“My vision is to use art and design as a tool for communion. Art has a common ground that enables different generations to start a conversation, share experience and grow together.”Artist
After training as a designer at Fabrica by Benetton, Adalberto worked in the art and design fields and set up his studio. He won the RCA School of Architecture 2020 Student of the Year Award and the Climate/Spatial Justice Prize for The United Generations project.
Adalberto’s practice interweaves culture and design with art education at all age and ability levels; his style is marked by the simplicity of forms yet bold in aesthetics, thus making it accessible to his students and audiences alike. His art seeks to enable local voices and help transform their collective vision into art – by the community for the community. Integral to the realisation of his projects is the relationship with local organisations, institutions and specialists, including artisans, designers, videomakers, photographers and digital developers. Among his recent projects include participation at a satellite event of the Venice Biennale, Kensington and Chelsea Art Week, King’s Road and the Nine Elms Art Trail.
His artwork Together as One has been acquired by CW+ as part of their art collection. “Preparing for Carnival” will be exhibited permanently at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital from the end of November 2022.
Your project The United Generations proposes a vision to create a thriving community of all ages that celebrates the advantages of shared resources. Do you think your creative vision is something that is realistic or achievable in the real world, in the way you have envisioned?
Definitively. The United Generation is an ecosystem of activities and spaces that can be recreated anywhere, from large public spaces to the interior of the home. The project is based on extensive research around the most common areas of interest between old and young generations such as nature, care of the body, work, arts, spirituality, farming and food. These subjects are universal and there are infinite possibilities to use them for the social purpose I envisioned. For example, the murals I recently developed with the local communities, and the art exhibitions curated with local organisations and schools are the testaments of how we can create such opportunities and intergenerational spaces. At the very end, I just aim to create moments and places where different people can start and grow relationships, anywhere and at any time, in the real and virtual worlds.
Has your role as Community Engagement Officer for the Katherine Low Settlement (KLS) enhanced your vision of The United Generations for a reconnection of old and new generations?
My early involvement at Katherine Low Settlement as a volunteer helped me touch first-hand what I was about to envision during my masters at the RCA. At the time of my dissertation “How to Take Care of the Old”, I understood the importance of the differences between generations and why we must celebrate and use them as resources to exchange knowledge and life experiences. Thanks to the activities I attended at the KLS, it was clear to me the human need on both sides of the generations to reunite and learn to live together for a better future. After becoming a Community Engagement Officer and now Chief Creative Officer at the KLS, I look at my vision from a larger perspective and I am discovering the political and economical challenges we face reconnecting through art and design in different age groups. However, more than ever, I am sure the vision of The United Generations will be much needed for the wellbeing of our communities, especially in countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy where the age gap is growing exponentially and a mutual support between generations is essential.
You recently curated a project of artworks by the elders from the Katherine Low Settlement’s Age Well Programme. Tell us about this project, was it a testament to the power of art as a tool for wellbeing and social change?
The project is called The Things that Matter in Life and took place at the RCA Dyson Gallery in May 2022. It has been the most powerful and moving experience I have been involved in so far. The Things that Matter in Life is an exhibition developed in collaboration with Katherine Low Settlement and the RCA Community Engagement Programme. It aimed to showcase the artworks created by the elders of KLS through the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the participants had never painted or drawn before. One part of the exhibition was dedicated to the work developed in the previous months by the group of elders. Another section showcased a large selection of artworks by one of the charity’s most prolific artists. Finally the exhibition hosted a large-scale collaborative painting titled We Are All Artists, which was created to celebrate the group of artists and the inspiring space that KLS provides for the community. The show was part of the Age of Creativity Festival, a national event by Age UK that supports older people across England to have more inclusive opportunities to get creative. It was heart-warming to see the elders eyes spark with joy and excitement - their skills and creativity deserved a place to shine. This exhibition was a testament that art is a tool for wellbeing and social change: it helped our elders to access parts of themselves that are often hidden, it allowed them to dream again.
