‘Sometimes the positive comes out of the negative. When you are an artist, it is the negative things in your life that most of the time drive you to make art. When I look at myself as a painter, the moment I’m in front of a canvas it is always because I went through something in my life that hurt me and I need to express that pain. The negative is being processed to something positive.’
This is what Pietro Calia told me during our lunch in Amsterdam some months ago. He was there for a few months but his base is London.
When did you start painting?
5 years ago when I was still living in Milan. I never painted before in my life. I went to a little shop in Chinatown to buy canvases and brushes. And I just started. The second year when I was painting, I was living in London and I applied for the London Art Fair and I got in! That was an amazing feeling for me. In the beginning of 2017 I did a course at Central Saint Martins in London and the teacher told me that my style was very different from his but it was ok, and I was doing well. Needed to just keep going. So that brought me to the Amsterdam Art Fair in September 2017. I really enjoyed meeting other artists at the fair and just random people walking by and stopping to ask about my work.
You grew up in Italy, how was that?
Yes, I grew up in Sicily. My most important memory is going to the beach and swimming at night. It’s amazing to swim in the dark, with almost no noise, just the sea and very little that you can see around you. I really love that. My teenage years till I was 19 were all on the island before moving to Milan.
When looking back at your teenage years, what is the strongest feeling you had?
I wrote a lot when I was a teenager until I moved to Milan where I was able to publish my work from the past years. I was happy when I could move to Milan, I always wanted to leave the island and I guess that was the strongest feeling I had in my teenage years. To spread my wings and leave the island.
Do you miss Sicily?
Not really, I enjoy going there on holiday now but I don’t want to live there again. My parents and family are still living there.
So you’re a writer, painter, model and you love fashion?
Yes, I’m working on a t-shirt creation now but painting is my biggest love. There are no rules when I have a brush in my hands. When I’m walking home, the ideas pop up in my head and when I come home I just transfer them on a canvas and don’t change anything. It stays like that and I want it to be as close as possible to the idea or vision that I had in mind when I was walking home. With writing it was the same thing, I sometimes woke up in the night and heard the words that I had to write down. I enjoy modelling too, it gives me a view on who I am from another angle. It’s turning the mirror around. In my paintings I am naked emotionally but when I’m naked in front of a camera, it’s another me.
What is the most positive thing that happened so far in your life as a painter?
I love to show my paintings to others and wait for the moment where someone describes themselves in it. Let me explain: a lot of the times when I show a painting, people try to find meanings in it that are coming from me, but what most of the people don't realise is that these comments are actually their own feelings, their own struggles or moods that they are in. And when that happens it really gives me a good feeling because it means that my work is helping that person in front of me to express a feeling that is in them and they might not even have been aware of it being there. You are looking in a mirror when you describe a painting that I made. So it’s a lot of different moments actually that I see as positive, linked to my work but I always love showing my work for this specific reason.
Who’s work as a painter are you following?
I’m not really looking at any other work or painters. In the academy we had an assignment to choose one artist that we like and make a version of one of that artists paintings in our own style. That was the only moment when I looked around me to discover other work and I landed on a painting of Magritte. I like his work.
How does Amsterdam inspire you?
I came here a couple of years ago for the first time and I visited a lot of museums and stores back then to realise how many hearts are here in the streets, on walls, in pictures, drawings and so much more. It really inspired me a lot to make several paintings when I was back in London. But next to that, it’s the people living, moving, working in a city that inspire me the most. And in each city I can find another kind of population to say it like that. People in London are different from people in Amsterdam and people in Milan and so on.
So is it right to say that you are living in a very positive way but when something happens in your life that hurts, you grab your brush and paint what you feel on a canvas?
Yes, you're right. When I was a teenager and I wanted to leave Sicily I was kind of living in another World through my writing.
You are here in Amsterdam for 3 month now and staying one more month, what is your favourite sensation of the city?
The Haarlemmerplein is a square that I really love. Also the street going to the square is my favourite, it has a lot of small shops and restaurants. The people walking around, going in stores, spending time with each other. So I guess the constant buzz of people is my favourite sensation of Amsterdam.
How do you compare the style of clothes here with London?
Amsterdam is not really a fashion city like London. There’s no fashion week here and that makes a big difference. I am working also in the fashion industry and I have the feeling that Amsterdam is more uniform minded. A lot of the same pieces are sold here which makes the general look or style when you look around in the streets very similar. In London it’s the complete opposite. Unique pieces are crucial there and everyone seeks there own style. It’s like painting to me. You’re an artist when you produce something new in your mind, and not just copy/paste someone else.
What is your Headspot, Eyespot and Mouthspot in Amsterdam? *
The Eyespot is definitely Haarlemmerplein. The W hotel rooftop bar and restaurant are my Mouthspot. I get most inspiration in the area where we are now, across Het Ij. I really love graffiti and street artists who are working here are awesome. So that's my Headspot.
Amsterdam in one word?
It’s not comparable with anything else. It’s very different from anything I know or seen so far.
And what is an Amsterdam song for you?
Cherry by Lana del Rey, it became the soundtrack of the city for me.
X This conversation had place in the late summer of 2017
X Interview and photography by Johan Bockstaele
X Images captured with a Hasselblad 501c, Carl Zeiss optics and Kodak film
X Interview conducted in English and edited by the clever ZOTEYE minions
*a place in the city where the person being interviewed goes when he/she needs a place to get inspired, contemplate about life or think about what to eat that evening (HeadSpot), a place to look around and give the eyes a blast or a meditative session (EyeSpot) and a place where he/she keeps going time after time to eat and/or drink something because it is ri-di-cu-lous-ly yummie. (MouthSpot)