Madly in love with architecture and art, Lorenzo Nassimbeni is constantly compelled to push his craft to the next level by finding areas where they intersect and exploring both disciplines as fully as possible. Inspired by urban landscapes, his style of work is characterised by minimalist black lines that distil the essence of his subjects in a stark, yet highly expressive manner. Lorenzo has exhibited work at the 54th Venice Biennale, Triennale di Milano, Design Indaba and this year opened a solo show called City Below at the Nirox Projects gallery, which explored the theme of subterranean architecture of Johannesburg. His award-winning multidisciplinary work spans across photography, drawing, murals, sculpture, fabric, wall coverings and architecture.
Lorenzo will be our final creative exhibitor in the Heineken® Next Level Bar on Saturday 12 December. From 6pm onwards he’ll be whipping up speedy 30 second portraits for visitors in the bar. We chatted to him ahead of this to learn about his creative manifesto and what we can expect on the night.
Tell us a bit about your creative journey so far. What drew you to a career bridging architecture and fine art?
From an early age, I always had a fascination with drawing. It seemed a natural activity and form of expression, a space of beauty and inspiration. At high school, I joined the art class late in the academic curriculum, 3 weeks into the matric year. I just could not resist being an active artist in a studio context.
At university, I wanted to study fine art but elected to follow an architectural path. The rigour and rational approach to a creative process, one of design, suited me and afforded me structure. The turning point was my trip to Venice, in my ‘4th year out’ out at UCT Architecture School. I was privileged to spend a year studying architecture in that city, which is now my second home in sentiment. During that time, the space between architecture and fine art was found. I spent hours, days, weeks and months drawing and painting the buildings and spaces of the city, recording sounds, photographing the environment. Architecture and urban space was the muse, and art the medium through which to understand.
Upon my return to South Africa, and graduation as a qualified architect, whilst practicing architecture formally, I found myself continually attracted to spending time drawing the buildings of Cape Town and Johannesburg, again, an artist immersed in the inspiring urban landscape. At a certain moment, I decided to formalise this growing energy and interest for art, and I proceeded to explore the subject of surface design, a discipline involving both drawing and architecture at its core. From there things developed professionally, and gradually, mural design, sculpture, pure illustration and work on paper added themselves to the portfolio.
Traditionally, there’s a tendency to separate the disciplines of fine art and architecture. Why is it important to find the art within architecture?
During the period of the Italian Renaissance, and more recently in the period of Modernism, fine art and architecture were seen as direct informants of one another, disciplines which existed hand in hand. For example, celebrated Modernist architect Le Corbusier considered his practice of sculpture, painting and architecture as a seamless endeavour, with all aspects sharing equal importance, and the various media being ways to express certain concepts. One of the doyens of South Africian architecture, the recently late Pancho Guedes proclaimed, “I claim for architects the rights and liberties that painters and poets have held for so long”.
Architecture is undeniably a form of art. I believe that at the core of architecture as a discipline lies a strong artistic and poetic component, which in our contemporary South African condition is often suppressed due to economy. There is art within architecture, as by definition, there always has been. It is important to find and acknowledge the art within architecture, so that it can be read as a discipline within in its most complete form.
In what ways are architects artists and artists architects?
Architects are artists principally in their training, in my view. Architects are trained to view and interpret the world through drawing and making, as are artists. In the discipline of architecture, ideas and concepts are filtered through a series of practical and regonomic constraints in the creation of a building. Artists exist with fewer constraints, their concepts become less tempered by practical constraints.
However, as we go further into time, architects and artists seem to work more closely with one another, and across disciplines. There is a merging of activity and outcome, which is bound by conceptual thinking and making. Architects are increasingly less confined to having a building as their end product. They can apply architectural thought to the making of other things, in the realm of design. It comes down to the relationship of design as a generic discipline, and art, which are bound by the principle of conceptual endeavour.
Your work often examines interesting relationship dynamics between architecture within architecture, the space between buildings and architecture, and archaeology. How have these explorations influenced and deepened your perceptions and creative undertakings?
