Twinkling butterflies hover above a luminous, sleeping figure. Hearts, daggers and tears shoot from the eyes of a disfigured face. A volcano erupts with vigour as a horse rides up its side, and sirens seemly dance at its base. These are but a few elements in the work of Rome-born and London-based illustrator Livia Giorgina Carpineto, who builds allusive and contextually rich narratives through texture, grain and pigment.
Growing up, Livia was exposed to the world of art, beauty and history within the Italian peninsula. “Rome is a place that allows for contemplation to happen, where the pace of life is slower and art is mostly experienced outside of museums, in everyday living,” she tells It’s Nice That. A somewhat romantic upbringing, this enabled Livia to expand her imagination onto the smaller and more everyday moments; and life around her became her muse. She chose classical studies in school, but found herself “obsessively scribbling” in class, working out the plots and scenes that unfolded in her head. During an illustration class in Rome later, she soon realised her passion for the arts, deciding to move to London to pursue illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and later an MA at the Royal College of Arts, where she’s currently studying.
With the time to develop her craft, Livia has now compiled an impressive portfolio of works to date. Each scene and portrait appears otherworldly, an imaginative reflection of her thoughts and experiences on life around her. She finds inspiration in more or less anything: “I believe that all the tiles that compose the mosaic of one's visual and poetic domain are somehow essential,” she shares. “Marvel, memory and resonance are means to select those influences.” For example, she finds fascination amongst the styles of Baroque and Gothic, not to mention Renaissance portraiture, medieval and mediterranean iconography, mythology and folklore; all of which renovate massively throughout her compelling creations. “At the same time,” she continues, “I am attracted to kitsch and grotesque motives, the simple beauty of Sicilian breast-looking pastries enchant me, the bloody sunsets in gangster and western films make me nostalgic, and short stories are so precious to me, Chekhov’s ones especially.”
These influences, particularly the cinematic ones, become especially prevalent as you observe the carefully framed and spellbinding compositions. Everything’s done with excelled precision and, beneath the weaves of colour and texture, the imagery reveals a mass of hidden stories waiting to be heard. While creating her works, Livia will kick off the process with sketching – putting words and visuals to paper so that she can refer back to it later on. Many of her recent creations are formulated through both digital and analogous techniques, which she says gives her the freedom to try out new compositions and “define details with greater precision”. Unsurprisingly, she adores textures and grain, “and I sometimes create patterns by tracing objects around me to incorporate them into my drawings.” Spontaneous and unrefined, this process allows Livia to bring an element of surprise and tactility to her work – building narrative and impact in what she calls “wordless posters”. Crafted over hours and hours, the posters are realised once she’s landed on her desired effect or composition.
Her latest pieces are no exemption of this. When the Ball Fell Beyond the Fence, for example, depicts a woman wearing a wide-brimmed hat and cowboy boots, football in hand as she powerfully poses on the knee amongst a magical setting. She guards the “enigmatic butterfly’s grave”, and looks mysteriously strong and terrifying. Exploring themes of ambiguous nature in the garden, the piece is “seen as an ethereal yet dejected place and as a theatrical environment, where enchantment and fiction join decay,” she explains. “The ball accidentally thrown beyond the fence becomes the narrative expedient to temporarily escape into the dreamlike garden scenery.”
Crimson Parade is another recent piece that looks at her own fascination with classical portraiture and sunsets – or better described as the “evocative, and yet cliche, ‘idea’ of sunset,” adds Livia. Drawn in expected tones of deep reds, oranges and dusky blues, the piece signals to the settling of the day as nighttime slowly emerges. Crafted from dry pigment on paper and digital painting processes, she adds: “A memory, or vision, is ‘framed’ in the drawing, contained and treasured by a golden ribbon. The girl, maybe a pirate, siren or tourist on vacation, emerges from the fiery water, close to a frightening shark fin, depicting a kind of archetypical scene.”
Ambivalence is key throughout Livia’s work, where each sign, motif and shape alludes to a multifarious set of meanings and narratives. She builds world within worlds, and invites the viewer to experience these compositions with a sense of “wonderment, nostalgia and resonance”. She concludes: “I seek to create images that might be felt at once remote and familiar, like distance echoes, inspired by a personal, and yet universal, symbolic network of associations.” Summing up her intentions, she leaves us on a quote by director Sergio Leone which further alludes to her work: “‘A real world, a genuine world, but one that allows myth to live’.”
Livia Giorgina Carpineto: Beauty Parlour (Copyright © Livia Giorgina Carpineto, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.