On November 20th, the day following the public opening of our Carnovsky RGB: A Voyage exhibit, we invited a few close friends and art enthusiasts to the gallery for an intimate Q&A with Francesco & Silvia, the Milanese duo behind Carnovsky. We knew not everyone would be able to join us, so our team transcribed the interview for global enjoyment. Below you can read some of the highlights of our interview.
Don’t feel like reading? Lucky you, we also recently launched an introspective artist video on the couple. Nuvango talked to the duo about their process, inspirations, collaboration with Nuvango as well as caught up with them while they took in the city of Toronto. We recommend you check out the video and if you can swing it, make your way to our gallery for our Carnovsky closing party. It’s a free event but we ask you give us a heads up here so we know how many Carnovsky fans to expect.
Nuvango: Silvia, Frans [Francesco], maybe you can tell us a little bit about how the two of you came to be Carnovsky, how did you meet?
Carnovsky: Silvia: I’m Colombian, I studied industrial design, and Frans [Francesco] is Italian and he studied art and design as well. We met in Milan in 2004, we were working on our Masters in Design, and after that we decided that we wanted to work together - in 2007 we started Carnovsky (the name comes from Philip Roth, an American writer). When we started, we actually didn't really know what we wanted to do, or how to make this into a job. We didn’t have clients, we didn’t know where to start. We could have made anything from furniture to - well we could do whatever we wanted. So we started experimenting, and we worked with the things we liked most, with lights and printing. So we made photos, we made experiments, and after some time we ended up working with RGB, we understood how it worked.
Nuvango: You said you were doing a Masters of design, and from there you decided that you didn't really want to do what you were going to school for, but you sort of wanted to jump into something creatively that the two of you found a common interest in; so if we look at the work behind us, this is called Landscape number tw for those who don’t know, it’s filled with imagery that is of a different age, it looks very 17th/18th century - can you speak to the inspiration that you used for this particular piece and also your work in general.
Carnovsky: Francesco: We always work with ancient engravings or etchings that we seen in various books, so for inspiration we start with some particular image and then we start to double up a piece. So in this particular piece, there is a landscape where we put together two worlds, one more exotic and one is more related with old-Europe and the way these two worlds are connected, it’s about a voyage, the discovery of North America, you can find many bizarre details, many histories.
Nuvango: I noticed that you've got your blue layer, which is the hardest to see under regular light, it’s very much a nautical scene, and then you’ve got your green layer which is very tropical and lush, and then the more colonized, futile layer in red. Is there a specific process that you go through with each different colour, is there a colour you always use first? How does that effect the next colour that you work with, or does it?
Carnovsky: Silvia: This piece in particular, we worked from the blue layer, which is not usually what we do. We start by talking about what it’s going to be about, this layer will be about the jungle, this one a classic landscape. We actually start creating based on the layer that you see most under the white light, it’s so important, because it gives the structure, so that’s how we normally start. Instead, this one we started from the blue because we really love the sea, and we worked a lot on it, it’s not that easy to put three images together that look good under white light, and that make sense when they change. You’re working with each image at the same time, so the first try it didn't work, but we kept working and working and it worked!
Nuvango: You just mentioned there that the first one you tried it failed, maybe you could speak to some of the processes over the years that you've attempted which didn't work, and how that helped develop what we currently see.
Carnovsky: Francesco: The point is RGB is difficult to do, because you cannot simply put three images together and expect that they work well. Sometimes you just work for months or weeks on one image and you realize they just don't work, and so you have to dump it and start over again.
Nuvango: This is quite obviously a massive piece [Landscape #2], how do you render all the detail and see the entire image, is that difficult to plan?
Carnovsky: Francesco: Yes, it’s difficult because of course we work on a computer so on the screen you can enlarge to check detail, but it’s difficult to imagine the work as an architectural scape, so basically the idea is to go back and forth between small scale and very large scale, sometimes it’s difficult to understand how we reproduce, the process is quite difficult.
Nuvango: Let’s talk about some of the other pieces, we’ve got a series of six prints here, limited edition - 40 only of each, these are called the Atmospheric series, and to my right is the Rosone series. These were all created in different time periods of your career, so the wallpaper is the most recent, the Rosone are from very early in your career, with the Atmospheric series landing in between, so what can you tell us about the inspiration for these or what you were trying to achieve?
Carnovsky: Francesco: Rosone series we started to design in 2010.
Silvia: These were the first things we were to present, the first exhibition we made - when we imagined them, we were thinking they were going to go on the ceiling around a light fixture, but when we were working on them and with so much colour, we liked that they looked like an iris of an eye and as they change, each one has a story. The last three from 2010 were when we started working with nature, but it was nature in general, reptiles, insects, mammals, and the other ones are like a sort of mirror of a specific theme, one is just about the jungle, and the other one is just about the sea.
Francesco: The landscapes are from 2013, they come from the idea of the atmosphere of phenomena, skies and clouds, it’s interesting because they are just made of a few layers and if you combine them in a different manner, they create completely different images with different colours
Nuvango: I noticed there’s also a bit of a digital element to that too, I don’t know if anyones ever taken a photo of a video screen with a phone - but you’ll notice those strange lines that kind of mess around with your sight.
