Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi, defined “Renaissance Woman” by the influential American press, shares her art as a way of life

(versione italiana) Interview by Andrea Giostra. Chiara is an Italian painter. She is young but she is not new to the American art world, as well as in Italy and the international scene. She is known in the creative realm that inspires and influences culture, thoughts, ethics, public morality. Her art grasps and takes over, as we shall see in our engaging conversation, the concept that Aristotle had of pondering on life and current affairs by “philosophising.”

Chiara is a citizen of the world, she is cosmopolitan as one would say nowadays, as she speaks multiple languages. Her artwork has showcased in several exhibitions between Europe and the United States. She is a rising star of the visual arts.
Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi defines her paintings as “Material Puns”, i.e. wordplay through mixed media,  and besides the visual arts she is also engaged in other creative fields. In this regard we could define Chiara as a Renaissance Woman or a Phenomenologist of Contemporary Art. Or referencing a philosopher and economist of our times, the French Serge Latouche, Chiara is an artist who possesses an eco-friendly artistic touch.
It cannot be summed up in one definition alone. It is much easier to gaze at her works, listen to her descriptions in this beguiling one-on-one conversation, after a brief introduction to the artist’s background.

Chiara, as well as being a talented young Artist, is also a polyglot writer and thus does not suffer from idiomatic illiteracy. Her cultural and academic education is diversified. After attending a British school in Milan, she graduated in Political Science, and took a Masters in Screenwriting and Film Production. During these studies she further attended some courses in New York and Los Angeles at the “Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute,” a school that celebrates 45 years of training actors and artists of the seventh art. Today Chiara expresses her artistic soul through different creative and intellectual perspectives: film critic, screenwriter, journalist and columnist for various European and American online and print outlets, as well as radio and television networks. Chiara is also Professor at I.E.D. University in Milan, where she teaches “Phenomenology of Contemporary Arts”.
Her paintings known as “Material Puns,” have the ability to seduce those who are fond of experimental and innovative art, through the play-on-words that come to life on canvas.

Hello Chiara, welcome and thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your art and work. My first question is to introduce yourself to our readers: Who is the Woman-Chiara?

Thank you Andrea for your interest in the latest news about my artwork. I had the privilege to be born in the land of beauty, Italy, and to test myself abroad, keeping in mind Simone de Beauvoir’s femme indépendante, who through her work and self-fulfillment has the possibility of liberating her artistic expression. I’m a woman who is constantly exploring her complexity, as Oriana Fallaci once said “It's so fascinating to be a woman, it's an adventure that takes such courage, a challenge that never ends.”

Who is the Chiara-Artist instead?

Curious with a childlike spirit. Peter Pan’s syndrome and Lewis Carroll’s soul never abandon me and they are my approach to scrutinise, and sometimes mock, some aspects of our society. I’m guided by a sense of wonder and I try to channel it in my art.

Chiara, you spent several years in New York for your work as artist and journalist. What triggered you to go to the heart of Contemporary Art? What are your memories of your American stay that you would like to share with our readers?

I started to travel from a very young age and this allowed me to avoid a reverential approach towards foreign countries. Hence America, particularly New York, has been a destination to put myself to the test professionally and away from my home country. Undoubtably the Big Apple is the hub of new artistic trends and I was overwhelmed to showcase my paintings multiple times in Manhattan and get excellent feedback, both from the public and the press. Living in America fortifies you and allows you to see Italy with new eyes. Our country is exceptional and needs to work on its self-esteem and also help younger generations to express their professional skills.

How old were you when you began to learn the techniques to express your artistry?

I’m self-taught. Since high school I would sketch still lifes on paper using pencils, charcoals or oil painting. But my greatest joy would come when I experimented with mixed media. I eventually began expressing my creativity on canvas during college attending a my faculty had nothing to do with the arts, I was studying Political Science. During the course of the years the production of paintings kept increasing and I was encouraged by friends and family to have my first exhibition. Ever since, my style has defined itself through wordplay and mixed media in the paintings I call “Material Puns.”

