As the son of a Venetian glass blower, the artist creates powerful compositions of faceless figures. He speaks with Kathy Battista for Document's Spring/Summer 2013 issue.

Michele Bubacco is a young artist from Venice who draws inspiration from the ebb and flow of this legendary city. Bubacco works instinctually, making paintings that express the range of human pathos—from lust and desire to conflict and trauma. Kathy Battista interviewed the artist about his technique, subject matter and process. 

Kathy Battista: Art history is full of paintings of nude women. You often paint male nudes. Is this is a conscious effort on your part to rebuke tradition? Do you see it as a liberation of masculinity?

Michele Bubacco: I don’t paint idealized or symbolic nudes, rather denuded men or those being denuded. Anyway, men give rise to a dissonance with their everyday clothing—a pair of underpants or a shirt, a well-waxed shoe or necktie–as though man’s instincts are restricted by mere cotton accoutrements.

Kathy: Your paintings often take place in nondescript, stage-like settings. They remind me at times of Francis Bacon as well as Philip Guston in this respect. Can you say something about the backgrounds of these paintings?

Michele: The bare stage on which the scene unfolds is the line of the landscape—conceivably an evocation of a lagoon sandbar. This represents a muted limbo for experts that renders or hides, supports or eradicates, the anatomical evidence of the subjects. The landscape, even if it appears to always be the same, is constantly changing.

Kathy: You paint on canvas or paper attached to the wall. Do you use old master techniques such as the giornata of fresco painting?

“I don’t paint idealized or symbolic nudes, rather denuded men or those being denuded. Anyway, men give rise to a dissonance with their everyday clothing—a pair of underpants or a shirt, a well-waxed shoe or necktie.”

Michele: In my painting, as with much painting in general, the principle of serendipity applies (as you rummage around for a needle in the haystack you might just chance upon the farmer’s daughter!). This rule—improvisation—is tricky to adapt to fresco painting’s strict methodology.

Kathy: The great Venetian canvases have given life to the walls of churches and palaces without succumbing to the damp. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most of the frescos. That said, the impulse to cover walls with pictorial annotations is compelling, as if the room could become the scaled-up projection of the mind’s enclosures. In this respect, I’m drawn towards the nocturnal navigation carried out by Goya in his pinturas negras. You are an autodidact. Who are your major artistic influences? 

Michele: A certain Venetian tradition that starts from the later Tiziano and Tintoretto, and arrives at Emilio Vedova and Zoran Mušič, taking in Luigi Tito, guides me from the outset to read the environment in which I was born and live, offering me my favorite pictorial coordinates. Now I must list the painter who never was—Frenhofer—as well as Richard Gerstl, the choreographer Pina Bausch, and some works by Cy Twombly. I’m also intrigued by the rhythms and silences contained within them and the point at which the noise unwittingly becomes decipherable. Venice, and Murano in particular, are known for traditional glassblowing techniques. 

Kathy: Have you taken anything from that technique in your painting?

Michele: Beyond the results achieved through glassblowing, the process is based upon an urgent rapport between time, intrinsic occasions, and the force of gravity: essential recurring qualities in my work too.

“Painting has taught me to consider something beyond the material…to strip away doctrines and taboos.”

Kathy: Your work for Document includes images of groups of people rather than individuals. Can you say something about why you paint groups? 

Michele: Groupings of people create a community—perhaps to be part of a group is obligatory in life. It can terrorize, or be seen as a threat, but to remain excluded would be worse. Thus, the only option for an individual is to synchronize oneself with the orchestra of one’s counterparts. Everyone seeks to bond with another in order to fathom a facet and make it their own.

Kathy: Violence and sexuality seem common themes in your work, from the subject matter to the titles such as “Melee.” Would you agree?

Michele: Attempts to communicate may entail “gnawing away” at one’s neighbor as the price of affinity or intimacy. The rhythm of the composition is punctuated by primal instincts that, although contradictory, must strive towards harmonization.

Kathy: Are you interested in religion? 

Michele: Painting has taught me to consider something beyond the material, while maintaining due regard, and to strip away doctrines and taboos. Obviously I’m influenced by my epoch and culture. Every day I can question these limitations, carrying out investigations based on principles thrown up by experience.