Deeply intertwined with the subjects themselves, Tresso’s meticulous process of photography and painting offers a unique impression of the subject, their likeness imbued with the truths discovered during their partnership.
by Claire Wu
Giovanni B. Tresso’s portraits are striking, intimate portals into the human soul. Deeply intertwined with the subjects themselves, Tresso’s meticulous process of photography and painting offers a unique impression of the subject, their likeness imbued with the truths discovered during their partnership. Applying the acrylic paint thickly with a knife, Tresso imparts the microexpressions and movements that were first captured by his camera onto the canvas in a bold bi-color palette.
Based in Vicenza–a town located near Venice, Italy–Tresso has worked with a wide variety of clients, particularly in the world of music, fashion, and cinema. However, Tresso’s inaugural solo exhibition with Agora Gallery, Giovanni B. Tresso: Mirrors, the Story of 7 Portraits, is a showcase of seven portraits of Tresso’s close friends, with whom he grew up. To celebrate this exhibition, we spoke to him about his experience in marketing, his influences and process, and what’s in store for the future.
Giovanni, you have worked in graphic communication and advertising for many years and are the creative director and co-founder of Tresso Basilico & Danese, a marketing and communication agency based in Italy. What prompted you to transition into portraiture and how has your professional background fed your artistic practice?
As Creative Director I had the good fortune and the opportunity to work in the fashion industry in Milan, creating both advertising campaigns and events, especially during Milan Fashion Week. These are moments in which you are in close contact with high-level photographers and also with models. In that context, expressiveness counts a lot.
The search for the perfect face and expression can change the fate of an advertising campaign. Having always painted faces, I certainly learned a lot there. All these experiences–combined with painting and my passion for art, especially Pop Art–gave birth to my way of doing portraiture. Now I portray ordinary people, who don’t always know how to stand in front of a camera, and the result, the moment of truth is certainly more authentic and profound.
You cited Pop Art and comic books as some of your primary influences. How has your work expanded on the ideas and visual language of those styles?
We all know Andy Warhol’s portraits–his ability to make faces immortal with the fusion of multiple techniques using iconic faces that are from the past today but were contemporary then. I do the same but with painting, which for someone born near Venice, is part of his DNA.
Italian comics don’t use colors, they are black-and-white sketches; a positive and negative play of lights and shadows that give life to shapes and stories. I was born here and grew up reading and falling in love with those shapes and that technique that I now use for my portraits. My portraits are the fusion of passions and know-how of a lifetime.
Tell us a bit about your process. Before you start painting, you like to get to know your subjects and photograph their face extensively. How did photography come into play? What are you searching for in these images and conversations?
To tell something, you must first know it. It is essential for me to try to understand a person and grasp the infinite nuances of their expressions so that I can condense them into an instant that will remain immortal. That’s why I take hundreds of photographs while I talk to someone. I have to catch their reactions; I have to stare into their eyes to catch their moment of truth, which they almost always involuntarily try to disguise to look good.
I don’t want beauty. I want the truth and when a person is truthful, beauty comes as a consequence. This is why it is essential for me to get to know and enter the soul of a person. The search for the moment of truth is my main goal. If I achieve that, the portrait will be successful.
You said, “I would like my portraits to become a mirror of the world and generations.” How do you hope to achieve that?
We are born, we live and then we die. There are those who remain immortal for deeds, whether positive or negative, locally or globally. As I said, I was born near Venice where you can breathe the history of an immortal city in every corner.
Entering any building that was once called “ca” allows you to take a leap into the past not only for the architecture and furnishings but also for the faces that fill the walls. These are the faces of the building owners, who stare at you, which are not only portraits of themselves but also of a historical period and of the souls inhabiting that world, of those families and generations, who, thanks to portraits, have a face.
This is the immortality I’m talking about; the idea that every family can have its own piece of history forever that will remain in the emotional and cultural heritage of all future generations. Let us always remember that each of our portraits is beyond our experience here on Earth.
In your upcoming solo exhibition at Agora Gallery, Giovanni B. Tresso: Mirrors, The Story of 7 Portraits, you chose a group of childhood friends as the subjects of your paintings. How did the experience of creating these portraits differ from completing a commission for a less familiar client?
I wanted to tell my art through the faces of my lifelong friends. People I love because I’ve shared everything with them since I was 6 years old: primary school, after-school afternoons, first outings, first crushes, first holidays without parents, first romances, first kisses, adolescence, and first life experiences and disappointments. University, then work, families, and children. Now we are all in our 50s with many lives, each different from the other, completely different personal, economic, and professional situations. Yet one thing unites us: the reflection of each of us on the others.
Seeing ourselves, what we have been, and what we are, through everyone’s faces and deeds. Spending an evening together, and over a few hours turning children, teenagers and becoming adults again, because all that is and will always be within us. Seeing them all lined up together in the gallery gives me so much joy because they are not just 7 portraits. They are 7 lives and 7 mirrors in which I have always seen myself.
Over the years, you have built a recognizable signature style and an extensive pool of collectors. Do you see yourself ever moving away from portraits?
I always say that a portrait is a love story with a face. And love in life is everything. I will never be able to get away from portraits. Each face is a story that has infinite things to tell and I want to be part of this story by making it available to future generations. The technique may change, but not the message I want to give.
Any interesting projects in the future?
I am attracted to the animal kingdom. Man has always lived with animals; man can be an animal’s best friend but also its worst enemy. I’m working on this concept by giving faces and emotions to our longtime friends and enemies. Now it’s just a sketch inside my head, but I believe that by the end of the year, it could also become an exhibition.