What’s your name, where are you from and what do you do?
My name is Ferdinando Fontana and consider myself a Londoner through and through. I currently work for Historic Royal Palaces in their conservation division. I would call myself a visual artist and what I do focuses on the medium of sketching, illustration, painting, storyboarding, landscape, portraiture and three-dimensional model-making.
You started your career in your teens, what inspired you to start drawing?
According to my mother, I first started drawing when I was three years of age. Unfortunately I tended to draw on the walls of my house so I guess I started life as an unintentional graffiti vandal.
What’s your “creative process” for completing a piece of work?
The urge to create art can come at any time, whether the sun is shining and the rain is pouring one must be ready for it. I have found sculpture to be the ideal medium for an artist to depict three dimensional objects: one can walk around the actual work, observe it from a myriad different angles and then it is easy to see if the artist has succeeded in conveying his/her message effectively. This is not always the case with two dimensional depictions of volume and mass. But the beauty of two dimensional art is the ease with which the play of light and shadow can be rendered in just a few strokes.
Do you have preferred medium for working in?
No. I work with whatever I feel comfortable with, whether it is pencil, brush, or even sculpture which I find quite relaxing. Maybe we ought to be discussing how messy it often gets with different media. The difficulty always is, well, what do you now do with the finished piece? What is the best way to protect it?
Storage is currently an issue for me as there is the hardy-perennial shortage of space situation that needs to be addressed. That is why I have to be pragmatic as far as size and technique used, and both need to be tailored to current needs such as storage and preservation.
What inspires you to create?
All I have to do is take a look around in order for me to find inspiration. It comes from all quarters, whether I’m on a bus, a train, a café or in the park. The spark of inspiration can occur in the middle of a simple conversation. It may be that the sun is reflecting off their hair in a particular way or perhaps I notice someone has a unique facial quirk that grabs my attention. It is not unusual for others to get a strong feeling that they are under scrutiny when in fact I am just busy gathering visual information that I can use at a later date.
What are your thoughts on contemporary art, any particular artists that have caught your attention?
The first name that comes to my head is Des Taylor. He is a fabulously talented artist and animator with a pretty nifty concoction of depicting well-known characters in pulpy, anime-like situations that many find astonishingly retro. He started out as a fashion artist before branching out into animation and he now basically makes a decent living from commissions alone. He’s the reigning king of nostalgia and I told him so. He told me: “Hey man, nobody had ever called me that before!” I am agog at his ability to make it all seem so effortless when in fact I know the reverse is actually true.
What are your influences?
Apart from watching life go about its business around me, I remain in awe of Hellenistic sculpture and how the ancient Greeks were able to hold the mirror up to nature so successfully and accurately – thousands of years before the likes of Michelangelo finally came on the scene. I find that fact a constant source of amazement.
The Romans were happy to replicate what had been done before by the ancient Greeks. Similarly, the artists of the Italian Renaissance chose to go back to the same roots for their inspiration. The Victorians too were in awe of the ancient Greeks because of their respect for human and animal anatomy and their ability to render it accurately in a three-dimensional way. That last part pretty much sums up what I personally believe every artist should aspire to achieve before moving on to create.
We hear you are a comic fan, what are your favourite comic artists?
I left the field of comics soon after I finished college as I found it hard to keep up with the medium! But I grew up not so much reading comics as much as looking at the drawings.
I am a firm believer that the likes of Hollywood are still a good 30 years behind what comics originally achieved. It is interesting to observe how the film industry is currently playing catch up with the medium of comics and are now making more money than ever before on the back of the legacy of a tiny bunch of hyperactive comic book artists who basically died penniless and forgotten. I now realise comic book artists probably reached their pinnacle in the mid-seventies – a period that is commonly referred to as the Bronze Age of comics.
A favourite name comes to mind: John Buscema, an Italian/American artist who was passionate about the figure and composition. He claimed to absolutely hate working in the comic business – and he was right about how cut-throat a business the comic book business is. But he had a family to feed and a mortgage to pay so he was being pragmatic and used his incredible gifts in a sensible way. Still, you couldn’t tell he hated drawing comics if you were to look at all the wonderful work he left behind. Before he passed away from cancer, he requested he be buried with his favourite pen in his hand. How is that for a romantic?
What pieces of work are you working on presently?
I’m literally in the middle of creating a series of graphite pieces some of which can currently be seen in my profile. This series is intended to highlight sculptures that have caught my eye and which, again, are works that – however ancient or recent they might be – showcase a mastery of the human and animal form and which are successful in their accurate depictions of anatomy and of movement. In addition to that, I am particularly interested in works that use the play of shadow and light and which imbue the figure with a sense of drama.
What advice would you give any up and coming artists?
My advice would be: do as much life-drawing as humanly possible or as circumstances will allow you. There really is no substitute for that. Secondly: make it a habit to visit museums and galleries. London is a treasure trove of images and sculptures so what better way to grow as a creative whilst one is surrounded by so much wonderful inspiring work that is free to access and admire at such close quarters?
And last but not least: observe the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city such as London whilst its inhabitants rush all around you as they try to get from A to B. It is never less than a delight to observe the many shapes and features in perpetual motion, and much can be gained from doing just that.
What is your favourite art gallery?
You are probably aware of my enthusiasm for the National Gallery which I consider to be a real national treasure and an institution we all should be proud of. I am usually boring everybody to tears whenever I post on my wall urging everyone to go. But it really is that important. It won’t cost you a penny and, trust me, in a single afternoon you’ll get an education in art history you wouldn’t get anywhere else in the world. And for free.
Best pub in London?
The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill. Hands down. It is not only the best-looking pub in the country but they also serve incredible Thai food. My second choice would be The Anchor because it’s a proper medieval pub with a fantastic view of the Thames. Maybe I should get out more.