Tuesday 20 August 2019

What lies beneath: Quo Vadis? by Massimiliano Pironti

Quo Vadis? by Massimiliano Pironti

Oil on aluminium; courtesy of the artist; www.massamilinianopronti.com

Quo Vadis? by Massimiliano Pironti
Quo Vadis? by Massimiliano Pironti

Niall MacMonagle

Tomorrow, in London, the BP Portrait 2019 will be named - 2,538 entries, 84 countries, 45 selected, and four shortlisted including Massimiliano Pironti's brilliant portrait of his 94-year-old grandmother. Pironti, born 1981, into "a simple family in Colleferro, a not-so-beautiful town south of Rome" always drew and painted. His first real painting was a landscape with a lake, tempera on cardboard. He was five.

By 13, having copied Renaissance masters and having studied manuals, especially Vasari, he had mastered oils and he painted "dozens of Mona Lisas" for his class mates. Pironti is an actor, singer, dancer, painter but "painting is like breathing, I can't live without it". He's been in Peter Pan, Cats, Saturday Night Fever and four years ago moved to Stuttgart to play Terk in Disney's Tarzan. "With painting I can meditate, with singing, dancing, I throw out my emotions and scream." He paints on Monday, his rest day or mornings. Pironti loves to tell humble people's stories, "people with intriguing, stimulating features" and his main objective is "to give life and soul" to portraits. "It's essential that I talk to the subject, make them feel at ease". He makes sketches, takes photographs and "there's always a connection between my life and the life of the sitter. Behind every painting of mine there is a small self-portrait". This sitter is his grandmother Vincenza Pesoli, "who lives every day as if it were the last". He calls it Quo Vadis?/Where are you going? "because she often tells me 'Tomorrow, I'll be gone'". Widowed for 40 years, six children, 20 grand- and great grand-children, she lives alone in Gavignano. She worked as a miller, then in an explosives factory. Behind her, in her kitchen, a gleaming tiled wall polished by herself.

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The open window connects her to the outside world, says Pironti, but "could also be interpreted in a spiritual sense". Google and zoom in and the details and textures, hair, wrinkle, clothes, are astonishing. "The made-in-China hot water bottle can symbolise vanitas - the water that now warms her hands will cool just like life itself". And he loves aluminium, its smoothness, the light it gives off. "I wanted to recount a moment of tender daily life via my head through my heart to my hand." No matter what, that's a winner.

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