It’s always striking or jarring when we see familiar objects, like human or animal bodies, broken or altered by outside forms. This moving quality is what drew me to the large scale sculpture work of Paolo Grassino. His large scale sculptural and installation works break, fragment, and alter recognizable forms in a way that makes us question our understanding of both figure and space. One of the most thrilling aspects of Grassino’s work, in my opinion, is his use of broken glass. He takes shattered glass and inserts it into the human form in a way that’s painful but impossible to look away from. It’s like the thrill of a roller coaster, we all equate broken glass with its sharp edge and it’s thrilling to see it inserted into a relatable form in such a way. This is taken one step further with the calm, stoic nature of the figures. While these works are exciting, they’re only one facet of the long and successful career of Paolo Grassino.
One of my favorite things about large scale sculpture, beyond the work itself, is the arrangement and the experience of seeing the sculpture(s) in a specific setting. Grassino is well thought all the way through as his work often goes beyond just sculpture and creates a deep experience for the viewer. The ability to walk up close and around his work, to fully experience all of it is something that brings it to another level. It’s almost as if he sculpts the object, and then sculpts the experience. It’s really fascinating and something that can’t truly be replicated in image, but the unfortunate circumstances of the time mean that we have to do our best! I was thrilled to get to talk to Grassino about his amazing work and his answers did not disappoint. There’s a whole lot to digest here and he gives us things to think about that might not have even come into our head when initially looking at his sculptures. Enjoy!
1. I always start off my interviews by asking about background, so what got you into art? Any Schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are?
I was born in Turin from a creative family. My father played the violin and painted, in fact he made me fall in love with art since i was a child. Attending the Artistic High School I was lucky to have as art’s professors Luigi Mainolfi, Gilberto Zorio, Marco Gastini e Sergio Ragalzi and during that period I started attending them as an assistant. At the “Accademia Albertina '' of Turin I met some mates with my same passion for art and together we shared the first studies. I don’t think I had chosen to be an artist , i think i never imagined that i could do anything else .
2. There seems to be an ongoing interaction between life (be it human or animal) and object, how do you construct these interactions conceptually? Is it some sort of commentary, do some items just excite you, or does it vary from piece to piece?
My works want to be narratives that investigate eternal topics, themes that belong to the human being since he exists. That’s a gesture, this is enclosed in a meeting, something between what is alive and what is mutable, the artifact that comes back and returns to those Who created it in order to tell a story, to become both something else. Dramaturgy changes based on the variant of the elements that meet each other.
3. How does your approach differ when working on a modular or mobile piece compared to a site specific installation? Do you prefer to work larger and create an experience between that specific work and space or do you prefer to have a piece that can be displayed in a variety of ways to create a series of experiences?
Many of my works, certainly the large format ones, are not closed and concluded. They change themselves over the years, multiply or modify; other parts are Made, added or removed. The work is finished when it finds a permanent location. I really like working on specific works for a site, for example, but I think this approach goes beyond sculpture in the creative process. The artist becomes more like a director, he has to rely on external skills and a small creative part is shared with other subjects. When you collaborate with other people, the work is not only more than the person who conceived it, every little thought, sigh or movement changes the original artistics gesture. I like this and I enjoy it but I believe that having total control of every gesture is The most satisfying and creative thing. In this case, we can find those absolute moments of concentration that belong to childhood, more specifically to the act of playing.
4. What first drew me towards your work was your use of the human form and the merging or disrupting that you create within those forms via outside materials. One of the interesting aspects of these works is what details of the human form are shown or omitted, so what goes into deciding how a figure is shown (i.e. clothed, partially clothed, or just implied)? Are these decisions related to what objects or forms the figures are interacting with?
Of course, everything is connected with what you want to emphasize in that moment. For example, I never create works with completely naked bodies, nudity belongs to an erroneous classicism and modified by the culture’s history. My figures are contemporary, they live in actuality, they live in our time, they are my clones. My figures are all made through casts on real bodies , it's me or my assistants or people close to me. If I realize a figure dressed only with a hoodie it’s because in that context I need that garment as a container . The hood becomes an upside-down vase which contains branches.
5. Speaking more specifically to your process, how much planning goes into your work? Are you rigorously laying out every element or do you just dive in sometimes? Further, since a lot of your work relies on casts are you casting and making molds for each piece or series? Or do you have a collection that you can refer back to and/or alter if need be?
