The Bureau: Filippo Caramazza

Written by Drake's - 22 March 2018

We sit down with London-based artist Filippo Caramazza, to discuss jazz, painting and personal style.

I recall always enjoying painting, but it was not something I seriously considered pursuing until relatively late. It was only during my time at the Royal College of Arts that things took a different course. Until then, I was primarily a musician. At a very young age, however, until my early teens, I decided on following in my mother’s footsteps and becoming a tailor. She herself worked on Savile Row, mainly at Huntsman, and Gieves & Hawkes. It was a familiar environment, and one I enjoyed. The workshops gave me a fascinating insight into the meticulous construction of a jacket, say, and an appreciation of good craft and design, be it a suit or a chair. I also remember she would often work on trousers for the stars of the time - David Niven, Gregory Peck and Kirk Douglas immediately come to mind - and as a youngster that felt glamorous too.

I don’t exclusively focus on classical figurative art, although I certainly look at work from this period. I am equally drawn to Giotto as I am to Guston, or a textile fragment at the British Museum as to a fashion magazine. With the internet, all styles and periods have become dizzyingly accessible, and painting has such a rich history. In one way or another every painting creates a critical dialogue, or is a comment on this painterly tradition, revisiting and touching on and expanding themes or possibilities that seem pertinent at various times. My attitude to painting shares common interests with my musical background, particularly jazz. As a musical form it is rigorous, yet this same rigour allows for the greatest inventive possibilities. I’m drawn to the compositional/improvisational aspect - for example [Charlie] Parker’s seamless ability to find new ways to move from one chord to another, harmonically playing “out” for instance, where operating on the fringes, a player creates various tensions.

Often the music seems to give the sensation of working independently to the performers, the form teetering then beginning to unravel in unforeseen ways. [Francis] Bacon also spoke of the use of controlled chance in his work and knowing how best to utilise such moments. If I reference another’s work, I see it in the same way as reworking standards. New compositions, in turn become standards to be reworked: Parker’s ‘Scrapple from the Apple’ is a mixture of Waller’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’. Coltrane’s composition ‘26-2’ as a reworking of Parker’s ‘Confirmation’ with ‘Giant Steps’ changes.

In painterly terms my work might circle around such things as gesture, the decorative, and the readymade. Through such themes, I try to unpick the conditions that circulate around an image, shaping our perception of it, for instance the outmoded and peripheral. As such, the past itself is not static and recoverable and the very idea of tradition is something more creative and mobile.

There certainly is a rich tradition of artists who are seen as style icons. However, I’m certainly not one of those! [David] Hockney immediately comes to mind. I like his apparent ease and soft formality. I don’t think I’m best placed to comment really, particularly for this article and for such a stylish company. I’m usually in the studio and scruffy. Occasionally I scrub up to resemble something half decent.

I would say my tastes are quite simple - muted colours, simple designs. I’m not a great shopper - it can be hard work because I am particular about my scruffiness! I have relatively few clothes, but they’re of a good quality so age well, becoming soft and familiar, and, importantly, are easily interchangeable. That makes things easy. In contrast to me, my father was always finely dressed. I keep a few handmade shirts he had beautifully tailored in Sicily from the ‘50s folded away. That was just before he decided to move to London. They’re some of my most valued possessions.