Interview for the Shirley Hannan Portraiture Prize 2020

by Elizabeth Walton   OZ ARTS ISSUE 21 Spring 2020

Finalist Matteo Bernasconi has kept his focus on the arts with his shortlisted portrait of Carl Vine, in a tribute to Vine’s 20 years with Musica Viva. In this work Bernasconi tried invoke the space where music and art overlap.

“I feel that this is a definition of my life!” Bernasconi says.
“My partner works in music and is a dancer. Together we constantly create these overlaps in either her events, or my exhibitions.”

It was through this connection that he first met Carl Vine, whose music, he says, shifts accents, intervals and empty spaces in the same way an artist does.
“The composer needs to shape every little aspect, light, shade, colour, form. The space is an element which can be integrated into the composition to a degree -where space becomes the protagonist in the meaning of a work.”



During the pandemic, Bernasconi shuttered his gallery Peach Black Gallery in Sydney, a space he dedicates to expanding contemporary creative conversations that embraces not just visual art, but music, dance, poetry and philosophy. “It’s been heartbreaking,” he says, “to watch things crumble around us. It has made a lot of people stop, reflect and turn to creative industries to help cope and make sense of these unprecedented times – whether it be through listening to music, meditation, dance, writing or even watching movies and Netflix. This is why I believe that the arts need more support.


The arts and philosophy are our most powerful tools.”


Bernasconi’s greatest desire it to carve a space in our
culture that values not just visual artists, but creative thinkers, influencing future generations, from philosophers, to musicians to writers.


“Art, philosophy and literature have been pillars of our culture for thousands of years, but recently we took a different path. It starts in school – the place of formation, where humanistic subjects are gradually decreased and supplanted by more technic-scientificsubjects. We behave as though art, philosophy and literature are not essential.”


Despite its restraint, realistic portraiture has the capacity to present a more lively take on modern life than a photo, which can at times capture in all its precision something of a lifeless moment. “I find a good portrait much more realistic than a photograph,” Bernasconi says.


“In painting you can depict a physical appearance but also something else of the subject, that’s why a good painting is more realistic than photography.

What our brain perceives is not only what the camera captures.

If I show you a photo of me what do you understand about me?

If I show you one of my self-portraits
I think it would definitely say more about me.”

A great example of this, he says, is Picasso’s Guernica. “How the war was captured is so much more realistic than the actual war photos. Even the greatest master painters sooner or later discovered that physical appearance wasn’t the only goal to achieve. All the masters got more loose with the age.”


Last year Bernasconi created the Winter Collective, a series of live music performances featuring dance and poetry from different cultures, with art exhibitions and artworks as backdrops, creating a dialogue between the audience and the artists in a similar vein to the Ballet Russes, when Diaghilev, Modigliani, Prokofiev, Picasso, Satie, Matisse and many others collaborated across artforms.


“Combining visual art and music is a powerful combination,”
he says. “Being able to live and breathe this every day with my partner is a dream come true.”
Bernasconi left Italy 15 years ago venturing first to London, Barcelona, Seville and Lisbon before visiting Australia for a six months holiday. On 14 July 2020, he became an Australian citizen.

matteo bernasconi artist emerging australia modern art
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