I have been working for thirty years and I think that plunge into something or extemporize is now behind me. Experience is a baggage that you build up and draw on. It’s not a job. It is not handicraft. It draws on experience to be faster and free from technical problems already faced. I know that if I put that element close to that Form I will have a given result, I can see it and I don’t need to make big plans. Projects are necessary when you have to make others understand what you are thinking up and sometimes, unfortunately, they are not enough. I have a big storehouse on The outskirts of Turin, it is my warehouse of works and casts for meltings. I Carry out new casts and I don’t modify them for other sculptures: the mergers that I make are always unique pieces.
6. Are you always casting in the same material, or does material choice vary from piece to piece? Does that material rely on the message of the piece? And once a piece is cast, how much refinement are you going in and doing?
For years I used only aluminum for castings. Aluminum is the metal of Icarus, light and versatile, smooth and easy to melt, its appearance is lunar and cold, if sandblasted it becomes similar to concrete. It’s aluminum that lets me create many concrete works. The figures I make are always static in their positions, they become dynamic with the foreign elements that pass through them. They are rough and opaque and the light is absorbed. They are slightly chiseled, left in part as they come out of the casting process. Aluminum is a metal that is used by industry and this is what interests me. The figures are like elements of organic mechanics, copies of industrialized bodies. For some years I have also been using bronze but only if it is then coated with black.
7. The color palette across your body of work is extremely limited, is this a deliberate measure made by you? Is it driven more by a material fascination or what the lack of color adds to the narrative?
Yes, I have a limited color palette because I like to maintain the natural colors of the materials I use. I want that the material with which a work is made is visible. There isn't any scenography. Glass is glass. Cement is cement. There aren’t shortcuts. The material is a narration of our world. I use the black a lot, black is a mood, black is the unknown, the hole. The hole is the sculpture that makes you look beyond the surface. The black is the skin of the exploration.
8. You've used it in the past quite a bit, but a lot of the recent work you've been posting features broken glass. What is the meaning behind broken glass and what it interacts with? Does the color of the glass bear any significance? Also, is it a challenge to accumulate and collect good pieces of glass for these works?
I don’t look for pieces of glass. I look for bottles in the streets or I buy them. The shards of bottles are used by masons to insert them on the upper edges of the walls. This becomes a deterrent for those who want to climb over the wall that separates the property from the streets . I use the shards of bottles with this intent, I put them on some parts of the body or on figures made of cement. That works speak about geographical and physical boundaries, mens become like walls that for defend themselves from each other they injure themselves with the same tools they use to protect themselves. These works don’t want to refer to landings of people arriving from countries where there is war, because this is a current political problem, I’m more interested in the defensive attitude that starts from history and reaches the present day. This was always present in all populations and is still present today. In times of extreme difficulty brotherhood is replaced by interest policy. This is a limit of all men, a primitive incapacity.
9. Staying on the topic of your recent work, I noticed that this is much more driven by single body parts (notably the head). How is the approach to these works different than working with a full figure or a larger scale piece?
Yes it’s true, the latest works are only scraps of our body: heads or arms. The arm is what allows us to do, to produce, it is our tool to create, but also our weapon. The head, instead, is The essence of our being, the perfect container of our thinking, what allows us to know while we are looking for something else. I’ve always been taken by it. The head is an element that has always been used in all cultures. We can think of African masks, people with psychic problems or children: when they draw, they often reproduce The face, their face, in order to see themselves inside. The body, on The other hand, is a component that occupies an area, which relates to the landscape, the body is architecture, a unit of measurement for space.
10. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything that you'd like to share, fire away!
While I am writing, the world is experiencing a very hard health Emergency. Now our transfers are restricted, exactly as our activities. In April I should have left for China for two exhibitions in Beijing, in public and private museums but, unfortunately, everything is postponed to a date to be defined. Also in April, a personal exhibition should have been inaugurated in a gallery in Milan, but even there, as we know, everything is postponed to better periods. For the moment I’m at home, I write to my students, I work and I spend time with my children, waiting for the end of this emergency. If anyone wants to know more about my job, I have a website www.paolograssino.com, an Instagram profile @paolograssino and you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org . A few months ago, there were a lot of controversies about how social media and the network in general have moved people away from each other. In this period, we can be closer only in a virtual way.