Maurizio Anzeri in Conversation with Alessandro Vincentelli at Baltic

Just back from a great talk by the charismatic artist/alchemist Maurizio Anzeri at BALTIC centre for contemporary art. If you meet him take note he we study your eyes hair and shoes. As he puts it himself Freud would have something to say about that!

Section of ‘Priscilla, 1940-2008′  Maurizio Anzeri from the series ‘Secondhand Portrait’ Image copyright of the artist.
Section of ‘Priscilla, 1940-2008′ Maurizio Anzeri from the series ‘Secondhand Portrait’ Image copyright of the artist on show at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art available online at

What ‘is’ Maurizio Anzeri’s work?

Maurizio Anzeri makes ‘photo sculptures’ from found photographs and hand embroidery. In the exhibition he also has four hair sculptured forms masses of hair tied, braided, sewn and otherwise manipulated to have volume and structure. They are roughly human in scale and relate to the body.

We began by looking at the work and Anzeri talking about the pieces in the show. What came through strongly was his emotional attachment to the subjects. He said living in the studio with these characters you can’t help but reach a point where you say hello. He also remarked on how the photos at some point would have been very precious but that then it changed and they end up at a flea market for 25p. I guess they reinforce the absoluteness of human life.

Perhaps some perceive the piercing action destructive or somehow violent towards these images that have after-all survived in tack from the 1940s to 1960s but Anzeri talks about not being about reminiscing or the past they are modern they are about now… he also says love is violent. I felt the piercing and embroidery reanimates them and rescues them from obscurity even if they are changed from real people to his characters. One audience member remarked they were more like tatoos as they were on the surface but Anzeri said he saw the embroidery as coming from within. That was, his self-criticism, of his wearable hair sculptures that they were coverings.

I love how he talked of being at University and not really fitting in with Graphics then moving to sculpture and others questioning whether embroidery could be sculpture but that, throughout his time in education, he was always lucky enough to meet one person who supported him and one lecturer in particular who put across the simple viewpoint ‘there are no rules’.

Interestingly Robert Breer (also on show at BALTIC) started out making commercial art for the army… why do we persist on classifying everything?

People tend to work across many mediums and in many different ways are tradional ‘Graphics’ and ‘Fine Art’ outdated or is it just our notion of what these have to or should be?

I guess its our need to measure everything quantifiable outcomes… we need art to fit into education and industry, into galleries remits etc?

What process does Maurizio Anzeri use to make his work?

The process is painstaking. He begins with a selection of photographs that have potential and then overlays them with tracing paper and draws and draws. He described how he used different shapes and just experiments with them until they feel right (if there is such a thing). I wanted to ask if the tracing paper drawings are layered like his embroidery but didn’t and am now kicking myself.

He then translates the drawings into pricks on the photograph made with a tool he has developed (essentially a pin held on a thimble with elastic bands). These holes form the locus points of his predominantly multi-coloured embroidery threads. They are layered up gradually.

Colours are selected from a table of threads and are chosen intuitively perhaps inspired by a colour combination he has seen that day (for instance he talked of a woman with a copper and electric blue outfit that just had to be incorporated into one of his photo-sculptures).

Anzeri hinted that works are becoming more mono-chromatic (saying at the end of his group photo completed for the BALTIC exhibition he realised they should have all been white) and talking about the specialness of a veiled nude in thick black thread.

It seems important to Maurizio that things are made by him by hand (although his sculptures do include machine embroidery) because he says there is something manic about the action of using a sewing machine. It is always running away from you.

I wonder if Anzeri will reach a point whereby he has so many projects that he employs artists assistants to make his work? [I think he finds the process so intimate and goes with his instinct as the piece develops and evolves that I doubt it.]

The colours seems to be purely aesthetic choices but anzari insists they are intrinsic e.g. a shape has to be a particular shape it just feels right… what do the colours suggest to you? [btw point of interest metallic threads are some of the hardest to work with in my limited experience.]

Back and front

Anzeri has also become more interested in the back of his photo-sculptures. Framed conventionally you don’t get to see the back but a photo in his studio showed work in progress from the rear. He said the front is very controlled but as you don’t really look at the reverse when you’re making the work it is less controlled and forms its own order and can be even more beautiful and interesting and often ghost like an apparition of the original image which is after all only captured light what could be more transient?

His interest in the reverse was sparked because often embroiders don’t want to reveal the backside. I certainly remember as an 10 year old being really pround of an embroidery I made of a flower, then a teacher turning it over and saying the back had to be as neat as the front, I thought that was kind of pointless and just felt agrieved my work wasn’t appreciated!

I suppose Anzeri trainning as a sculptor will have also made him question his art objects in the round. At University I was very interested in display and whether a sculpture could have a back? (Friezes etc???)


Alessandro Vincentelli, BALTIC Curator of Exhibitions & Research, linked Maurizio Anzeri’s work to the paintings of Max Ernst and showed ‘Attirement of the Bride'(1940) Oil on canvas in relation to how Anzeri may cover the face but leave an eye or the mouth showing (as well as of course the material he chooses to sculpt in hair). I think Anzeri and Ernst definitely share a love of the surreal, being intrinsic and layered.

Attirement of the Bride (La Toilette de la mariée) (L'habillement de l'épousée (de la mariée)), 1940. Oil on canvas, 51 x 37 7/8 inches (129.6 x 96.3 cm). The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice  76.2553.78. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
"Attirement of the Bride" (1940) Max Ernst in the Guggenheim collection © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Maurizio Anzeri also talked about embroidery being a tradition that is important in the home but also outside by men repairing nets… and that with research into embroidery you find it connected to men (e.g. military history). I think with his collaborative projects with designers and other fashion professionals it might be easy to classify it as ‘craft’ or ‘fashion’ in a dismissive perjorative sense (showing the viewers lack of engagement rather than revealing anything about the work or the artist).

I definitely think of metropolis and Anzari tallked briefly about his interest in Darwin and evolution, what people are becoming.

Metropolis Original 1927 Theatrical Release Poster
Metropolis Original 1927 Theatrical Release Poster

Music and literature also permeate his work. With titles seemingly often derived from characters or phrases in books or titles of pieces of music just ‘fitting’ for instance in the pieces ‘Mrs Dalloway’ or ‘Around Midnight’

Section from "Round Midnight" (2009) Maurizio Anzeri focusing on the embroidered veil.
Section from "Round Midnight" (2009) Maurizio Anzeri focusing on the embroidered veil. Available online at:

Do you think Maurizio Anzeri’s photo-sculptures are contemporary and futuristic or do you feel they relate more to nostalgia?

Unspoken stuff

This is where you should write a conclusion, perhaps pass and share judgement! Instead also want to highlight masks as a good linking.starting point to look at this work (masks to reveal conceal, masks relating to sexuality and sensuality, to adapt your character, in war, tribalism) and say I look forward to seeing if Anzari ever finishes and shows the work built upon photos of himself and his friends and whether he ever shows his photos flat so you can see the layers.

Maurizio Anzeri’s show is on now at BALTIC centre for contemporary art 25 June 2011 – 2 October 2011 click here for the link. To see more of his work visit his profile on the Saatchi Gallery Website here.

Explore further…

If you liked this post you might like the following posts and pages on my blog:

Thinking About Communicating Caroline Cardus Artist in Residence at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art Talks About Texting because reflects on another artist’s talk at BALTIC.

Reflect because it shows a piece of my embroidery work.


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