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IN HOUSE - Mauro Bonacina

Bullet holes, slit lenses and frappuccinos (FLAME & FORTUNE) Mauro Bonacina for Sarah Baker
Bullet holes, slit lenses and frappuccinos (FLAME & FORTUNE)

We’re delighted to announce the project by Mauro Bonacina, the fourth invited artist in our IN HOUSE series of collaborations between the House of Sarah Baker and artists, illustrators and designers. IN HOUSE invites visual creatives to take over the brand's Instagram channel with their personal, bespoke responses to our fragrances.

Introducing Mauro Bonacina

Mauro Bonacina is an Italian artist from Milan who has long lived and worked in London. He creates paintings—both large and mid-scale—using an assemblage technique that he developed whereby he combines more traditional painting craft with digital media transferred seamlessly onto the surface of these works. 

Mauro Bonacina’s practice is based in an almost involuntary postmodernity in which the plural readings of images and their histories is at its heart. His body of work spans paintings that fall more clearly towards the representational as well as those that are initially experienced as pure abstraction—a notable feature of his most recent series of work. 

Across both of these—the more overtly representational works and those that appear to be purely abstract—there is always an out-of-focus aspect experienced by the viewer and a certain powdery quality of light, in many cases achieved through skilful use of airbrushing. As an almost hardwired instinct, we try to identify what is in the image. But, in many cases, it remains just out of reach, to our conscious brains at least.

Mauro Bonacina, ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’, (2022). airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas
Mauro Bonacina, ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’, (2022). airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas

His works are pictorial in the truest sense of the word: not necessarily pictures, but always about pictures. Mauro Bonacina’s practice is about creating works on flat surfaces that force us to reconsider the image before us and images more generally. Just as a filmmaker may use slow motion or a theatre director may ask actors to find opaque gestures to move the audience out of their daily experience of the “real world” that we literally see, so too do these works take us into a liminal space. Time slows and our perception is forced to change in reconsidering our reception of the image. By the very nature of the work, we are drawn in; take time to make sense of it. It is not so much hallucinatory as a painterly method to move our perception into an altered state.

And, of course, these works—especially those on the more abstract end of the spectrum of Mauro’s practice—are also about denial. From the moment the majority of us are born, our eyes and brains work together; to come together as a biologically inbuilt drive to see the world and make sense of it visually, to instantly and instinctively read the world as “pictures”. Yet, here, we are denied, frustrated in our instinctive cognitive processes heading towards identifying and making sense of an image. 

This aspect of denial, however, varies from work to work, even those created relatively closely together during a specific period of time. And, indeed, one gets the sense that this gradated level of denial is very much part of the artist’s intent. 

 Mauro Bonacina, “Il Genio della Lampada’, (2022), airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas
Mauro Bonacina, “Il Genio della Lampada’, (2022), airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas

One painting might offer a reasonably recognisable image of a flower, not necessarily taken from an overtly recognisable, specific source. Others immediately evoke the still lives of Italian painter Giogio Morandi (1890-1964), so closely, in fact, that there’s an element of frustration in trying to figure out if they are based on specific Morandi paintings. And then there are those hands, hands so familiar that they’re almost certainly the hands of a Madonna from a famed Renaissance painting, yet the particular painting eludes you. Or an image of athletes, just a little too out of focus to recognise who they are, or indeed be certain of which sport… 

On the other end of the spectrum what appears to be pure abstraction pushes the level of denial further. The narrative title of one work Il Genio della Lampada (The Genie of the Lamp) nudges us towards pareidolia. We begin to make out what might be the ghostly face of the genie. But which film version of Aladdin is it from? 

Or, at its most extreme, in a recent work, two greyish circular foci hover in a field of exquisite light mauve. No element offers any hard edges or notion of focus. A beautiful tranquil abstract painting…until you look at it longer and a hardwired drive to make sense of images kicks in. It could be taken from an idyllic source entirely in keeping with the serene colour. But there is something about the composition of those two grey fuzzy “circles” that also feels ominous, that could just as equally denote a shocking press image of extreme violence and brutality. In many ways, the work operates as a kind of painterly Rorschach test: it says as much about any one of us as a viewer as the actual source image incorporated into a denying, matte surface of an undeniably beautiful painting.

That, of course, is also part of the process of Bonacina’s work: to nudge us to consider the nature of cognition and reflect on how we experience and interpret images. But, it is also as much about nurture as nature. 

