The Genteel
April 21, 2021


Painting by Francesca Leone. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Having the internationally celebrated movie director and producer Sergio Leone as a father, and Rome's prima ballerina - Carla Leone - as a mother, Francesca Leone had big shoes to fill when growing up. Nonetheless, showing her art work all over the world, including representing Italy at the Venice Biennale in 2011, Leone proves to have nothing to envy about her parents' success. The Genteel sat down with this incredibly talented contemporary artist to find out more about her work.

Francesca Leone
Francesca Leone. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

1. What made you start painting? And why the monumental format?

I have always painted; I think it's an innate passion. There wasn't a specific cause that made me start. It was more of an instinctive necessity to express myself through this medium as a way to let my emotions and thoughts flow through shapes and colours.

It was also this expressive research that led me to the maxi format. I gradually searched for larger dimensions in order for the gestures to be liberating as well.

In some way, [I] started to find the canvas too small, as in limiting, while my works requested more and more vigour for room to breathe. It was like they were pushing out of the canvas; as they were struggling to stay closed in a small space. And then there's a real physical need to release energy and let it flow in a sort of action painting that allows me to come into contact with the canvas and with the material.

2. Your father, Sergio Leone, was a legendary Italian film director. How has this close connection to the cinema influenced your work?

There's certainly a great influence of my father's films in my vision of the world and of people. I have always lived on images, ever since I was a child and I went with my father to the movie sets. The images became part of me without me even noticing it. Maybe I can mention the cuts of faces, the search for intense expression; it's like they pass through a photo zoom. The eye fixates the camera. The brush fixates the intensity of the expression.

3. Details of the body, mainly the face, are often the focus subjects of your paintings. Why this preference for close-ups?

What interests me is a human analysis and man's intensity of expression. Surely the face is what best expresses an individual's inside. Through images, I try to capture the power and the energy that these faces communicate. The series of Volti concentrates on important personalities that have made the history of culture, literature and politics.

The Flussi Immobili works are set up in photo studios where the models actually are subjected to water jets...

With their portraits I try to transmit their poetry, their force, their intelligence. Their exterior beauty doesn't interest me; it's the power that they communicate that makes them beautiful and the dimension of the painting that overlooks the viewer somehow tries to wrap around her, understand her.

4. Could you tell us more about the presence of water in your work?

Water is one of those elements that makes up life. Our bodies are made of water. We form and develop in water and through water we are born. But water also has a purifying force, not only symbolically speaking, but physical. In life we normally bear a mask to hide our weaknesses and fears. Or even our flaws.

With water I thus try to remove these masks and bring to light the true nature of the individual. The Flussi Immobili works are set up in photo studios where the models actually are subjected to water jets with the aim to do just that. The expressions need to be natural, real. The pain, suffering and joy must all be real, not contrived, not fiction but reality. And then, looking at the finished work, you realise that the same expression can be either of breathing or of suffocation, both of pain and of happiness... In the end it is the interpretation of the viewer that gives meaning to that moment.

5. What does your work say about Francesca Leone? What can we find out about you by looking at your paintings?

This is a judgment that is up to the viewer. What I can tell you is that many curators and art critics who looked at my paintings before actually meeting me made an opposite idea to reality. Some even thought the artist was male, and also quite vigorous. Not a small and apparently fragile woman.

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