in the belly of the whale: luca pignatelli’s house-studio in milan. an interview with the master

In the belly of the whale: Luca Pignatelli’s house-studio in Milan. An interview with the Master

The last exhibitions at the Uffizi in 2015 and at the Capodimonte Museum in 2014 have defined Luca Pignatelli as one of the most important artist in Italian contemporary art.

The last exhibitions at the Uffizi in 2015 and at the Capodimonte Museum in 2014 have defined him as one of the most important artist in Italian contemporary art. Luca Pignatelli, born in 1962, begins to explore the arts at a young age: his father Ercole, a well-known painter and sculptor, influences the future decisions of his three sons, filled with culture and pragmatism, like Pignatelli's choice to study architecture, which will then lead him to dedicate solely to art. He has since become an artist with international recognition, highly quoted work, worldwide prizes and exhibitions in the major and most museums and galleries with monographs written on his works by the most important critics and curators.

Due to these high recognitions, the risk is big and it isn’t simple to talk about the atelier-house of Pignatelli without getting lost in the maze of his art. A very dense art, unreal, classic and modern, material, pictorial, figurative, but also abstract and conceptual, where light and shadows clash together or are in symphony with each other, exactly as it happens in the location of his atelier. It isn’t easy to move around esthetical and philosophical thoughts of this master with such broad passions. You could say he is a renaissance man in his capacity of being an artist and experimenter in different fields and disciplines, while concentrating on painting as his main form of expression. This is how Luca Pignatelli describes himself, and with reflections, memories, and thoughts he entraps you in the narration of the big and scenographic rooms of his location suspended in time and space. The atelier is a work place, a former factory located in a suburb area of the city which is still a historical artisanal and industrial site. He decided to respect the soul of the location and of the lab, revamping all the surfaces and the original functions of it, emphasising the zenithal lighting entrance and restoring the skylights which illuminate a wide central area of this atelier-house. It is a space with a huge impact in terms of scenographic intensity, which would have pleased Visconti, yet with a popular and productive origin. In other words it’s a two-faced area: a simple work space on one side, but also a whole universe made up of art pieces, antiques objects, modern pieces and most of all books and music. A universe composed uniquely by Pignatelli, who was an architect close to the inter-disciplinary cultural world of professor Daniele Vitale and also under the “court” of the honourable Giorgio Grassi, from whom he certainly gained his passion for the classic and a compositional rigor which is clear also with the few interventions in the former laboratory, now house/atelier. Here, the pillars become columns in the big central room with a shed ceiling, while on the studio-library wall stands a renaissance cornice taken from a palace in Puglia that contours the room. A light and suspended bridge connects the night time area on the upper floor, which overlooks the area underneath it poised between the lunch-kitchen and a part of the living. Next to this living room (the second one, smaller and functioning also as lunch area) another space opens up, a special and darker one, with dark brown coloured walls, very cosy and warm, which functions as the projection room with a big screen on the wall, another owner’s passion. Instead in the central space of the house there is a beautiful living room, which acts also as exhibition gallery or as warehouse. Pignatelli describes it «like the main hall of a Broletto», adding: «for this house/atelier I wasn’t interested in having a big open space, but rather a series of wide separated spaces, one after the other, full of light and each with different stories».

Each area and space here is something diverse. It is as if a constant flow of emotions and cultivated references of every period in time and language – from the archetype to the antique, to the contemporary – takes possession of the area’s succession. After all, the artist calls himself an “accumulator”, fascinated by the history that the objects and furniture might have had, and above all by the determined story given by the encounter between the object and him. Many of these items in fact tell the stories of an origin, a memory, a journey, a meeting point, just like the furniture and the beautiful doors from Piedmont and Marche – the blue ones – or the amazing and traditional ceramics from Puglia or Sicily. In the lunch area, but also in the hall and in the library, we find many big tables, antique and modern items, that the artist uses like a desk, a shelf, almost as if they were ready to be moved and to let the big paintings shine, as they are the true protagonists of such a special atelier.

Many are the elements that suggest the original mechanical workshop and the hardness of the painter’s works, also to avoid a risky post-Dandy virtuosity. These hard and metallic elements are represented in the window frames, the pillars in reinforced concrete, together with the pavement, the windows open to an anonymous courtyard from the 1930s, or above all the manhole as entry for the “private” atelier, which is underground such as the memory of his first art spaces: «A belly of a whale» like Pignatelli said. In here, his universe wraps itself with colours and areas for music, with the drums and the trumpet (his instruments) he plays for himself, in the intimacy of the artistic inspiration.

Introducing us in his house/atelier he says: «I’m fascinated by the western culture, the genius loci also reflected in my work as an artist, my references are attributed to Western Europe, but also to the Mediterranean, to the Greek myths, to the Roman world and North Africa. I always aspire to connect the south with the north».

In a certain way, it is what happens in these enveloping and aulic spaces:

«Here the light comes from above as in the Pompeian house, a space where lights and shadows are the main protagonists and each presence has its origin. The series of antique doors that from the big atrium lead to the central atelier space, which gives a strong character to the whole, come from a residence in Piedmont, while the tiles that cover one of the chimneys and part of the kitchen wall are from Puglia and Sicily, the wooden floor from Umbria; and furthermore, the “Scandinavian” furniture comes from Naples, while the chairs are made by the sophisticated 1900s painter and architect Gabriele Mucchi».

At a first glance, you feel entrapped in this production where the main protagonist seems to be the old tradition, but actually the feeling is that of a beautiful, surprising and extremely modern space:

«For me it evokes a recent archaeology in which each element becomes evocative also for another world. I wanted to show contemporaneity through historical times, for me time is also circular, liquid, a concept that in this space has been merged with the building’s industrial character, a work place with an inexhaustible energy».

There is a continuous feeling of everything ready to be reinvented, to be moved at any time, maybe due to the big frames just standing on the walls of which many are even turned backside, or maybe due to the infinite piles of books on the antique and modern furniture:

«As in art, I’m interested to the effect given by the interaction between technics and language, just like in here the works, furniture and other items flow together like in a carpenter’s warehouse. I always have Picasso’s atelier in rue Saint Augustin in my mind, and from that derives the separation of the rooms together with their continuity, although the climate is different, it is colder…And I love simple materials and packaging».

What are your references in art? Your cultural passions? In your works we can see myths, history and literature, elements that we can also find in these spaces, together with works from other artists…

«My cultural references are numerous: from the Villa of Misterys in Pompei to the mosaics of Piazza Armerina in Sicily which I see on the street asphalt and in my abstract works. I can also think of the works of Maso di Banco or Leonardo of the Adoration of the Magi, together with the whole Conceptual universe. Here on the walls you can find a couple of works done by Alighiero Boetti, also by Nicola De Maria, which is the protagonist of Transavanguardia, anonymous artists’ photos and also a self-portrait of my father Ercole. Just like music’s spirituality and its elusiveness, music is the soundtrack of life as light and space are. Also literature and cinema are fundamental in my universe – behind these light blue doors there is the projection room, but my interest isn’t just inclined to the spiritual intellectual, but also to the actual workshop’s job – and of course also architecture.

When I think of Tugendhat house I see a temple with its warping, as in my paintings».

This isn’t the only space you’ve designed…

«No, certainly all my homes have been my designs, just like the new atelier, other than this one, which is still a work in progress, but soon to be finished. I’ve had much pleasure and worked hard on the recent renovation of the M77 Gallery in a former industrial space in the suburbs of Southern Milan, where the Caproni workshops were once located. I’m interested to the creation of atmospheres».


Maria Vittoria Capitanucci

PH CREDIT: German L. Bourgeat