Carnovsky: Francesco: Yes it is a kind of digital effect, which makes it very interesting, it is completely analogue work but it does create a digital interface sort of like a screen, it’s very interesting to me to work with all of these different lines, it creates a sort of digital or electric sky.
Nuvango: Let’s talk about Vesalio, something that our designer Hillary had suggested to me when we were designing the show, and [Carnovsky] had mentioned, it was something you had always wanted to try but never got to it. Could you tell us more about this work?
Carnovsky: Francesco: Vesalio was one of the first pieces we designed, also in 2010, and it comes from the famous Andres Vesalio anatomy drawing, which is from his book “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” in the 16th century, which is still a masterpiece of anatomy, so the images come directly from this book. And yes, we are very glad that you created this on Plexiglass because we always wanted to try this, it really adds another dimension to our work, basically it highlights the three coloured layers but now in 3D.
Silvia: But also the way it is positioned it has a shadow and movement when you walk around it, when we work the layers are placed together in 2D, but here you can walk around it and it adds another dimension.
Nuvango: On another note, what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Carnovsky: Francesco: When I was a kid I wanted to become a scientist, and then growing up and when I was a teenager I wanted to become an artist in some way, so maybe that’s why I put together anatomy, illustration, and art history...
Silvia: I wanted to be a genetic engineer. When I finished school I went to study english in [Atlanta] Georgia for about a year, and then I studied microbiology at the University of Colombia when I moved back home, then I did industrial design - I don't really know why I chose it.
Nuvango: Do you have any advice for people who are emerging artists? Or for people who would like to get into design and art?
Carnovsky: Francesco: Well it is very difficult, because there is no one rule to follow to be successful, there are many different ways, but of course you have to believe in what you do and try to really have bold ideas in the beginning where maybe you don't make money from it. Because for some people in the beginning they just want to do products or something - but I think ideas come first, money or success will follow, put the work first.
Silvia: Find something you really love to do, because to be creative, working in this field, it takes most of your working time and free time, it has to be something you want to do even when you're not working. It has to be something you really enjoy, really want to do, and really believe in. Also, and I say this about our experience as well, if you believe in it, things that may not happen at the beginning are going to happen later, so most of the things you think are not good ideas, something you didn't sell today, you’ll sell tomorrow, and it will be better. If you really love it it doesn't feel like work.
Audience: The technology you use is ultra modern but the work is predating the industrial age, how or where do you see yourselves in time?
Carnovsky: Francesco: We are stuck in between them, that’s a good question, it’s part of our work to put together the past and present along with the technology, so we end up with this sort of pop-renaissance feel
Audience: What’s special about red green and blue? Would this work with other colours, could you add a fourth? Or are these three to most effective?
Carnovsky: Francesco: No, it’s a physical effect, so those are the only colours that can work, it’s really a point of physics, only the primary colours will show up.
Silvia: Actually a Canadian scientist made a vapour to explain how it works using our work with the three colours, we perceive each of them separately in our eyes. we perceive blue with less cones because the wavelengths are shorter, red is the largest or fastest, when we started we didn't know that but it has helped our process.
Audience: Is fashion something you really wanted to do? Is it something you think moving forward you would design specifically for?
Carnovsky: Silvia: In an idealistic way I just wanted to wear it from the very beginning, I always wanted to wear the Rosone print as a skirt, so thank you Hillary for creating it.
Francesco: The first thing we created was some scarves, it was very beginning for us and created opportunities to collaborate with friends like [Nuvango], and Adidas.
Silvia: Adidas was only menswear so I couldn’t wear it, but now with Nuvango I can so I’m happy.
Audience: Is there a message within the nature of perception that you're trying to convey?
Carnovsky: Silvia: Absolutely. Each piece has a story, but the message at the end is that we like movement, nothing is as you perceive it in the moment, nothing stays the same, everything moves.
As a husband-wife artistic duo does that ever get tricky - do you each pursue your own design products independently?
Carnovsky: Silvia: We don't have time - Carnovsky is both of us, it’s 100% of our life.
Francesco: We are lucky, for other people it’s impossible to work creatively together, for us it works, we do everything together, it actually works. We also have our fights of course, life needs balance.
Audience: Some people may not have understood your art at first, were you discouraged? How did you get over that?
Carnovsky: Silvia: I think this happens to any artist, in any field, there will always be people who won’t like it, you don't have to be liked by everybody, but the people who like you are the most important.
Audience: Is there a specific source of illustration that you keep going back to?
Carnovsky: Francesco: We have a huge archive, hundreds and thousands that we keep going back to,it depends on the subject, one of our favourite sources of inspiration is from a book Encyclopédie Méthodique from the late 18th Century, around the French revolution - it’s one of the most beautiful books about nature ever made. It’s a balance between the fantastic and the realistic, many of the animals were drawn from the way people explained them or told stories about them, not from first hand experiences, and that’s how we create, we've never been in a jungle, it’s an interpretation.
Silvia: Rousseau never went to a jungle, he just went to a botanical garden in Paris and tried to figure out the jungle, that’s why it’s so amazing, it’s an interpretation of a place.