Distinctive, remarkable, stunning, imaginative and expressive - These are all words one could use to describe the work of Valerio Calsolaro (@emmasancez). We discovered it to be truly difficult to simply scroll past one of his creations as they are as strange as they are beautiful. There hangs about them a certain air of curious mysticism, veiled emotion and half-spoken secrets. We were simply too curious to pass up a chance to speak with Valerio about his work so we did just that. You'll find the entirety of our conversation with him below!
Hi there! My name is Valerio Calsolaro and I’m from Italy.
I was born on the 8th March (International Women’s Day) and raised by my mom and my three aunts in an old historical mansion for my entire childhood. I called it “The Castle”.
Now I live with my wife, Vanessa Sancez, and we have a 5 year old ‘Celtic warrior’ daughter, Emma. So we can close the case of the meaning behind my Instagram username.
I’m currently living in Lecce, South of Italy. I grew up here for most of my life. After leaving school I moved to London and then came back to my homeland. When I was in London I discovered art in all of its forms. What I loved the most was wandering around admiring castles and churches while imagining terrible medieval stories with drangons, princesses to save and, myself as the main hero... of course.
I consider myself an orderly chaotic person that hovers between gothic and pop-art. An experimentalist with a Preraffaelite spirit on a quest for imperfect beauty and beauty in imperfection.
I need all of this neurosis to create my visual work.
How would you describe your style and where did it originate?
I would define my style as post-gothic revival. I don’t know exactly what I mean but that but I don’t think there’s another explanation for what I do.
I like to describe my work as a large pot full of New Wave sauce - Expressionism Soup with one leisurely pump of Medieval Romanticism.
Usually when I start working, I try to find the right face, an “Ancient” face, and then the right environments.
I never know what will come out of the process when I begin but I know what I want to achieve. The basic idea is to create a picture hidden away for centuries, lost in time, and showing signs of its old age.
This process feels like a time capsule sometimes and I love to lose myself in the olden time long ago.
The only certainty in my work is women - obsessive, persuasive, romantic and ultimately reassuring.
How did the concept of using the faces of women in your pieces come about?
The word inspiration means to be in spirit. When I’m tuned in to my spirit, I am naturally drawn to do whatever feels best. From time to time I love to experiment in order to come up with something new.
I like to read epic, magic and ritual books. I also watch TV series like Game of Thrones and Vikings. I can’t help but to listen to music like Joy Division. My inspiration comes from all of those places.
But I never figured out a way to do this without the amazing apps I’ve discovered in recent years (especially Mextures, Pixite Apps and Photoshop Touch) and the Instagram community which is always a massive source of energy and inspiration.
Every face and every landscape has a story. When I blend and edit photos I try to create my own story. It's like digging around in people's minds or sculpting a stone.
When I started my adventures on Instagram I came across thousands of profiles and I must admit that the @rsa_graphics and @mextures accounts had a great influence on my thinking and perspective of digital art. So I discovered a new way of making things and I found it incredibly fun and inspiring.
In regards to my specific process, I always start with a background (landscapes, castles, mountains) and then I choose the main character (women and sometimes silhouettes). I blend those pictures with Union and then I adjust some things with PS Touch before editing with Mextures. It is at this point in my process that my mysterious stories takes place. I don't take very good care of the details because I want my work to be a little bit raw and crude and because I'm not obsessed with quality, resolution and all of that stuff. I want to be imprecise and imperfect. If at the end of the process the beauty keeps living then I have reached my goal.
But none of this would be possible if I didn’t have a comfortable couch. So I suggest that you get a big sofa to make great art.
How specifically do you use Mextures in that process?
After fixing, breaking, redesigning, mending, bending and amending my work on my iPad, I use Mextures for the final touch in order to imprison it somewhere without time or space, or take it to a world far beyond the here and now.
To do this I make extensive use of texture packs. Emulsion is my favorite. Also Grunge and Dust & Dirt are amazing. Once my edit is aged-up with a couple of textures I tend to add a bit of darkness and mystery with gradients; often a dark blue blended in overlay mode selected from the Vintage Gradients pack.
