Paolo Ventura (1968, Milan, Italy) invents stories. Like all good storytellers, Ventura was raised on them and appears to have a natural gift for narrative. Each of his pictures holds its own little mystery, a concoction of atmosphere, character and detail that urges for closer examination. Ventura, like a true master illusionist, makes things disappear in front of our eyes. Death and vanishing are recurring themes in his work. He explains it as an omnipresent “fear of losing someone he loves”, which he translates onto his photographs.
In his Short Stories this can be clearly observed. The Vanishing Man, a Jewish man wearing a yellow star on his coat, slowly evaporates into the city walls, alluding to the Holocaust. The Hunter vanishes after shooting down some birds.
Since any story needs the imagination and speculation of the listener/ viewer, Ventura unfolds his narratives over a series of images, similar to a flipbook. Within this series, each image forms its own little mystery, filled with character and atmosphere and detail that beg for closer examination.
When creating a new work, Ventura first imagines and outlines the scenes. Then he builds the models, tiny constructions, piece by piece with found objects and minute details that in the end are translated back by Ventura into two dimensions through the flash of his camera, the photographs.
Inspired by the long winter and greyish tint of his hometown, Milan, he applies usually three to four colours, predominantly grey, green, black and white. His works are rather monochromatic and atemporal. Due to these artistic measurements, Ventura weaves a mysterious atmosphere of fiction and memories, where the distinction between reality and surrealism becomes unclear.
In 2013 Ventura decided to build life size sets, continuing playing with the creation of scenes, yet based on real history. He also could physically insert himself as well as members of his family, casting his son Primo, wife, and twin brother Andrea, a graphic novelist.
His characters are placed within an unspecified, ambiguous dream state of fantasy and nostalgia. On the one hand, it is a rather gloomy microcosm, filled with grey skies, dusky backgrounds and piercing silence. On the other, it’s a comically overblown world. The protagonists pose unnaturally on a stage-like wooden floor and wear comedia dell’arte-like make-up, with clown-like red noses and rouged cheeks, evoking humour.
Ventura’s multilayered, but essentially photo-based practice comes from a personal history rich with charisma and angst. Paolo Ventura’s father was a celebrated Italian children’s book illustrator in the 1960s and 1970s, who would delight his twin sons with sketches and stories. His grandmother, who lived with the family, was “a free spirit”, who would take Paolo and his brother to the circus and street performances.
“Growing up like this was a great example to me,” says Ventura. “It was unusual for a kid to have a father not going to an office, but staying at home, drawing… It authorised me just to think, to be fantastical, creative, not just for fun, but for work. It was really a magical youth.”
‘The Infinite City,’ a series he started in 2013 is inspired by his travels on New York City’s above ground train lines as well as by Italo Calvino’s writings. In this series Ventura built and painted a group of small, empty buildings, ranging from hotels to tenements. He then photographed the miniature sculptures and painted, stamped, typed, and drew over the 4-by-5-inch images and displayed them horizontally in individual frames. The intriguingly cryptic images appears to be painted memories of a desolate abandoned city.
Paolo Ventura’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including the Italian Pavilion of the 2011 Venice Biennale.
Ventura studied at the Milan’s Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in the early 1990s. Solo exhibitions include the Forma International Center for Photography, Milan; Museum of Contemporary Art of Roma (MACRO), Rome; The Hague Museum of Photography, The Hague; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome and during the Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles. In 2012, he was selected by curator Vittorio Sgarbi to create a series of works for the Italian national pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale.
His work is included in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Art, USA; Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., Lowe Art Museum, Miami, USA: MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, Italy; Maison Européen de la Photographie, Paris, France: Museo Palazzo Fortuny, Venice, Italy and Instituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome, Italy.
In 2014 he collaborated with the celebrated director and prestigious award winner Rob Ashford on the creation of the scenography for the Lyric Chicago Opera Theatre. Ventura received other important commissions from the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome and the Mart, the museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto, Italy. In 2017 Ventura was commissioned by the Teatro Regio of Turin for the stages, costumes and video for the opera Pagliacci by Leoncavallo.
Four monographs of Paolo Ventura’s work have been published: War Souvenir (Contrasto, 2006), Winter Stories (Aperture and Contrasto, 2009), The Automaton (Peliti Asociati, 2011) and Lo Zuavo Scomparso (Punctum Press, 2012). Small and limited publications have appeared with publisher Danilo Montanari Editore such as Il Mago (2013), An Invented World (2013) and Death of an anarchist (2015). In 2016 Aperture published the latest publication by Ventura, Short Stories.