Following the Yellow Brick Road into Elisa Cantarelli’s World of Dots

Oz Trumpet. Dotting on digital print | 50.5 x 62.5 cm (aluminium frame – black) | £880

Me dotting in studio.jpg

Curator Pandora Moloney catches up with Elisa Cantarelli to understand her world of dots in the lead up to The Spring Collection.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I think I always loved being creative when I was a kid. My mum would give me a lot of colouring books as gifts which I used to colour in a different way – not staying in the borders, using different materials - I always loved experimenting as a kid. I also used to love playing with puzzles; it was about composition and putting things together, that was my memories of playing games as a child.

At school I really loved playing basketball but I treated art more as a passion, I was kind of fighting to do both in a perfect way, but when I decided art was predominantly more important in my life than basketball was when I achieved my degree in fine art. I was lucky that I won a couple of prizes that pointed me in the right direction. I was just doing it because I love it, not as a job, but then when I started to do this ‘dotting’ technique it became part of my signature. I was really surprised that it was attracting so many people because I was just doing it naturally. After winning a couple of prizes galleries started to contact me, so I was getting really good visibility from this art fair in Bologna and that’s when I realised that art could be something more than a passion. No one really teaches you how it works at school – they try to bring the creativity out of you but no one teaches you how to work with galleries. So I started to experiment with this practice and see if that was possible to do as a job, and that’s when I decided to quit basketball. I moved to London around the same time.

You work with digital images and mixed media using your own dotting technique. Can you tell me about your artistic process when you create each piece?

I get the inspiration from anything, anywhere. With that technique I can really experiment with different subjects and also surfaces. Usually I take a picture of something and then I modify it with Photoshop to increase the contrast and brightness, then I print it out and I’m ready for the dotting part of the process. I create the right colour for every single area and then I start dropping the paint which I mix with a type of medium that makes it thicker and glossier; I start to drop it all over the surface in a very precise way. It reminds of me of my puzzles and colouring books, colouring the image underneath with all the dots is like a puzzle. It doesn’t take that long to dry but every time I really look forward to feeling the texture.

I’m experimenting with different materials whereas before my paintings were mainly in black, white, grey shades and glitters. Now I’m adding diamond dust to try and create different types of texture while still composing the image with small objects. I’ve been playing around with drawing a little bit, and using other types of surfaces under my dots to try and add more textures to the subject. I find myself in a meditative state when I do it; it’s like falling asleep and dreaming about dotting.

What is appealing to you about using digital images rather than using traditional materials?

Since high school, I never really loved painting as much as colouring and drawing. I used pencil and pen more than brushes, probably because I could control them better. My professor encouraged me to take pictures; I think he was pushing me to try something new. That’s when I started playing around with gold leaf, sand and makeup and this is when I started to drop the dots on these photocopies. It was just acrylic with a barbeque skewer on the photocopy because back then I didn’t even know how to switch on a computer! Since then I have increased the quality of my work and have been experimenting with new subjects and new materials.

How would you describe the impact that London has had on your practice since moving here in 2009?

As I said before, I get inspiration from everything surrounding me, and of course coming from a small town in Italy and moving to London totally gave me a boost. At the same time sometimes it’s scary, because ideas keep popping up. I’m just writing down and taking pictures and just accumulating piles of ideas without being able to keep up, or realising them. It can sometimes be quite frustrating, that’s why it’s nice also to go back home and live the town life – reconnect.

Glinda's Bubble. Dotting on digital print | 40.5 x 60.5 cm (aluminium frame – black) | £800

What artists or experiences have influenced your work?

One artist that I really love of course is Yayoi Kusama – because of the dots! I visited one of her exhibitions in Italy before moving to London, that’s when I saw the obliterated room. The paper dots covered in UV light coloured the whole room. I love when people are attracted to the dots, if people ask to touch my work its great because they want something from it, they are transported to another dimension - a visual dimension, but a tactile one. It would be lovely to have a room, or an entire house filled with my dots where people can touch and be interactive in a performative way. It would take ages! But it would be worth it.

What has been your greatest challenge as an artist?

Probably having to talk about my art. It’s so easy for me to produce, to do what I do, to dot and create, and it feels so natural but it’s very difficult to talk about that, to sell that, to consider that as a business.  That’s what it is nowadays, when you come from art school everybody is teaching you about the romantic story of art and that you will die poor but you will be so happy. I still struggle with that. You keep learning but it’s not what you were thinking, I just want to create and enjoy my work without thinking about all the business stuff.

Flush This Out, Mixed media, ink, pencil on wood panel, framed with a toilet seat. 

What is your favourite piece of work that you’ve created and why?

Oh God! I don’t know if I have a favourite one. I remember one that I hate!

It was good this summer to work on a project for Tribe 16 because for the first time in ages I did something less commercial, and something a bit more interactive and conceptual. I really wanted to go back to drawing while mixing it with my dotting plus incorporate panel instead of using prints. With Flush this Out I placed the toilet seat on top of the panel. Boris Johnson drove me crazy, for months I was drawing him. I thought to myself what are you doing? Why aren’t you doing your normal process? In the end I had loads of pieces of toilet paper with things written on - I asked the public to write what they wanted on the toilet paper and flush it away.

What is the best space you’ve exhibited in? Was it a solo show, group show or art fair?

I did a solo show in a studio that was really, really beautiful. It was actually nothing major but the building was amazing. It was an ex-factory. I did a joint solo show just me and another artist, we curated everything from the beginning to the end with the director of the studio.  I really felt that it was a break through exhibition; I learnt a lot from that as we put up the exhibition ourselves. The space itself was kind of magical. I realised that it’s where I first kissed my husband - but it wasn’t at the same time as the exhibition. It was a really beautiful space with bricks and two different levels with white walls on the other side and massive high ceilings. I think since that point I have become a more professional artist.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring artists what would it be?

Work hard. Sleep less. Most of all be passionate about what you do, be happy while you’re doing it, always be positive and open to learn everything you can. Get advice from other people but most of all enjoy what you’re doing. Believe in yourself.

Oz, Shoes 9, 2010. Dotting on digital print. 50 x 50 cm £900

You are exhibiting your work in Focus LDN’s Spring Collection in March; tell me about the pieces you will be showing.

I will be showing pieces from a series related to an experience I had in London when I moved in 2009. I was just wandering around, it was really windy and grey, really moody outside and I decided to pop into Harrods to recover a little bit and kill the time. I found my way to the floor where the Christmas department was – it was like August/September with all this music and colour. To think, I was outside in the wind and rain and came inside to this. I did my dissertation on the Wizard of Oz, so I drew comparisons straight away with Dorothy when she came from the black and white Kansas to enter the colourful and magical Land of Oz. So I brought some Christmas decorations home, took pictures of them and ended up doing a whole series. I named them after the characters from The Wizard of Oz because I felt like Dorothy when she meets all her friends throughout her journey. So, I am exhibiting a few pieces from this series because it represents what’s happened to me. It has my story behind it.

Elisa Cantarelli will be exhibiting her dot artworks in The Spring Collection. 28th Feb - 4th March @ Menier Gallery.