Life’s backdrop­­­

In her two years living and working in Vietnam, painter Barbara Pellizzari Anchisi has brought a new look and impression of Vietnam to both local and foreign audiences with her sophisticated artwork.

By Le Diem on November 15,2014 11:00 PM

Life’s backdrop­­­

Painter Barbara Pellizzari Anchisi and her work

In her two years living and working in Vietnam, painter Barbara Pellizzari Anchisi has brought a new look and impression of Vietnam to both local and foreign audiences with her sophisticated artwork.

At her exhibitions in Vietnam she expresses her eye for and love of the country through familiar images of both lively city life and the peaceful moments spent by local people. Such images include shops side-by-side, parents carrying their children on a motorbike, an old man reading a book, workers sleeping in a hammock, porters taking a smoke break, kites soaring in the air, and people playing ‘da cau’ (shuttle cock kicking).

In particular, Barbara uses do paper, a common material in Vietnam made from Rhamnoneuron Balansae , to express her ideas in a subtle range of colours and tones inlaid on canvas that allow viewers to appreciate the metaphorical association of colour and the personality of the artist.

Born in Turin in Italy, Barbara earned a diploma in fashion, theatre design and painting conservation before working with several art institutes the US, Austria, Pakistan and China. Her works have been displayed in a number of solo exhibitions, both in Italy and abroad.

She spoke with The Guide about her passion for painting and for Vietnam.

Life’s backdrop­­­

How was your love of painting first inspired?

Since I was a child I’ve always been attracted to art. I spent hours drawing and colouring. At the age of eight I discovered comic books and used to find great pleasure in copying my favourite characters. I carried on with my passion through high school then attended the Fashion and Costume Design Art Institute in Turin.

So did you start your career as a comic book painter or a fashion designer?

Neither. In my last year of high school I took a school trip to Florence, which I fell madly in love with. I explored the beauty of the masterpieces from the Uffizi. That was really the beginning of everything because I decided, after graduation, to attend the painting and conservation course at Palazzo Spinelli in Florence.

How were your first days as a painting conservator?

Restoration became my true first love. After the two-year course I had the pleasure of developing my skills by working with the master Edo Masini and his assistant Stefano Scarpelli in their studio for four years. I worked on masterpieces from Caravaggio, Andrea Del Sarto, and Silvestro Lega, to mention just a few, and a series of Flemish still lifes. The details from those paintings, the rotten fruit, and the drop of water on grapes, built my passion for painting everyday objects. I then fell into the beauty of paper and the watercolour technique.

Is your first ‘love’ also your ‘life partner’?

No. After 15 years as a painting conservator I realised how difficult it was to keep doing it while constantly changing country with my husband’s job. It was in Shanghai in 2002 that I decided to challenge myself and to present my first solo exhibition. After taking a course on traditional Chinese ink, I decided to go back to my roots. The exhibition would have been of still lifes made with a watercolour technique on Fabriano paper. I wanted to paint fruit and vegetables from the everyday market with detail and with the accuracy I learned from the Flemish artists when I was a student in Florence.

I think changes are part of my growth as an artist. I started with watercolour still life and moved to Chinese ink and gauche to printing boats and, now, my latest work: portraiture. All my projects have been made with mixed techniques. Even the first watercolours had an acrylic background.

Has life abroad influenced your style and technique?

Yes. Apart from Italy, where I built the base of my knowledge, each country I lived in has influenced my work. I cannot detach myself from what surrounds me. My work is the means of revealing how we can all be as deeply involved in our surroundings as I feel myself to be. This happens in many ways: from my everyday life like taking photographs, interacting with people, getting around, and giving art lessons to street children, and more specifically to the art world, such as visiting museums and galleries, analysing the techniques used by local artists, going to artists’ talks, and searching for local materials. They are all part of my growth.

Which country have you preferred living and working in the most?

China, where I lived for 16 years, and now Vietnam, which has influenced more of my work. I cannot really say which one I prefer. China and Pakistan are also very important to me as well for my personal life, as my three kids were born there. I started my artistic life in Shanghai, I extended it in Beijing and now I’m adding new pieces to it living in HCMC. Everything is connected.

How has Vietnam influenced your work?

Coming from the dull, grey, polluted Beijing winter, the light, the colours, the perfumes, and the chaotic life of HCMC overwhelmed me. Then I discovered the Saigon River, which I realised was inextricably part of the city. From that point the idea for my first exhibition in Vietnam, ‘Cargo’, was born. I decided to express all my first impressions from my new life by combining the placid boats with the buildings, the scooters, the religions and the colours of the city.

The portraits for the second exhibition, ‘Attimi - Images of the ordinary in Vietnam’, came as a natural consequence of my living here. Going around by scooter, you become part of the crowd. People are talking to you at the traffic lights, they smile at you, and they want to help as soon as you look at a city map. From my side, I noticed the gentleness of their smiles, the elegance of their postures, and I decided to represent them. For the first time in my artistic life, I decided to do portraiture.

In the exhibition many visitors are surprised by and appreciate your creative application of do paper in your paintings. Can you tell us how you combined this Vietnamese material and your technique?

I love to work with paper. I always have and I discovered do paper by visiting art exhibitions. I started experimenting on it with ink, tempera, and biro and decided to use it as support for my new project. I also looked at old posters, to look at how people were painted, the simplicity of the lines. I decided that my personal interpretation in the project would be in the clothes people were wearing. My goal was that the clothes should represent their soul: the past, the present and the future. For this reason I decided to colour and print symbols from every day life on rice paper: the coffee machine, the lotus, the pho, the @ symbol, and the rooster, and with this paper I dressed my portraits with colourful collages.

Do you like pho?

I love Vietnamese street food, banh xeo, and Hue cuisine.

Besides enjoying Vietnamese food, what else are you interested in doing when you have free time?

On the weekend I love to go with my husband to watch people flying kites. I also give voluntary lectures three times a week at Pho Cap, a school for street children.

What do you think about the teaching job and your Vietnamese students?

I taught art at international schools in China for nine years. I always find art very helpful for children with learning issues. Working with street children gives me the opportunity to show them a different world from their traditional environment. Their response to my teaching has always been extremely active and positive. I try to involve the children in the art in many ways: not only with the lesson but, once a year, by taking a trip to San Art and with other charity events.

Is there any trend you are drawn to now?

I’m going to start a lacquer course in a few weeks. For the first time I won’t work on paper. It is going to be challenging but I am extremely fascinated by the technique and I can’t wait to start.

Could you tell us about your next exhibition?

My work is regularly exhibited at Sadec, a beautiful home décor shop in town. I like the trend of the managers and the fact that people can see my work in beautiful surroundings. I’m also a member of Ponti per l’Arte, a cultural association from Milan. As soon as I complete my lacquers, if the results please me I’m planning a combined exhibition with Carla Volpiati, another member of the association.

Thank you!

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