Renato and Roberto Miaz, simply known as the Miaz Brothers, have worked side by side for almost 40 years, combining their passion for the history of art with a philosophical pursuit for greater meaning.
The sons of an artisan furniture maker in Milan, the siblings grew up with creativity on their front door, so it’s no surprise that their art should mirror this environment. “From the playground when we were children, and after, we always stayed in the play mentality, but skipping from the childish games, to something more interesting,” younger brother Roberto tells me during our interview.
That ‘something interesting’ in recent years has been their trademark blurring technique, which is achieved solely by building up layers of aerosol paint and without the use of a brush or by touching the canvas. It’s a fascinating method – in some ways building on the works of post-impressionism and pointillism – in which the subjects are unfocussed yet at the same time uncannily familiar.
German artist Gerhard Richter is perhaps the closest in style to the Miaz Brothers’ creations, but it’s the sibling’s rejection of drawing any kind of lines in their portraiture that sets them apart from their peers, as Roberto explains: “It was annoying trying to draw a portrait of someone with lines, and with really clear shapes, because it wasn’t truthful. Today I see you like this, but tomorrow with the experience of this afternoon, you will be a little bit different.” It’s this search for truth that forms the crux of the duo’s work.
The first Miaz Brothers exhibition was in 1996 at the Viafarini Gallery in Milan. But at the dawn of the digital age, the pair made the decision to experiment with their art in a variety of different mediums, which led them to collaborations with an array of big-name brands, such as Nike, Adidas, and Swatch. It’s only since 2008 that they have returned to more traditional art forms.
Photo by Alex Maguire
Photo by Alex Maguire
Don’t Look Now, hosted at Maddox Gallery’s 112 Westbourne Grove address from 24 November, sees the pair depict a series of historical figures who overcame times of personal and social strife. It’s a direct response to the pain and suffering of the pandemic, to resolutely prove humanity’s ability to overcome even the greatest of challenges and to impact the world for the better.
The brothers have challenged themselves to replicate famous portraits of the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare and Rembrandt – all within the framework of their trademark blurred style.
Speaking of the exhibition, Maeve Doyle, artistic director at Maddox Gallery, said: “The haziness that makes up 2022’s Don’t Look Now recalls the intentional use of blurring in the paintings of Turner or Velazquez – in a time before photography. Either inadvertently or deliberately, the Miaz Brothers create feelings of anticipation, excitement, theatre and drama for the viewer. It’s clear that nothing is as it seems to be and optimistically suggests painting is on the brink of something new. It’s a truly unmissable viewing experience.”
Below, we sit down with Roberto Miaz to talk art, inspiration, and brotherly love…
Square Mile: How did you first find art and what, ultimately, led to you and your brother becoming artists?
Roberto Miaz: From the beginning, when we were young our father was already making artisanal furniture – including replicas for museums. Our home was filled with plenty of Renaissance paintings and furniture, so I think already, the taste was there and the desire of working together, and trying to do nice and interesting stuff for ourselves. I think it was the main feeling, from the beginning, really. It was super important to work with each other, me and my brother. That’s the main thing about all our projects.
SM: One of the things I find especially interesting is that you aren’t the only artist siblings working together at the moment. What do you think has led to this trend?
RM: I really don’t know, but I think it’s one of the smartest things that you can do if you have a sibling. I have always found it powerful to be able to work with a friend and, more than that, a brother whom you really understand. If you think about it, it’s quite difficult to achieve this kind of connection in life, so sometimes you also need to be a little bit lucky. In my case, I think I am because my brother shares the same path of interest, passion and ideas.
Thirty years ago, I think there were not so many siblings working together, and I think maybe it’s because we are in some way evolving – we are in some ways getting better and we are a little bit more open and maybe smarter. I’ve always found it to be natural. I think it’s the progression of the cultural world. In a way I’m not surprised that, nowadays, there are more and more siblings working together.
Our goal from the beginning was find something that’s different, that has particular meaning to us, that also has some philosophical value
SM: You touched on it there, but you’ve been working with your brother for nearly 40 years, which is astonishing. How, together, have you developed your artistic process?
RM: First of all, I think it’s a long project, a long-distance path. From the beginning, more or less, we knew that this journey would be quite hard and long. We began to study, to share experiences, and to try, most of all, every technique – and, of course, to remember to enjoy ourselves. From the playground when we were children, and then after, we always stayed in the play mentality, but skipping from childish games, to something more interesting.
If I remember well in these 40 years, we never stopped searching and looking around; we tried everything we could without fear. Our goal from the beginning was: ‘Find something that’s different, that has particular meaning to us, that also has some philosophical value.’ But to achieve that, you need to experiment.