Chiara, as you know to be an artist you must have the tools to express your talent. During the Italian Renaissance, the Art Masters would bequeath the techniques and use of instruments to create and shape reality into different forms, and transform the old into new. Who were your Art Masters?

I did not have a specific mentor who introduced me to the art world or the desire of developing it as a means of expression. I was guided by some artistic movements such as Pop-Art, Ready Made, Arte Povera and Dada. Alberto Burri is the artist who inspired me to play with materials, even though my first painting experiments followed Jackson Pollock’s action painting and dripping. The Italian Renaissance always enthralled me for the masterpieces it produced and the artists it promoted. At the time patronage was a matter of civic virtue, whereas nowadays there are few individuals who are engaged in promoting artists. A Renaissance figure that has always charmed me is that of the “polymath,” an artist who excels in different fields. Leonardo Da Vinci epitomises this role, but we also have more modern examples such as the beautiful and talented Hedy Lamarr: versatile actress who endorsed female nude in cinema of the nineteen-thirties, a politically engaged woman who left her first pro-Nazi husband and an ingenious inventor to whom we owe the existence of Wi-Fi.

Any profession that is fully accomplished requires to “pay your dues.” What do you recall of your first years of artistic activity, when at the beginning you earn very little and you work your way up? What were the major difficulties that you had to overcome?

As the Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo would say “exams never end,” hence I keep paying my dues. The research I do for my work as an artist, journalist and professor requires a continuous study. As regards the difficulties related to earning a living in the creative field, the upside is that you handle more projects simultaneously and this has the advantage of developing multitasking skills and expanding your creative range.

As you will know, Chiara, in the Art world there are many young talents who do not manage to establish themselves. Often they are hired and framed by unscrupulous artists who use them as their “Niggers,” a slang term that defines their role as people who are exploited to create hundreds of pieces, replicating the style of the artist that commissioned them. But they do not get any recognition for their work, except a meagre retribution. This phenomenon began in Anglo-Saxon countries (U.S.A., U.K., Australia), but is now expanding all over Europe and also Italy. Did you experience this at the beginning of your career? What is your opinion on this wide-spread issue?

The phenomenon can find a liaison with the fact of being a woman artist, if you think of the 1972 song by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” that denounced the condition of women's subservience. Luckily I never lived this situation neither as a fledgeling artist, nor as a woman. This brings to my mind a play written by Dacia Maraini that was performed in New York, and narrated the story of a young artist. As soon as the paintress became famous she was crushed by the cynical cultural industry that demanded her to reproduce always the same works. Indeed in the art market requires artists to be recognisable, I have found a common thread amongst my paintings, by using language as a distinctive trait of my diversified style.

Chiara, if for some reason you had to abandon Art, what would you like to do? What other talents do you think you have?

I’m a storyteller and I try to narrate my tales through different means of communication, whether it is critique, creative writing or visual art. I couldn’t do anything but this. In the past I made a short film that was inspired by my paintings. In the future I would be delighted to create more connections between the various disciplines I work in. Or I could refer to beautiful dialogue from Truffaut’s film “Jules et Jim,” where the protagonists discuss what profession to pick and one of them replies “Curious,” and he is told it is not a line of work, but he explains: “That’s not a profession, not yet. Travel, write, translate, learn to live everywhere. Begin at once. The future belongs to the curious.”

Recently Chiara, you exhibited in Bologna at Galleria Farini, in a beautiful group show, with many famous artists and with the attendance of an illustrious Art Critic. Tells about this experience, how was it?

