We are in the attic of a West London terrace. Doubling as the studio of our latest interview Raffaella Bertolini, an Italian painter who now bases herself in the city. She is a prolific and talented artist.
Her art is dotted around the place. In the front room a portrait of one of her influences Jean-Michel Basquiat hangs on the wall. On the bookshelf, tomes from her favourite authors, people who have influenced her work such as Wilde and Poe. Their influence can be seen in the range of artworks she has produced.
She makes me a coffee, a proper Italian espresso. It’s an unexpected treat for me, more used to instant but this is the good stuff. My plan is to get to know her and her work. She will soon be exhibiting at the start up art expo the ‘Roys People Art Fair‘ and we’ve been featuring artists taking part running up to the show.
There in the attic loft, her latest piece is sitting on the easel. Only just finished it features a seated woman in period costume holding a balloon with a smiley face. The balloon is part of her latest series of works where the balloon covers the sitter’s face. She explains the balloon conceals the anxiety within. It’s an area where Raffaella herself has experience of and which she lives with even now.
“The balloon represents the need to hide yourself with a fake smile or to pretend to be someone else” she explains. That expectation particularly to be and act a certain way, especially when going outside and meeting people. “In reality no-one expects you to act in a certain way it’s just what your mind is telling you and so this balloon represents this fake smile”.
On the floor are a series of sketches which I mistake for prints, all drawn primarily with pencil they are full of fine detail and then illustrated with the little details she adds to her work in order to make a series. All depict women, in fact most of her pieces do, she tells me that she prefers to paint women and will often portray women from popular culture
There she talks me through the work. There is a girl wearing a tagged bunny mask, another is a re-imagining of Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring‘. Two are darker images called ‘the raven’ and ‘never more’ inspired by the works of Poe and with their faces obscured by a dark charcoal cloud. “All the women inside me, they just come out and I just put them on paper” she tells me. Again it gives a different meaning to the work knowing that in some way these different women represent different selves.
We look at other pieces and we spend time wandering around the attic space. Each image has meaning and each has a name. One represents the feelings following a break up, another represents the despair of a break up of a different kind, that of the UK leaving the EU. It shows a woman holding a hand to her mouth with the Union Flag reflected in her glasses whilst all around her golden stars weep.
Finally we finish, the attic space is getting a little hot and I’ve got to high tail it back to the East End. In the front room we pass that image of Basquiat, yet another influence and indeed an influence on the whole graffiti and street art movement that we know today. We also pass the bookshelf. It’s got a different meaning now and as I run my hand along the spines of great works from Poe and Wilde I’m able to feel those influences coming out.
Raffaella Bertolini was interviewed on Tuesday 15 August 2017. She will be exhibiting at the Roy’s People Art Fair from 14-17 September. To learn more about the fair have a look at this interview with Roy’s People himself here. To find out more about some of the other artists exhibiting have a look at these interviews with DD Regalo, Andrea Tyrimos and Sarah Fosse.
Raffaella Bertolini Gallery