Arts and crafts are a key –and endangered- element of Italian culture and Venice too has a long tradition of artisanal productions. Because now tourism is the main industry in the city, when asked about Venetian crafts, most people immediately think about masks and glass, but actually there were and still are so many more trades that should deserve greater attention from the international community that I decided, for once, not to focus on food but to share my experience at the FallaniVenezia artistic screen painting atelier.
Located at the foot of the bridge just before campo dei Gesuiti in Cannaregio, the atelier will fascinate you from the moment you step in. An industrial open space, adorned by beautiful stone columns and illuminated by big skylight windows, with bright and shimmering screen paintings on the walls and smaller prints displayed on different tables in the front room. In the back, the laboratory and, on the right, a small exhibition area. The entrance is free, so don’t be afraid to walk in and enjoy a break in one of the coolest places in town.
FallaniVenezia was started in 1968 by Fiorenzo Fallani, born in Florence but adopted by the city of Venice since 1958, when he first moved to work as artistic director of another graphic art establishment. Fiorenzo Fallani became quite a personality in Venice: in 1970 he was assigned the role of artistic director of the Experimental Laboratory in the Italian Pavilion inside the Giardini Biennale and in 1978 he became professor of screen painting at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts. Since then, the atelier established itself as the place for international collaborations and every year, FallaniVenezia participates with a group of artists from all over the world in the Arte Laguna Prize, elevating screen painting to contemporaneity.
Now the atelier is run by his son Gianpaolo, a very calm and kind man that has conquered both my brother's and my mum's heart. I haven’t yet told you that today I’m here because Matteo, my 14-year-old brother, wanted to do the one hour artisan workshop and asked me to go with him (it's minimum for 2 people and maximum 5).
I learned that my mum is a frequent visitor and that sometimes she buys little gifts for her friends here, like prints, small note books, bookmarks and a very unique type of wrapping paper.
You don’t necessarily have to do a workshop, anyone is more than welcome to go in and visit the exhibition, but I have to say that I really enjoyed it and I would strongly recommend it to families with kids or, anyway, to anyone interested in learning more about this technique (if you are an adult or, anyway, are already familiar with this practice, look at their website for the advanced workshops).
Gianpaolo started describing us the basic technique, which consists in transferring ink onto a surface through a mesh and creating an image blocking parts of colour with an impermeable stencil and the aid of a rubber blade. The more the layer of colours, the more complex it becomes. In general screen painting is not expensive to produce, it is the signature of the artist that influences the price. In Italian, screen painting is called serigrafia, which derives from the Greek "seri" (silk), the material used initially, and "grafia" (writing). Today, to reduce costs, different synthetic materials are used and, obviously, more modern processes are involved too.
Still, it is very important that a project started by one person gets finished by that person. Gianpaolo, in fact, first showed us the difference between the parts of the mesh that had been made "colour-proof" from the holed ones, then, showing us one of the first samples of the screen painting realised for Dario Fo, one of the most important Italian theatre actors and playwrights, he explained how the different colours interact and affect one another and how he obtained certain effects that make the final result smoother and softer, with a final product that looks more like something painted by hand rather than made by stencil!
To make the process clearer, we were asked to make a one-colour piece, so as support my brother chose a t-shirt while I opted for a cotton bag (a shopper). We could choose among different drawings, all related to Venice and its architecture, so there was a coat of arms, different architectures and the famous "pàtera", a bas-relief decoration typical of the Venice lagoon of the 10th/12th centuries. First we chose the colour and then, in only a couple of minutes, we were able to realise our own objects!
Obviously we tried the most basic technique, so it was fairly easy (okay, it was easy also because Gianpaolo was there helping us!), but my bro was so happy and enthusiastic that he would have made something for all his class mates! As you can see from the photo, the ink does not go through the mesh on the areas with the blocking stencil, if I had to compare the process to something culinary it would be chocolate tempering!
Once the paint has been removed from the upper layer and we have printed our image on our surface, we need to dry it at a very high temperature and, to make it last longer, it is always better to iron it. Matteo was more into practicing the technique, while I was more curious to learn about his father's artistic collaborations with figures like Emilio Vedova and Arnaldo Pomodoro (just to mention a few) and of the current activities. It was clear that Gianpaolo loves this job and is really passionate about the yearly Arte Laguna Prize project because it gives him the occasion to meet and collaborate with always new people and continuously exchange knowledge and ideas. A form of art that communicates with both past and future, living the present to the fullest.
So, if you are passionate about crafts and happen to visit Venice, I strongly suggest to stop by FallaniVenezia's laboratory and have a look at their works, at the space and also at the machinery! You can find some very interesting pieces of equipment....
I also suggest to buy small gifts for friends and family here. There are plenty of small and extremely affordable objects, like note books, bookmarks, pencils, prints, etc. that would make a perfect and -ORIGINAL- present idea, really made in Venice!
When finished, to make the most of your day, you could cross the bridge, go to campo dei Gesuiti and stop for a coffee at Crociferi, an ex convent now cafeteria and student accommodation (one of my favourite eateries in Venice).
Address: Cannaregio, Salizada Sermon 4875, 30121 Venice
Phone: +39 041 523 5772
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