2017 has been a full and prolific year for Simona Candini. So far, she had created numerous new pieces for her three solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions, collaborated with Martian Toys to produce her first designer toy, and worked with Cartilia Fine Paper to create a line of journals, calendars, and paper goods. On top of those, she will also participate in DesignerCon in Pasadena, CA in November 11-12, 2017.

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Simona about her life journey as an artist so far and her recent projects, including her upcoming show “Fight Like A Girl” at PIQ – Grand Central (NYC). She puts a lot of thoughts into her work. Through this interview, I learned about the concepts and personal stories behind her work, as well as the reasons behind her artistic decisions that give extra layers of depth and meaning to her work.

Fight Like A Girl

Opening Date:
Friday, September 29, 2017

Exhibition Date:
September 29 – October 12, 2017

PIQ – Grand Central

8 Grand Central Terminal
(Shuttle Passage)
New York, NY 10017
(212) 867-0969

Would you tell us the overall concept behind your upcoming show at PIQ?

I’m so excited for my upcoming solo exhibition “Fight Like A Girl” opening September 29th at PIQ in Grand Central Terminal, the pulsing heart of New York City! Working with the crew of PIQ is a pleasure and I can’t wait to unveil all the completed paintings that I’ve created for this special occasion. The preview will be online September 27th, only for the people who request to be on the list. Being on the preview list allows collectors to have first dibs on their favorite pieces, so I highly recommend to contact Sabina at sabina@thesarutgroup.com.

I love for people to find their own meanings and connections when relating to my art, but I will be happy to speak about the concepts I had in mind for the subject that I chose for this show. Super heroes are the Greek Gods of modern life, but behind their mask, they are not so different from regular people. They aren’t flawless, they make mistakes and learn from them, just like all of us, and they evolve through the difficulties. Despite their being superhuman, we can relate to them, we feel them close to us therefore we love them. They represent hope, and inspiration in fighting the adversities that life may throw upon us. In every corner of the world there can be hidden a super hero. Look at the single mother who everyday struggles to bring home food for her child, or maybe a friend who survived a severe illness, a father of four that is working multiple jobs to provide for his family. Bigger or smaller, eventually we’ll all face rough times and we must be in charge and be the heroes of our own life.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ― Nora Ephron.

But “Fight Like A Girl” is also a show about women. In depicting these powerful and determined heroines my intent is to celebrate women’s empowerment, independence, and confidence. I want to celebrate what was once considered a weakness throughout the ages and making it a point of power.

“We need to live in a culture that values and respects and looks up to and idolizes women as much as men”. Emma Watson

Interview With Simona Candini

Let’s go over some of the pieces you created for the show. Why these specific characters? What do you like the most about them?

I’m very affectionate to the character of Wonder Woman. I remember watching the show on TV with my grandmother as a child when I was not going to school because I was at home with the cold. I think I’ve spent ¾ of my elementary school years at home with the cold … Anyhow, at the end of an episode sometimes she liked to teach me some morals regarding what I just saw on TV, and then, most of the time it would turn into a story from her youth.

My grandmother was a young lady during World War II and gave birth to my father near the explosions. She was such an inspiration for me, a strong, caring woman, and I will always carry the dear memory of her and her teachings in my heart. The character of Wonder Woman is extraordinary for its cultural meaning, but also because we are in front of a multifaceted woman, a warrior who’s also very feminine, which can combine Mars and Venus in herself with harmony and be capable of great love. In the rose of the characters that I chose, there aren’t only heroines though, but also villainesses. I can’t see the world as black or white, I believe that we are all made of an infinity of color shades and inside of each of us there is a little bit of a heroine and a little bit of a villainess.

Villains, sometimes, aren’t just born evil, they are misunderstood souls. When I was a child, I was often cheering for the villain to win when watching cartoons or movies! I was actually thinking that it was so unfair that they were always defeated and imagining a different ending in my mind. Sometimes villains become what they are because they just seek love and approval, but they don’t know the right way… Among my favorite there is Harley Quinn and I love the transformation she went through the years.

