Cosimo Casoni

Cosimo Casoni in dialogue with Steven Cox

Steven Cox: To begin, can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

Cosimo Casoni: I grew up in my father’s hometown of Florence and along the Tuscany coast in Grosseto where my mother is from and where I summered. As a kid I spent a lot of time climbing trees and feel lucky to have lived so close to nature. I have always been a dreamer with eyes wide open, feet on the ground and head in the air. This attitude is mostly positive but it can be difficult when reality interrupts! I drew from a young age and created what I called, "patterns", real paths, chaotic labyrinths that looked like naïve video game storyboards. But in that disorder there was always order!

As a teen I discovered street culture and was completely sucked in: I rapped in high school, was a graffiti artist and danced. But my true love was and still is skateboarding, a creative discipline that gives meaning to my days and through which I have built lasting friendships. After high school, I won a scholarship for the NABA (Nuova Academia di Belle Arti) and so moved to Milan where I entered the fantastic world of contemporary art. I experimented with many mediums but always returned to painting as my preferred means of expression.

SC: Can you tell me about your current studio and working routine? Do you have any morning rituals or habits that contribute towards a productive day in the studio?

CC: I just left a nice studio in Manchester (Depot Art Studio) after a short residency. I don't work out of a proper studio because of circumstances but also by choice. I define studios more broadly than a formal place of work. To me a studio is any place that stimulates my thoughts, be it a skate park or a road in the countryside. I have never worked in the same place for more than three consecutive months, but now I’m looking to find a more stable situation in Milan.

I have always split my time between Milan, a chaotic but stimulating city, and Tuscany where I find myself more relaxed and better able to concentrate on production. Tuscany’s natural beauty has always been a source of inspiration. This nomadic life keeps boredom in check and keeps me open to changes.

I always put things in order before I begin sessions and I always work with music picked to match my mood. When finished, I love allowing myself an outdoor skate and because cooking is a form of meditation for me there is no better way to end a day than by preparing a nice dinner.

SC: To what extent do you consider your city as being an influential factor in the shaping of your work? Do you feel that your surroundings have significantly influenced you?

CC: Yes, I am very influenced by where I live and what surrounds me. The scratch of a skaters' grind on a handrail inspires me as much as an olive tree in the countryside. Last year I worked on a series called “Jacopo is back in town”, a tribute to the Florentine painter Jacopo Pontormo whom I’ve loved since high school. I view this series as a strong dialogue with the Renaissance. I started by copying portions of his famous paintings such as the Deposition from the Cross and the Visitation both onto canvas and onto iron railings used in skateboarding. The idea was to connect classical art with my form of action painting. I did so by securing the canvas on a half-pipe and then skating over it leaving traces of dirt and bitumen. Similarly, I performed grinds over the scenes I had painted on railings leaving scratches that represent a connection between the two forms. For me, painting is a continuous exercise of reworking, interweaving and overlapping what I am living with, with what I have experienced; it is an art-life relationship.

SC: Can you tell me about your paintings that are currently in progress in your studio?

CC: I am keen on experimentation. Over the last three years I have focused on skateboard painting in combination with the rest of my repertoire such as the trompe l'oeil of painted stickers or landscapes inspired by Macchiaioli’s painters.

I believe that my work, both figurative and abstract, has compositional consistency despite the change in techniques and subjects over time. As an active skateboarder it is important that I use the skateboard as an ingredient in my work. That said, I don't want to limit myself in the future so I’ve taken a break from skateboard painting to increase my vocabulary.

I am now working on a series that I began about 5 years ago. It’s fascinating to revisit this work with more maturity and awareness. I have also chosen the theme of city playground structures that I create with oil and spray paint. I’m interested in the de-contextualization of these urban edifices for children into something impractical, surreal, like a sort of mental scaffold that provides no support. Achieving the right balance between spray and oil paint is not easy, both because they behave differently and because of their respective impact, but I love this process of discovery and I enjoy doing it which is the most important thing.

SC: How accessible do you feel your work is, considering your works largely focus on skateboarding and street culture? Do you feel that there is a need to educate your viewers about this culture and it’s overlap with art and painting?

CC: I reckon that my work is accessible anyway, it doesn’t matter the viewer’s background. The work should create emotions throughout the painting itself. My challenge is to balance those elements coming from the street culture, always keeping in my mind that I’m a painter; even more a painter that grew up looking at the tradition of painting.

SC: You seem to include graphic imagery and the landscape within your paintings, though the presence of the figure is only referred to through the trace of a physical action (the skateboard mark). I am curious if you have any interest or ambition to introduce the figure by literally painting figures in your compositions?