Your Together as One mural forms part of the bigger vision, The United Generations. Tell us about the vision behind it?
My vision is to use art and design as a tool for communion. Art has a common ground that enables different generations to start a conversation, share experience and grow together. In the case of Together as One, when the world seemed to pull us apart during the Covid-19 crisis, the vision was to create a large-scale public artwork with a small group of volunteers from different age groups and backgrounds from the Notting Hill neighbourhood. Some of the design of the painting was left deliberately abstract to give the opportunity to the participants to enrich with their imagination the piece. The names of the contributors will have appeared on the inscription panel as a symbol of unity. Together as One is a site-specific artwork that celebrates the power of the Notting Hill community as a symbol of harmony and unity for a better tomorrow, created in collaboration with the Kensington & Chelsea Art Week (KCAW) and supported by London Projects, Studio Indigo and the Royal College of Art. The scenes depicted in this mural offer a glimpse of The United Generations project. Different ages and cultures come together to share a moment in life, surrounded by nature that reminds us of the important connection with the earth.
You were hand painting during the pandemic. Did you feel more hopeful or more helpless with the way the world was?
Hand painting during the pandemic was a therapeutic activity that allowed me to look at that moment in time in a bright and hopeful way. It helped me cope and move forward from a dark period. I felt the world was changing and for me it was the right time to apply the principles I learned creating The United Generations. In a time when the older population needed to be reconnected more than ever with the younger one, I proposed to go back to an arcadian living model where community, sustainability and simplicity were the assets for a prosperous living. As this resonated with me I hope it also reflected on people. I wish my art brought to them a sparkle of light in the darkness.
You have a passion for architecture, visual communication, and the social environment. Do they interweave for you in all your drawings and creativity?
Yes, everywhere and all the time. My practice is a sum of them. These three parts of my life have been so rooted and powerful that they always come back to my art and design practice. Since I was a child, I was obsessed with ancient architecture, interior spaces and operas’ set design. After a business and marketing career between California and Italy, I trained as an interdisciplinary designer at Fabrica Research Centre by Benetton. Finally, studying at the RCA I found a strong passion for the social environment, especially for elders and youth and I learned how to apply my previous artistic passions, architectural knowledge and design expertise for the good of people.
“Hand painting during the pandemic was a therapeutic activity that allowed me to look at that moment in time in a bright and hopeful way. It helped me cope and move forward from a dark period. I felt the world was changing and for me it was the right time to apply the principles I learned creating”Artist
You work across various mediums. Does the project determine the medium or vice versa?
Every time it is different. A big factor is my curiosity for exploring new worlds and evolving my practice. I direct projects and commissions based on what I can explore and what feels right at that moment in time. For example, The United Generations prints are the outcome of a mixed media approach merging traditional drawing with computer rendering techniques. It was due to the lack of resources during the pandemic and the desire to explore and to draw once again. Other times, the medium depends on the subject and the context of where the artworks take place. For example, for the art exhibition The Things that Matter in Life, I created with a group of elders We are All Artists. This is a large-scale mural, painted on polyester fabric, depicting the older artists with a symbol they chose to represent themselves in front of the KLS iconic building. We needed something impactful, yet easy to paint and handle for the show. Sometimes I also enjoy mixing and matching subjects and mediums as a way to decontextualise it and create new patterns. Recently, I have been exploring the possibilities of applying figurative art on everyday ceramic pieces to bring stories of universal love and relationships onto the table.
“Design and architecture are dead. Pretty variations of the same objects, colours, forms are not enough anymore. The needs are beyond aesthetics and function. We need to shift from ego-centrism to care-centrism”. What was your reasoning behind this statement?
That statement was written in 2020 right before the pandemic started. I felt we reached a plateau in art and design. The minimalist and modern era was ending, but artists and designers kept offering the same language and concept behind their works. I felt there was no reasoning why art and design was existing at that moment. There were only a few examples of design that excited me because they were inspired by people and the planet. Perhaps it was also a provocation for me to go deeper and find a way of designing that also had a bigger purpose.
