3×3 – Marco Ventura

Marco Ventura, interviewed by Maja Celija.

Part1 – Milan, Istituto Europeo di Design, 1995.

I am a student, sitting in a row of other students in an illustration class on the third floor of the school. We are all waiting for the same person, for the same class to start. Still a few minutes to go, time to give another quick look at my sandwich: ham, egg and lettuce that taste of oil paint. Will the sandwich do justice to what I learnt in the previous class? Will it make viewers feel an irresistible urge to bite it? No, we are not in a cookery class, but in a pictorial techniques class by Professor Marco Ventura; and the sandwich is an oil painting on canvas.

Born in Milan in 1963, Marco is the eldest of the three children of Piero Ventura, an important and well-known children’s book illustrator. It is in his father’s studio that Marco traced his first steps as an artist. After attending the Accademia di Belle Art of Brera in Milan, he moved to the School of Visual Arts in New York. On completing his studies he returned to Italy, where he went to work in a packaging design studio. It was before the advent of computers, and Marco was doing a lot of watercolor and gouache layouts for presentation, with most of the type hand-rendered. It was during this period that he also collaborated with his father Piero, on some of his book projects. The illustration “Anna dei Porci” which he did for his father’s book of this title was a turning point for him, as it was awarded the Silver Medal at the Society of Illustrators show in New York in 1998. And it was this that finally propelled him into the decision to pursue a freelance illustration career.

The impact of Ventura’s work is strong: the balanced composition of his images, the power of his ideas and the perfect harmony between lights and shades typical of Renaissance painting are a lethal weapon against students’ arrogant self-assurance. The professor’s recipe is deceptively simple: careful observation, study and patience. He is approachable, encouraging. The sandwich is still too rubbery.

Part 2 – Milan, Corso Buenos Aires, 2003.

I’m chatting with Marco Ventura as we walk along Corso Buenos Aires, one of Milan’s main thoroughfares. It’s almost evening, shops are closing down. The air is thick with car fumes. It’s not the first time, since I myself became a freelance illustrator, that my former professor and I meet: now he is a friend. For a young illustrator at the start of her career, it is essential to engage with more expert professionals. After finishing my studies I lost touch with many of my teachers, who faded away into their busy lives. Marco, today the father of three children and with a work schedule thick with deadlines, always finds time for a chat. The calm with which he responds to the insecurities I express about my work is the same he showed in class, and is soothing like an antibiotic. More than once he makes suggestions about whom to send my work to, a rare event in a world as competitive as ours. The Guardian Review, Time, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, Suddeutschland Zeitung Magazin, Playboy, The Sunday Times, GQ, The Atlantic Monthly, Penthouse, The Progressive, Spin, Simon and Schuster, Chronicle Books, Faber& Faber, The Body Shop, Nivea, Comune di Firenze, Royal Mail… these are only a few of his past and current clients; because of this, even though he lives in and loves Italy, Marco is considered an illustrator of international caliber. Working very much in the tradition of the Old Masters, he usually starts with very small rough sketches, which are concerned at that stage mostly with composition and idea. It is only then that he produces a more refined pencil sketch, which is usually transferred in to a gessoed paper surface with a hard lead pencil and silver point. This under-drawing is very accurate and fully shaded, making the building up with colors far easier when he begins putting down oil colors with fine small brushes. It is only after all the colors are laid down that Marco starts refining and adding more contrast with glazes of transparent colors.

We are at my door; we say good-bye. Marco jumps onto his racing bike, putting on his helmet. In an instant he plunges like a submarine into the Milanese traffic.