Artists under Quarantine:
The first in a new series by Corinna Lotz
When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Michele del Campo felt he could not bear to carry on painting in the same way as before. The extremity of the moment drove him to reconsider.
“The alarming situation of the pandemic and being forced into social isolation – such an extraordinary circumstance – made me feel that I should do something more useful or appropriate.”
Stuck in Madrid under lockdown, he could not venture out into the world and be with the people who form his subjects. So he found a way to make the world come to him.
He announced to his 38,000 Instagram followers that he needed volunteers for an interview and then to pose for their portrait via video-conference. The response amazed him. People got in touch from all over the world and he ended up creating over a hundred likenesses on an almost daily basis.
Talking to his sitters he came to realise that they were “so diverse but at the same time so alike. During social isolation just everyone felt a responsibility to protect themselves from this unbelievable world epidemic”, he says.
So Del Campo created a journal-sketchbook with these people and their stories as a way of counteracting the enforced isolation of the lockdown. The project has allowed him to “travel” around the planet and experience the world away from home, meeting his followers in a way that normal circumstances would not have permitted.
The project is all the more fascinating because Del Campo is a global artist par excellence. He hails from San Nicandro Garganico, a village in southeastern Italy, and first pursued a career as a cyclist. But, aged 20, he decided to train as an artist in Milan and later in Dundee. He then moved on to Madrid, London, Glasgow and elsewhere. Over the last few years he has spread his wings in south and north America.
His outstanding prowess with oil paint allied with a sensitivity to that elusive feeling for a social mood of the time – the Zeitgeist – has won him major awards, particularly in Spain and the UK.
Not long before embarking on the quarantine portraits, Michele put together a large format bilingual book featuring his paintings and drawings made between 2003 and 2019. In an eloquent essay, Californian writer and artist John Seed notes that Michele is “more interested in people than in settings, he moves his studio frequently and avoids accumulating possessions… Del Campo embraces the same kind of rootlessness that is an underlying force in his paintings”.
Embracing the way in which Instagram allows image sharing and rapid but also quite intimate communication, he has opened doors to the individual worlds of his sitters and friends.
There are few skills more magical than watching an artist capture the features and personality of another human being, who comes alive in front of your eyes. Using time-lapse videoing, Del Campo tracks his pencil/charcoal portraits emerging from a few simple lines in his diary, to a fully-conceived, complex three-dimensional image in the space of a few minutes.
Del Campo exploits the possibilities open to an artist who has an incredible facility with pencil and charcoal as well as with oil paint. Like so many artists before him, from Caravaggio to Vermeer to David Hockney, he seizes the possibilities offered by contemporary technologies to enhance his illustrative powers.
But there is far more than technical expertise in Del Campo’s offerings. As with his earlier work, we feel this is about our times, our moment. These sketched portraits have a positive interactivity. We feel the dialogue going on between artist and subject as each responds to the other.
Del Campo displays a spontaneous empathy with the inner life of his subjects, usually young people in their twenties and thirties. In these mini-stories we can follow them as they explore their way through life.
His Instagram interviews are cameos of a person’s life under lockdown, and alongside written notes, they constitute multiple universes in miniature. It’s an insight into the infinite internal worlds of our fellow inhabitants of the planet earth, physically separated but socially connected.