Tiziano Martini

Tiziano Martini in dialogue with Steven Cox

SC: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and how/when you first became working full-time as an artist?

TM: I have a mixed background. I was born in the vastest plain of Germany, and I grew up in a small city there. I always had a lot of interests. As a child I was fascinated by a certain skater/writer/heavy metal sub culture.

My parents made ice cream at that time, but I was not so interested in that. And because they didn’t have time for me, I used to draw alone a lot of the time. Later I tried to study architecture, but I hated it. So I followed some of my friends (foolishly) and I studied art. None of them started an artist career!! The teachers asked me continuously about an idea. Maybe I have never had a precise idea. Rather an attitude regard to painting. I was more interested in the grammar of painting. When I was studying I had an obsession for a certain type of painting from the late nineteenth century, for a few years. Now I don't care about them.

I have a particular propensity to physical activities. I love physical work; this is also extended to my studio practice. 
In the past, for 3 years, I used to climb almost every day. During the last 6 years, in winter and spring, I did a lot of ski descents in the dolomites, some of them where particularly difficult; a few of them are extreme descents (I’m still doing them if I can). I love long runs alone through the mountains. Now I'm obsessed about painting and backcountry skiing. But I am not an athlete. The feeling is that I simply work better after some exercise or adventure. 
I became a full time painter when I was pretty young: A Milan based gallery discovered me when I finished art school…I was lucky. Then we split, and I decided to go around for some residency programs in Europe. I lived for 2 years in Milan, and then I went to Leipzig for a year. Later back to Italy. After a while I started to work again as a full time artist. In 2015-2016 I won a Studio program in Dusseldorf at the Lepsien Art Foundation.

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 within the studio?

TM: Every morning I go for a coffee at 7am in the same bar, I have been doing this for years. It is a very old and dreary bar, there is a table made from a tree trunk. It is out of date. The service is ultra slow. I always sit there, drink an espresso and read the newspaper. The bar is full of old people, installers, workers, hunters, carpenters etc. They probably think I do shit all day. The atmosphere is a mix between hyper reality and very serious talks in a vintage setting. I love it. 
My studio is a cold, damp basement garage in the middle of a mountain village (dolomites). It was a parking house for 4 cars. People seem to like it, because it's a bit surreal. When I get out of the studio, I can easily go for a mountain walk.
During the winter, even if I wanted to, it’s harder to keep a routine. So even though my days do not have a fixed schedule, the ideal work day might be like this: working from 8am to 12am, lunch, mountain run, or ski tour, and back to work until 7pm. During spring and summer I do the same things, but everything is a little easier; the work is influenced a bit by the seasons I guess: if it snows I do shoveling before working etc.
Sometimes I like to ski in the morning and just work during the afternoon. Sometimes I rest and I just paint or I have studio visits. It depends...I can't really work from 8 am to 8pm for example, I need breaks and I also can't really do night sessions. I never did them.

SC: What projects/works are currently in progress in your studio?

TM: At the moment I am working towards my first solo in Germany at Achenbach Hagemeier (Dusseldorf) which opens in October. My works are conceptually a kind of monotypes and visually a variation on abstract paintings. In fact they are not properly painted, it's tricky. The works are taking shape and they are predominantly white and smooth…also a bit dirty. Some of then are incredibly confused and colorful. Alternately I do really small canvases, they are funny and relaxing for me, and very intimate and precise as well.

SC: Can you please tell me about your studio set up? Would you say that your current studio is ideal, or are you seeking a new/better space?

TM: Everything in the studio is self-made, so it is perfect and ideal for my needs. Every day it becomes more and more perfect. I love to build wooden carts, desks, and drink big beers here. My studio is not huge, but it's well organized for my movements. Of course it could be bigger and higher. Lately I need much more space, and I would love to have a place just to store crates and old paintings. At the moment my studio is a working space, storage and office all at the same time.

Of course I am always looking for a bigger space, but it's not easy to find suitable spaces here, because there isn't an industrial area. There are only ski lifts. Maybe I will build one in the future. Let's see...

SC: I am interested to know how you plan your works. Do you begin with preparatory sketches of some form, or do you prefer to work in an improvised manner?

TM: I prefer to start without plans. I do warm ups, similar to a run. Maybe I build some stretchers. But I'm not planning my paintings really. They look much better if I don't give them attention. My paintings evolve from a sense of carelessness in a way. Some of them are mistakes and more precious. It's like when you hear a song but you are not really listen to it; that is the mood in the works I guess.
What I plan are just orders, deliveries, payments, framing, sizes, cleanings, phone calls...when I did realistic paintings (at art school) I did some sketches and grids. Now I’m just doing works without particular rituals or pretexts.

