In her nostalgic new series Cuore di Panna, illustrator and artist Olimpia Zagnoli is not only hoping to evoke personal childhood memories, but also paint a picture of late 1980s Italian culture. The series of juicy, pop-colour prints, light installations and videos conjures up a picture of hazy summers spent eating ice cream and drinking soda – the title translates literally as “heart of whipped cream” – with a retro aesthetic filled with the brands that seeped into the artist’s consciousness around that time. Italy was becoming Americanised, or as gallery HVW8 puts it: “Barbie Totally Hair was replacing Sophia Loren,” and Olimpia’s depiction of vivid consumerism instantly transports the viewer back to that atmosphere. Here, she tells us more about the project.
It’s Nice That: What visual details from that era made a particular impact on you and your work?
Olimpia Zagnoli: I remember my past being visually very colourful. In my house i was certainly more exposed to primary colours, wooden toys, and black and white pictures but outside the world was pink, glittered and glow-in-the-dark. My mom was into macrobiotics back then so she didn’t really allow me to eat lots of candies and drink sodas, so I was particularly attracted to all those crazy mid-80s TV commercials where a bunch of kids enter a huge Smarties tube and have a party inside. It felt like LSD to me. In those times ice cream would always be gigantic with lots of decorations and waterfalls of currant and chocolate on top, everything was gummy and translucent, the fonts used on packaging were bold and juicy.
INT: How does Cuore di Panna evolve from your previous work?
OZ: Whenever I have the chance to build a new body of work for an exhibition, it’s an opportunity to stop and think about which story I want to tell. It doesn’t happen that often but it’s a space I love to be in from time to time. I’ve noticed that usually I feel the need to step away from my usual illustration practice which involves a lot of human figures, bright colours and patterns, and focus more on empty spaces or objects. This time it was a sort of stream of consciousness where I let memories of little moments from my childhood flow before me. I then sketched a series of still lives in which I arranged some of the objects I collected from my memory: a Fanta can, an ashtray with the logo of a liquor, a napkin from a bar, a specific shape of ice cream. My intent was not to take an accurate photograph of Italy in the mid 80s/early 90s but more of a projection of what you would see in front of you if you closed your eyes and opened them in 1989, sitting on a plastic chair at a random Gelateria in Reggio Emilia (the city I was born in) just watching time go by, as we all did before the advent of cell phones.
INT: Why were you drawn to make these pictures now, particularly?
OZ: I’ve always been quite nostalgic. The things that surrounded me when I was a kid are the things that shaped who I am today. They’re objects of course, but they’re also smells, sensations, memories of a particular flavour in the back of my tongue. You have no idea how many times I cried watching this series of old commercials that we put together for the show. They’re cheesy, sexist, and they’re fake as only a commercial can be, but they also reflect the way I used to imagine the future; they taste like something i can’t really define but it’s there.
Olimpia Zagnoli’s Cuore di Panna is open at HVW8 Gallery, Los Angeles until 1 July 2018.