Filippo Cegani on His Paintings, Creative Process, Mental Health, Motivations & More

by Rubén Palma
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Filippo Cegani, (b. 1993, Italy), paints metaphors of experiences and ideas, focusing also on imagery of masculinity, projecting metaphysical paintings in the third millennia. Filippo completed his studies at the BA program at Camberwell College of Art.

Hi Filippo, it’s a pleasure to sit down with you! First question, and I know you’re currently at a residency in Berlin. But let’s say you were back home in Milan right now. How would a regular day look like for you?

I generally wake up around 7, and having the studio in the same building as my house, I pretty much start to work straight away. I avoid lunch and breakfast, and have a healthy diet based around cigarettes and coffee, just like my grandma taught me.

I stop working around 5/6/7, and clean up the house and cook. I developed this boring routine in the past couple of years or so, but I have to say, that it brings me great joy, to have stability and calm in my life at the moment.

I’m curious. Growing up in Milan.. what kind of kid were you? What did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time?

I was pretty sociable and social, I just used to hang around my friends, and spend the days out drinking and chilling on benches. Pretty average Italian adolescence 

Ok, so at some point you move to London, to study, where you earn a BA, in Painting, at Camberwell University. Why did you choose to study abroad? And what was that experience like?

I traveled to London to work initially, but after a few years of working as a courier/mechanic, I decided to study painting, as I was painting any time I wasn’t working anyway. It just felt natural to study in London, as I had already spent 4 years there. 

I know that you started working for a sculptor when you were 18. Has he in any way impacted your artistic growth? And what made painting your preferred medium of expression, and not sculpting?

I think the biggest influence I had regarding the approach to work in itself, was thanks to Dario Ghibaudo, the sculptor I was assisting. His devotion to art was honestly inspiring. He never pushed me towards sculpture and I never felt drawn to it, my medium has always been painting.

What he did teach me, was discipline. The urge to dedicate every possible hour available to painting, researching when you are not painting, it is an oldschool approach, but I have to say, that not only did it help me develop skills quickly, but it also kind of saved me from what I could have become, if I did not follow this path.

Ok, let’s talk about your work now. How did you get introduced to the airbrush? And when did you start taking becoming an artist serious?

I was aware of the tool since childhood, since all the carousels in Italy are hand painted with airbrushes, and riding carousels was my favourite activity as a child. I have to say that working as a mechanic, also made me consider it, as I loved the custom painted jobs I sometimes had to work on. I started using the airbrush in 2017, to paint armors mainly, in that same year I started seriously considering the career, even if I kept having two jobs up until a couple of years ago. I can fortunately say painting is my only profession at the moment, so I am trying to do everything in my power to make sure I can have a prolonged career in this field.

While we’re on the subject. What is it about the airbrush that makes you prefer it over a regular paint brush?

I have to say that I use both brush and airbrush, and I equally love them. The thing that really interests me about the airbrush in itself, is the mechanical aspect. I tend to really get into things I do not comprehend and read/watch everything available to better understand them, and I had that thing with the tool in itself, being a truly difficult technique to master, as well as a complicated tool to look after, I feel like I still need a lot of years to fully understand it, yet since I started using it, I’m hooked.

So you’ve only been using the airbrush for about 5-6 years, and these past couple of years, you’ve already been one of the lucky few, to be able to be a full time artist. Can you talk to me a little bit about that feeling, and that experience of succes this early in your career?

I don’t mean to sound depressing, but I truly do not see a success in starting a career, I feel a lot of pressure from myself, as I feel that I either give everything I have now, or I will regret it in the future, I was lucky enough to make this choice and I’m focusing on painting only, but it is a sacrifice. I feel like I cannot drink alcohol, as it will not make me as focused on the next couple of days. I can’t enjoy a movie without the feeling of somehow wasting time that could be dedicated to research. I am focusing a lot on my mental health, not because I want to feel decently, but because I cannot allow myself to have a depressive episode and waste time. So to be honest, I can’t really say I see any success at the moment. I think the idea of success, is the realisation that you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work, whereas at the moment I am just working as hard as possible, to enjoy the fruits later.