Let’s talk about those painted frames. When did you start painting your own frames? And what prompted you to do it?

I think that I’ve started painting and customizing my own frames around 2013. At that time I was living in Florida, I just moved to a new place and it was the third time I was relocating in two years. The walls at my place were completely bare and an artist cannot live like this! LOL.

I had a lovely ornate frame, which I bought years before at the most charming little antique shop during a trip to Paris. I had it with me from Italy as well as my other belongings with the intent to use it to decorate my studio. But it was kind of broken and needed to be restored, so I was always procrastinating and keeping it aside. One day a friend came over, saw the little frame in the corner of my studio, and fell in love with it. I decided then to finally restore and repaint the frame and give it to her for her birthday.

I was a little scared to attempt this because I had seen some tutorial on painting frames and if you want to do things properly, there are a lot of steps to follow. But you know, I’m all for stepping out of the comfort zone and try new things, experimenting and have fun. Long story short, my friend was amazed by how it turned out and seeing her happiness made me think that it would be nice to keep painting frames. So, since then, most of my paintings have frames that are kind of an extension of the artwork itself. Sometimes it’s the frame itself that inspires the subject that will go inside. The shapes, the colors of the frame match the artwork and become one with it. It’s a happy marriage.

I like to think of my frames like gowns with which I dress the paintings. Sometimes I also use lace, paper doilies, rhinestones, milagros and other objects that have more than a mere decorative purpose , but a meaning, a symbolism behind the beauty of the object. I love to paint frames in between artworks, I find it to be a stress reliever and when I finally frame my piece, it’s very satisfying seeing how the painting and the frame enhance each other and make the art more unique.

This year has been a very full year for you. Would you tell us about your solo exhibitions in Taipei and Oregon earlier this year?

I must say this year has been particularly blessed and full, and trying to stay on top of everything wasn’t a piece of cake, but I do love the challenge! People often don’t realize that painting is only one part of being an artist. There are so many aspects that you have to work on that are time consuming and energy draining, so time management and self discipline are very important.

For someone like me that has been notoriously infamous among friends for always being late, it’s not an easy task, but eventually I had to learn! Meeting deadlines, being a part of gallery shows in my opinion is an important part of an artist’s growth and very stimulating. This year I had the opportunity of showcasing my art in Taipei at Wrong Gallery again. This is the second time that I had a solo show with them and I’m always overwhelmed by the love that local people show for my art. Art is a universal language and it can unite people from every culture and communicate directly to the soul of people overcoming the different idioms. This thought always humbles me and makes me feel connected with others. Thinking that a little piece of my heart is making somebody else happy maybe on the other side of the world has a magical feeling, and this love is what keeps me going and fuels the fire that allows me to continue pursuing my vision.

The other solo show that I recently had was at Alexi Era Gallery and it was titled “Underwater”. I’m fond of antique architecture, so my idea was to represent some historical monuments that are particularly meaningful to me and attached to dear memories like the Trevi Fountain in Rome and the Saint Basil Cathedral in Moscow. I depicted them submerged in a dreamy underwater scenario, in a surreal landscape, populated by mermaids, “merkitties” and other oniric creatures. I’ve actually started working on this concept a couple of years ago in the “Cities Of My Soul” series.

I heard that you’re invited to be a part of the DesignerCon in Pasadena in November. Would you tell us about the event and what we can see on your booth?

DesignerCon is an annual art and design convention that brings together collectible toys and designer goods with urban, underground and pop art. It’s a huge and growing event that will feature over 400 vendors taking place on November 11 and 12 at the Pasadena Convention Center. I will be at booth 203, near the entrance. I’m so grateful and happy to have the chance to be there with my own booth.

I have to admit that I’m pretty nervous too because this is my first time, and I have to organize and prepare so many things! I know that I will have a blast, plus I will once again meet some friends that I haven’t seeing for a long time. I will bring some of my mini original artworks, limited edition prints, posters, postcards, journals, calendars, the new enamel pins that I’m creating, plus customized toys and many other goodies! It will be great to welcome visitors to my booth and meet everyone. That place is like candyland and I can’t wait to be there among all the other talented artists, and to contribute to the show.

