“I only fully understood the meaning of ‘home’ after I left”, says Italian artist Paolo Merloni
The Italian artist Paolo Merloni currently lives and works in Paris where he is represented by the Artame gallery. His paintings are bright, warm and evoke the sun-drenched landscapes and classicism of his native Italy. He is easy-going and happy to share his artistic journey from his roots in Bologna, a “bohemian” student life in Rome and now his emergence onto the art scene in Paris. Since arriving in the French capital in 2009, he has become fluent in French and has worked part-time as a tour guide at the country’s most-visited museum, the Louvre. Despite integrating into France, he still feels a yearning for Italy and says he only fully understood his country after he left. On 30 November 2017, he will be participating in EUFAMI’s ‘Home’ exhibition. Sign up HERE to attend.
For several years, Paolo shared a 5th floor studio in Rome’s Trionfale district and it is here that Paolo believes he began to find his voice as an artist. He describes Rome’s rich reds, yellows and pinks, the heat of the sun and warmth of the people. There was a sense a community, he says, both at home and in the Rome School of Fine Art where he studied and both his art, and social life, began to flourish.
A family history
He came to Rome from the northern Italian city of Bologna with his parents and siblings to reconnect with extended family and share a house with his grandparents. His father, he says, is an artist, as well as his brother and sister. The move also sparked Paolo’s interest in his family’s history and formed the basis for a 2005 ‘Famiglia’ exhibition at the GRANMA Association.
The history and culture of Rome permeate Paolo’s work but he says he is most inspired by the ‘Return to Order’ interwar period, which saw a revival of figurative art and classical influences. He mentions Italian artists Mario Sironi and Antonio Donghi as having a big impact on his work. Donghi is known for his scenes of contemporary life infused with a subtle sense of humour, which have clearly inspired Paolo’s work.
He describes how he would rifle through his photo albums at home and rediscover his family’s story. The paintings, he says, are an emotional response to the events that previous generations deemed fit to be remembered by posterity. As well as injecting life and colour into these snippets of family life, he also appears to see the funny side of these typical scenes of family rituals.
In 2008, at the Furio Camillo theatre, he exhibited his work ‘The Women of Paolo’. In his ‘The Circus’ painting, athletic nude women can be seen performing various acrobatics, including breathing fire, lying on a bed of nails, and swinging from a trapeze. In all his paintings, ‘Paolo’s women’ are strong, capable and domineering, such as the nude berating a cowed Paolo over his messy room. There’s a highly-charged eroticism to his work that evokes the Polish/French artist Balthus, but also a vulnerability and uneasy sense of being watched. An anonymous figure on a balcony peers into the room from a distance and strange menacing creatures seem to emerge from underneath tables and between floorboards.
In our interview, he laughs nervously as he talks about ‘Paolo’s Women’ but the boldness and passion of these female nudes are impressive and perhaps his strongest work.
A love of Italy
Despite his easy-going demeanour, Paolo has struggled with mental health issues since his early 20s. The latest episode hit shortly after his family decided to relocate to Paris in 2009. Paolo says he spent many hours alone and even stopped painting. As a means to integrate in the French capital, he started working as a tour guide in the Louvre’s Denon wing dedicated to Italian art. It was also an opportunity, he says, to discover Italy anew through the works of Italian masters, such as Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Titian, and Raphael.
Sharing his knowledge and love of Italian art, he says, gave him a new sense of purpose and helped him understand his own art more. Over the past couple of years, he has once again started drawing and painting from his studio on Paris’ Canal Saint Martin.
He likes the city and the culture, but the light in Paris, he says, is not like Rome. He reminisces on the “dolce-vita” and meeting with friends at the Formula1 pizzeria in the city’s student district San Lorenzo to share a Moretti beer— something, he says that is more complicated to recreate in Paris.
He recently completed a series of sketches of interiors, including his living quarters. Drawing, he says, has helped to channel his creativity and prepare for more ambitious projects.
At EUFAMI, we hope to help Paolo in that endeavour to gain recognition and feel at home as both an important Italian and European artist.