I was born October 28th, 1971 in La Plata, Argentina.
When I was 18, I started studying Fine Arts, at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Prilidiano Pueyrredón. Half a year later I got bored and left. An year later I tried again. It was there that I met Leandro Erlich; we got bored and left it again, this time together. I met Ana Eckell, one of the most important persons in my life as an artist. It was then that I started out doing large-format acrylic paintings.
The next year, on my 21st birthday, I inaugurate “Mi primer Sopena” (My first Sopena), an individual exhibition at Espacio Giesso, Buenos Aires. Ruth Benzacar proposed me to join them. A year later, 1993, I exhibit “Herencia”, at the Casal de Catalunya. In 1994 came “Everyone needs a Madonna” at the ICI, and in 1995, at the Fundación Banco Patricios.
I’m given some awards and exhibit my work in many collective exhibitions. I do video installations. In 1997 an exhibition of mine, “Surfer”, was shown in the new hall of Ruth Benzacar’s. In 1999 came “All smiles”, in New York, with DeChiara/Stewart. I do one last exhibition, “GRAVINESEPUNGA”, at Ruth Benzacar (2003). In 2004 I switched to Zavaleta Lab, where I exhibited “Cita” (Date), back in 2005. That was my last individual exhibition. I left Zavaleta Lab last year, and all these years, I’ve been showing my works in cities like Buenos Aires, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milan, Madrid, Paris, Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, among others. I’ve shown these works in museums, art galleries, private homes and hotels.
My favourite beer is Little Creatures, and I like roast meat, every once in a while.
Vision of art
1. Choose a work that represents you, describe it in relation to its format and materiality, its relation with time and space, its style and theme; detail its production process.
I visit Diego in his home in Boulogne, where, according to his own words, he decided to settle so as to dissolve the fog of recent years. I don't dare ask him what fog is he talking about. He makes some 'mates' and asks "why nobody goes visit Gaby Álvarez now that he's in jail. What a strange world this is sometimes."
I follow him to his studio, where he goes through his collection of stills and finds one that fascinates him. It's a cockatoo juggling on the tightrope, in a Miami zoo. "Nahuel Vecino gave it to me like 7 years ago. The photo is part of a series of stills, a 1970s souvenir from that zoo." He decides that's going to be his next painting.
He starts by outlining the bird, using a projector, on a 1.40 x 1.80m canvas. He's happy. "I think the cockatoo rocks", he says. "It's humanity, doing things completely alien to it, just for a little food and love; and she looks gorgeous in that white outfit... sadly majestic and domesticated at the same time." Seeing it at that scale, it looks huge. "... I feel I'm doing a portrait of the Pope, or a cabaret star's and Jeff Koons. All in one."
He masks the silhouette of the domesticated bird. Starts painting the sky. First, a gradation; from some dark prussian blues to an almost white.
Later, he goes feeding her cats and turns on the TV. He says he usually paints with the TV on, but lately, less and less. He hates MTV, and the documentaries he finds, either he's seen them already or they no longer interest him. He puts on the news, but these affect him, and tells me that, suddenly, the world seems to him a horrible place to live in.
He turns off the TV and goes back to the sky. Now, he uses oil to improve what he had painted in acrylics.
It takes him 4 hours to obtain the perfect gradation. He compares the blue with that of the still and finds it's not the same as that on the high-res pictures that are all over the studio. He says to me: "I never would have painted such sky during my times of decoloured slides". However, I find this artificiality to be more real. It gives me happiness in the belly".
He checks his email and finds that Panda has sent him some new music. It's Beirut. He downloads it on his mp3 and goes out jogging. It's hot, but he says that the horror of the world fades away as he runs, between Panda's music and the smell of mowed grass, coming from the houses in Boulogne.
I come back some days later. The cockatoo makes progresses. "Painting the shiny details of the cockatoo's little circus artist bicycle gives me an enormous pleasure. Of course, [Andrés] Compagnucci would do it a thousand times better". At midday comes Leandro Erlich. Diego shows him his paintings, they talk and then we go out to El Entrerriano to have lunch. They disgress about art, and everything seems to be connected with everything.
Later on, as he continues with his painting, he says: "Between barbecue and wine, when I saw the cockatoo again, it suddenly gained a mythological dimension and I suddenly thought it would have been better not to have painted it at all. But now (a coffee or two later) I find that was all bullshit". He takes care of the details on the little wheels for the rest of the day.
The next day, Leandro calls from Sergio de Loof’s new restaurant. One of the waitresses had a small still as earring. Leandro discovers it was the cockatoo. Exactly the same 30-old still. The possibilities are so extremely low that they celebrate the moment as pure magic.
By night, Diego takes some pictures of the painting, uploads them on his flickr, answers emails, finishes a small commission by some lady from Núñez and then spends one hour on the phone talking to Panda. He goes to sleep. Before that, I glimpsed at a "Ciencia hoy" magazine, and Nicole Krauss' History of Love, by his bed.
The next day he calls me and tells me a dream he'd had: "There were paintings. All of a sudden Duchamp appears and laughs. I tell him that he was also a visual artist. He laughs louder. I start to laugh too, and we can't stop."
