GLASSED OVER

By Lisa Gwen

I’ve always had a thing for Pop Art. I was fascinated by the way Abstract Expressionism transformed, morphed and gradually evolved into the former movement, and how, for a while, there was an apparent in-betweeness; a brief coexistence of movements which became manifest in the work of Robert Rauschenberg or Claes Oldenburg.

Oldenburg’s work is precisely what triggered this train of thought: The depiction of everyday, mundane objects was the artist’s conscious choice, and as Robert Hughes had acutely pointed out, “converting [these objects] into metaphors of the body and the self”.

This description is also quite fitting of Massimo Nordio’s glass artefacts – an art form which he, is literally taking to new heights.

Massimo presently lives between Venice and Malta – having recently acquired a property in the capital city, it was possible to set an informal meeting with him to discuss his work and projects – past and present – ahead of his solo show at Palazzo Parisio this October, where he will be exhibiting a range of works from various collections, including items from his Myths and Nereides series.

We met over coffee at Café Cordina. I spotted him without really knowing whom I was expecting. Yet his calm and poised demeanour, coupled with a mischievous twinkle in his piercingly glacial blue eyes, gave away his North Italian origins. Conversation was instantly sparked, with stories of his country, background and preferred artistic medium taking precedence. I was particularly interested in the production of glass in Venice and Murano, as well as the role of the artistic community amidst the backdrop of the Venice Biennale, international art foundations and highly reputable private collections.

I recalled having read an article a while back about the depletion of master glassmakers in Murano, and how the author had pinned the situation to the difficulty of recruiting young Venetians to the trade coupled with the production of cheap imitation products from Asia and Eastern Europe. Massimo elaborates and adds further layers to the scenario with which I present him: he proffers that the dire situation is also a result of master glassmakers being reluctant of their children following in their trade due to the physically demanding and laborious work entailed.

Furthermore, in Massimo’s view there has been a whole shift in the mindset of buyers: “In the past, it was prestigious to purchase and own a lighting fixture made of glass, but nowadays, people are choosing the cheaper option. The need for beauty doesn’t really exist anymore – young people once took pride in sitting at home, basking in their environments, in the beautiful objects surrounding them – but this has shifted. The need to purchase decorative objects is an era that has ended”.

Our animated discussion shifts to the art scene in Venice as soon as I ask him about the challenges of working in such a vibrant hub of artistic activity and focal destination for cultural tourists. Massimo explains how Venice sees roughly 100,000 visitors daily, but how ‘the competition’ among artists is largely virtual – “it (the competition) lasts all of two weeks, during the inaugural show. But the artists in Venice don’t have much of a link to the Biennale anymore; there was once a big community of resident Venetian artists… but the structure has changed.” Indeed, Venice has become a melting pot for artists and cultural professionals during Biennale season, so much so, that it is often hard to come by resident artists and private studios.

Which brings us to his artistic practice: Massimo reveals that his interest in glass came about indirectly – through photography, art dealing and collecting. “Design came later”, he admits. His first glass works were functional pieces, receptacles; he was highly interested in comprehending and apprehending classical techniques and forms. This occupied his research, experimentation and energies for ten years, after which time, he decided to “investigate new things”.

Whilst flipping through his 2009 exhibition catalogue of a series he collectively titled, Myths, Oldenburg’s Clothespin kept coming to mind, as did Luqa’s infamous Colonna Mediterranea, and Egypt’s ancient obelisks amongst others. His Myths are the repeated and quasi obsessed representation of screws – of various shapes, sizes, heights and diameters. His work has not been abstracted in any way – it is rather, highly representational, and the artist has admitted to “phallic and totemic” references in his work. His choice of subject matter is nevertheless intriguing, and provides much fodder for conversation.

“I have this concept” he says somewhat coyly, “that everything is held together by screws.” Massimo elaborates by explaining how this collection also taps into personal experience: “I was doing up a log cabin in the mountains, and half of the items purchased to furnish the place came from IKEA. Where flat-packed furniture is concerned, the importance lies on the screw. It was then that I decided I must celebrate this obsession.”

Contrastingly yet complementarily, Massimo created the Nereides series as a reference to his Myths. Lips – smiling, serious or sultry – are the perfect “feminine counterpart to the screw,” he tells me. Despite the overt reference to Greek mythology, I find that Massimo’s works also reference Man Ray or Salvador Dali’s preoccupation and repeated representation of feminine lips. Interestingly, the Surreal artists’ philosophy and attitude towards women was “rooted in the 19th century image of the femme fatale, the voracious, devouring woman who caused man’s fall from grace.”[1] Massimo’s work might thus be a conscious or unconscious homage to the Surrealists as the Nereides series was created during a time when the artist felt the need of, and sought, silence.

Massimo’s work is decidedly provocative. He provokes us with his subject matter, which is often enhanced by the hierarchical size of his subjects. And we as viewers, are easy preys, especially when these subjects which are playful and highly aesthetic, and presented in an array of rich and shimmering colours and glazes.

Before parting, I ask Massimo about Malta, and the city which he will soon be able to call his second home. Massimo smiles whilst telling me that Valletta and Venice have many similarities and that every day he discovers something new to add to that list. He first visited the archipelago in 1970, whilst looking for an alternative to Venice. “I look for protection,” he admits, “this might be in the form of bastions, or a wall of water…” As to his work, Malta hasn’t yet been transcended or translated into three dimensional form, but I’m sure there will be plenty of time for him to soak up our honey-coloured architecture or the infinite shades of blue in our sea and for them to somehow make their way into his glass sculptures.

Massimo Nordio is represented in Malta by Lily Agius Gallery, located at 54 Cathedral Street, Sliema. For more information call +356-9929-2488, email info@lilyagiusgallery.com and log on to www.lilyagiusgallery.com

[1] Robert J. Belton, Edgar Allan Poe and the Surrealists Image of Women, published in the Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 8 No. 1, 1987.

Artists featured: MASSIMO NORDIO

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