Walking into Mimmo Catania’s spacious studio I am immediately overwhelmed by the delicious, familiar scent of paint mixed with turps. The Italian painter greets me warmly, shaking my hand and grinning broadly before offering me some tea – would I prefer a European style cup or an Asian style one? He has a penchant for drinking out of smaller cups since visiting China. I instantly feel welcome, and animatedly he starts to chat about the recent Baselitz uproar, incredulously exclaiming, “It’s a very strange position. Very strange you know…how could he say that?!” A sentiment which most rational inhabitants of the 21st century would agree with.
Catania was born in Italy but moved to Berlin in 1984, and identifies himself more with Berlin than his native land. When I ask about his Italian roots he replies in a bored, albeit amicable manner, “Everybody’s interested about background, but the thing is I have been living more time in Berlin than the place I was born, and now for me it’s really strange to identity me as Italian born and not German, in a way.”
At the studio: Catania reflecting on his work. Photo: Chris Phillips
His geographical exploring began on an intensive road-trip with a friend around Europe aged about 20. He explains, “I went wandering in Europe, looking for something. I visited Germany, Poland, France and so many places but only visiting the museums because I was interested in art. That was very good because when I returned to Italy again I was sure that I would do art.” I proffer, “So the trip was almost like a pilgrimage?”. He replies,“In a way…it was more like a sabbatical.”
Painting Isn’t Dead
Beginning his practice in the mid-seventies amidst the popularity of conceptual art, Catania explains that often his interest in painting was discouraged. “People said ‘What are you doing, painting? Painting is dead.’ I said ‘No!’. I had one foot on painting and one on conceptual art, and I said which is better for me to do, maybe it’s better to do both.” Despite contemporary trends Catania couldn’t be deterred from his dream to be a childhood painter, which by seven or eight had already become a concrete idea in his mind. He recalls a primary school anecdote where one of his nativity paintings was praised by the school’s headmaster – “That was a kind of success for me for the first time because she said it was very good!”.
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