Giovanni Balzarani was awarded the Watercolour category prize by Jean Haines during this year’s Jackson’s Open Painting Prize. ‘Welcome to my Personal Bar’ is a highly detailed depiction of the artist’s liquor cabinet. The bottles and snacks are contained within a confined white box of a space that is lit from above. The dramatic chiaroscuro effects heighten the sense of all the elements being tightly packed together – a real treasure chest of indulgences! Balzarani lives and works in Italy and is often commended at international watercolour competitions. We wanted to find out more about his work.
Lisa: How long have you been painting for and is watercolour your favourite medium?
Giovanni: I’ve painted since I was 9 years old, so I’ve been making art for almost 30 years. I started with various techniques; firstly charcoal, then coloured pencils, oils and a little acrylics, but watercolour was always the medium that I used most regularly from the beginning.
Lisa: What kinds of subject matter are you drawn to? Is the ‘personal bar’ painting typical of your work?
Giovanni: ‘Welcome to my personal bar’ is typical of my most recent work. I started painting portraits, then came landscapes, and now still life which I am now focussed on, which I enjoy painting in a hyperrealism style.
Lisa: Who do you consider to be your artistic influences?
Giovanni: I am inspired by some great artists: Andy Warhol’s artwork is truly iconic. Chuck Close’s portraits inspire me for their perfection which I aspire to in my still life paintings, the same with Ralph Goings’ photorealist still lifes. For landscape paintings I am also inspired by Macchiaioli, an Italian group of painters who lived during the second half of 1800.
Lisa: Do you have favourite materials to use (favourite brand of paint/ paper)
Giovanni: Without any doubt my favourite paper brand is Arches, using the imperial sheet of 640 gsm (300 lb) hot pressed paper (grain fin) – 100% cotton; I also prefer Strathmore 500 Series Premium 300 gsm (140lb) hot press paper – 100% cotton (using their Ready Cut Watercolor 10 sheets 8×10 inches). I love painting on these papers because they keep colours brilliant. I use Fabriano Artistico and Hahnemule Cornwall and Leonardo for special occasions. As for colours: I started with Winsor & Newton (during my studies), then I went on painting with Horadam Schmincke and Sennelier half pans which I discovered during my holidays. Now I use Daniel Smith Extra-fine Watercolours; they have such unrivalled brilliance and purity, making them a perfect pairing with Arches and Strathmore papers. As for brushes: my favourite brush is Escoda Versàtil (number from 000 to 6) which have the right stiffness for my work; then I use Da Vinci Junior synthetic (same number, from 000 to 6) and Acquash water brush pen by Pentel for final touches.
Lisa: Did you paint the work from direct observation or was there a lot of pre-planning/sketching before you started painting?
Giovanni: ‘Welcome to my personal bar’ has been planned and thought through while observing my real home liquors bar. I do not use sketching; I prefer making some signs with the pencil and then going directly with the brush on the paper. Since it takes a long time to paint my artworks, I use photographs in order to study the details better.
Lisa: How often do you get to paint?
Giovanni: I paint everyday, almost always at night, since I have another job during the day.
Lisa: What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of being a watercolour painter?
Giovanni: The most challenging aspect of being a watercolour painter for me is going too far with the technique itself, pushing on as you might with oil or acrylic. Here with watercolour you need to know when to stop – for instance with whites – in watercolour I like to use the white of the paper rather than use gouache, so I need to make sure I stop the painting at the right time.
Lisa: How important is having work recognised through art prizes and competitions?
Giovanni: It is extremely important for me to have my works recognized through art prizes and competitions because it’s only through these events that I have the chance to have my work seen beyond my local art community and to be appreciated by very high level people; I feel very proud and that means to me that things work. I feel lucky when I have the chance to meet personally those idols that I studied or read about in books and magazines, and have the opportunity to have a conversation with them.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Giovanni: I worked on glass reflections in my most recent artworks, so the last painting of this series is an urban landscape, based on photographs that I took in New York, where the very intriguing reflections caught my curiosity; however every angle in New York is an inspiring source, not just the classic skyline.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
You can see the winning Jackson’s prize watercolour ‘Welcome to my personal bar’ in the International Watercolour Museum of Fabriano (Italy), where it belongs as part of the permanently exposition because I have donated it to the Museum for the opening and for the international watercolour festival of Fabriano, where – this year – I had the honor to be one of the Italian Leaders and to meet many famous international watercolorists.
You should find my latest artworks exposed here: ‘My glass box’ in the International Watercolor Exhibition “The World of Watercolor” organized by IWS Slovakia, in Bratislava from 18th to 28th of August 2017; and ‘Inside’ in the 2nd International Watercolor Society India Biennale “Harmony through watercolor 2017” organized by IWS India, in New Delhi AIFACS from 8th to 14th December 2017.
Header image: ‘Welcome to my Personal Bar’, Watercolour on Arches paper, 38cm x 38cm, 2017, by Giovanni Balzarani (winner of the Watercolour prize at the 2017 Jackson’s Open Painting Prize, awarded by Jean Haines)