And, you’ve been working with Martian Toys to create your very first designer toy as well! Are there any details you can reveal?

Creating collectible toys with my own designs is something that I’ve always wanted to do and finally this is happening and I still can’t believe it! Recently I’ve been so lucky to be asked by Martian Toys to create a design for their brand, and so I had the chance to work with this great team in bringing to life my Gigi character.

Gigi is a little double headed giraffe who loves ladybugs and butterflies. I worked with 3D sculptor Tavvon Reynolds aka @the3dhero who recreated my drawing in 3D and it was so fascinating to see Gigi taking shape little by little. I will be allowed to reveal more details later, but I can’t contain my excitement to finally have little Gigi in my hands soon and I already know how to customize and paint some of the pieces. There will be a little army of double-head weirdo giraffes and it will be crazy fun. But the surprises are not over, as I’ve just started working on a toy design for Clutter Gallery, and more will be revealed about this in the near future!

On top of everything, you are also collaborating with an editor to create a collection of calendars and notebooks that art produced by Cartilia Fine Paper in Italy. Would you tell us a bit more about it?

Back in 2008, when I was still dreaming of starting my art career, a dear friend of mine gave me a journal for my birthday, which had a beautiful drawing on the cover. She wrote on the inside a lovely note, then, handing it to me, she told me “See? Your illustrations would be perfect for something like this; you should believe in yourself more and submit your works to be published”. This particular journal, so detailed and fancy, was made by Cartilia, which is a very renowned big editor in Italy. I was too shy then and didn’t feel ready for that. But… I never forgot her words and I started to cultivate the dream of one day having my art published and fantasizing of my own line of products with Cartilia.

Ten years later eventually I found the courage to submit my work and, needless to say, my own line of journals, planners, 2018 calendars and other paper goodies is coming out and will soon be available for purchase at the best Italian bookshops. Moral of the story: believe in your dreams and take actions!

Speaking about publishers, I would like to give a shout-out also to another editor, Monsa Publications, based in Barcelona, Spain, who recently published a very nice book titled “Alice Inspiration” that features some of my Alice paintings along with a collection of works by other pop surreal artists that I admire very much. If you adore Alice like I do, you can’t miss this book. As far as projects that involve illustration, in the past couple of years, I had the pleasure to work on some cards for the 78 Tarot, which gathers artists from all over the world in creating a tarot card deck. Every year there is a new exciting theme and I can’t wait to start on my new card.

Very impressive! It must have been a very busy year for you. We’ve been following your work for several years now. We notice how your work has been evolving throughout these years. What is the most significant realization you’ve made, and how it propelled you to become the artist you are today?

My journey as an artist is a continuing evolution. Every day I feel the urge to create more, to experiment new paths, to learn new things, to research and to improve. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can be scary and frustrating, but I find it necessary for my growth. If you put your heart and soul, it will show through what you do and you have to do what makes you happy!

I like to be eclectic and use different media and supports, but oil is my favorite and I know that there is a whole universe that I want to explore about this wonderful and ancient medium. I do enjoy working with graphite in between oil paintings. It allows me to feel more free and spontaneous to explore subjects that may be revisited later with oils. The kind of technique that I’ve been using for oil painting is pretty slow and it involves the preparation of an under painting followed by multiple thin layers of colors. So these kinds of paintings take a lot of time. When I feel the urgent need to express myself or fix an emotion on paper right away, then I find quicker to draw with graphite or watercolors, acrylics, often mixing some traditional techniques together.

Italians are famous for espresso coffee, so I had to include it in some process. I use it often to stain my paper and give it an antique look. Painting is an endless learning process and I try to focus on improving technically and experimenting with different possibilities. Some people told me that my art has helped them get through rough patches in their lives, or that I’ve been an inspiration for them to pursue their own paths, artistic or not, and this is something that fills my heart with joy and I feel completely humbled by that.

