Enzo Marra is an oil painter based in London. This Autumn, he will be showing his work at both the John Moores Painting Prize, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 15 September 2012 - 6 January 2013, and The Threadneedle Prize, Mall Galleries, London, 26 September - 13 October 2012.
Ruth Wilbur: What's your starting point for making work?
Enzo Marra: Sourcing imagery. Irrespective of theme, I initially source material that can be interpreted immediately. I find images online, leafing through books, and sometimes I go out with my camera. There must be a spark from the imagery preceding my painting - otherwise there will almost certainly be something lacking in the completed oil.
RW: What's important to you?
EM: The process and activity of painting, of responding to the world using the simplest means. Transforming canvas and paint into something that is inherently of me, which could not exist in this world and could not be brought together by anybody else. Recognising the exact moment when everything comes together in a painting, where you know the slightest brush stroke would rob the painting of its compositional and tonal balance - that point when you realise what you have is all it can ever possibly be.
RW: The opening line of your statement refers to your Italian parentage. How important is this to you and what impact do you think this has had on your practice?
EM: I think your cultural upbringing does affect how you view the world and how you consider your place within it. My Southern Italian parentage, with its slower pace of life, has encouraged me to take more time to think about what I am trying to achieve and how best to express myself. I work a lot with oil paints and ink and both are easier to correct in the first instance than to remove from a surface or attempt to correct once applied, so I ensure I take my time.
I have particularly enjoyed working from images of Francis Bacon, as he has the most wondrous face to meld out of applied paint.
RW: You paint a lot of historical figures, celebrated artists and royalty. How do you choose your subjects?
EM: I paint people who are of historic and creative importance. Figures who have the potential to be great due to their inherent talent and, of course, characters who have interesting features in union with whatever they also may have gifted to the world. I have particularly enjoyed working from images of Francis Bacon, as he has the most wondrous face to meld out of applied paint.
RW: You also photograph contemporary artists in their studios. Tell us about this process
EM: One of the joys of photographing contemporary artists and their work is that you get beyond what leaves the studio. I particularly enjoy meeting them in their personal space, with the usual barriers thrown down, so we can share perspectives and experiences of our involvement in the artworld. When painting them later, I am challenged to extract the essence of them, their works, and the atmosphere of their studio, without becoming illustrative.
RW: Who have you photographed directly?
EM: I have worked in this way in the studios of Patrick O'Donnell, Ian Hodgson, Dawei Zhang, Kristen Healy, Sara Abbott and Alex Dipple, who were all based in Brighton. Following my move to London, I have had the opportunity to photograph artists including Andrew Logan, Blue Curry, Susie Hamilton, Florin Ungureanu and Paul Coombs.
"Ambition is critical. You won't get anywhere unless you strive and take risks."
RW: You have been shortlisted for both the John Moores Painting Prize and the Threadneedle Prize this autumn – how relevant do you think art prizes are?
EM: I feel that art prizes are of great importance to artists interested in making their mark in today's artworld. They offer you the opportunity to get your work more widely seen, to get your name known in creative circles and, of course, there is the hope of being a prize winner, which can have a positive effect on your reputation.
RW: How did you feel when you heard you were selected?
EM: It felt quite unreal at first, especially when I considered how many artists initially entered the competition, but it's fantastic to have made the final shortlist and have my work shown.
RW: What advice would you like to share?
EM: Ambition is critical. You won't get anywhere unless you strive and take risks. A refusal or a blunt comment smarts at first, but once your skin thickens (as it surely will), your work will become more informed and gain its natural audience and personality.
RW: What’s been the best break of your career so far and how did it come about?
EM: I would have to say representation with WW Gallery and the advice, support and guidance the Directors, Debra Wilson and Chiara Williams, have provided me with. Having been associated with galleries in the past that have been grossly unprofessional, it feels good to be showing with a gallery who consider the person and not merely the products of their studio.
Enzo Marra on Axis
John Moores Painting Prize
Threadneedle Prize for Painting & Sculpture