When CovetED asked one of Italy’s most recognizable designers, Barnaba Fornasetti, the son of worldwide famous Piero Fornasetti, about his work, we didn’t expect his answers to be so simultaneously profound and mesmerizing. We had many questions for this outstanding designer about his career and his motivation to carry on his father‘s fascinating work in the field of interior design and architecture.
Born into his father’s world of art and design, Barnaba Fornasetti was influenced by these elements throughout his upbringing. He noted that his own background is very similar to his father’s as they both attended The Brera Academy and have a unique view on design. Piero Fornasetti’s original project, “Tema e Variazioni” (theme and variations) made his name renowned in the world of art. This incredible undertaking includes more than 300 variations of a woman’s face, more specifically, a face of an operatic soprano, Lina Cavalleri. Piero Fornesetti found this special motif in a 19th-century magazine, and never stopped working with it. Barnaba Fornasetti commented on his father’s work:
“Taking her as much as a muse and as a motif, he would return to Lina Cavalieri’s face again and again throughout his career. The archetypal classic female features, and enigmatic expression of Lina Cavalieri became Fornasetti’s most frequently used template upon which he based more than 350 variations. Lina Cavalieri’s face, explained my father, was another archetype – a quintessentially beautiful and classic image, like a Greek statue, enigmatic like the ‘Gioconda’ and therefore able to take shape into the idea that was slowly building in his mind. It was this formal, graphic appeal (rather than Lina Cavalieri’s celebrity) that demanded such loyalty and inspired the spontaneous and ceaseless creativity of Fornasetti. For him, this face became the ultimate enduring motif. With great modesty all these works were reproduced on a series of everyday objects like the plate. Tema e Variazioni shows its variations playing with one idea.”
Piero Fornasetti, Milan-based designer, sculptor and painter died in 1988. It didn’t take long for his son to take over the studio and continue to design in the family’s name. We were very curious about Barnaba Fornasetti’s work and how he managed to move the compositions forward. We learned that he is most inspired by nature. He loves working with all materials, but especially with natural ones. However, what he admires the most are lacquered surfaces, even better if they are not perfect because he likes to work with different printing techniques and image transfers. According to the designer, “Imperfections give warmth and a soul to the object”.
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He also shared with us that one of his favorite projects is the “blind date” – a charitable piano concert organized by CBM Italia Onlus in collaboration with the great pianist, Cesare Picco. The musician is a very good friend of Barnaba Fornasetti’s and he collaborated with him on the visual side of the concert. “The uniqueness of this concert is that it’s played completely in the dark. It starts with light then slowly becomes darker and darker till completely dark and after a long time the light returns on stage. The aim of all this is to raise funds to help poor blind children all over the world. My participation is based on the Fornasetti graphics that are projected on the background of the stage. Images associated with music. It’s a great emotion and every time the theatre is completely booked.”
Intrigued by his creations, we asked “How would you describe your own style? How did it change through the years?” We didn’t have to wait long for his response: “I would define my style cross-cutting time. Through the years it became more receptive to sustainability.” Nonetheless, he doesn’t like defining himself. “I leave the verdict to the others”. But where does all this energy to design such special and original things come from? Fornasetti just replied with a smile: “My energy comes from swimming. I love swimming and it’s in those moments that I have most of my ideas and inspirations. I can reflect and concentrate and I have my best visions”.
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For a grand finale we asked him what would be his advice to designers just embarking on their creative careers. He answered, “Don’t be obsessed with being contemporary. Use technology just as a tool, just like the pencil for one who draws, a brush and a canvas for a painter.” He added “I think that nowadays for a designer – no matter the field in which he works – the most important thing is to keep in mind sustainability.”