In being interested in the theoretical space between the disciplines of architecture and fine art, I pointed my gaze to the physical space where this theoretical position can be manifest.
Inherent in the architectural design process is the understanding of place, otherwise known as site analysis. So, in the physical environment of the urban landscape, I chose to analyse places and sites as an architect would, in preparation for creating a building. Instead, the drawing analysis becomes an illustration, a wallpaper, a sculpture or a mural. The installation of the site analysis into the space of the actual site where the drawing and took place, creates the dialogue that I am interested in. Site analysis becomes a form of art in that it is intended to be married through installation with the muse space. The archaeological interest was specific to a particular project, but speaks to a greater understanding of landscape of a component inherent to architectural and artistic processes.
So, the lens through which I view the world in practice is a lens made of 3 layers, one architectural, one artistic, and one landscape (the place that holds architecture and art).
Stylistically your drawings are characterized by black lines on a white background. What led you to work in this manner?
In the architectural design process, one often begins with drawing with black ink on white paper. This was at a time, a quintessential form of conceptual architectural conversation. To a degree, it still is, although computer technology has taken a strong relative position of late in the realm of graphic representation. So, this way original and authentic form of architectural expression stayed with me from my architectural training, and was brought into the realm of artistic practice as a point of explorative beginning, and of creation of final product.
The method spoke to architectural simplicity, but also to economy. When I first did test prints for a textile range, I did them with black ink on white fabric, because it was cost effective. The resultant aesthetic was strong, so I went with it.
Coming from a discipline that’s perceived to be quite rigid, how do you allow spontaneity to enter your creative process?
I think spontaneity is inherent in my personality, and indeed in the character of many architects. The person behind the straight lines and concrete can often be a rather flamboyant person. There are many examples. I have a very inspiring brother, Francesco, who works in the theatrical arts. Although we are 4 years apart in age, we are like twins. So, a sense of being spontaneous and expressive is sanguine for me. The eccentric and less rigid form of expression enters naturally into my creative process, particularly at the beginning. The rational architectural mind enters thereafter, not to temper, but to refine.
You’ve worked on a large variety of projects ranging from solo fine art exhibitions to photography and wall coverings. Which have you enjoyed the most and why?
Most of all, I enjoy to create works on paper and murals. Murals are perhaps the most enjoyable in that I am able to take a tiny sketch, and through a careful design process, implement it at a very large scale. This involves me translating the drawing onto a large wall. I find myself immersed in a meditative process of drawing with paint onto an enormous surface, often within an interesting building. This is the space where architecture and art meet, through drawing, and me suspended, often quite precariously in a physical sense, drawing away. It’s analagous to a climber, high up on a rock face on a mountain, doing what he/she loves. When I’m on a scaffold doing a large mural, I’m doing what I love to do, exploring my passion. It involves the body, linked to the wall, exploring the drawing. The precise translation of a tiny sketch to a very large identical product at large scale is very gratifying.
You’re going to be drawing portraits at the Heineken® Next Level Bar. How are you subverting traditional notions of portraiture and what excites you most about this project?
I will apply my traditional illustrative and architectural drawing style to the project. Traditionally, portraiture looks at essence through capturing expression. I shall do this too, but by understanding silhouette and structural composition more than textural quality. What excites me most about this project is the opportunity to interact directly with people in the creation of artwork. Although I interact a lot with people in my current practice, I am often to be found sitting in front of a building drawing it. Buildings do speak a certain language, but I am careful to sit and talk back to them when I am a drawing, for fear that passers by might think that this form of spontaneity may be verging on insanity!
How do you constantly ensure that you’re taking your work to the next level?
Somehow, every project that I complete is better than the one before. Inspiration is abundant in my life. I do not know how or why. Perhaps it is the eagerness to learn more and more about what I do, through practice, with each project that I do. So, I am always attaining higher levels, because I am so in love with architecture and art that I want to know the disciplines in the fullest way possible. If this requires going to greater levels with each project to do achieve this, I will do so at any cost.
Don’t miss Lorenzo’s 30 second portrait session at the Next Level Bar in Smit Street, Braamfontein from 6pm till late.