The Group Exhibition I was part of was “Arte a Palazzo In Mostra con I Grandi Maestri”  (Art at the Palace An Exhibition With The Great Masters) that marked the IV Anniversary of The Galleria Farini Concept. One of my paintings was exhibited along with the works by Warhol, Festa, Angeli, Schifano and other contemporary artists. Great praise goes to the Curator Roberto Dudine, for his extraordinary organisation in the majestic setting of the fifteen-hundred building Palazzo Fantuzzi, and to his collaborators Monica Tanaglia, Grazia Galdenzi, Camilla Faccini and Azzurra Immediato. The catalogue of the exhibition will be part of the collection of the prestigious Library of the Urbino University: Biblioteca di Storia dell’Arte ed Estetica dell’Università Carlo Bo di Urbino. The opening had TV Capodistria taping a special segment on the event, and Italian Art Critic, Professor Vittorio Sgarbi, who observed all the art on display with great dedication and who reacted with a genuine smile to my “Pop-Porn.”

Chiara, could you describe ‘Pop-Porn’, to our readers who can look at the photos of the artwork as they read this interview?

“Pop-Porn” mocks the way cookery is being worshiped nowadays, as the protagonist of television shows and the virtual world. The spectacularistation of what is known as Food Porn i.e. the obsession for food through the proliferation of images on social media in pop culture, has surpassed the interest for the portrayal of erotic subject matter. This is a new form of voyeurism that belongs to the generation of Millennials, consequently breasts covered in popcorns become the emblem of contemporary pornography.

This is very fascinating Chiara. I like the message conveyed by your painting and how you explain it, I find it is philosophically stimulating, even more than artistically. After all art needs to return to this mission, the noble goal of reflection, just as in Ancient Greece when Aristotle in his Protrepticus or Exhortations to Philosophy of 350 B.C. said: «If one must philosophise, one must philosophise, and if one believes it unnecessary to philosophise, one must equally philosophise to prove there is no need to philosophise; we must therefore philosophise or say farewell to life and depart, since all other things seem to be great nonsense and frivolous.» Or as Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) majestically theorised, the philosophical function of the seventh art has the aim to provide ethics and public morality. In short, Chiara, to put in Serge Latouche’s words, I believe that Art needs to reprise its noble cultural and moral function and abandon the commercial programmed and obsolete “cage,” that you so vividly described, where cynical art dealers have entrapped it. Besides your description of Pop-Porn I read the beautiful critique that I would like to share with our readers, the thorough analysis by Azzurra Immediato, critic of Galleria Farini in Bologna:

«Pop-Porn is the irreverent title of the work presented by the young artist Chiara Isabella Spagnoli Gabardi on the occasion of the XIX International Collective of Painting, Sculpture and Photography of the Arte a Palazzo project, at its fourth anniversary.
Taking a step back in time, the title of the work recalls a 2008 song by a duo from the city of Lecce who, thanks to the semantic provocation of the text and the concept associated with that publication reached the top of the music charts, becoming what today is called a “media phenomenon.” If we have no further news regarding the pop duo Il Genio, we can’t say the same about Chiara Isabella Spagnoli Gabardi, an artist considered “fresh” and fond of experimentation.
The artist, in spite of her young age, plays close attention to the lesson of the avant-garde masters, some of whom are exhibited in the Fantuzzi Palace. They seem to be the artist’s main inspiration: she has fully understood their innovative push and their break-up with the academics and is ready to take her own artistic path. A fundamental role is the one she assigned to the material subject, not merely pigmentation, but three-dimensional that physically help the artist shape her works through the use of the collage and assemblage techniques and allows her to play with the contemporary world. The analysis carried out by Spagnoli Gabardi is, in fact, made with synergies that take inspiration from raw materials and the real world together with ideal images that reflects the artist’s cultural background.
It’s the reality that emerges from this artistic dimension which gets its inspiration from the artist’s experience and also from the academic background of the artist who has a degree in Political Science. This dimension is enriched and nourished by irony and sarcasm, probably one of the best ways to deal with the contemporary artistic scene. An artwork like Pop-Porn is conceptually close to Poverism and Dada and contains the wonder of the artist.
The assemblage of those that seem “mere” popcorns, however, takes on the appearance of a feminine breast, treated, not according to the ranks of the classic nude and even according to the style of the avant-garde. It is the concept of pop which is in this case taking the value of culture also in its literal meaning and it refers to the popular and ironic ready made, especially the one involving food, symbol of a reality which should be always available here and now. Nudity, however refers to the voyeuristic world of porn, obviously without any sort of vulgarity. Millennials will immediately think about that social photographic phenomenon called #foodporn, which refers to a sort of obsession with the idea of “eating with the eyes” that has become the protagonist of some social media trends. In this way, our artist deeply understands what is happening in our time: always running, somewhere we can’t forecast, with the result of bulimically devouring everything, without realising its true and deep meaning.
This irony, which is the most important feature of the Spagnoli Gabardi’s art is the same underlined by Massimo Bontempelli in his analysis of the Twentieth Century: a salvific sarcasm, which allows mankind to remain close to reason and at the same time to dream; an irony that comes out of the ranks of the tout court banality, which sometimes represents a safe place for someone. The artist, on the contrary, has the courage to break the rules to go further, to provoke through her works and is also able to show it.
Pop-Porn represents, therefore, a narrative and dialogue, a sardonic art piece, capable of telling a story that is contemporary but also timeless, that asks something to the public without disturbing it, but also with the aim of seeking a companion to smile together about this life, in which each element allows everyone to open serious reflections.»

