Contemporary society clings to the notion that we’re either hard wired to be “right-brained” (creative) or “left-brained” (scientific) rather than both. That is likely fueled by neuropsychologist Roger Sperry’s decades-old research into the specific functions and behaviors that each of our cerebral hemispheres are responsible for. Quite a few innovative thinkers throughout the timeline of history, however, have championed the idea that art is essentially the yin to science’s yang. Take Renaissance era polymath Leonardo da Vinci, for example, who said, “Art is the queen of all sciences, communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” And of course Albert Einstein, who felt that “the greatest scientists are always artists”. Upon chatting with Italy-born, Mexico-based sculptor Francesca Dalla Benetta – who was formerly on the fast track to becoming a physicist – we’re inclined to believe that certain lucky people really are gifted with the best of both cerebral worlds.
Francesca Dalla Benetta’s early years were consistently filled with artistic enthusiasm as well as her family’s support of her creative endeavors. She recalls with great fondness how her art-loving, multi-lingual grandmother instilled within her a deep love of historical art and architecture. Endlessly “stimulated and inspired by the great artists’ masterpieces”, the young girl habitually spent most of her leisure moments drawing, sculpting figurines and creating mixed media crafts. However, when the time came for her to identify a clear career path, her family’s fear of her becoming yet another “starving artist” took center stage. It’s worth bearing in mind that in Italy, those who reach their fourteenth year of life are expected to enroll in a specialized preparatory school that lays the groundwork for their future profession. Quite a difficult decision, indeed.
Concerned for the financial livelihood of their daughter, Francesca Dalla Benetta’s parents forbade her from pursuing art as a career, suggesting that she instead enjoy it as a hobby. She was strongly encouraged to “study something serious…a real profession”, which they felt should be science-based. Consequently, she spent the following five years at a scientific prep school and then – at the age of nineteen – she enrolled at the Physics University of Milan, where she studied for the next two years. Quite unfortunately, her workload throughout those seven years was so demanding that she was never able to fit artmaking into her schedule. The self-propelled pursuer of excellence confesses that she somehow lost sight of the joy that the creative process gave her since she “was entirely focused on making my parents proud”.
I suddenly realized that I was so deeply unhappy and that life should mean so much more than pleasing others…and that was it.
Francesca had what might be considered a personal epiphany while visiting the medieval town of San Gimignano in the province of Siena, Tuscany during a vacation. While gazing at some of the paintings hanging in a small art gallery, she was reminded of the childhood delight that she experienced whenever she engaged in the creative process. That’s when it occurred to her that her academic path simply wasn’t fulfilling, nor was she being true to herself. “I suddenly realized that I was so deeply unhappy and that life should mean so much more than pleasing others…and that was it.”
On paper, the 21-year-old seemed to thrive in science, so quite unsurprisingly, her seemingly radical announcement that she was officially breaking up with physics did not meet with the approval of her parents. She ended up taking two different university entrance exams – one for art and the other for architecture, the latter to placate her mother and father. Although Francesca passed both tests, she ultimately decided in 1999 to begin studying photography and video art at Milan’s Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera. In the midst of her parents’ critical comments about her new course of study – which the sculptor feels were meant to “dissuade me in every possible way” – she found it very challenging to focus. Compelled to purge the negativity from her life, she ended up moved out of her parents’ home and finding a part-time job.
Upon graduating from university, Francesca was determined to work in the movie industry, however, she realized that attending a U.S. or Canada-based school would be cost-prohibitive. Consequently, she chose to volunteer at a special effects studio which afforded her a hands-on crash course in the business. Despite 12-hour workdays and a fair amount of stress, her technical skills soared, particularly since she trained with Academy Award-nominated Italian make-up artist Vittorio Sodano. Through trial, error, and repetition, she ultimately learned how to create a vast array of sculptural objects, prosthetics, etc. using myriad mixed mediums, all of which set the stage for her current fine art practice.
Among Francesca’s most notable special effects jobs, she was part of the creative team that spent two months manifesting the utterly true-to-death corpse featured in Brian De Palma’s 2006 production of Black Dahlia (watch the movie to see her handiwork!). Equally as impressive, she created body paintings and prosthetic appliances for Mel Gibson’s Mexico-based production of Apocalypto, a commitment that lasted a whole year. Upon being asked if her work in the film industry contributed to the edgy nature of her fine art practice, she agrees that it enabled her to experiment with most of the materials that she regularly uses to this day.
During that period of time, Francesca concurrently taught FX and sculpture classes, both of which helped her to earn a gainful living. Equally as important, she was able to further advance her skills without having to seek out additional formal training. “I explored so many techniques and materials,” she says, “that I eventually developed my own processes that made it easier for me to express ideas and forms.” For an entire decade, her career path was admittedly artistic, yet Francesca longed to artistically express herself in a way that – up until that point – simply wasn’t possible. She was consistently expected to “interpret the director’s ideas”, which consequently made her feel as though creative freedom was a truly elusive concept. She also reached the point where the high-pressure expectations placed on movie artists and the overall competitive nature of the business no longer suited her.
In the interest of being artistically authentic, Francesca Dalla Benetta finally decided in 2012 to make her dream of establishing a formal fine art practice come true. Mexico has served as the home base for her thriving sculpture business and the various creative workshops that she continues to teach. As much as “the freedom to create” has always taken precedence over the scenery outside her window, the economic advantages of being based in Mexico have far surpassed what she would have encountered while living in Europe. Additionally, since Italian and Spanish are linguistically similar, her conversational fluency also came relatively easy to her. She’s the first to admit that “moving to Mexico and then changing from movies to personal projects” were two life-altering decisions that “took lots of courage because they were a leap in the dark”, but quite happily, her gut instincts haven’t failed her yet.
Francesca’s “very nourished imagination” benefits from the various scenarios that she plucks from her waking moments and dreams. Additionally, her scientific underpinnings – sustained through her continued interest in human psychology, social science, and even sci-fi novels – further shapes her edgy and otherwise unexpected artistic concepts. The result? Exuberantly conceived three-dimensional narratives which can easily be considered part of the “new surrealistic or fantastic realism” genre. The artist of hybridized beings says that her characters “play the game of what if?”, pretending to be someone else. In the process, her charmingly relatable misfits “build a different story every single time”. The artist hopes that her work will trigger introspective contemplation and quite possibly even an open-minded shift in perception.
The true science behind the success of Francesca Dalla Benetta’s creative practice lies within the fact that her work ethic has never wavered. Her steadfast drive to be the very best at her craft has resulted in a lengthy list of notable career coups, including a privately commissioned array of twelve archetype sculptures for a library in Abu Dhabi. A sizable museum installation and exhibition revolving around the theme of emotional transparency will also be unveiled at the end of 2023. Furthermore, she dreams and conceives on a grand scale. Don’t be surprised if – in the near future – you see the “monumental public sculptures” that she hopes to manifest or one of the various international solo exhibitions that are presently taking form in her mind. If history has proven one thing, it’s that the most inspired innovators are those who use the wisdom and rationale of their logical left brain to implement their wildest right brain imaginings.