At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to follow the path of becoming an artist?
The running dream-thread throughout my childhood was to be an artist, with intermittent enthusiasms for illustration, singing and architecture. I had a dream art teacher in my final two years of high school in Rome who took my fixation seriously and fuelled it. After spending two summers at the Summer Academy of Fine Art in Salzburg I was certain it was the path I would follow.
If you could spend a whole day with a famous artist, alive or deceased, who would it be? And why?
This answer will always depend on my mood. Right now I would say Francis Upritchard, whose current show at the Barbican in London really moved me. Her attention to detail, the tenderness of her figuration, and her effortless flexibility and research with materials leaves me in total awe.
We saw that you were born in Bonn, not far from Düsseldorf where we are based - do you still have a connection to this place? You now live and work in London - is the city, often very anonymous and fast-paced something that inspires you to create contrasting spaces?
I was 1 year old when I left Bonn, but 20 years later I decided to learn German so to study at the Düsseldorf Academy or move to Berlin; it felt like the German art scene was calling me. But circumstances tied me to London and the German pull loosened its grip. I’m finally growing comfortable in London, I was very lucky to be welcomed as artist in residence at Platform Studios, with a vibrant arts-based community that makes my working environment very human. As you rightly mentioned, my work is often a reaction to the habitual fast-paced approach to art. I’ve created several installations where my work can be walked on, sat on, slept on… where lingering, slowness, comfort and conversations are encouraged by the softness and domesticity of the materials I choose to work with. I guess I belong to the slow-art movement.
Your works invite to interact and use one's senses - do you think people, especially in the art world, long for a new approach of coming together in a space - less hierarchical and more communal? Do you think that is something that our millennial generation will push in future?
I think this shift has been happening for some time now, and it will keep moving forward in parallel to more conventional ways of approaching art, I quite like dancing between the two, but the sensorial aspects of my work are still perceived with some surprise. We seem to be driving towards extreme individualism and the extreme sharing of our personal lives, with a platform like Instagram where every experience is a ‘story’ to share, and your profile is a portfolio of your lifestyle. But there’s no real touch or space, all contact is virtual. The power of seeing art online is a superficial one, it’s devoid of the gut-wrenching spirituality of really standing in front of a masterpiece. The tangible aspect of my work and the way you relate to it with or through your body is important to me.
You have a background in painting but are now working with fabric that is knitted into works that can be understood as "aesthetic" paintings but also "functional" objects. Is this dynamic of importance to your practice? And how did your approach develop?
Years ago, painting frustrated me because its object-ness was taken for granted; the canvas more often than not is hiding, its support structures are made invisible. I wanted my structures to be visible, or not be there at all. I wanted my colour to be the canvas itself, rather than sit on top of it. I wanted the image to slide off, hang from, envelop, upholster, be cut into, be stitched back together, overlaid, be transparent or thick or soft or not. I wanted to drop the history-of-painting-baggage and jump between painting and fashion, interior or furniture design, sculpture, architecture and drawing. Being limited by what I could achieve by myself, without workshop facilities, machines or technicians, I found my own way of making tapestries. And this country is full of carpets!
Do you think you will ever return to "traditional" painting?
I have an undying love affair with traditional painting. I will always return to it, and will probably never stick to it. But who knows?
After your graduation in 2016 you've had a great number of shows, and even a solo show at the Zabludowicz collection. What would you recommend other recent graduates to increase the visibility of their works? How did you go about creating your network in the art world?
I was about 17 when I began setting up my own exhibitions on a regular basis. It was hard work and I never sold anything but I often worked with friends and we felt like we were getting stuff out there and making things happen. We couldn’t care less about sales, we just expressed ourselves and made new friends. I think all this was important for me, and it gave me something to work towards. You generate a conversation, you transform yourself, you create your community, and I attracted like-minded artists and curators. Most importantly, it was fun.
Do you think artists can actively influence their career, especially at the beginning, or does it mostly depend on the lucky coincidence of "taste-makers" seeing & liking your work?
It’s a combination of both. You can actively influence your career by making stuff and bringing people together to see your work, if in the process it hits a chord with someone who can help you advance, it’s even more satisfying and at that point you can progress quicker.
What's next for Bea Bonafini?
Next year I should be spreading onto different kinds of scales and surfaces, working on some permanent commissions in public and private spaces, and having a few solo shows here and there.