24 September 2020

Interview with Francesco Zavattari

Hi Francesco. We read an interesting biography on your website, which summarised your activities (and what a lot they are!) ranging from painting, installations, educational projects (masterclasses and workshops), theatrical direction and photography. Tell us more about Francesco Zavattari: where you were born, where you did your training, something of your professional experience.

“Hello Antonella, and thanks for doing this interview. If I had to describe myself from the outside, I would say that Francesco Zavattari is a hungry person, someone who is insatiable and curious. I am hungry for everything that makes up beauty, knowledge, culture and spiritual aspiration. I feel insatiable since nothing I do, however important it may be, will ever be enough to prevent me wanting to do it again in the same way or better still the next day.

Finally, I have been curious since the day I was born. I want to know as much as possible, to do absolutely everything in my power that my mind can understand and process. This, however, is always aimed at sharing with others, my people and my public, to whom I feel duty bound to give back a part of this huge baggage of life that I determinedly try every day to enhance further. I was born in Lucca, where I attended the Liceo Artistico (Artistic High School), then the Faculty of Letters at Pisa University and thereafter the world through my Studio Matitanera.”

Let’s go back to 2003. Tell us about the “Conversazioni disegnate” (Conversations in Drawing), how did that come about? Could it be defined as your first success?

“At the time I was still a student at the Lucca Liceo Artistico and one day, during an autogestione (i.e. a form of protest where students self-manage their school and set up alternative courses in various disciplines), I happened to be in a drawing classroom with some fellow students. I had a 50×70 white board on the table and some charcoal. A boy named Ruggero was talking and I just started drawing what he was saying.

This was how Ruggero came into being, the first piece of my first official series and the first professional work of my career (which is still now a part of my private collection). “Conversazioni” without any doubt was my first success, not only because it was immediately exhibited in a professional gallery, but because it was the first example of a broad and organised concept, of which the works were only the final expression. This is precisely what still today characterises my work: what is shown as the final result of my creations is important, but more important still is the conceptual study basis which supports its structure. Conversazioni helped me understand the right way to work.”


In 2014, by now in the fullness of your artistic career, research was started on the use of colour in artistic and professional contexts through the study of hundreds of works of art from a variety of periods. What did this study and this personal and interesting research lead to?

“It brought my work to a level of control and, I believe, of technical and conceptual height that I could not have reached without mastering certain notions on colour. There are millions of artists and the only thing that may make me unique is all the (gigantic) commitment that turns all around my creations. Many people can create beautiful things, but very few know exactly how to do it. What makes all the difference is knowledge and I still have very much to learn and I need to do it in order to slake a thirst that comes back day by day, leaving me constantly “unfulfilled”.

This drives me continually to seek to fill a gap so that, a bit like Galeano’s concept of utopia, when I take one step towards the solution, it moves two steps further away, forcing me to do more and to do better. I have always loved colour, and have sought to understand it fully, but a change in pace took place in 2014 in Madrid, where, with the help of a special credit from the Spanish Ministry of Culture, I had the opportunity to analyse many of the works displayed in three main public museums, the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen Bornemisza. Born of this very complex study is the Invelight project (now an essential part of my work) and in particular a first colour palette named, not by chance, Masterpieces. Now Invelight provides chromatic consultancy services for large companies, but also underlies the basis of my communication format “Color State of Mind”, through which I have the good fortune to be able to recount all over the world and to many different people, the beauty of colour and its daily application in our lives.”

Which of your artistic successes are you most attached to and why?

“That’s a really difficult question to answer because, thank goodness, there have been so many. Everything I have done during my career was special in one way or another. There were goals to meet many years ago, which are now practically the norm, but which at that time acted as a huge stimulus to do more and better. Precisely as a function of how I described myself earlier, the greatest risk is in not giving the right weight and value to the huge number of reasons for satisfaction that have been accumulating every day over recent years. Over time I have sown so many seeds. A huge number. Often with considerable effort. Now, every day, one of those seeds bursts into life overwhelmingly and often unexpectedly.

The best way I have to add value to all this is to share it with other people: first of all with my people, my staff, my splendid co-workers, then with all those who follow my work on a daily basis including new people who join us every day. Some examples? On 10 June 2017, during the vernissage of Congetture Isomorfe (Isomorphic Conjectures), the first series of mine that Cromology Italia produced, one of my co-workers came to tell me that some of the works were being literally crushed because of the excessive number of people present in the Museo degli Strumenti per il Calcolo (the Computing Tools Museum) in Pisa. I answered that absolutely nothing should be done because no matter what happened, that marvellous moment would be impressed on the works forever. I could also tell you about when, during another opening at Fuelgueiras in Portugal, 200 people took part in a personal exhibition by Cláudia Almeida: thousands of kilometres from home and so many people attending. Amazing.”


