Interview: The Miaz Brothers Examine the Soul's Place in Portraiture

On the occasion of their new exhibition at Lazarides Gallery, we spoke to the duo about "Antimatter" and improvisation in their work.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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When I arrive at Soho’s Lazarides Gallery, Renato Miaz is standing on a ladder, tending to a transparent cube filled with hair gel. In a few days, he explains, the hair gel will be filled with metallic particles that are sculpted to create a floating face. Amazed, I ask Renato and his brother Roberto how they’re going to achieve this. “We don’t know,” they admit, and both burst out laughing.

The Miaz Brothers have been working together their entire careers—you could say their entire lives. Born in Milan in the 1960s, they've now settled in Valencia and have spent the majority of the '90s exhibiting their works in unconventional spaces, such as clubs and corporate environments. Through it all, they tell me they’re “always experimenting”—hence the ad-libbing with the hair gel. Despite this being their first solo show in a conventional London gallery, that spirit remains intact.

The duo are exhibiting their "Antimatter" series: a collection of paintings that initially look like blurred photographs, but are actually exquisitely precise aerosol paintings (if you look a little closer, you can see the paint running in places). Within the series, there are depictions of departed loved ones (Ghosts), brightly dressed kawaii girls, and "Masters" of the English Restoration (The Miaz Brothers have childhood memories of these types of serious guys who would stare down at them from their father’s antique collection). In part, the series is a reaction against the instant gratification of our culture’s obsession with million-a-minute HD selfies, but more philosophically, it’s about the place of the soul in portraiture.

The brothers took some time out of their installation to explain the role that the ideas of particles, auras, and martial arts play in their work and the "Antimatter" series. Catch "Dematerialized: A New Contemporary Vision" at Lazarides from May 16 - June 14, 2014.

So this is your first solo show in London—is there something about these paintings that you think works better in a conventional space than your work in the past?
Renato: It’s quite nice for us to be here in this gallery particularly, because it’s not really a normal gallery. It’s something a little bit more interesting. It’s not so classical. We feel the ambience.

Why did you settle on the name "Antimatter" for this series?
We began with this concept of antimatter just to approach the painting world with another point of view—dematerializing the lines, essentially. When you study the history of art, the line was really the most important thing in determining a painting. So we began to think that maybe we could do something different, beginning with another treatment...

Roberto: Approach.

Renato: Yes, another approach.

Roberto: There is matter, there should be antimatter. And for us, for the paintings "Antimatter," we try to give people the sensation that what you see is maybe what you don’t see. It’s hidden.

It’s like trying to bring out the soul.
Ro: Yes, of course. It’s all about soul, actually.

With the collaborative process between the two of you, how do these ideas generally develop?
Roberto: It’s a transformation, always.

Renato: It’s a lifestyle. We live together, we do all of these things together. It’s like teamwork, I have an idea, I speak to him, he says something to me to enrich the idea, and then we finally really look for something interesting to do together; it's not just me or him.

What’s the practical process like together?
Renato: For the paintings, it depends. If he feels well, he begins the painting, and then I finish them...maybe I begin something else. The paintings are important, but really it’s more important for us just to do the work together. Sometimes I do something, he does something; it’s kind of like playing ping pong.

Roberto: It’s not that it’s a very practical way to do this kind of painting. It’s that you can just put the line and then have to have a flow to do it, it’s not that mechanical.

Renato: It’s not something technical you can do everyday. It’s like a martial art, you have to be in the flow to obtain something with your entire being.

In the press release for this exhibition, you mentioned that you use aerosol paints because of the idea of the particles—could you expand on that a little?
Roberto: The particles are what we were thinking about—we don’t feel like we are being restricted to just our physical parts. It’s more. I don’t want to say an "aura," but kind of.

Renato: We were really interested in philosophical problems and human problems—the feeling of “Why am I so stupid today, and why am I better tomorrow?”—how we feel and why. After many years, around 20-25 years, we arrived at a certain conclusion, and we tried to transform these kinds of ideas with the paintings. For the first 10-15 years, we were just crazy; we tried a lot of things but not really with a nice meaning. The ideas began to be much more solid, much more important.

I think it’s interesting how, when you’re looking at these paintings, particularly of loved ones and friends, it turns something very personal into something very universal; is that the desired effect?
Renato: Yes, definitely. Everybody can see a friend or somebody else [in the paintings]. Last time, a lot of people came and said, "This is not a friend of ours? This is Paul, no?" Everybody has his or her own perception and connection.

Roberto: It’s good that they can play and can interact with the painting.

How did your work in photography inform the painting style that you’ve developed for this series? Because it looks almost photographic.
Renato: We are sure that every experience brings us another step forward, but the photography remains. It’s quite natural; it’s not really something masterminded. Finally we discovered that, yes, it’s quite photographic, because there has to be something on the left side and something on the right side, all together. It’s good to be balanced in some way.

And I noticed that in the paintings you can see some parts where the paint is running. Did you leave those touches in to make it clear that they are paintings?
Roberto: Yes. It’s the same balance, between nothing and something.

Renato: We did a lot of them with no trace, but then we felt that you have to be able to grab something and know it’s not totally immaterial.

Roberto: Also, some people said, “But this is a picture, a print; you didn’t do it.”

Renato: The problem was seeing the work on the web. People didn’t understand. So step by step, we tried to get it right.

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