The work of Lorenzo Nassimbeni is located where the disciplines of architecture and fine art meet. Sometimes fun and playful, often all-grown up and austere, Lorenzo’s wall coverings, fabric, murals and art reflect the urban landscape from which he lovingly draws his inspiration. His portfolio is diverse yet consistently reflecting his signature architectural style of drawing.
In 2009, Lorenzo was awarded the Elle Decoration International Design Award for Wall coverings, South Africa [EDIDA ], and in 2010, VISI, selected one of his fabric designs to be included in their selection of top design items. Lorenzo has exhibited extensively in South Africa, often with Salon Contemporary Art Collection, both in solo and group exhibitions. A selection of his work, as chosen by acclaimed critic, Vittorio Sgarbi, was exhibited at the 54th Venice Biennale , at the ‘Padiglione Italiano del Mondo’ exhibition. Zolani Mahola, lead singer of Freshly Ground, also joined the cream when she approached Lorenzo for a mural.
Lorenzo recently completed a mural at the Neil Ellis Winery in Stellenbosch. Essentially a ‘site-section,’ the mural shows the new winery building in the context of its surrounding landscape. Three elements, inter-relate to form an overall linear narrative depicting a distilled version of the winemaking process. The mountain, representing the land or ‘terroir’ becomes the main facade of the new building, which itself is constructed of rammed earth. The building in turn points towards the bottled products displayed in a recessed enclave. The line continues to become a site-specific vineyard, the source of the wine itself.
At a spatial level, the visitor is met at the entrance with an alluring representation of the mountain. The ‘vine-like’ line leads them to the centre of the wine-tasting area, and directs them on to the entertainment area, which looks onto the vineyards beyond. In all, the mural is a directional device, which at the same time presents an iconic image, with which the renewed corporate identity of Neil Ellis Wines may be associated.
He just got back from Zürich, Switzerland, and we caught up with him for a bit of a chat.
You practiced architecture with a number of firms before finally committing to your passion full-time. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back and does this mean that you have left architecture behind for good?
Whilst working for an architectural and urban design practice in Johannesburg, I found myself being drawn to visiting the inner city on weekends. I would spend entire days sketching and drawing, compiling compendiums of sketchbooks filled with the buildings of the city, which to me were new and inspiring. It was the sheer weight of the graphic information that I gathered which tipped me in the direction of becoming an artist, with architecture as my trusted muse.
You have gained a fair amount of exposure to the international market. How would you compare it to Cape Town?
Last year I was privileged to travel to Venice and Frankfurt by invitation to exhibit at the 54th International Venice Biennale and Museum for Applied Arts respectively. I was particularly impressed with the curatorship at the Museum for Applied Arts in Frankfurt. The exhibition was entitled ‘ 10th Triennial for Form and Content : Materials Re-visited.’ From a design perspective, the standard was exceptionally high. In answering your question, my sense is that the top design from Cape Town is certainly able to hold its own at such exhibitions. We have great designers and artists in Cape Town, the work of whom is of excellent quality, and of international standard. I also travelled to Zürich where I was commissioned to do some murals for a corporate company. Whilst there, I visited ‘Blickfang’ which is Zürich’s equivalent of our Design Indaba expo. The quality of work was formidably high, but again, I see our designers as fittingly able to participate at that level. In fact, there were 2 other Cape Town designers present, which made me feel both at home, and very proud.
If you could be any architect, who would you be? Why?
Rather than wishing to be a certain architect, there are those whom I admire for their inspiring contribution to the profession and discipline as a whole. I admire the work of Martin Kruger. For me, he takes the discipline of Architecture into the realm of the poetic. Internationally, I admire the work of Oscar Niemeyer, Alvaro Siza and Peter Zumpthor.
If I could combine Niemeyer’s free-form ability to translate sensual sketches into buildings, Siza’s mastery of light and Zumpthor’s sense of composition, that is the type of architect I would be from a design perspective. When thinking of humanity, I believe that the work of Charles Correa has been influential at a social level. Finally, when I saw the film ‘My architect’ and its presentation of Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building in Dhaka Bangladesh, I was greatly admiring of how this work of architecture had touched peoples’ lives.