CC: In the past, I worked with figures extensively but struggled to create an original style (something that is almost impossible today). At the moment, I’m not interested in literal figures but I don’t exclude the possibility of working with them in the near future.

SC: Skateboarding can be dangerous, for there is a risk of falling and breaking some bones. Do you worry about breaking a wrist or arm? Do you consider this risk and how this would affect your time in the studio?

CC: Besides having less time to skate, it is true that today I am more afraid to get hurt or break something. So I have toned down the crazy stuff and focus more on technique. That said, I thrive on adrenaline both when I do skateboarding and painting; so if I break my right hand, I’ll paint with my left or even with my feet!

SC: I am aware that your partner Mona Nanchen creates parts of your paintings, can you tell me more about this collaboration, and how she assists in your studio?

CC: Mona has been my partner for a year now and has helped me in the studio since the very beginning. It's practically a second job for her! Our working relationship evolved naturally. Her background in painting restoration has been a great help in the resolution of some technical problems. Occasionally, she assists me with painting to speed up production when necessary. Increasingly, she provides me with public relations, e-mail, translation (like this interview) and other administrative support.

I feel lucky to share many passions and points of view with her and she will always have the freedom to decide when to work with me or not.

SC: I am also curious about the documentation of an artworks creation. Within my own studio, I regularly take images of paintings in progress so I can note specific points in the creation of a work. How regularly do you document the progress of your works? Is it important for you to take note of a works development?

CC: I too find it important to document work in progress. I like to peek at these photos and fantasize about the future of the work. These temporal glimpses into the progress can even inspire new directions.

SC: To what extent is success within the art world important to you? And, how would you define a successful art career? Do you have any specific goals or aims you are working towards?

CC: For me success is a finished work that I am satisfied with! Still, the success linked to the fame, recognition, and money is something that both excites and scares me. My dream is to be able to settle down in Tuscany, perhaps with a beautiful studio in the hills and see my work spread around the world.

SC: I am interested to know how you plan your works?

CC: I like to work both the abstract and the figurative, in distinct and/or intertwined ways, working in layers and using different methods to construct the work. My abstract skate work is liberating. I start from the first tracks and imagine the next ones, then I redo what doesn't work until I find harmony. Sometimes I choreograph from afar by having friends skate. It is similar when the canvas is on the studio’s floor even if the relationship is more intimate and meditated, less performance based and more pictorial. My figurative work is different. I create an archive of subjects having to do with my daily life or my memories. I also often make virtual collages, which help me compositionally, but that I often end up veering from. I prefer works where I combine both abstraction and figures as a way to alternate expressive freedom and control and I find interesting how can arise from an error something new and interesting.

SC: Do you consider your work autobiographical?

CC: I am influenced by what I live and it is obvious that there is an autobiographical component within the work.

SC: I am curious about the role that titles play in your work. Does the painting precede the title? Or do you think of titles in advance and aim for the painting to compliment or contrast the words in a playful way?

CC: The titles always materialize when the work is complete, sometimes months after. They are very connected to my emotional state. I take inspiration from songs that I love or even sentences uttered by friends.

SC: In relation to social media and more specifically Instagram, what are your thoughts on this as a platform to engage with new audiences? Do you have a love/hate relationship with Instagram or other online social media platforms?

CC: I think that Instagram can help as much as it can mess with your head. It’s a good tool if used intelligently. My relationship with social media is in a perpetual state of flux. I can spend a lot of time promoting my work and connecting with artists I respect. There are also times when I pull the plug completely to stay connected with reality and prevent me from losing my identity.

SC: To you, are there any specific artists that have been notably inspiring and influential?

CC: I believe the roots of my work are connected to Magritte, which in reality had never drove me mad, in that we both use fluctuating compositions, trompe-l'oeil, and cast doubt on reality through the representation of reality itself.

I am inspired by Macchiaioli painters like Raffaello Sernesi, Liewelyn Lloyd, Telemaco Signorini. Then there are the Florentine mannerists, such as Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino. I am also influenced by more recent work by German painters from the new Leipzig School such as Matthias Weischer and his incredible painted collages. As for abstract painting, I admire the work of Albert Oehlen, Cristopher Wool, David Ostrowsky and other young expressive painters now in vogue.

The contemporary italian painters who really opened my eyes are Alessandro Pessoli and Luca Bertolo. As these influences are varied, I must take care to synthesize this stimulus while maintaining my individual identity and style.

SC: Can you tell me about some of your views on painting today?

CC: A big mess. I believe we are in an era of remixing and even if painting has exhausted much of its possibilities, new nuances continue to emerge.

SC: Any final points or thoughts that you would like to share?

CC: I want to thank you Steven for this opportunity and I look forward to meeting you again soon.

Cosimo Casoni 

All images courtesy of Cosimo Casoni