Francesca Leone: Beyond the Water @ Opera Gallery London

Opera Gallery London presents the solo show of Italian born artist Francesca Leone, titled ‘Beyond the Water’ comprising of some 20 large scale portrait paintings.

Leone’s works are close up portraits of male and female figures depicted under falling water. The positioning of her models is reminiscent of her father’s (Sergio Leone) main film making style of intense close up shots as seen in movies such as ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in America’. Her personal style evokes influences from great portraiture masters such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon; simultaneously, inspirations from abstract expressionism are detectable. The work of post-war artist Nicolas Carone echoes features recognisable in Leone’s visual vocabulary. And although the presence of the water element in portraiture has thoroughly been recycled in both contemporary photography and painting (with Chinese artist Liu Baomin as a good candidate), Leone succeeds in creating unique environs by placing her protagonists in the spotlight.

The antithetical context of the title for all works, ‘Flussi Immobili’ (=Motionless Flows) is suggestive of one of the key properties of water; it can bring out emotions and (re)actions by relentlessly digging deeper and deeper, similarly to what erosion can do on the toughest rock. Leone’s portraits present (at least to the viewers) anonymous heroes stripped of their feelings by becoming diaphanous through the transparency of water. I cannot be sure whether Leone gives us the physical exoteric image (façade) of her characters or exposes their hidden self. Could her paintings reflect her subject’s esoteric experience, or could it even be a snapshot of the ‘personal unconscious’ as defined in Jungian psychology?

Francesca Leone talked to REVma -/+ about her work:

REVma -/+: Do you have in mind or recall a particular emotional moment when you are in the process of producing a painting?
F.L.: It is easy to believe that an artist’s favourite moment is when their artwork is completed. In reality, for me this isn’t the case: I like best the moment after I have already started working and when the artwork starts getting into shape. At this moment, my state of mind goes from big excitement to a state of emotional trance; a state that ends as soon as the artwork is completed.

REVma -/+: Your visual language has an immense cinematographic character. To what extent do you think the work of your father Sergio has influenced you?
F.L.: Probably yes, but it is not voluntarily. Since I was a little girl, my father brought me onto his movie filming sets, I followed all the steps of the elaboration of films; I lived in the cinema, in the imaginary from a close-up. I couldn’t tell whether this is in my DNA or if it is what I experienced that influenced me. But I think that it doesn’t matter.

REVma -/+: What led you to the decision of using the water effect element in your portraits?
F.L.: The phase of preparation of my works is photography. The faces I paint are submerged by water, which exposes the soul, sets it in the instant and tells the emotional state of the moment. When one is immerged into water, they lose all control over things, they lose the façade. Water washes everything; all that’s left is the true human nature. Water disfigures, erases the features, creating a dual significance: an open mouth can represent suffocation or – in the contrary – the breathing, it can represent death or re-birth.

REVma -/+: What is your favourite medium and why?
F.L.: I love to experiment. Indeed, in my latest series, I used diverse materials such as paper, sand, cellophane, but in spite of that I still cannot give up the paintbrush and oil paint.