Italian sculptor Paola Grizi has spent her entire life immersed in the art world. As the granddaughter of a well known Italian painter and sculptor and the niece of a ceramicist, her creativity was fostered from a young age. This has translated into a successful career as an artist, where she is particularly known for her unique terracotta and bronze sculptures.
For many years Grizi has produced incredible sculptures of faces that seem to emerge from the pages of books. Whether sculpted in terracotta or cast in bronze, she subtly manipulates the compositions to evoke emotion. These mysterious faces seem to appear from the ether, sometimes casting a meditative gaze and at other times lacking any eyes at all.
Grizi skillfully manipulates her mediums of choice, with her sculptures continually evolving into more complex pieces of architecture. The pages of the books appear to get thinner as the “paper” flips and folds to create new dynamic compositions. Interestingly, her focus on these literary pieces of art recalls her own passion for the written word—Grizi studied Classics and Italian Literature, even working as a journalist and editor prior to focusing on her art career.
We had the opportunity to speak with Grizi about the evolution of her work and what these mysterious faces are trying to tell us. Read on for our exclusive interview.
How did growing up in a family of artists influence your creativity?
Since I was very young, I had the chance to express my creativity in clay thanks to my aunt, who was an artist. She allowed me and my brother to get our hands dirty, and above all, to create. In general, however, growing up in a family with artistic sensibilities instilled an indelible emotional imprint that has manifested over time, like a seed planted in fertile soil.
What attracted you to sculpture?
I’ve always admired the work of artists characterized by strong poetics rather than decorative elements. I love artwork filled with emotion, like the work of Medardo Rosso, as well as the sublime sculptures mirroring the tormented life of Camille Claudel, the ironic genius of Picasso, the existentialism of Giacometti, and the charm of Henry Moore’s work.
Can you tell us a bit about how your series of book sculptures came about?
Like almost all of my work, this series was born spontaneously—almost by accident—from intuition rather than rationality. Initially, I wanted to create panels that faces emerged from. Then, little by little, I stripped back and unified these elements, eventually realizing that by doing so, something else was emerging—something quite different from my initial intentions. What came through resembled a book, an idea I was immediately taken with since it united my passions for literature, writing, and art.
What do these faces mean to you?
They represent a sort of acknowledgment, a step forward of consciousness and personal intuition. In retrospect, I realize that these faces often have an expression of amazement, as if they’re encountering a new reality, or rather, as if they’re encountering a completely new point of view.
In some ways, sculpting is akin to meditation, both for the concentration and mental focus required, while the approach to the material is completely instinctive.
What do you think is the biggest difference between your terracotta works and the pieces cast in bronze?
The terracotta sculptures have an immediacy and freshness from the evident modeling, the traces of fingers within the clay, which leaves an impromptu impression. Conversely, bronze goes through a much longer work process, with a fascinatingly complex result that is very powerful. This is also thanks to the use of a material that is strong and resistant over the passage of time.
What is it about books that intrigues you as an artist?
Today, as technology advances, we’re losing the physicality of books. The feel of a touchscreen is replacing the sensation of paper under our fingertips, but books continue to possess unparalleled charm. It’s the physicality of books that intrigues me, from the sounds that occur when leafing through pages, to the sight of ink on the page, to the tactile sensation of the paper, up to the olfactory sensation that distinguishes antique books from new ones.
From a literary perspective, my cultural references go from Dante to Italo Calvino passing through Leopardi, Dostoevskij, Baudelaire, Kundera, and Herman Hesse—to name just a few of my favorites.
What do you hope the public takes away from your work?
I hope that whoever looks at my work doesn’t remain unmoved by what they see. I’d like for the emotion and experience generated by a sculpture to move through the artwork, arriving straight to the heart and sensibility of the viewer. And, if possible, to bring forward its meaning, also taking in what’s given by the spectator, in order to generate a continuum that, over time, is enriched by the profound emotions and humanity of everyone.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Right now I’m developing my practice toward a growing sense of lightness and dynamism with works like Tris, where the pages are so thin that they almost appear to move. This new production continues to grow and one of the projects I’m most excited about is a forthcoming solo exhibition in Paris, where this new line of “airy” sculptures in bronze that I’m currently working on will be on display.