Recently, the pack that I find myself using most frequently is the Anomaly pack. This helps me to create magnificent and crepuscular lighting effects. Now I'm completely addicted to Anomaly.
Mextures is such a powerful tool with infinite editing possibilities. For my work, Mextures is absolutely essential, necessary and sometimes miraculous.
Would you mind sharing a few of your formulas?
Of course! I always save my Mextures edits as formulas and it would be my pleasure to share some. These four are my preferred formulas so far:
K-FX - AZDAHWZ - That's the Alpha & Omega of my work. Blue Navy blended in exclusion mode meets Tesla. Ideal for an oneiric atmosphere.
KRONOS - CYTSVSP - A variation of the previous formula but with a generous use of texture and Prussian Blue. It's good to use if you want a creepy atmosphere.
BLUE FIRE - EPSTBQW - A 9-layer formula with blue tones and a lot of Grit and Grain. I often use this formula in my double exposures.
CASSANDRA - ISGXQLZ - Window Wash blended in overlay mode, Sand Blasted blended in screen mode, and desatured colors. If you love chemistry and photography this will be your mystic daguerrotype.
What is it that you would like to communicate with your work?
This is the hardest question that I've ever been asked and I must confess that I need a therapist to answer it. Eventually we both (my therapist and I) found a final answer.
Love. Love for the things I love and for the things I have loved: a Rembrandt's painting, a bedtime story, a Kubrick's movie, a Nordic landscape, a Nine Inch Nails' Song, Mork & Mindy, London, my family, my friends. In all of these things lies the beauty I want to communicate and the mystery that seduces me. In every single picture there's at least a reference to my microcosm.
Inspiration can be found in everything you love. That's something viewers can gather from my experience.
What do you think makes a memorable piece?
There are differentiating criteria on the exact elements involved but there are common qualities that every masterpiece shares. First of all, a "vision" and the capacity to materialize it. Also, some sort of feeling must be evoked: curiosity, awe, disgust, etc. Other important factors should be style, technique, balance, and harmony, but that's not enough to me.
I think art is not merely an exercise in style. It requires passion, hard work, significant background and sweat. That's why I think we don't have to be obsessed by quality and resolution and such - though they could be important - the focus remains the idea and the motivation.
Also we have to consider the importance of making mistakes and failing. Finding a personal style is not a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll.
A masterpiece should have a mysterious ability to move us - our empathy, our body and the power of bringing us off the box of space and time.
What inspires you to create more than anything else?
Sometimes those of us who paint, draw, use charcoals or create art using digital methods are inspired by things that others never notice - unordinary and uncommon things.
For some, people are inspiration. Others notice the symmetry or asymmetry of an object - the textures, colors, or pattern.
I get inspiration by investigating my life. Pulling it apart at the seams and seeing what’s inside. A bit like an archaeologist who is digging for clues. I look underneath the surface of what is seen to find the places that are not seen but felt. The spaces and places that have no words.
It's a bit like getting into a castle that is floating up in the sky.
What has been your favorite piece to create so far?
"Nocturne" without a doubt. I had a sort of revelation when I did it a year and a half ago. After several unsuccessful attempts to create gothic pieces I simply decided to put in everything I really love and the final result perfectly depicted my spirit.
I must admit I grew fond of it because it is where my work really changed, turning into something more personal, something intimately important.
How has social media played a role in your work?
An essential role I would say. It wouldn't be easy without it - learning new techniques, knowing new apps, and improving the quality of my work.
Social media gave me the chance to be updated, in constant dialogue with other amazing people and, more importantly, to be part of a critical and creative community. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m part of an extended family and that is very important to me.
Who are the people that have most inspired your work?
I get inspiration from so many talented people that I could easily give you over 50 names.
Here’s a list of people who have most inspired me:
I’ve followed most of them since I started and they still amaze me. I could add many, many more.
Fall in love with more of Valerio’s amazing pieces here!