Let’s talk about the constant presence of dualities and dichotomies in your work.

Part of being an eclectic spirit is that I cannot be satisfied by concentrating and investigating just one side of the human soul, so my subjects explore a wide variety of situations and characters. From light to darkness, and then again from darkness to light. It’s not just that I like creepy cute characters, the concept has deeper roots. My girls are like actresses that give voice to the human nature, expressing the perturbations of their souls, carrying outside their feelings that are at times obscure an indecipherable. Their internal wounds are sometimes represented by scars and stitches on their bodies. Their gaze can be filled with melancholy or irony. The dichotomy between life and death, good and bad, whole and broken is very strong in some of my series.

In “Bones and Poetry”, a series started back in 2013 and ongoing, my “Skully Girls” characters are half girls and half skeletons. They live in the “Undead Forest” along with a little crew of improbable critters, some rescued and some brought back to life by enchanted kisses of undead beauties. In my “Broken Dolls Don’t Cry” the protagonists are rag dolls, stitched back sometimes in a poor way, but still with the will to live and love. Then there are my “Automatons”, half robot girls, rusty here and there, and a little broken. In this society, where everything needs to be brand new and shiny, my little robot girls would probably be scrapped and forgotten, but in my world they live, and the tiny round mechanisms still spin and pulse life to their hearts. At the same time my color palette can change from a kaleidoscope of pastel rainbows to the mystery of dark and ominous skies. I don’t want to limit myself.

Some art enthusiasts have been wondering why some artists choose to create characters with childlike features. What is your main reason to portray your characters in that particular style?

Honestly, it wasn’t a studied choice. Since I was in school, I loved to draw manga cartoons and wide-eyed girls. Probably because I felt close to them and identified myself in their stories. Then… probably time is passing for me, but not form my girls! They represent my inner child and are an extension of me, as if they were my own children. Youth can embody infinite possibilities, expectations, and the idea that everything is still to be written. Children have big eyes, and eyes are the vehicle of the soul to communicate and steer emotions. I’m drawn into these eyes, they look at me as I paint them. It is when I add the last details to their eyes that I can feel my girls come to life and I can hear them breathing.

What are some other things that also influence or inspire your work?

Inspiration can be found in anything. Music is my good friend and I listen to a wide variety of genres while I paint, depending on where I want my fantasy to be carried. Movies, books, mainly audio books, that I can listen to while working. I’m fond of fairy tales in their original versions. People I meet, objects I find, vacations, random things happening, a beautiful frame, nature, visiting a museum, an art exhibition, visiting cities, a documentary, different cultures, speaking with a friend. Everything contributes to influence and inspire what I create. We need to walk with eyes wide open, and see things, hear sounds, keep high awareness and stop walking around as if under an anesthetic ignoring the world around us. Only then, can we truly see the beauty and be inspired.

What are the things you spend some extra time on when you create your paintings?

I definitely spend some extra time on the tiny details. It is one of the most satisfying parts of the painting process. I have to pay attention not to go overboard sometimes. Also I take time to find the perfect frame, I never choose one randomly. Even if it happens to be a simple frame, it has a reason to be like this. Usually I don’t create too many sketches of the same subject before starting a painting, but I do spend a good amount of time picturing it in my mind before hand. When I explore unfamiliar themes, I take my time researching information and useful props that can be helpful and ease the task.

Interview With Simona Candini

If a gallery or museum offers you an unlimited amount of time and budget to create something, what would you create?

This is the most difficult to answer! Okay … without thinking too much…. I would like to create a museum as big as a town, where you can live a 360 degrees experience and be catapulted into a world populated by odd creatures and weird critters. I would just move there!

Who wouldn’t?! It sounds like a wonderful place to live. It was great talking with you, Simona. Thanks for chatting with us.

Thank you very much. It’s been my pleasure and honor to work with you at this interview.

Interview With Simona Candini

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