When did you start doing theatrical direction and, above all, why have you decided to enrich your skills further with this new experience?

“Over the years I had had a number of partnerships with the theatre in relation to my work, but my first directing experience was in 2018 at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, where, with the excellent choreographer Annalisa Ciuti and her Studio Danza, we staged a transposition of Universo Instabile (Unstable Universe), one of my most successful series. The same thing happened the following year with “Poliedro. Danza. Ora” (Polyhedron. Dance. Now.) when I had the honour of receiving a contribution by my dear friend Sandro Lombardi, one of the greatest theatre actors in Italy, who did a voice recording of the guide text of the conceptual statement of the Poliedro installation, subsequently applied to the performance itself.

There were (and there are still) other projects of this kind in the pipeline, which have had to be put on hold because of Covid, but this will be an interesting development of my work over the coming years.”

The end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 were essential for your career, thanks to the launch of “Luce-19” (Light-19). What is this and how did your collaboration come about with the Centro di Eccellenza del Colore of Cromology Italia, the leading company in the paints sector? What is the Cromology Italian tour?

“Wow! That’s a million-dollar question. The link connecting everything together is the unique and innovative corporate vision adopted by Cromology Italia. Luce-19 marked the beginning of a process shared between myself and the Color Design Center managed, in particular, by Leonardo Pelagatti. It is an approach to research and development within the colour context that involved me as an artist and communicator and, at the same time, Cromology itself for its extremely technical and refined know-how. As for the Cromology Italian tour, I can tell you that we’re in the very middle of its fourth edition: it is a kaleidoscope of kilometres, regions, cities, shops and, especially, many many people.

Persone a colori (Colour People), in fact, is the name of the programme that Cromology has been offering over the last four years and includes some of its many retailers spread out all over the country as its protagonists. My work, in this case, is to express in an allegorical way what the company does every day; in other words, to reach every corner of Italy each with its colours. And that is exactly what I do too: I reach out to hundreds of people whom I photograph individually and in groups, together with those with whom they share every day of their professional lives. And that’s not all, because they share with me their own life stories, their families, their undertakings. All this enriches me as an individual and as a professional and above all denotes Cromology as a unique reality in its own sector, and beyond.”


What do you love about Viero Paints?

“Everything. If Baldini Vernici was my first great love in terms of product many years ago, Viero now represents my strongest and most refined ambition for the technical development of my pictorial work. From a technical point of view, the Viero range, with special reference to its decorative excellence, provides me with the possibility of investigating, breaking down and playing with the topic at an extremely high level. From the idea to its application on canvas/wall or any other surface through my fingers, time, in my work, is a determining factor: the products I use must be able to sustain the rhythm of my vision so that the result given to the public can be exactly the same as the one conceived of in my mind.

Viero does this and something more too: with the chemistry of its products, applied to my concept and my gestural art, a bond is born that is similar to a dance, where my movement corresponds to a reply by the product itself that it is able to exalt me and is itself essentially exalted. My interest is therefore reducing to the extent possible the gap between the creative process and the application process, in an inspiring fashion to be shared with many people who may wish to take the lead from my creations in enriching the walls of their homes. This can happen all over the world, from the United States to Europe, from the Middle East to China, where, for example, a large client company of Cromology, such as VeryLux, recently expressed its huge appreciation of my work, defining me in a publication as a European pioneer artist.

Viero is a brand intended mostly for other countries and I have the great chance to collaborate with an extraordinary export division managed by people whose ideas and skills are closer to those of people who manage great international museums rather than ordinary export offices: excellence and quality. We couldn’t work otherwise at certain levels.”


The Cromology company has been supporting your work since the times of “Congetture Isomorfe”. Is that right?

“Cromology, right from the outset, has been an exceptional relationship. I have been lucky during my career to work with many Italian and non-Italian companies, some of which very influential, but with Cromology there’s a unique link due mainly to two factors. Above all, my love for the products of their brands was born a long time before our collaboration became official, a long time before, in fact, the professional start to my career. Even as a child I used the products of Baldini Vernici, MaxMeyer and others. I did the same during my student years at Liceo, when I was “requested” to use products that were normally closer to artistic circles. Now those who “followed the rules” do completely different kinds of work, while my official works created with those products can be seen literally in every continent, just like walls, elements and additions of all kinds.

I would say that in the end, the choice of doing things on my own initiative has paid off. When, driving past the company on the motorway, I would see that huge signpost, white and orange (by the way, the same trichrome found in the logo of my own studio), it was for me an emotional moment, given that I normally associated it with leaving on wonderful trips with my parents. I still feel a similar emotion, even now, thinking that I have the privilege of creating works and projects with those historic trademarks that I take with me all over the world.

