Eliana Marinari uses sfumato to paint fuzzy and dreamlike portraiture

The artist, who’s currently based in London, runs us through her blurry paintings and series titled A Familiar Stranger.

15 April 2021

Every artist has their own technique to spark creative inspiration. For Eliana Marinari, she prefers to be alone in her studio, making sure to stick to a routine. Even if she’s not feeling it that day, or if the inspiration is lacking at times, she’ll just “start doing” and eventually something will lift off.

The artist has long associated her practice with a more traditional means of drawing, and from an early age she’s considered herself as “artsy”. Constantly creating something, she made her debut into the painterly medium at the ripe age of eight – “I had them at home, they were my grandfather’s,” she tells It’s Nice That. But despite this early introduction, Eliana ended up on a slightly different path studying science at university, graduating with a BA from the University of Florence. Her parents weren’t too happy with Eliana pursuing a career in the arts, which undeniably caused a great hurdle for the young artist-to-be. As things turned out, however, Eliana studied Fine Arts and specialised in drawing and oil painting later on, before deciding to continue her figurative painting practice in the city of London.

Now flourishing in her medium, Eliana spends most of her days working out of her studio. She pulls references from many of the industry greats, including Gerhard Richter who’s one of her main muses – a German artist who’s known for his photorealistic paintings and abstract expression. Eliana’s work sits in a similar realm of realism, where if you squint your eyes ever so slightly, you’ll start to question whether or not you’re looking at a photo or painting.

While creating these stylistic works, Eliana’s process tends to begin with compiling photographs pulled from magazines or personal archives, which she then cuts, re-assembles into one source image and then redraws in graphite and pastels on paper. Sometimes, she’ll transfer the work onto a canvas. Next, she works on spraying the acrylic colours that she uses as a “glaze” – “semi-transparent layers that shroud the initial drawing like a Renaissance-style sfumato,” she says. The latter being a technique that allows tones and colours to shade gradually into one another, resulting in a hazy, dreamlike outcome that’s been mesmerisingly softened and blended. When using this technique, the work almost appears out of focus.

“I can spend a few days in the studio just ‘building’ the source image,” she continues, “and then several days for the pastel drawing, depending on the dimension of the piece. I often carry on multiple works in parallel.”


Eliana Marinari: Prenditi cura di lei Nr2 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)

Eliana points us in the direction of a recent endeavour, a series called A Familiar Stranger. For this project, she invited people (her audience and friends) to share a memory and answer to the following question: “What is one specific moment from your past that shaped who you are today?” A deep and interpersonal question, Eliana spent the last couple of months researching and seeking out these stories lodged in the memory of those around her. She was also sent a few stories from the blog Booooooom and a couple through Instagram. “I also had friends I have known for many years telling me very personal stories they have never mentioned before,” she adds. “I found a new meaning in my work for the very act of listening, the empathy of recollecting the same meaningful event, imagining to experience it, looking through their eyes and still fusing their words with my own very personal history.”

Within this series, you’ll notice a blend of portraiture fused with a characteristically fuzzy aesthetic – the type that twists traditional techniques with a modern eye for surrealism. Eliana continues to cite two favourites from this project, the first titled It’s a Lot, Nr.1, which is centred on a story of an abusive relationship, shared from someone who managed to leave. “I love the intimacy and intensity of the story, and the message of hope it conveys.” Another piece, titled Hummingbird, is inspired by a teenager’s recurrent dream. The scenario depicts a woman protagonist, who becomes the dreamer’s first love. The image that represents this dream is an equally phantasmic representation of a female character, whose facial detail and expression is blurred out by the artist’s use of sfumato.

There’s something wonderfully charming about Eliana’s works, but there’s also a sense of the supernatural that protrudes through her washed out, tonal and blurry creations. Not knowing the character we’re looking at may, for some, spark frustration. Or perhaps it will inspire a sense of dreamlike fantasy – allowing the audience to revel in the mysterious subjects and narratives that Eliana decides to paint. “I hope to bring the viewer into a dialogue with my work,” she concludes. “I’m curious about what types of memory they call to mind, and what relationships they evoke in people’s quest for familiarity.”


Eliana Marinari: Hummingbird (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)


Eliana Marinari: Sept 8, 2016 Nr1 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)


Eliana Marinari: Flower Symphony #7 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)


Eliana Marinari: This was 1950 Nr3 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)


Eliana Marinari: It's a lot, Nr1 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)


Eliana Marinari: Flower Symphony #8 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)


Eliana Marinari: Once Nr1 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)


Eliana Marinari: Flower Symphony #3 (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)

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Eliana Marinari: Semantics of pink (Copyright © Eliana Marinari, 2021)

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