Conversation with Nicholas di Genova

Ella Gorevalov (E.G) talked to Toronto artist Nicholas di Genova (N.d.G)

 Nicholas di Genova. Photo: Brittany Shepherd

During Canadian Art’s annual Gallery Hop, I had the opportunity to meet one of my favorite Toronto-based artists, Nicholas di Genova. He is renowned for his incredibly intricate creature-hybrids, where he uses ink and animation paints to develop elaborate encyclopedic illustrations of the animal kingdom. In an almost rubiks-cube-like fashion, he is able to splice up features of plant life, reptiles, birds and humans and reassemble them into unbelievable line work drawings. In September, LE gallery displayed his newest show, Ultima, which featured a diorama that depicted quaint trading town, full of miniatures, many of which he has transformed into his own creation. Recently, Nicholas and I sat down to talk about his background in illustration and a recent transition into the world of sculpture and installation.

Nicholas di Genova, Wildlife of the Savanah Region, 2009, pen and ink on paper, 26″ x 32″. Courtesy of the artist.

E.G: Where do you gather your inspiration to create your artwork?

N.d.G: I draw a lot of my inspiration from my childhood. As a kid, I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that valued art. During my childhood, my mother trekked me across town to take private art lessons. The art lessons were coupled with my inherent fascination with both zoology and ancient myths. As well, my basis from drawing animals was also rooted in my history of raising various pets – I grew up with crustaceans, crabs, lizards, dogs, and cats to the extent that I thought that I would grow up to be a traveling veterinarian. Eventually I settled into a career of being a professional artist.

 E.G: Nicholas went on to tell me how he is often enamored, and draws inspiration from the worlds that encompass various videogames and comic universes. RPG games, in particular allow for him to distill an essence of the imagination that encompass the storyboard and setting of each videogame universe. Nicholas calls them “interesting places for the imagination”, but instead of playing these games, he finds the time to buy the art books accompanying them and read interviews from the creators so that he has the tools to capture their graphic essence.

One of Nicholas’s pieces, titled 20009 Butterflies, exhibits over 20,000 butterflies drawn in ballpoint pen in a grid formation – each about the size of a thumbnail – referencing an encyclopedia to complete the work. Nicholas admitted that in fact there are only about 17,500 butterflies because he drew every documented type of butterfly in existence, and had to use moths to complete the rest of the drawing. He uses this beautiful grid-pattern style of drawings as a type of mental exercise and views it as practice in order to get the gears of the mind working.

Nicholas di Genova, 20009 Butterflies, detail, 2009, ballpoint pen on paper, 46″ x 54″. Courtesy of the artist.

N.d.G: I really love to create these drawings, and have the goal to create smaller size versions of them, Perhaps about one a year, so that after six or so years I can put together an institutional gallery show, which at first seems to be a minimalist grey scale experimentations, but then when you get closer you realize the actual drawing consists of these small creatures.

Nicholas di Genova, Ultima. Courtesy of the artist.

E.G: Your newest project is a diorama, and you’ve mentioned that building it involved a lot of “kit bashing”. What is kit bashing and how does it work?

N.d.G: Well, when building miniatures and dioramas usually you would order a “kit” online, which basically includes sheets of wood or plastic that are then glued together and painted. Some people build from scratch where you assemble bought or found materials and tools that are built on your own without a model or outline. Essentially, kit bashing is the middle ground to both of these things where you order a kit online but you use the pieces in a way that suit your own needs. So you’re not paying attention to the instructions, and you can remix kits and use one to supplement the construction of another. It works the same way with miniatures, which are puttied, primed, painted while some just sculpted. With the diorama I just completed, I tried to use as much scratch built or kit bashing as I could. Nothing is built in the “right” way.

Nicholas di Genova, Ultima, detail. Courtesy of the artist.

E.G: Does this diorama include people from your own life?

N.d.G: Yes, I’ve included myself in there, as well, I have my assistants, my girlfriend’s cat, Carl, who’s got his own pet shop, and various nostalgic memories from my childhood. There are some very direct nods, as well, to other people’s work who inspires me. Unlike drawing, where you run out of room, I found that with a diorama you could keep building upwards in an almost unlimited way. I’ve bought enough diorama supplies to last me for a few years, so I plan to create more of these dioramas but I probably won’t do another big one.

Nicholas di Genova, Ultima, detail. Courtesy of the artist.

Speaking with Nicholas was an amazing opportunity; our untethered conversation let me inside the mind of a rising local artist. His diorama was on display at Art Toronto, 2014, the annual Toronto International Art Fair, and was very popular.

Ella Gorevalov

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