perspective, surreal with a metaphysical point of view, he touched abstraction in his work Battaglia di San Romano, 1438; Piero della Francesca as a conceptual artist in his real space of representation; Titian and Tintoretto for their energy and abstract imprint. I have always felt the need to understand art as personal expression. I discovered a new language through Antoni Tàpies who revealed the possibilities of representation. I admire Joseph Beuys for the conceptual structure of his art, Richard Long for the minimalist universality of the artistic gesture, and Richard Serra for the almost surreal relation of elements and space and the relation between lightness and heaviness. That is just a short list of the artists that I studied and gave me the input to be focused on art as an element to express the relationship between representation, space, time, and concept.
The works in Series 1 feel like they are recovered drawings drafted by an explorer or an astronomer. The studies display evidence of a painstaking attention to detail, and speak to the metaphysical influences of your environment.
All of these works are “splinters and sparks,” studies and notes to clarify and enter more deeply inside the sign. The inspiration is related to the necessity to jump inside and explore the magnificent world that exists between two lines, and inside one single sign or graphic gesture. Any of these works on paper are not a mirror of one particular period in my life, but instead are the representation of my research at the time. The work called The Condition Can Be Expressed in the Form, tries to investigate the different perspective points in relation to the multiplicity of visual horizons. I’m always interested in that which is around the lines, the dialogue between the lines, the space between the lines, how a line of a drawing divides the space of a surface, and the multiple possibilities of readings of the space.
Do you find that there is a correlation between science and art? If so what are the similarities or the differences?
I definitely find that there is a correlation between science and art. Using different instruments and systems, artists and scientists elaborate models and languages to interpret and describe reality, so that art and science can be interpreted as two complementary aspects of the cognitive world. As an artist, I can use the idea of science in art with the difference that I don’t have to follow the logic of science and the universal system.
Your use of materials is extensive ranging from ink pastel, gouache, radiography, spray glue, airbrush, and pencil. What material best communicates the message you hope to convey in your work?
Graphite is the main material I use in my studies on paper and I also use it a lot in my paintings, but every material has its own specific identity.
The works in Series 2 present a minimal style and leaves space on the visual plane for the viewer to consider the dichotomies between order, chaos and entropy.
The series is a fluid continuation of the inspection of order and chaos, the probability of the relation of the elements; using the drawing as an element of dialogue between the art and the artist. All of these works are born during my painting process, as words to build a dialogue with roots deep in the minimalist surface of my actual paintings. All of my drawings and most of my paintings function like like maps: they always move on the “street” of the relationships between perspective, multiple perspectives, analysis of the space, and scratches of the visual sign.
Do you feel that you have achieved your vision in the two series of works?
No, not always. This is why sometimes I work on more and more paper for each subject of dialogue. Sometimes I have some answers and I can move forward. I don’t realize this work to have one final representation of something definite, but to investigate all of the world living inside and outside of the representation. Sometimes as an expression of the metaphysic “movement” of the world; the entropic product of the collision of the elements and the signs.
What are you currently working on?
I have spent nearly the past three years working on a new series of paintings on canvas that is nearly complete. This series is very important for me because it serves as a “reset” and “restart” of my past work. They are paintings about painting. The imprint of this work is minimalist at first glance but little by little the surface opens itself into a world of signs and gestures; the elements of painting. At first, the paintings look mostly grey, almost monochromatic, but then when the eyes start the dialogue with the surface, all of the gradients and the vibration of the tones appear. I paint and eliminate the paint, to arrive at the imprint of the idea. At the end of the process, the canvases are covered with thousands of lines made with graphite pencil lead to cover and divide the surface into infinite possible horizons and infinite possibilities of drawing subjects; conceptual drawings. The dialogue on the surface is between primary signs of paint, the horizontal lines, and the shape of the paint that was there but has been removed. When the series of paintings is complete I am going to photograph them and create a website specifically for this series. This will be the first time I’ve ever photographed my paintings. Normally I don’t photograph my work because I don’t feel it can fully capture the detail, vibration or intensity of the surface. I am ready to have my work enter into the art market, giving them the legs to walk in a new place, whereas before my work was only seen by private collectors.
All images courtesy of the artist