As an artist, I have been very nomadic. I get inspired by traveling and working in many different places, meeting people, observing their spaces and listening to their stories.
When the quarantine was declared, I found myself alone in a new empty studio in Madrid, with only two suitcases, a laptop, and a sketchbook. Then I got an idea: I could still travel, without crossing the door!
From March to June 2020 I asked for volunteers in my social media, perhaps as an artist I could do something special for them, giving them a little gratification in times of hardship from the strict lockdown, in return they could do the same for me: I would portray for free from videoconference anyone who wanted to share their life story with me, which then I would write down and publish.
If it hadn’t been for the long lockdown we would have carried on with our business and I would have never met so many wonderful people and made beautiful friendships. Confined in my new studio, I traveled to about 60 countries and got to visit different houses and different people coming from all sorts of backgrounds. The most precious gift I received was that people opened up to me as if we already knew each other.
They were not just drawings of faces, I didn’t just want to capture a likeness. I couldn’t work from a static photo, these portraits needed to originate from an interaction. I wanted to see how the person changed when they relaxed, when getting tired, or when they were talking or moving. I wanted to do that after I interviewed them, that would get me closer to who they were and prepare me for the portrait. Each videoconference session would last from 1.5 to 3 hours, with some exceptionally longer ones, which had to be spread out in more than 1 day. Later on, I would write the story in my own words and publish at least one “Quarantine Portrait” per day in my social media.
Some sitters, after posing, thanked me by singing, playing a musical instrument, sketching me, reading a poetry, taking me around their house, showing me their views from the windows, their artworks, introducing me to their family, pets, or giving me a demonstration of how they make jewelries, masks or clothes. I realized how truly these “ordinary” people were all extraordinary, and my portraits needed to be a testament of that. Both they and I now keep in touch and cherish the memory of a wonderful, heart-warming experience in times of social isolation.
After the big impact of the global quarantine, there never was a return to the old “normality”, and the life of people was more or less drastically changed by the pandemic. After the “Quarantine Portraits” I returned to painting, as I had a solo show, but I still felt that I could learn so much from listening to people and their experience as human beings. After my solo show of paintings, in October 2020, Madrid, I published a new call for volunteers, but I asked them for inspirational or extraordinary life stories, normally related with the pandemic. The notes from the interviews this time took many more pages in my sketchbook, as I wanted to explore, understand and learn as much as I could.
I devoted long days to writing to get to the essence of each story, so I stopped painting for many months. I felt that I was being given invaluable testaments of humanity and I had to transmit them as best as I could. Stories of solidarity, courage, life-changing experiences, life and death, bold decisions, resilience and love accompanied the portraits that I would publish now each Sunday. The portraits were all rigorously made from videoconference or, when travels returned to be allowed, from life.
Michele Del Campo (1976) grew up in San Nicandro, in South Italy. After a Degree in 2001 in Illustration from Dundee (UK) he studied Fine Arts in Milan (Italy) and Madrid (Spain), where he graduated in 2007. He has traveled and lived in many different countries, yet in his work the places are not recognizable, the focus is on people, their stories, emotions and interactions, reflecting a broader human experience that transcends geographical limits. He paints the people he knows, family, friends and neighbours.
He has had solo shows in Italy, Spain, UK, Switzerland, USA and Peru, and group shows around the world. He has won several prizes, among which the Premio BMW de Pintura. He lives and works in Madrid.