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Francisco Javier Bassim's Gran Interior

The artist mixes inspirations from the Italian Renaissance with modern and urban themes and characters

Art critics often talk about how specific works can invite audience engagement, but Francisco Javier Bassim's easily reach out to their spectators. Indeed, his mix of bright colours, cartoonish characters and urban themes with a Pop Art edge instantly manage to forge connections with the viewers. Born in 1964 in Venezuela where he studied art, Bassim moved to Italy where he carried out further researches, living for several years in Venice.

Back in Venezuela, Bassim has become well-known for his paintings, sculptures and installations. His latest work, entitled 'Gran Interior', features a series of perfectly recognisable characters, from politicians to artists and celebrities, including US President Obama, George W. Bush, Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Alice in Wonderland's Queen of Hearts as seen by Tim Burton.

All of them are portrayed in rather unusual attires, though their big heads suggest they may be masks worn by cheeky or rebellious teenagers playing around. Pope Benedict XVI is holding Batman's Joker rather than the Baby Jesus; the Mona Lisa looks like a crossover between a breakdancer and a graffiti artist; Caravaggio's Medusa in a vest and lattice gloves seems ready to tattoo or pierce someone's body, while Frida Kahlo, dressed in a sailor suit like a Manga character, is performing jumps on rollerskates. “Gran Interior” is a modern version of Tintoretto's works for the Scuola Grande of San Rocco, reinterpreted in a comic book style and with a punk twist added.

Dazed Digital: What do the characters in Gran Interior represent for you?
Francisco Javier Bassim:
We live in a world in which everything is mixed in a sort of big cauldron and I tried to hint at this in my new work. Gran Interior includes a series of characters, some of them very controversial historical figures, but also art icons such as Mona Lisa. The latter represents universal art in this specific work, yet art can be politics and politics can be art, this is essentially what I was suggesting. Besides, the faces of these famous characters look bigger than their bodies, adding another layer to the work, as if these characters were impersonated by other people in a playful way.  

DD: What inspires your work?
Francisco Javier Bassim:
My works are very simple: I always like to play jokes on history, politics and life and I do it to engage in a dialogue with the spectators, with those audiences visiting a gallery, a museum or a biennale who may not know anything about art. In a way, the purpose of my art is not different from the main aim of art in the Middle Ages, that is reaching out to people and doing so in an energetic and jovial way. Among my most fantastic fans there are kids, they're genuine and always tell you what they think.

DD: What kind of researches did you do while you lived in Italy?
Francisco Javier Bassim:
I carried out a lot of researches about graphic art and Renaissance works, focusing in particular on colours, forms and compositions in general. I think that Renaissance art is indeed the most beautiful we have in the world, it has got a very special warmth and theatricality about it, it's a bit like fire for me.

DD: What's the art scene like in Venezuela?
Francisco Javier Bassim:
We do have geat artists, but they are claimed by the government or by the opposition. If, like me, you're a neutral artist standing in the middle and don't want to be pigeonholed by anybody, you have problems in getting your voice heard and you find many closed doors.

DD: Are you planning any new exhibitions?
Francisco Javier Bassim:
In the next few weeks I'll be busy looking at different exhibition spaces in Italy and Spain, but also in European capitals such as London, Berlin and Frankfurt.