Updated: Nov 5, 2020
‘Artists can transport you to other worlds and make you appreciate your own backyard.'
Born in Canada, and now residing in Barcelona, Alessandro Tomassetti has been successful in several creative industries. Now concentrating on figurative paintings, he is known for intimate portraits of males which are carefully composed with complex layers of meaning which challenge social stereotypes.
Where is your current studio? What would be your dream studio?
My studio is part of my home in Barcelona. Initially, I intended for it to be temporary while I looked for a separate studio space but the flexibility of working at home has become an integral part of my practice. I love being able to start and stop and start again in between all the daily stuff that happens at home.
My dream studio would be a converted farmhouse on the Algarve coast of Portugal with loads of natural light, a bunch of animals running around and enough space to leave all my thoughts out on the table. Nothing too specific.
Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you?
I always have music on in the studio as it contributes to my flow state. The catch is, it has to be music that I know very well so that my mind isn’t distracted. My go-to is an 11 hour playlist I put together of all my favourite songs, mostly from the 80s and 90s, so that I can paint and move to music that is familiar and comforting and evocative of happy times.
Studio life can lead to isolation, how do you address this/ keep a balance?
As I mentioned, I work from home and that really helps keep me balanced simply because when I want to, I can exit the studio and be back to my other world. That said, the feeling of isolation has only increased for many of us since the Covid pandemic so social media has become a more important way for me to stay connected to the bigger picture and I very much value the relationships with collectors and other artists that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Describe a moment you had an epiphany concerning your creative life.
Recently something happened that’s had a profound effect on how I see my work. One of my favourite perks of being an artist is developing a relationship with my collectors; I’m always interested to know more about them and, as it turns out, they often want to know more about me. One such collector, Duncan, discovered my work by doing a reverse image search in Google when he saw one of my paintings on Tumblr without an artist credit. In his initial email to me he said that he was interested in anything I had with the particular model he saw and instantly bought two paintings. Months later, he went on to buy a third painting shortly after I posted it on Instagram. We kept in touch through email and DMs where I’d often share works in progress and he’d share photos of his collection, peppered with personal anecdotes and humor. In June of this year, I emailed him a photo of myself and one of his favourite models from my paintings. He didn’t reply. I checked Instagram and saw that his account was no longer available, so I wrote him a letter and mailed it off.
A few weeks back on my birthday, I received an email from a stranger, Duncan’s best friend. He wrote to tell me that our mutual friend had passed away in May after battling several illnesses. He told me how they would regularly attend art exhibits together and would always discuss work that Duncan was interested in collecting. He went on to say, “I’m sure you know this but I want to clearly state how much joy your artwork and your friendship and communications meant to Duncan. Knowing you and living with your creations brought joy and happiness into his life. His life was better because of you. I’m grateful to you for that.”
In a world of social injustice, revolutions and pandemics, it’s easy to imagine that what we do as artists is of little consequence, lessened still by the instant gratification of social media and the commodification of art and imagery. I certainly had begun to lose sight of the bigger picture my work could be a part of. Hearing how Duncan felt about my paintings and knowing that they may have brought him comfort in his final days, broke me out of a rut that had been long forming and reminded me that everything is connected, even when we can’t see the threads.
Do you have a personal mantra or quote which serves to motivate you?
I think often on that Picasso quote, “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” which I have boiled down to the less poetic command, “Do.” So often I’ve found the solution to a creative problem I’m having is just to do something. This can mean do studies or colour-mixing but sometimes it’s as simple as the painting needs more paint. It’s a reminder to not rest on my laurels, not give in to doubt, put the work in and then, let it speak for itself.
How has your style evolved and what contributed to the changes?
My work is much looser now than in my first paintings. I started painting later in life so I think I leaned into photo-realism as the hook that would validate my change of career (not to mention feed my perfectionism). Ultimately, it was unsatisfying; I found that I was overly attached to the tiny patch I was trying to recreate and not so much enjoying the gesture of painting. Over time, it became less and less important for me to paint every pore or lash and more interesting when I treated the canvas as an ever-evolving whole. Now I try to work the whole composition at once, to allow room for accidents and impulsive choices alongside the planned and structured process which is natural to me. My goal is to see how I can make something feel natural without being literal. Some of my favourite passages in my work include brushstrokes which are placed and left undisturbed, contributing to the final illusion but retaining their own character.
Nature versus nurture- do you believe you have inherited abilities from creative parents, do you have creative siblings? Can you identify environmental factors or influences which led to your choices or directions?
In my case, it was definitely both. My father painted as a hobby and his work hung in our home (to this day I’m transported back to moments of childhood when I smell a certain combination of linseed oil and turpentine.) He worked in office equipment so there was never a shortage of typing paper at home which led to me drawing very early on, something my parents encouraged. Throughout my youth, we’d visit family in Rome where my uncle would delight in showing us all the amazing masterpieces the city held. I got to experience Michelangelo, Bernini and Caravaggio long before I could understand how special these experiences were. These masterworks were presented to me as part of my Italian heritage and through them I became fascinated with the possibility of creation.
If you could time travel, what advice would you give the younger you, regarding pursuing your artmaking?
My advice would be "Get comfortable calling yourself an artist much sooner and don’t draw the 4th leg": When I was a kid I entered a Christmas art contest for which I made a drawing of the Flight Into Egypt. The donkey in my drawing was in perspective and only 3 of his legs were visible. When it came time for the awards, I was given 2nd place and one of the judges explained to me that it was due to my donkey missing a leg. I was mortified and when I got the drawing back, I added an awkward 4th leg in shame. When my dad saw this he told me that it was correct before and that the judges didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. If I could time travel, I’d go back and, like the angel in Caravaggio’s original St. Matthew and the Angel, I’d grab the pencil and stop myself from adding that 4th leg.