Mauro Bonacina, ‘Le Mani del Pittore’, (2022). airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas
Mauro Bonacina, ‘Le Mani del Pittore’, (2022). airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas

Many of the images—in some cases composites of images—that Mauro Bonacina uses to build his works are some of the most iconic images that permeate our global media and communal memories. One of his artistic investigations is whether, despite his “shifting” the original image, we still recognise it in some way. Does our culturally-informed or hardwired cognitive memory enable us to still identify it on some level? And that includes emotionally. Or “in terms of affect”, as the hardcore nature-not-nurture cognitive scientists and neurologists would argue.

There is another level on which Mauro’s work is about image culture itself in the context of a world saturated with images that are almost impossible to escape; the all-seeing eye in reverse as we become viewers that see “everything” through our near constant connectivity to online media. We send each other photos on our phones or scroll through the endless stream of images on Instagram. Or, in urban settings, those constant images have progressed from the ubiquitous television playing in every Italian, Spanish or Hong Kong café to giant digital screens bombarding us with advertising, news or entertainment as we traverse cities. The very specific white edges around his works subtly remind us of our Media-industrial complex: a polaroid; a screen; a GUI...

Mauro Bonacina, ‘Quattro Amici al Bar’, (2022), airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas
Mauro Bonacina, ‘Quattro Amici al Bar’, (2022), airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas

But, it would be misguided to read his work as a disapproving comment or critique of our image-laden reality. Rather, his is an investigative practice full of questions and no little hunger for images on his own part. Whether those questions are how we read and perceive those torrents of images or how we create a context in which to reconsider them, there is no judgment or vehement position on our contemporary image culture.

Last, but not least, Mauro Bonacina’s work is about beauty. His paintings travel a journey to arrive at an aesthetically beautiful work that is informed by all the historic tenets of painting, art and design. But, many of the recognisable signifiers of beauty we’re taught since childhood are either removed or at least jolted to a position outside of their traditional paradigms. We cannot read his work either through the lens of traditional representational painting—nor painting after Abstraction—and therefore need to understand its beauty in a slightly different way, simultaneously questioning how we understand that beauty itself.

Mauro Bonacina, ‘Il Ginocchio’, (2022), airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas
Mauro Bonacina, ‘Il Ginocchio’, (2022), airbrush ink, acrylic and direct to media UV print on canvas

Mauro’s IN HOUSE for Sarah Baker

In his IN HOUSE project, Mauro Bonacina has turned his gaze towards nine bottles of perfume and, more widely, at how perfume is presented to its audiences by both the house and the beauty industry more broadly. It perhaps links most closely with that aspect of his practice that considers contemporary image culture itself.

Using his signature techniques, we’re placed in a position that asks us to consider how we read representations of perfume that we encounter within the deluge of images in magazines, online, on-screen or even retail window displays.

This could be as overt as asking the question, “What happens when the bottle itself is not the crisply focussed, hi-def bottle that perfume industry advertising deems essential; a given?”. Or it could draw us in, bypassing the centrality of the bottle, instead focussing on the background or surroundings, prompting us to consider what we might ordinarily see there. Or, maybe it’s even presenting something that we most definitely wouldn’t expect to see behind a bottle of perfume but presented in a way that we are denied a knee-jerk recognition, exhorting us to consider our responses to the image without being spoon-fed.

More about Mauro Bonacina

Mauro Bonacina lives and works in London. He studied at the University of Wales Institute before later completing his MA Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. 

He has had solo exhibitions at Roman Road Gallery, London; Edel Asanti, London; Maria Stenfors Gallery, London; Charles Bank Gallery, NYC; Lucie Fontaine, Milan; Vera Munro, Hamburg and Ovcharenko Gallery, Moscow.

His group shows include those at Alexander Berggruen, NYC; Perrotin, NYC; The Design Museum, London; Judith Charles Gallery, NYC; The Suburban, Chicago; The Drawing Room; London; Marianne Boesky Gallery, NYC; Kunsthaus Hamburg, Hamburg; Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Stuttgart; Kreuzberg Biennale, Berlin; Josh Lilley Gallery, London; Tate Modern, London, Prague Biennale 4, Prague; Open Space - Art Cologne, Cologne; Sothebys, London; Vila Madalena, São Paulo and Galerie Lucy Mackintosh, Lausanne, amongst others.

You can learn more about Mauro Bonacina’s work at his website here

Curator text: Ken Pratt

Keep an eye on our Instagram channel: the next artists are already creating their own works inspired by the house. We're doing it IN HOUSE.


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