Francesca Bifulco is a painter, mixed media, and multimedia artist from Pæstum, an ancient city in Southern Italy, where she was raised on a rather magical campground her family owned and operated — which explains a lot, actually. In her interdisciplinary work merging painting with sound, sculpture, video, and narrative histories — and now in a new exhibition of mixed media, sculptural paintings and installation called Candles Burning in the Wind — Bifulco is drawn to a fiery, visceral palette and an expressive, gestural manner of image-making. Capable of holding wit and curiosity alongside loss and trauma, Bifulco’s works process memories both personal and societal through the extrapolation of striking images and theatrical motifs. In this case, she considers the windswept, sharp-edged beauty of the palm tree, a non-native species that has come to all but define the city she now calls home. Inspired further by L.A. as a perennial muse to iconic rock ‘n rollers, the works are their lyrics and there’s also a playlist.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
FRANCESCA BIFULCO: It’s hard to say. It never felt like a separate idea to me as I grew up where creativity and freedom of expression were like bread, in our family-owned campground in Southern Italy. There, I was immersed in daily activities ranging from themed treasure hunts to comedic camp Olympics, to dance and the most varied workshops, musicals and plays. All happening in our outdoor theater, through the eucalyptus passageways, on the beach or in front of the campfire. At the end of summer, everyone staying at the campground would get involved, putting together sets and costumes and performing in our “Night of the Temples” show. It was an immersive homage to the ancient origins of my hometown of Pæstum, with live acting, dance, and music. It was an annual tradition of joining creative forces for art’s sake. All of this was commonplace for as long as I can remember, and it naturally grounded me to art. Though it is only in recent years that I am more comfortable in calling myself an artist, as I continue to dive deeper into my practice.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work gravitates towards the human experience fluctuating between the personal and the collective aspects of life and – as I continue to cope with the aftermath of my father’s sudden passing – death. In my latest works I explore the effects of loss through preservation of memory, delve into the sociopolitical awakening in the U.S., and celebrate the stories held within one of the most iconic symbols of my adoptive city of Los Angeles.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I would want to work in rehabilitation centers for addictions or juvenile facilities. During my adolescence in Italy, my parents, my older brother, and I were involved in a local nonprofit that would help people with drug addiction. This had a profound effect on me, as it showed me what it looked like to face and support those facing these kinds of problems from a rather young age, and the strength in the communities we belonged to. I am currently part of a female-led art collective IAC (Immersive Art Collective) based in DTLA that provides free creative workshops for people in underserved communities, including residents in group homes, rehabilitation, and wellness/trauma centers. Though, I also love trimming palm plants. So, I wouldn’t mind working in a nursery or a botanical garden either.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome where I got a degree in Set Design for Visual and Performing Arts. During which I also studied special effects makeup, which allowed me to work on several TV projects at RAI (Italian equivalent of the BBC). Although I can tell you without hesitation that life at the campground was the best art school, leaving an everlasting mark on me.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
Besides quality of weather and food, I can go to a giant thrift store and lose my brain in it for hours, then find myself at a party on a weeknight where a magician performs insanely good close-up tricks where I’m left with a bolo tie of two dogs humping, while earlier in the morning I listened to David Lynch on the radio reporting about the weather. That bolo tie is currently one of my favorite pieces of “jewelry.” L.A. continues to blow my mind after being here for a decade now. As a transplant female artist, the longer I live and dream here, the more I move away from being just an observer to being a direct participant in the rich multiculturalism that fuels this city.
When was your first show?
My first show was in 2012, the same year I came out here. I was initially visiting a friend who was living in L.A. When he picked me up at LAX, I was carrying an oversized PVC pipe filled with paintings that stuck out of the sunroof of his sedan by several feet. I eventually had the chance to exhibit those paintings at a gallery in Bergamot Station paired with a local sound artist, who scored my large canvases of crowds and is now my husband. That was the first gallery show for both of us.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
Right now, my first solo show in Los Angeles, Candles Burning in the Wind, is on view at Bermudez Projects in Cypress Park. It involves 12 works between paintings and mixed media pieces about the endurance and resilience of transplants and migrants embodied through one of the most iconic symbols of this city: palm trees, the transplant species that has shaped the L.A. landscape the most. I’m excited about this exhibition as I tune into the more intriguing aspects of this staple, allowing my signature linework to find new pathways chromatically, dimensionally and in the materials. There will be an Artist Talk followed by a reception on Saturday, March 25th, 4-6:30pm. The exhibition is up until April 15th.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
Actually, I have a clear answer for both. As for the dead, Italian artist Alberto Burri, whose gestural work in wood, metal, burlap, and plastic has been knocking on my head heavily in these past three years. The mixed media installation in my current solo at Bermudez pays humble homage to his art and to the conversations I would have with my father about the expressive power of Burri’s violent yet rational combustions. As for the living, I would love to work with Brazilian artist Christiane Jatahy, whose work I have experienced several times at REDCAT and got me hooked up to that non-linear, meticulously orchestrated multimedia production that tricks the audience in all sorts of directions, physically and emotionally.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I DO! Music is an integral part of my creative language. I listen to it in the studio constantly. It also plays a big role in my current show as I’ve somewhat thought of it as a 12-track album or playlist. Each work in the exhibition has been named after iconic songs about L.A. and California or from L.A.-based bands, ranging from The Doors to Rage Against the Machine, to Cypress Hill, and the list goes on. During the making of the works I listened to a lot of quintessential stuff from Joan Jett, Lindsey Buckingham, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, and many others. On opening night, we had a playlist with all the tracks each piece in the show was named from (and some extras) and if you’d like to listen to it, you can find it here: open.spotify.com.
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