Then of course you have to keep doing paintings and things about them, and plan your workdays, because there are deadlines and shows. Perhaps people believe that everything an artist does must have an emotional charge; in fact everything is very vague, confused or lacks seriousness. You have to be very organized I think, because you have to do everything by yourself; there's plenty of stuff to do outside of the painting. You have to be prolific and the results must be strong.

SC: Your paintings have been evolving over the years; they have also been very vibrant recently. What are the main reasons for you wishing to explore colour? Is the presence of more colour due to an increased confidence in the mastering of your painting techniques? Perhaps you can discuss the evolution of your paintings?

TM: A sense of color is something that has been refined over the years of working. In this sense, I guess each painting has developed its own sense of color.

The last paintings are much more saturated than I expected. At first, this thing left me a bit puzzled, so I left them in the studio for 10 days but after that I attached some fluorescent pink gradient artist frames on them. They are both conceptual and visual.

It should be said that in Italy we have a great painting tradition that we are constantly confronted with, and we can either make a dialog with it or not. As well people seem to have a strong predisposition for clean and sophisticated design objects. And we are still heavily influenced by "poor" art tendencies (arte povera), much more than by painters from the Transavaguardia, for an example.

My paintings are often the visual and material result of what my studio currently offers. So they also undergo chromatic variations based on very tactile needs. A few years ago my paintings and sculptures were somewhat moldy, similar to dirty walls or industrial floors, as you could see so many everywhere.  Even Monochrome. But an association with something existing could always emerge. Now I do not want any of this reference.

SC: Focusing on the titles of your paintings, some are left Untitled whilst others seem to own personal references…I am interested in how you choose such titles: ‘Polenta Paintings’ 2016, ‘Aperol Nein Danke’ 2016, ‘T.B.T.’ 2016 or ‘Ardy Rizal ha smesso di fumare’ 2016. For you, what is the role of an artworks title? Do you think titles can alter a works interpretation?

TM: Sometimes my titles have personal references. But they do not belong to the painting really. They are more influenced by the mood of that moment. Canvases have a mood I guess. I don't want titles that give observers a different clue. Sometimes I like vague and ironical names with a personal touch (Aperol, nein Danke), even a bit stupid. In fact I do not like Aperol in my “spritz”, I prefer Campari because it's more bitter. I like the title because it is a statement of something totally unimportant.

Untitled” shows a will to escape from giving a title, or even a sense to the painting. But also implies a sequence, a continuity of production. Some artists count the works, and give paintings numbers; I do not like that. When I read that Ardy Rizal had stopped smoking, I was thinking all day how can the media pay attention to such news...it was so absurd that it has become a beautiful title.

"Polenta paintings" is something more inherent to the works, it describes a series of paintings. It’s a tribute to my ways of working. Initially it had to be the title of my solo show, but in Italian it sounds a bit quaint...

SC: I am interested in the notion of preciousness and at what stage a painting becomes discarded in the studio. Do you have a tendency to destroy failed paintings?

TM: Currently I do not destroy any painting. In the past I destroyed some, or even I recycled them. Now I prefer to keep a few significant works from each series. This also includes a lot of so-called rubbish paintings. I don't want to believe in preciousness. It does not fit well to me, as a worker bee. Nor am I precise, even if the result is extremely precise.

Usually I discard the works that I find immediately enjoyable or nice looking.  I prefer when they arrive more slowly to the observer. I have always been interested in mistakes, and unexpected accidents, because they represent very significant stages for me.

SC: Due to the end result of your mono-printing process being semi-unpredictable, are there any aspects within the painting process that you find challenging?

TM: That’s right, my process is indirect and very unforeseeable. That's why it becomes interesting. In my studio I like to be a trigger. I could prepare everything in the best way, like as if I was a tool, but I don't want to decide the outcome. In the end, I am like a catalytic agent.

The larger the paintings are, the more it becomes complicated and tiring. But I'm improving. There are very practical things related to the intrinsic characteristics of the materials that can create problems. For an example, wooden stretchers retain the moisture and in front of the painting you can see the crossbars...
In the beginning I just did a lot of small works in a very spontaneous way without a ritual like process. Then I tried to do the same thing on a huge scale, and I threw tons of acrylic paint, now a little less. You train yourself; it's like uphill running. You train the gesture.

SC: The title of your past solo exhibition at AplusB Gallery, ‘Firnt’ is interesting, for it has a double meaning that hints at your personal life. It is an interesting overlap; perhaps you can discuss the personal significance of this series of works and clarify this title? Also, have these new works been created at a particularly poignant moment in your life in relation to the ski season?