Wonderful! Congratulations Chiara. What would you add or comment about the stimulating observations made by Immediato?

I think that what she wrote is incredibly flattering, and captures all the nuances of my style and the ideas that were present in the making of this painting. The playful approach of ‘Pop-Porn’ contains an attentive observation of our contemporary world and I very much appreciated she mentioned the musical reference to the pop-duo from Lecce, Il Genio. I love when senses and art forms mingle, I’m fascinated by how phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty explored synaesthesia, and the way body and mind are unified in perceiving. Even Walt Whitman in his poetry explained that we do not have a body, we Are a body and when you injure a person’s body you slay their soul. I find it incredibly inspiring when there is some sort of synaesthesia or fusion between different creative disciplines, what Wagner defined as Gesamtkunstwerk and that today is defined as cross-pollination o cross-fertilisation.

Where can we see more of your Artwork? And what are you upcoming exhibits?

My paintings, exhibitions, and press reviews can be viewed on the website So far I haven’t planned any other exhibits, yet. Just before the opening of the group show in Bologna, I was at the Venice Film Festival as a jury member for the films in the selection Giornate degli Autori (Venice Days). I was there to give some Awards on behalf of an organisation I’m part of, Fedeora (Federation of Film Critics from Europe and the Mediterranean). Therefore I had very little time to paint. Finally I can dedicate myself to the creation of new Material Puns.

Chiara, tell us about your Artistic “Poiesis” in terms of what you create in line with the significance given by Aristotle, who used the term in 330 B.C. when he analysed art in all its expressive forms distinguishing it from Ethics and Morals, and introducing two fundamental concepts: the “Mimesis” and “Catharsis”, a concept that was later developed in the 1800s by Freud in his study on Psychoanalysis.

Aristotle believed that art is essentially imitation, but contrarily to Plato he did not condemn it, but rather glorified art as a representation of nature. When I create my paintings I do not follow this concept of harmony and symmetry, influenced by Pythagorean rationalism. Especially because I’m not that dexterous in mathematics and I would surely go wrong on the calculation of the golden ratio! But my tribute to nature lies in adopting a sustainable approach. I use waste materials that I upcycle, to give them a new expression and function. As regards the idea of Catharsis seen as purification of emotions, my mind wanders to the considerations made by Edmund Burke on the Beautiful and the Sublime. The life-generating force confronts a disruptive one, that provokes in us a feeling of awe and horror. Along these lines, I believe that art should trigger disturbance and introspection. My Poiesis is to sweeten, in form, that Sublime that terrifies us, to give rise to a moment of reflection and also comic relief.