Of course, let me not forget the Renaissance men to whom I look up for their ability to work as both artists and architects, for this is the region where I focus my attention. In this light, Michelangelo Buonarotti to me is peerless.
Where do you dream of doing a mural?
I would love to do a mural in an external space. The courtyard to the MoMA PS1 space in New York City would be a wonderful environment to work with. I would be able to translate the power and energy of city into a mural which would adorn the courtyard entrance to the gallery. So, with my main conceptual focus being on the area of connection between Fine Art and Architecture and the relationship between city/exterior/interior, this space would be perfect. I think doing a mural on the floor of a public swimming pool might be fun too. The Sea Point swimming pool would be a great canvass. Should I be confined to an interior, I would like to do a mural in The Cape Town Convention Centre foyer. If the Peggy Guggenheim gallery in Venice contacted me to do a mural for permanent display inside the gallery, it would be very likely that I’d accept the invitation.
If you could be a font, which one would you be? Why?
Helvetica 35-thin! It is constant, crisp, elegant, and will never age.
Where do you go for coffee?
I drink tea rather than coffee. Although no longer open, Birds’ Boutique used to be a favourite for its fresh interior, and the opportunity to view the ceramic work of Frauke Stegmann, a designer whose work I hold in extremely high regard. If Cape Town had to send a representative to participate at an international design show, I would certainly advocate her selection.
What’s a great night out in Cape Town?
I enjoy swimming a lot. So, a fresh dip in the sea at Beta beach [Bakoven] at sunset followed by a dinner with friends at their home is my cup of tea. Live music also interests me. So, if there is an interesting concert on in the city, I will follow the tune there.
You recently traveled to Switzerland? Work or pleasure?
I was commissioned to design a series of 4 murals for the construction management firm, CONECO in Zürich, Switzerland. The brief was to depict the 4 most prolific buildings in the portfolio of the firm, and as such add to the interior of their office space. Another key objective of the project was to enhance the corporate identity of the firm via the iconic illustrations representing the buildings that CONECO have realized to date. The feature mural is positioned upon entrance to the office space. It depicts the building, ‘Prime Tower’, which is the tallest building in the Zürich cityscape. From large scale urban buildings, to residential dwellings and interior fit-outs, CONECO manages the full spectrum of possible construction projects. ‘Prime Tower’ was designed by renowned Zürich-based architecural practice, GIGON/GUYER.
The 2nd mural in the series is inspired by a building designed by Zürich-based architectural practice, WERKHOF. The building is a residential dwelling, sited in Sunnenhalden, Wildberg. A defining feature of the building is how it sits as a modern object in the snowy landscape, as represented by the diagonal line. In all, an implied line was designed into the composition of all 3 of the murals as shown in the photograph above. This is done so as to express the continuity of the murals as a series within the interior space. You can find out more here .
You mentioned the Venice Biennale earlier. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement?
On the occasion of the opening of the 54thBiennale di Venezia 2011 – ‘Padiglione Italia’, and in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unification, Istituto Italiano di Cultura [IIC] [Pretoria] hosted a joint exhibition of the Italian-South African artists Severa Rech Cassarino, Marco Cianfanelli and Lorenzo Nassimbeni. The exhibition was opened at the Pretoria Art Museum, on Saturday 04 June 2011, and concluded 14 August 2011.
The exhibition formed part of a larger project initiated by the joint cooperation of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian Ministry of Cultural Activities and Heritage in realizing a project by the acclaimed critic, Vittorio Sgarbi. The project saw the selection of 219 artists of Italian origin, resident in the five continents, to exhibit their work at galleries via their respective Italian Institutes of Culture [IIC’s]. The various exhibitions hosted around the world by the 89 IIC’s converged in the form of a multimedia installation exhibited at the ‘Padiglione Italia’ on 4 June 2011, at the opening of the Venice Biennale. The opening of the joint exhibition in Pretoria formally acknowledged and celebrated the artists’ participation at the 54th International Venice Biennale.
Lorenzo Nassimbeni has successfully made the progression from new kid on the block to renowned artist. KUBE architects, Cape Town like the fact that he is constantly re-evaluating himself by exploring design challenges from different angles, while the enthusiasm which he exhibits makes us want to pick up some colourful crayons and just be creative! If you would like to see some more of Lorenzo’s work please take a look at his website.