Giovanni Leonardo Bassan is a captivating new young artist with an upcoming show in Dubai this month. Amidst his hectic Parisian fashion world life (working for Rick Owens he cites Michele Lamy as his mentor), he sustains an intense passion for painting which until only recently, has been kept secret.
Bassan is fiercely devoted to his craft, because he has chosen to express what needs to be seen. Communicating the stories of the repressed and underrepresented, and elevating them to an almost celestial status, you can easily envisage his images becoming iconic. Working from a basement at night, you can picture him creating his pieces with mercurial energy, as they emerge with a unique freshness and power.
His upcoming debut exhibition Martyrdom sees him employ a classical approach to conveying his punk, antiauthoritarian message, with haunting and expressive results he depicts the male figure with grace.
Between frustration and hope, ugliness and beauty, his work draws from and transcends epoch and style. Equal parts intricate technique and unthought, honest output, his inspirations are apparent but he himself remains free and unrestrained.It is intriguing to see how well his classical approach conveys his punk, antiauthoritarian message.
Lola Young: Your work speaks out for our generation. What compelled you to do this?
Giovanni Leonardo Bassan: The lack of a manifesto that represents us today! My friends and I realized this through speaking about current events, and dreams.
LY: And why did you choose painting to express this?
GLB: I’ve always found figurative art the easiest way to express myself. My visceral approach allows me to communicate everything that attracts me, and to ask questions.
LY: Yeah there’s definitely a visceral energy and passion in your work. What are your conditions for painting? What’s your studio like?
GLB: I paint at night. My day job at Rick Owens takes up all my time, so night’s all that’s left! Michele Lamy, my mentor and second mother, offered me a basement cave (with no windows!) below one of her buildings. She’s been following my passion since we met. She thought I needed a private space to be alone and experiment, find a way to discover and express my true self.
LY: She’s a wonderful creative figure. It must be special to have support from someone like her.
GLB: She’s my art and life mentor! I appreciate enormously her company and feel blessed knowing I have her support. She said that she’s coming to Dubai for my next show, to protect me in case they put me in jail!
LY: Your work has a strong political message. Does it come from a place of anger?
GB: I wouldn’t say anger exactly. Obviously I’m extremely pissed at the worldwide situation, but I wanna believe that my messages have hope. I want to invite us to be like phoenixes, rising from the condemnation. I want realisation and liberation!
LY: Why do you choose a mix of violence and sexuality to show this?
GLB: I want to put the viewer in front of ambiguous images.. a door to the subconscious, carry them beyond surface appearances.
LY: I gather you’re mostly self taught. How did you develop your special fusion between figurative classicism and graphic abstraction?
GLB: My works are at the crossroads of the styles I most admire, Italian Renaissance painting, and contemporary abstraction.
LY: The work is incredibly relevant to present situations but references myth, legend, Renaissance and the Bible. What do you find so powerful in telling a contemporary tale through these ancient formats?
GLB: The starting point is the big Catholic influences in my education. I grew up with biblical stories of saints, martyrs, angels, demons. As a teenager I began to analyze the stories that were given to me as blind truth. So now I’ve decided to represent these saints under a more modern filter, through underground cultures. Knights with angelic faces and thick blond hair are now naked and alone fighting the dragons!
LY: What do you think it means to be a contemporary saint/ martyr?
GLB: A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and/or death for advocating a belief. They’re considered holy and are highly respected by their followers, symbols of exceptional leadership and heroism. If we celebrate and pray for ancient people who have had the courage to stand for their ideals, why should not we celebrate the guys who are dedicated to their causes today?
LY: The images feel like spontaneous, energised moments. Very filmic or news reel like. Do the faces or stories in your work come from these sources? Eg. The reportage of Gay Pride in Russia.
GLB: Yes, all the stories are real, although often filtered through my eyes. I think it’s important to document the facts and describe what is happening now, from the demonstrations in Moscow or Istanbul, to the unjustified abuses of power by police.
LY: Do you want your work to inspire more young people to act for what they believe in?
GLB: It’s a delicate issue. I don’t want to inspire a violent act but a more a collective awakening, an invitation to chase the ‘if’ and not cede to the simplicity of the obvious.
LY: Apparently painting was once a secret passion of yours. Are you happy that your work is now going to be seen by a wider audience at your first show in Dubai?
GLB: The idea of exposing my work excites and scares me at the same time. When you show a private part of yourself that you care a lot about, in front of an audience that you don’t know, ready to judge.. it could be quite frightening! On the other hand I feel blessed for the opportunity.
LY: Is the audience response important to you or do you believe fully in your work regardless of opinion? I feel like your work comes from a very honest place.
GLB: I believe fully in my work, but the opinion of people is what will complete the process.
Giovanni Leonardo Bassan: Martyrdom runs at The Mine gallery, Street 8a, Warehouse 38, Al Quoz 1, Dubai from 16th of Dec – 16th of Jan 2016.