During my adolescence I had a great passion for Russian literature, in particular for Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), I read all of his books and I consider him the true father of psychology and inspirer of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. In one of my favourite novels by Dostoyevsky, “Crime and Punishment” (1886), there is a very powerful quote: «If one waits for everyone to get wiser it will take too long…Afterwards I understood that this moment would never come to pass, that men won’t change and that nobody can transform them and that it's not worth wasting effort in trying to improve them». On the other side of Europe, on the facade of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, that opened to the public in 1897, there is an Epigraph that says: «Art renews people and reveals their life. Vain is the scene of delight where you do not aim to prepare for the future». What comes to your mind when you read these two compelling sentences?

Dostoyevsky also told us that, “Beauty will save the world.” I believe that Art plays an important role in this context, even more than philosophy, because it doesn’t tickle only our intellect but also our physical reaction, when we interact with a piece of art through our senses. I’m not referring only to sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch; but also to all the other ones that have been discovered later, such as the perception of pain, temperature, balance, movement, time, itch, direction and body awareness. Each one, influences our art experience.

Going back to Sigmund Freud, another great literary passion of mine also for his psychodynamic clinical studies, I’m sure you will be aware of his publications about art. The concept that prevails is always the same: «Art is the most powerful expression of the depths of the human soul.» This is not the exact quote, but a sum up of my Freudian readings. Years later, Jackson Pollock
(1912-1956), said: «We’re all influenced by Freud, I guess. I’ve been a Jungian for a long time. Painting is a state of being. Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.» What is your artistic experience and perspective in connection to these words?

Art can be found between what is real and what is possible. The artist’s imagination finds a concrete form, where the artwork becomes a vehicle of truth that allows us to ponder and confront our ideas. Art matters to us for the way it helps us gather the meaning of things, as Paul Klee outlined “Art can make the visible invisible.”

What you mention quoting Paul Klee is very true. Someway it echoes the Freudian concept of bringing out in consciousness what would otherwise remain submerged in the depths of the human soul, which generates a disruptive creative force in the artist. If you were asked to explain what Art is to some children, using simple words, what would you tell them?

You experience art.

And if you had to explain what Culture is and its purpose in relation to art?

Culture is a treasure trove of knowledge that has developed through the course of time, no wonder the word originates from the latin verb “colere” that means “to cultivate.” Nowadays it can pertain to all those things that have become a “cult” and in the art world it strongly influences the people’s Weltanschauung. In a way this shapes the fruition of a work of art according to Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle: works of art are not merely representations of the way things are, but actually produce a community’s shared understanding. Each time a new artwork is added to any culture, the meaning of what it is, to exist, is inherently changed.

If you had to choose a colour between red and blue, what would you pick and why?

I love them both. Warm and cool colours are complementary. You can’t choose either, it would be like picking between light and darkness, sound and silence, movement and stillness.

If you had to pick a favourite flower? Actually, if an admirer wanted to homage you with flowers after one of your performances, what would you like to receive?

My favourite flower is the orchid. I love its essential elegance and gentleness.

Chiara, to conclude our chat, I would like you to share your secret wish that you have since childhood?

As Shakespeare I believe that, “we are such stuff as dreams are made on,” intertwining thoughts and sensations, in a twilight sleep between ethereal and matter. We entwine our aspirations and when they manifest themselves in reality, they inevitably unravel and tangle in an unpredicted manner. My loom has expanded in ways I had never foreseen. I keep working on my life canvas, redrafting it as I go along, observing how my Bayeux Tapestry develops.

Thank you Chiara for chatting with me about your work and life as an artist. I wish you all the best and I hope to meet again for another conversation or attend one of your beautiful exhibitions. Bye for now and until next time…

Thank you Andrea for this wonderful Pindaric flight betwixt art and philosophy.

Links for Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi:



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