What is the community of Italian creatives based in New York and how was it born?

Emiliano Ponzi might be the most famous Italian contemporary illustrator. But he’s more than that. As demonstrated by his many projects, recently presented or programmed for the months to come, his activity ranges through various disciplines – from writing to painting, sculpture to installations – making him a 360-degree artist.

“Until 2011,” he explains, “I focused only on illustration, concentrating on building credibility in an artistic field that was lacking definition in Italy at the time.

Nevertheless, my interests immediately spread into other sectors: I have always had friends who were writers, and this led me in a natural way to write my own books; designer friends have also had a major influence, first of all Fabio Novembre, who in 2009 asked me to illustrate the catalogue of his exhibition at Triennale Milano, ‘Il Fiore di Novembre.’

Thanks to ties with people who did different things, I understood that my interests went beyond drawing. In a spontaneous, nonchalant way, this triggered an evolution that has had an impact on me both personally and professionally.”

Since last year Emiliano Ponzi has been residing in New York, a city that is a reference point for the visual arts, because “so many things are produced and consumed here,” and the publishing houses, like the companies, have a lot to offer.

His studio is in Brooklyn, but it is much more than a mere studio. It is called Salotto NY, because besides being a workspace for many creative talents – all Italian – it is also a gathering places for others who have chosen to live in New York City. And for people who in various ways create a bridge between Italian and American cultures.

What does New York give you that Italy cannot?

Emiliano Ponzi: "First of all: I should say that I love Italy, where I have always lived and worked very nicely. And I think I will go back there when I “retire.” Living in New York requires an enormous quantity of energy.

To cope with this you have to be young. Having said this, I also think that New York helps you to get away from “provincialism”, in a major operation of humility: if in Italy there are ten people able to do something well, here you can find at least 500. This forces you to put aside your more narcissistic aspects, and to embark on a process of personal growth.

Living here, you take on a different vision: the encounter with the work of other people leads you to bring out the differences, rather than saying that one thing is better than another".

How do Americans see Italy? What do they think of the world of Italian design, in particular, which can seem so self-absorbed...

Emiliano Ponzi: "This is an undeniable aspect of Italian design, but it is also true that its concentration of excellence, for both products and architecture, doesn’t exist in the States. I wouldn’t know exactly how to explain this gap: it definitely has to do with schooling, and the mindset that is shaped in people, generating the quality of the things that are then produced".

Has the Italian mindset helped you in your professional life?

Emiliano Ponzi: "Of course. Above all, it was helpful not to have to go to art school, but to a classical high school organized in an experimental way, focusing on philosophy, psychology and psycho-pedagogy.

I learned a method of deduction to think, know and approach things. And this has been much more important and useful than studying the technical aspects.

I am not a stickler with others, but in my approach to projects I insist on having great mental clarity: everything always has to be justified, nothing is left to chance. Perhaps it is because in the American blender there is a widespread sense of superficiality: what seems amazing today might be obsolete tomorrow. Everything is consumed with haste, and precisely for this reason there is the need and the possibility to do a lot".

You have said that America allows you to do what you like, but in a certain sense it forces you to do it with others…

Emiliano Ponzi: "What I have understood from my time here is that you can be a valid professional in your sector, but to do many things you need other people, it is not enough to work on your own.

I have understood that being part of a community is a strong point, because it lets you share different abilities and contaminate different types of knowledge, with inevitable personal enrichment".

Speaking of sharing, let’s get to the Salotto NY project. How did this idea come about?

Emiliano Ponzi: "I was already sharing my studio with other young people. When the need arose to change the location, we thought it didn’t make sense to find a simple workspace: we wanted it to also be a gathering place for people like us, involved in art and creativity, and also for the many talented Italians who live in New York.

Part of the studio has been set aside for events organized under the name Salotto NY, which in a few months has involved personalities like Stefano Nazzi, a leader in the field of podcast production, the writer Jhumpa Lahiri, who lives in Rome and New York, the presenter Alessandro Cattelan, the editor of Il Post Luca Sofri, and other professionals more closely connected with design, such as Marta Bernstein, Alexander Tochilovsky, Angelina Lippert, Mauro Porcini.

We can say that Salotto has a dual nature: to generate creative synergies inside, developing collaborations between the various members of the group, and to act as a magnet for other talents who somehow have a strong bond with Italy and the American creative industry. We continue to be independent professionals, who join forces for special projects under the Salotto umbrella".

Which studios and forms of expertise have gathered under the name Salotto NY?

Emiliano Ponzi: "The group is composed of many different skills. The members include myself, Gabriele Rossi of Accurat, Gabriel Zangari of DGI, Vittorio Perotti of Yohoho, the graphic designer Lorenzo Fanton, the illustrator and graphic designer Giulia Zoavo; the documentary filmmaker and director Alfredo Chiarappa; the filmmaker/motion designer Marco Rosella; the art director Fabio Tridenti.

When the Salone del Mobile asked me to work on an installation on the theme of water, I naturally thought about a shared project that would bring together multiple abilities, ready to provide turnkey service. In Italy it would not be easy to do the same thing".

After Under the Surface and the installation you have created for Glo during FuoriSalone 2024, what other projects are planned for the months to come?

Emiliano Ponzi: "One event I am very excited about is a solo show I will present at the start of November at the Philippe Labaune Gallery in Chelsea, which is a reference point in New York for illustrators and makers of comics. For the occasion, I am making works that experiment with a totally new narrative approach, telling a love story through paintings. But first, in September, I will take part in Open File in Shanghai, which is a major Asian exhibition on illustration. This year it will be held in an important institution, the West Bund Art Center".

Does this mean that illustration is gaining a more important role in the visual arts?

Emiliano Ponzi: "Definitely. Personally, I can tell you that a painting and a digital illustration call for the same effort on a mental plane: they both arise from an act of communication, from the desire to convey a message. The big difference lies in the physical characteristics of the work: a painting ages, it reveals mistakes, while illustration has a more ephemeral character, which makes it be treated like a lesser sibling of the visual arts. This is why, for me, the definition of an illustrator seems like a tight fit: it cannot contain the many aspects of the work I do. Perhaps it would be better for me to call myself a visual artist or a multidisciplinary artist".