TM: It is my second solo exhibition at A+B Gallery. The title “Firnt” represents an action or rather a process. In particular it describes a moment in which a particular type of snow takes shape and becomes Firn. 
In terms of skiing, Firn, describes a type of snow grain which, after pressure and solar irradiation, get rounded and compacted.

Technically the word derives from an old German word "Firni" which means snow of the previous year. I'm not that interested in the physical process itself, but in the temporal space in which this occurs. So what I did in the show is trying to “draw” a kind of parallel between this romantic moment, which represents the best condition for backcountry skiing, and the highest moment in the studio.  Similar to the condition of an athlete when physically best. The moment when the best things happen in the studio is a difficult point to reach, which has a short duration. It is a very poetic and euphoric moment, it's like when you are skiing on Firn snowfields and yours skis cling to the steep surface. If the sun beats too little the snow remains too icy, if too much heat it becomes muddy. It's tricky.  In between it's Firn.

Moreover, the period of the exhibition coincides with the passage of fresh snow to Firn (May). Even the compression action over the single snow layers reminds me very much of my printing processes on my canvases, which is based on compressed layers, very similar to silk-screens.

At this stage my two obsessions (skiing and painting) are closer than ever to each other. It's strange to describe. It has nothing to do with traditional downhill skiing, you climb and ski with your skis in unreported and in not particularly inviting areas.  This has a relation to my studio practice in terms of intensity or self-reflection. But also of isolation and solitude. Basically from October through June I use my time to climb the mountains with skis and work in the studio. I don't do anything else.

SC: You have an upcoming solo exhibition at the new David Achenbach Projects space in Dusseldorf, Achenbach Hagemeier. Can you tell me about what to expect? What will be the title?

TM: The exhibition will open in October in the new space in Duesseldorf. I'm very exited about the show! It will be my first solo exhibition outside Italy, the space is charming and the owners are great. For me it is already an absolute success. As well a catalog will be printed for the occasion.

Maybe there will be some news too, who knows...but my goal is simply to do great paintings, and present them in the best way.

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?

TM: I like instagram and the way it works. I'm not obsessed by it. I also like facebook.

With instagram there are no more sensational discoveries because everything is already there. Sooner or later a picture comes out. The result is that an artist is already present in a way. This is a huge advantage.
Social platforms are tools with a certain potential. It is up to you to use them well or not. But they didn’t decree the state of an artist's career, in those terms they are misleading in my opinion.

SC: What do you feel are the pros and cons of Instagram, and do you consider Instagram important for artists working today?

TM: I see instagram as something complementary to the work of the artist. I have no problems with any person whom shares images of my works on instagram, or facebook or artstack...maybe I don’t like crops and handy pictures really. You can't really avoid that I think. In a way, it's nice that people are sharing images of your paintings.

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 influenced you in one way or another?

TM: The place where I live doesn’t affect the paintings directly, but maybe the attitude does. In strictly technical terms, I could do what I do as well in Naples or in Berlin after a period of setting-up (just more slowly and inefficiently). But here I can do it better.

In my village there are few citizens, there are no galleries, no artists (unfortunately), no distractions, only some rare events. So in fact you can just spend you're whole day in bars (there are so many) or work all day. There are practical and logistical reasons as well: all couriers know me and know my time schedules, it's nice. If I need some wood I go to the carpenter and I get it, and we drink a beer together. I don't have to order it or cross the city. If I need an artisan I jump in my car and in 10 minutes I did it. I have to order art supplies, stretchers and tons of color obviously, but I guess every professional artist need to order them.

The surroundings definitely have an influence on me, as a person, because you “grow in” in a certain lifestyle. You can't really go to openings every night for an example. Maybe if you stay constantly in contact with curators, gallerists, dealers, colleagues, you have to be strong enough to avoid any kind of inhibition. Especially now, the system itself can inhibit you or push you to an approval. I personally find it easier to work slightly outside the epicenters. I may seem isolated, but I’m not. There are two big airports very close to me.

SC: Do you have any dream projects in mind that you would like to do in the future?

TM: I would like to make much bigger paintings than now. And see them in a huge space. Now the limit of my studio is 230x200 centimeters more or less. I will hopefully build my own studio and house in the mountains sooner or later. I hope I can continue to live with what I'm doing, and move on.  When things will continue well, the goal is to make great works.

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

TM: Many thanks for you're interview!

Tiziano Martini 

Images courtesy of Tiziano Martini, A+B Gallery, Achenbach Hagemeier, Petro Gilberti and Dejna Saric,