The second reason that makes our collaboration so special, however, is the more important one: the people. Cromology welcomed me as one of the family and now I have real and important friendships at all corporate levels, from the people in production to those who are out in the field every day to distribute the products, moving naturally through management, with whom I have an excellent collaborative rapport. I am simply an artisan of colour, whereas all of them, in my opinion, are the real thing, Masters. If only people could perceive what is inside each tin, they would come to understand a whole really fascinating world. So, this storytelling is something that through my work I hope to be able to contribute to disseminating ever more widely, because it is something that is worth knowing. With the CEO, Massimiliano Bianchi in particular, I share a “humanist” vision of doing business that is always aimed at placing people at the centre of the project. Beyond our shared love for colour, this is what really links our respective professional goals so strongly.”

Towards the end of 2019 the second Emozione Cromatica (Chromatic Emotion) of the year was launched in collaboration with Cromology, “Essenza-20” (Essence-20). Tell us about it.

“Since 2019, the company has decided to start the ambitious concept we talked about earlier and which I had the honour of creating. The idea in substance is not to limit ourselves to suggesting a simple colour, but a whole application concept, which can help the public make its own colour schemes, bringing them, above all, into their own homes. In this way, people are no longer just beneficiaries, but they actually take part in a process that is much more interesting and shared, starting from the retailer in the field. As in the case of all our other ideas, it started and continues to grow: Luce-19 marked the beginning of a route, Essenza-20 is its evolution (we moved on from a single tone to a trichrome palette). What we’re preparing for 2021, however, represents a genuinely practical and conceptual turning point. This 2020 has been a fragile year from various points of view, so we’ve worked to create something that can really help and guide people towards colour choices, which are extremely refined and aim at the dissemination of beauty and wellbeing, of which (in my own and indeed all our opinions) colour is a very powerful vehicle.”

The work of disseminating your activities is widespread and varied from the point of view of the channels involved. Facebook, Instagram and your own website. Talk to us about them.

“My team and I always give great attention to divulging what I, and all of us, are doing: my work gains value when it reaches the greatest number of people possible. In recent years it has done so first of all through more than four hundred publications, for which I must thank a huge number of national and international magazines, critics and journalists who, just as you are doing right now, have decided to give a voice to my work; in addition to them, great merit is due to Silvia Cosentino, who, in 2011, created and still directs my press office.

However, we are increasingly giving our attention to our website and social media channels: over the last few weeks a complete restyling has been taking place on my website, which will be developed in two languages; we have an excellent following on Facebook with fifty thousand true and reach fans from all over the world, which grows every day and, above all, participates in a very reactive way to the activities of the page. At the beginning we neglected Instagram, in which, however, in view of its great potential, especially when applied to someone like me, working in images and communications, we are now starting to invest in the right way, thanks also to Andrea De Pascalis, the new, young and talented social manager of Studio Matitanera. So, the outlook is that in a year’s time numbers will have grown hugely.”

Could you confirm the issue of a new series, photographic this time, called “My Art is Female – Still life”? Tell us what it is about.

“In fact, it will be a crucible of elements that I love and that are characteristic of my life: photography, travel, international relations, wool threads, the connections they represent, flowers and, above all, more than any other thing, women. After creating a pictorial series in 2015 and having drawn on the body of many women through the “Skin Edition” that is still in progress, My Art is Female, edited by Cláudia Almeida, has now become a photographic project created by women for women. With the exception of myself, all the others (about twenty people) are in fact women from a large number of countries: from Wales to the United States, from the United Kingdom to the Netherlands and then Portugal, Italy and others.

Each of them will write a text relating to what it means to be a woman, which will be combined with one of my shoots of flower compositions created ad hoc by the flower designer Sabrina Barsanti and photographed by me in venues elegantly set up in collaboration with my assistant Letizia Girolami. Once the series has been completed, it will be published both digitally and, like all my other work, displayed also in a number of contexts worldwide in order to do everything in my power to raise awareness about the disgusting scourge of violence against women. To make people talk about it. That is the no. 1 vaccine for trying to exterminate this virus.”

What are your future projects?

“If I listed them all, this interview would become a series for several instalments. I will summarise by telling you that everything already in existence will be allowed to grow, to be disseminated further and improved in all its forms. To all this, greater attention and increased investment will be allocated to the field of interior design. I am ever more frequently being given the possibility of designing public and private spaces where people can live and share part of their existence surrounded by what, in my opinion, is a concept of beauty and pleasure.

This kind of possibility represents a visionary potential that I increasingly wish to express. It will come about already starting from a series of numerous projects that are currently in the pipeline in various countries. Finally, I would say that one of my projects for the future would be to sleep on average five hours each night, but while investing daily in projects at the limits of utopia, this exceeds by far any ambition of application!”

“Thank you very much, Antonella, for your attention and for the preliminary research you carried out on my work in order to achieve this interview.”

 Thank you, Francesco, for your kindness and availability.

Antonella Mangiaracina