That was a great answer. So… the various dreamlike, surreal scenes, objects and characters, in your work. How do you come up with them?

I generally paint metaphors of situations that happen in my daily life, I started viewing my works as a metaphorical diary of the situations I live through, and in recent works especially unresolved feelings play a huge role. 

With that in mind. Can you walk me through your creative process, from start to end result?

I literally start to plan the composition of the next painting as I paint my previous one. Also when I gesso and prepare the canvas, my mind is always there. So when I face the naked canvas, I already know what needs to be done. I have trouble sleeping, and I have to say that until I finish a work, I can’t really sleep properly, it is really difficult for me to switch off, and therefore I spend sleepless nights thinking about how to achieve an effect or just a composition I am not sure about.

Can you also tell me about your approach to color?

I used to have a pretty brutal and kitschy palette, and I have to say that I’m trying to distance myself from that – and I recently adopted a more tranquil and pastel like palette. 

I read somewhere that you described your work as “mixture of sharing my traumas on a bi-dimensional surface”. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

I think it was an ironic way of defining my previously mentioned metaphorical diary, I find it truly therapeutic to face situations I don’t know how to deal with, with a tool I know how to use, it makes it easier to face similar situations in the future – as it almost feels as if, I faced them already in my comfort area, which is unfortunately painting.

You’ve been pretty open about dealing with anxiety and depression. Is that in any way reflected in your work? And has it changed the way you approach or view things?

I think that the way I paint, doesn’t really portrait either of them directly, if I have to think about it, I think it might reflect in the approach towards painting in itself, rather than on canvas.

Sometimes I literally shake, or it gets difficult to breathe, as I paint really detailed parts as I am terrified of making a mistake.

So this absolute horror of making mistakes, and letting myself down again, I think is reflected in the way I approach the works themself, but not the composition altogether. I might have faced the topic of depression in a couple of paintings, but I think the palette I used in those paintings, made light of the illness in itself.

Earlier I mentioned briefly, that you were currently at a residency in Berlin. For those curious about that, it’s at, BETTER GO SOUTH. How did that come about? What’s the plan, and how long will you be staying there?

I was really lucky, they opened up an open call for the art residency, and I think I literally dropped everything, to just write the presentation straight away and luckily enough got accepted. I will be spending here a couple of months, culminating in a bisolo. But don’t be surprised, if by the final days I’ll chain myself to the studio, in an attempt not to leave. The space is insanely beautiful, and I have to say that a change of scenery was rather necessary.

What motivates you?

I think I am mainly motivated by passion. I am truly in love with what I do, and feel really lucky on a daily basis, to be able to do it. It might be a dog biting its own tail, but for the minute, I found a tiny slice of happiness, in an otherwise bitter world and I am not letting go for as long as I can. 

I also view other people’s technique and works as an inspiration and challenge, if I really like a painting, I would just go to the studio and paint and experiment with the techniques I grasped from their works.

What do you hope that we, the observers take with us after viewing some of your paintings? And what are you aiming to convey?

I can only hope I can crystallise emotions through my paintings, but of course, I don’t think that highly of myself, I think that’s the aim. I would like to bury in my works my melancholy, and I hope it is transparent enough to be seen. But I also realize, that I have many years of hard work, before I can be as clear and delicate as I would like to be.

How would you describe a perfect day?

A day with my family and loved ones

Alright Filippo. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

I hate to be that guy, but I need to point out two movies:

The cook, the thief, his wife, and her lover 

Toto contro maciste 

The first one is the only movie that made me cry, and I unfortunately do not cry even remotely as much as i would need. The second one, and toto’s movies in general, are a memory from childhood of my grandfather, and are a guilty pleasure I give in during difficult times.

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?

The song I listened to the most in the past year is: “Scetate” by Sergio Bruni.

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