Re-Imagining the Human Form: We Talk with Ernesto Romano about his Digital Manipulation of X-Rays

What do you do?

I work with the digital manipulation of x-rays, sometimes I superimpose flowers, other times I don’t.

What started this interest in creating art from x-rays?

Basically I had some x-rays of myself at home and every time I looked at them I knew I wanted to do something with them, because I thought they were really beautiful as an object. They have this glossy plastic acetate and from a design point of view I found them quite attractive. They way you can see yourself and the way it’s presented is quite interesting.

Where do you source your x-rays from?

They are mainly mine, though I have done also a few portraits of people who gave me their own x-rays to work with.

How did that develop on into you superimposing images on Photoshop?

With the first works I would grow flowers or go to the botanical garden in Padova where I used to live, which is the oldest in Europe. They have an amazing collection of rare plants, flowers and leaves. I was trying to match the shape of these flowers to the organs or internal structures to convey the idea of living forms being part of the same energy and also to see the x-rays as the physical part of our lives and the flowers as the spiritual aspect, the soul or whatever you believe in.

So, your flowers are a connection to something beyond.

Yes, in a way being part of the same universe.

How long have you been an artist for?

I started in 2008.

And what were you doing before that?

I graduated as an architect, so that is my background, I think sometimes this shaped me in the way I see connection between the use of objects and the way I see colour. Also, I have been working almost my entire life as an interior designer, so I am quite interested in the use of colour and materials; I think this may have influenced the way I try to compose images.

Well with architecture you look at structures and with the x-rays you look at the human structure, the skeleton.

That’s a good point. Since I was a kid I have always been fascinated by anatomy and botany. My father Is a doctor, so I always had a lot of interesting materials at home to look at. I really like to look at the human body as a machine, to convey the message that yes we are human, but we have something that other creatures don’t have, something that goes beyond. I’m really fascinated by how people live their lives and where we come from. Even though what I do is quite simple, I always think that it conveys something of the beyond.

In a way you are taking the human form down to its foundations and then introducing a spiritual level. You remove the human we always see which is the skin and the flesh, and you are adding on this botanical/ spiritual dimension in a re-imagining of the human form.

I think it is like imagining an autopsy where you are analysing not only the material parts, but more the feelings: fears, joys, whatever that thing is that we can’t represent, so the only medium we have is how we look inside ourselves.

What has been the most pivotal moment in your career so far as an artist?

I think something I did at the end of 2015; I used a front view of my skull. It is a really important year for me as I turned forty and so I made forty different colours for my skull and I gave it an ironic title, “The Importance of Being Ernest,” this is something, because of my name that people always jokingly reference to.

So, it is a personal artwork that you created there.

What is important is that these forty colours have become a trade mark for me. I decided that for future projects I want to only use these forty colours.

You say forty colours as your trade mark, but that is a lot of colours, so what is specific to you about those colours?

The way I chose them was interesting because I got twenty pages of combinations of cyan magenta, yellow, red, blue, green and then I started putting them in Photoshop one by one and deciding which ones I liked and which I didn’t.

So, you have the code for each colour?

Yes, and now each one of these codes has a layer in Photoshop with its combination of colours. I do work with x-rays and glitter overlay and basically each of those things is a one off in one of those forty colours, so it is my way of doing limited yet original editions.

So, you only have one print for each colour?

Yes, it is a different way of maintaining originality in each piece. I like that I am now working with these forty colours, sometimes together and sometimes individual, one-off pieces.

Where do you see yourself taking this style?

There are a few things that I would like to develop and some goals that I would like to achieve. One of them has been something that I started a while back, I would still like to develop the use of x-rays as a means of portrait, so I would like more people to recognise what I do and be intrigued by that and give up their fear that people normally have about x-rays. It happened in the past, one of my collectors hesitated in giving me a beautiful x-ray of herself, because I think it is personal and frightening or scary, normally an x-ray is done to look for something that doesn’t work; I don’t see it like that

So, she was scared of showing you the thing that was initially done in the search for a problem?

Most people like keep their x-rays, they have a fetish for them, I do as well. People sometimes have this conflict, they have the print of the x-ray because they had to have it done. They keep it and they have this sort of hate and love towards this piece of acetate.

Other things that I would like to do is my brain. I had an MRI done in March. I asked to have an MRI carried out of my brain just to have the images for artistic use, so now I have a lot of material to work with. I also have a 3d model of my brain.

It’s interesting looking at the human anatomy, but in a totally new explorative way and digitally playing with that whilst exploring materials such as gold glitter. It’s quite unheard of and it’s a unique way of gaining insight into the human body.

My very first artwork was actually a scan of my brain where there was this hibiscus flower opening and dying over nineteen frames and sections of my brain. Two of these frames were the flower opening and dying as it is a very ephemeral flower, which only lasts one day. So, we have this very ephemeral creature, the hibiscus, and it’s life is confined to one day and we have the human brain, which is the most complex object in the universe and is capable of very good things or very bad things.

I am excited by anatomy, especially brain and heart because those two organs display how big we are and at how small we are. 

Ernesto will be exhibiting his unique digital artworks in Focus LDN's 2017 Winter Exhibition, this December at the Menier Gallery.