2. In general terms, how would you suggest to approach your work?
. In a passage from Don DeLillo's Underworld, the character admits that he just slides through art galleries, takes a quick glance at those objects he loves, carefully avoiding to stare, afraid he might disturb them, steal their aura or that, after a certain analysis, these objects might fail to meet his initial expectations. It wasn't until I read this that I allow myself the confession that I've always done the same thing, because nothing breaks my heart more than reading again a favourite book or seeing again a movie once loved, just to discover its flaws. Sometimes, just as DeLillo's character, one has to love things once and move on.
I felt this way for quite a long time, until Diego Gravinese started, frequently, to keep me updated of the progresses he was making on the works that were to form his next exhibition, this year. I heard him telling me about the evolution of each of his canvas up to its final state.
I can imagine days and days of conversations between him and each image, negotiating until they reached an agreement.
Because of such level of intimacy with each work, I can no longer allow myself just a quick, furtive look. I realized that Gravinese does not use his photorealistic technique to shorten the distance between reality and imitation, but the contrary; the precision it's not the result of the precision itself: somehow, his technique and composition highlight the way through which a certain material can seize an image. Like he says: "It's all about lines and forms."
There is a point within the process, approximately 3/4 along the way, when his painting finally takes over the photography. Some parts of the image are focused in such a way that the viewer finds details on the composition that he wouldn't find in the original photograph. This, I'm convinced, is what make his images that intriguing. After several months of seeing them grow up and mature, it was not but recently that I discovered certain aspects of the composition, such as how some fragments of light are reflected, how certain aerial parts are focused and some are not.
I'm not, of course, the first person to note this. There are numerous articles on his oeuvre where the critic was captivated by a specific area of the canvas: a woman's lock of hair, the wrinkles on the hand or the face of a boy. It seems that these fixations appear because the same painting reveals them and, in that sense, everytime I see these paintings, I feel I'm learning again. I guess this is the real esence of that idea by Marshall McLuhan, that medium is the message.
Up to now, the paintings that will conform Gravinese's next exhibition are reduced to one image. The diagrammatic multi-layer details that conformed his iconic characteristic are left aside, and paintings do require more time and attention from the viewer. There are no longer indications or distractions from the elements composing the image, just a singular, unique composition that refers to and criticize -at the same time- pop art discipline and tradition.
I notice this and I don't want to avoid anymore staring at these pictures, fearing they won't resist my interrogation; these pictures offer themselves to us so endlessly, so full of information that I just want to stay there and absorb them.
3. In reference to your work and your position in the national and international art fields, what tradition do you recognize yourself in? Who are your contemporary referents? What artists of previous generations are of interest to you?
I don't feel part of any particular stylistic or formal tradition. So, instead of an unnecessary categorization, I'll list those artists whose work have influenced me and have undoubtedly came to my head while on my studio (some more, some less), in no particular order:
Leandro Erlich, Marcelo Pombo, Emiliano Miliyo, Esteban Pages, Nahuel Vecino, Pablo Siquier, Fernanda Laguna, Gachi Hasper, Sebastian Gordín, Fabián Burgos, Luis Lindner, Mondongo, Daniel García, Deborah Pruden, Juan Tessi, Guillermo Kuitka, Nicola Constantino, Fabián Marcaccio, Max Gómez Canle, Manuel Esnoz.
Also Gyula Kosice, Antonio Berni, De La Vega, Macció, Oscar Bony, Marta Minujin. From abroad: Franz Gertsch, Gerhard Richter, James Rosenquist, Jeff Koons, David Salle, Malcolm Morley, Robert Bechtle, Richard Estes, Martin Kippemberger, Michel Majerus, Neo Rauch, Glenn Brown, Ron Muek, Maurizio Cattelan, Sigmar Polke, Damien Hirst, Wolfgang Tillmans, Juergen Teller, Dan Graham, David Salle, Eric Fischl, Lichtenstein, Warhol.
Of course I'm restricting myself to the art scene of the last 30 years and I'm leaving out artists from older times and generations, and others artists from which I like just some works (without mention musicians, writers and film directors, etc, all of which definetely converge when choosing an image, a colour or a certain form).
4. Choose works or exhibitions from the last ten or fifteen years which in your opinion were very significant and explain why
Of the last 10 years I'm going to choose "Leandro's pool", the pool by Leandro Erlich, installed definetely in Japan and that has gained fame all around the world. But it's not because of that that I choose it. The work is fantastic in more than one level. It's even visually captivating, with its light blue and curved walls, and the light coming from the top. The result is almost minimal, but its construction process was very complex. It has all the magic elements found in other works by Leandro: What it seems to be there it's not, what we see it's not what we see, the other side seems better, safer, more beautiful, until we go there and the universe inverts itself.
But (unlike the illusionist trick) at the same time, it disappoints us and opens new interpretations. One just has to see the pictures of people sitting on the floor, enjoying that sort of sheltering womb, once the initial surprise is overcame. The disappointment does not leaves us empty, but, instead, we feel better when we realize that the perception of the world is within our heads.
I highly enjoy semantic games and tend not to trust any definitive science. Leandro's work, then, is fantastic to me not just because it ends up with perceptual illusion, but also because it has the finish of an architect with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the magic of Dutch trompe l'oeil.