We caught up with the brilliant Enzo Marra this week in his South London studio to learn more about his approach to painting, admiration for Frank Auerbach and fascination with the shape of Francis Bacon’s face, plus much more. Read on for a bit of insight into the practice of one our favourite artists…Enjoy!
The paintings of yours we current have at ink_d share quite an unusual subject matter in that they depict famous artists. How did this develop?
Originally I started doing some small tonal images of artists and from those I developed further into larger scale ones using original source material. After that I moved on to taking actual photos of artists in their studios and working from those and then finding other angles like people hanging the work and images from auctions. Then I moved it into a more unusual area like the death masks, which is a different way of considering the idea of the long-term effect the artist has and how they were recorded at the time. I’m finding different ways of exploring the art world, there are still plenty more things I want to do.
How did the deathbed pictures manifest?
I originally did the death mask ones and then found the source material of Egon Schiele and Frida Kahlo. Very rarely would you find deathbed images of artists, it is a very unusual thing. I found one of another artist who did deathbed pictures while alive; posing as if he was dead, it was very weird.
You build up layers of oil paint in your work, which gives it an almost sculptural feel. Do you solely use that as your media?
It’s mainly oil based but I’m also working with enamels. When the oils are drying it can take a number of months, so whilst that’s happen I can do the enamels which will dry in about one or two days. The effect of the enamels is more comparable to ink drawings, you get more of the paint abstracting in the way it wants to. It’s an interesting way of working; I’m trying to find different ways of working to express the same ideas.
How do you know when a picture is finished?
That’s a struggle. You’ve got to take it to that point where it says enough but everything has to fit in the with the rest of the piece. If you carry on working into it then it looks over worked. It’s like when people say they spend months on a painting I physically couldn’t because I would destroy things.I spend how much is required then leave it and let it do its thing. If you carry on working past that point then you’re not really adding to it your just slowly destroying it. I’m trying to do less application of the paint to have more effect.
Francis Bacon painted a number of violent self-portraits and he famous said that he ‘loathed’ his own his face. What is it about Bacon that interests you as a subject for your work?
I think as a character he’s very interesting. As an artist Bacon set himself apart from other people. He didn’t actually talk about art or artistic concerns, he was an artist in the way he wanted to be, not mimicking anybody else or trying to fit in with anyone’s expectations. He’s an example of the type of artist you don’t get now-a-days. When you think about the documentaries on him you see him in the pub getting pissed and acting in ways artists wouldn’t ever allow you to see them in. He’s more human. These failings that he had are more celebrated, whereas now you’ll get Tracey Emin drunk on television and everybody’s shocked.
He’s also got a very interesting face, its unusual with the proportions. If you capture it well you can get that personality in there. There aren’t that many artists who are as instantly recognisable. I liked the fact that even though he was a multi-millionaire and could have had a gigantic space he always painted in that little room.
Let’s have some background on yourself for the ink_d readers. Where did you grow up and were you creative as a child?
I grew up in Bournemouth, as a kid I was involved in doing cartoons and moving onto paintings. I went to Art College then onto a degree so it’s been a continuous thing. I think I’ve still got some examples of my GCSE and foundation stuff. At that age when you have to spend a certain amount of hours on an artwork you would ruin it. You realise that way of teaching art has nothing to do with how you actually do art. You’d do a drawing, then a watercolour, then a little paint but no one works that way. It isn’t scientific; it’s a different thing.
What did your training in art teach you and what do you wish it had taught?
From the foundation course I did it was very enjoyable having the life drawing practice. It’s a pity they don’t continue doing that. I think it’s a good practice to get in to even if it doesn’t relate to what you’re doing at the time. There are certain things you learn like how to make a canvas, things of that variety. They don’t really teach you painting skill in terms of what to do and what not to do.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been working on some drawing for a virtual gallery exhibition based in Italy and preparing for shows. I’ve got a group show in Italy opening soon, another solo in London and some group shows opening later this year. I’ve got to carry on producing the work as well as keeping in touch with people.
Do you care what people think about your work?
As an artist you’d like to know their reaction to the work but I don’t think that if they didn’t appreciate my work it would affect how I did it. If they like it or hate it that’s what you want, you don’t want the in between or for it to be decorative. You want a reaction whether it positive or negative. The best reaction is when people want to take them home and own them. It’s nice to see them leave the gallery and get their own life.
What would you say the biggest myth is surrounding artists?
Now-a-days it seems people are doing art because they want to be famous and inherently not many artists are famous. The tiniest proportion of artists will ever be known by people. There are artists who have been painting all of their lives in their eighties who are only just being talked about now.
What would you say the greatest threat is to art?
The only thing I’m not really happywith is the whole culture of the artist becoming a designer, having people who make the work for them and then attributing their name to the artwork. There are a certain number of artists who do that but I wouldn’t want that number growing too much. Actually producing the work yourself is part of being the artist; it’s not like being an architect or anything like that. As an artist while you’re doing it it can change and becomes something else, if you just tell someone “do this” there won’t be any deviations and that’s where the interesting things happen.
Which artists living or dead do you most admire?
In terms of living, from the old school I would go for Auerbach very much so. I love the way he only has one or two days off a year, that’s it. Every other day he’ll be in the studio working on these paintings indefinitely. He’s of these rare artists that if by chance I bumped into him I would have no idea what to say. There are so many artists in the world but with only a percentage would you have that ultimate respect. In terms of younger artists I’m quite into Christopher Wool because I like the way he uses decorative forms but in a darker way, especially his text work and enamels.
Finally linking to your deathbed paintings, if you were on lying on your deathbed and could see one work of art before the grim reaper swung his scythe what would you go for?
At the moment I would chose an early self-portrait by Rembrandt. It’s only about 12” squared, a tiny image with fine hair and pinprick eyes. When I was in Amsterdam they had this huge room of imposing images and the majority of people were going straight to this tiny little self-portrait because it had so much power to it.