Something that moved from designing based on personal inspirations and comforts to creating something where community and the planet are at the centre. At least that was my goal and it still is. However, I was pleased to observe a change after the pandemic lockdowns and the various socio-cultural movements such as Black Lives Matter. It felt like new patterns were born and people reassessed why they were creating bolder and more meaningful pieces.
A Place Called Home tells the stories of a house in four hand-painted panels, a series of peaceful interiors. Do you feel the pandemic made people reassess their idea of home?
As much as people reassess the important things in life such as work and relationships, I feel people rethought about the sense of home and family. In A Place Called Home I wanted to celebrate this new meaning of “home” and the hope to hold onto its newly acquired values for the future. The homes protected and welcomed us every day. These sanctuaries hosted strong personal and community moments. Set in different rooms of the house, I wanted to capture moments of togetherness and intimacy over the course of a day. I had important feedback by the visitors passing by the mural on how comfortable the paintings made them feel and how much they reflected the moment we lived in: “I see myself in it”, “it’s spiritual”, “it’s what we need”.
Your drawings present an ecclesiastical and peaceful atmosphere. Are you inspired by religious works or even the aspect of community based around religion?
My art is immaterial and spiritual. I was raised in Italy surrounded by renaissance masterpieces depicting scenes from the Christian tradition and I studied the old Masters and Byzantine iconography which directly influences my work both aesthetically and mystically. I wish to recreate the solemn aura and charge of meaning that these antique artworks acquired. I often depict themes that form part of the dogmas of Christianity. However, the aspect of community, love for each other, and wellbeing are universal values that both religious and non religious communities have in common. I use the beauty and rigorousness of the works of the masters to tell stories of modern-life communion and care which I hope we all share as principles for a better future. A bright example is Restore, a site-specific window artwork at the Mason’s Arms Pub in Battersea produced for the Nine Elms Arts Trail. Restore is about the celebration of the sense of belonging as a symbol of light. Inspired by mystical stained glass windows, the hand-painted drawings represent the Mason’s Arms Pub local community around a dining table as a space to restore conviviality and togetherness among young and old generations.
Tell us about your participation in the Venice Biennale?
In April 2021, I was contacted by a Venetian independent art gallery called Buso which wanted to re-appropriate the voids left by the pandemic with art and photography before the Venice Biennale reopened to the public. Buso owned a small gallery space in the heart of Venice and it used the windows as frames for the artworks. La Riconciliazione (The Reconciliation) is a digital artwork about the affection and intimacy we place in embracing our past and future to reconcile with them. The young and the old of the city of Venice found themselves in a diptych that celebrates the harmony of the symbols of the city that is regaining its roots to fight the void left by the pandemic. Thanks to the use of digital software capable of reproducing hand-painting techniques, the two panels represent the 'do mori' (Two Moors) a materialisation of the past and the future reconciling with the two emblems of Venice and the Republic of the Serenissima: the winged lion and the water.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Many exciting things will happen over the next year. I am working in collaboration with Southwark Cathedral towards an impactful installation reinforcing the importance of the care for our planet and addressing climate change. At the end of the year I will release my first set of Christmas cards which will be available to purchase online along with other few prints (including The United Generations).
In the long term, I am developing with the Katherine Low Settlement, its next three years communication strategy, which will involve a redesign of the brand, its communication and two permanent artworks. As part of my commitment to support the LGBTQAI+ community, I am planning a new exhibition around what living with HIV means today, which will involve two leading healthcare and cultural institutions. Finally, in the heart of my hometown Verona (IT) I am redesigning the colourful interiors of an apartment that will host part of my art and design pieces. A home-museum which visitors will be able to rent for short stays.
Also of interest
Shawn Adams (MA Architecture, 2020) is a writer, lecturer and architectural designer. He is also the co-founder of Power Out of Restriction (POoR), a social enterprise that focuses on the development of communities through the elevation of young people.