Looking at Luca Blasonato’s mixed media paintings is kind of like gazing into a glitching screen.
Vivid plains of colour are interrupted by specs and hazy white space where a series of geometric forms cut through and force you to make up the rest. Other times, they’re evocative of somewhere you think you may have been or of something you might have seen, but it’s hard to place where or what exactly. To try and find my bearings, I decided to sit down with the Australian artist ahead of his upcoming exhibition with Kitty Callaghan, Colour, showing at China Heights this month, where he pushes his enigmatic works into new territory.
Looking around his Darlinghurst-based studio that’s situated across the road from where he’s currently studying his masters at The National Art School (NAS), colour is rife: paint swatches cover the wall, boxes overflow with vibrant fabrics that spill onto the floor, various hues adorn works in process that wait calmly for their time to come. ‘There’s no getting away from it,’ he says, ‘particularly in his new body of work, The exhibition is called Colour, which is a reference to my uncle’s old surf brand that I’ve kind of taken over into the painting world now. Obviously colour is one of the main themes for my paintings and they’re very processed based—mixed media, working with paint, bleach, stitching, read-made canvases—it’s all colour dyed canvas, I don’t usually work in primaries, I’m more into pastels, it’s a bit mixed—but there’s an openness to the painting because they’re not confined to any style or genre in a way… Some are landscapes or appear to be landscapes, some are just image paintings, some are straight abstractions—I’m trying to keep an openness to my work.’
Borrowing from the junctures between photography and film, surfing and skating, cloth and clothing, much of Blasonato’s work is informed by the everyday and his constant wandering in the streets of his beloved Darlo. ‘I think I spend more time out of the studio; sometimes I struggle to be in the studio… It’s a lot more thinking time rather than making time. There are actually four paintings that are [based on these ventures], two of them I painted as paintings of paintings, of murals I found on the street, one on Victoria Street and one on Thompson Street, they’re landscape murals and then I’ve kind of abstracted from that. The other two are like prints that I’ve seen on the ground I abstracted from photos… I’m always taking photos.’ When I ask him how many photographs he has on his phone, he smiles and shrugs. ‘I have no storage left.’
Playing with his viewers’ memory recall and sensory responses, Blasonato continuously blurs the line between the physical and digital realm. This is no coincidence for an artist who rarely works straight from life. Drawing on an ongoing archive of images and photographs that are either taken by himself, cut from magazines or books, or screen-grabbed from movies, his compositions are collaged together and abstracted to their furthest point. Working in this forensic approach, Blasanato sifts through his sources and begins to build images and references layer upon layer, creating space between the original image and his representation of it. In the process, they become his images entirely. ‘I think freedom comes through the material and material play, that’s where it gets loose. But it’s [a] very structured [process] beforehand,’ he reasons.
Sometimes his pieces follow his sources closely, others take on lives of their own, but it’s the weird and warped that forms a common ground for them to return to. ‘I like a lot of crappy VHS movies because they’re already distorted and abstract, and it pretty much just becomes colour field painting,’ he explains. ‘Because that’s what it is, really. You just see all these broken up fields, and it’s not about what’s going on in it, you see these different blends and stuff like that. That’s where a lot of my images come from, and from screenshots. Maybe even further screenshot in that image to distort it even more. I might only get a few colours… Then it’s funny when I go to paint it because it’s so ambiguous already, I really have to work to figure it out. In some ways, it would almost be better to represent these works as photos. Because I work from photos and they’re already this thing, and then I’m working even harder to bring them into another thing.’
While this won’t be the first time his work has exhibited at China Heights, it is his most extensive showing to date, with a catalogue brimming with nine new works. No stranger to the local Sydney art scene, Blasonato’s work has featured in a number of group shows around town, including I’m Still Here at Pass~Port Story & Gallery in September last year. This is where I first encountered one of his works, a plume of bleach erupting in cloud-like folds across its blue canvas in folds, caught somewhere between sky and screen time. It was really beautiful. Drawing parallels with the work of American artist Helen Frankenthaler, Blasonato not only shares her approach to stain-soaking canvas but also their quest for beauty within painting. ‘I want it to be quite a moving experience, and quite sensory,’ says Blasonato when I ask him what he hopes people will take away from the show. And I guess, so would Frankenthaler, who once said: ‘A line, colour, shapes, spaces, all do one thing for and within themselves, and yet do something else, in relation to everything that is going on within the four sides [of the canvas]. A line is a line, but [also] is a colour… It does this here, but that there. The canvas surface is flat and yet the space extends for miles. What a lie, what trickery—how beautiful is the very idea of painting.’
Go forth and let the colours wash over you at China Heights, Friday 18th June from 6 pm.