When you’ve just got the idea and it’s abstract, you cannot really understand if you are right or wrong. When you are a duo, you have four eyes, two heads, to really evaluate what you are doing.
The truth is that, in 30 years we’ve found nice stuff to make us some money and whatever, but the main goal was much more artistic than just a career, or selling, or about surviving. It has taken us time to reach the point where we are now.
One day with philosophical studies, and thinking about the human being, and the representation of the human being, we had this idea. Little by little, we began to try it out, and from the first paintings we began an escalation of subject, of technique, until we reached the point where we are now.
Photo by Alun Callender
SM: You mention the idea that started you down this path and of slowly developing your technique. I imagine you’re referring to your trademark blurring technique. Could you tell us more about what led
you to this form of expression?
RM: At college and university, we studied the history of art. For us, this is quite important because you see all the scenarios and all the progress in paintings during the latest centuries. It was not about having an idea, per se, we always begin everything from the philosophical perspective. So it was just speaking about representation, the problem of representing someone, the soul of the human being.
If you look around, there are quite a lot of artists trying to do that, and it was really about the perception. Some inspiration comes from the past – like pointillism, expressionism, impressionism. It was about bringing these past ideas together to create something new. For us, it was annoying trying to draw a portrait of someone with lines, and with really clear shapes, because it wasn’t truthful. Today, I see you like this, but tomorrow with the experience of this afternoon, you will be a little bit different. So the portrait that I’m doing today, it will decay tomorrow, because we are changing and transforming physically, but also mentally and psychologically, this was the main point about representation.
Like, ‘How can we represent a thing like this, that is so changeable, so atomical, in movement?’ So that’s why we eliminated from the first the lines. We never draw on the canvas. The dots coming from the spray gun was the basic idea to begin. And, then, put these kind of colours on the canvas, because really dots staying there and multiplying and not defining anything, but giving you the idea without being precise. It’s kind of pure in that way.
In the study of art, no one has quite done it like this. We are really fond of William Turner, because even in his era, he already had some kind of modern vision. But, still, it’s paint and it’s oil, but the philosophy was already coming towards us. Also, Gerhard Richter, the famous German painter that is still living today, you can see some blurring, but it’s another kind of blur, because he’s painting before blurring the image with a brush.
It’s not true that because we face challenges in life that we can’t achieve something incredible
SM: Let’s talk about Don’t Look Now, your new exhibition at Maddox Gallery. At the heart of the project are a set of historical figures who overcame crisis. What drew you to that subject?
RM: If we speak from the beginning, of what an artist should do, in some way one of the things I’m thinking we should do, is always be present in our days and filter our experiences, our feelings, to give another translation of what we see around us. In 100 years, when people will look at our paintings, they should understand also when we worked – and why. That’s the preamble to speak about what was happening these last few years.
For the first time, we saw all humankind was occupied by a pandemic. Of course, we never saw anything like this in our lifetime. But this exhibition presents the perspective that we maybe forget how difficult it was 300 years ago when life was very different. If you stop for one moment, all the great artists experienced hardship in some way, just like we had during the pandemic.
So the idea was just a reminder that we are not too different to our ancestors. And in some ways, they really achieved incredible feats – much more, perhaps, than in periods of peace and prosperity. So it’s always a balance of tension in life. It’s not true that because we face challenges in life that we can’t achieve something incredible.
SM: In terms of the practicality behind your artwork. Do you take it in turns to work on a piece or is it more fluid than that?
RM: No, not at all, because the unity is the base of the project. So I cannot really imagine that we divide ourselves in any departments. The main thing we wanted to do is to have a shared idea and a shared technical skill – and a shared result.
At the beginning we had some difference in skills, so when we were younger it was perhaps a little bit more visible, but little by little, we tried to be on the same level: same level of culture, same level of ideas, and for sure the same level of skills.
So, we always approach the painting together, and we finish it together. It’s like playing a ping pong game: the ball is one time in my court, and then I play it to you. We should be there in equal terms. It’s 50-50 and sharing every painting.
Photo by Alun Callender
Photo by Alun Callender
SM: Your artwork has been expressed in many different mediums. It’s taken you quite a while to come around to ‘classic’ portraiture. Why is that?
RM: Yes, very much so. We knew that the journey would be long, and when you study the history of art, you really understand that a lot of big artists achieved their goals later in life. That was clear to us. Also, I don’t know, at 20 years old you have a different energy but also a different lived experience. So I was not sure that we could really find our top or our best idea at 22.
We knew that it was the journey that was really important, not the immediate result. As time went by, we developed our art and our passion further. It was the best decision we could take because also in the meanwhile, the computer came. All of a sudden we went from these materialistic, artistic skills, to this digital process. For us, that was super interesting, because if you play and really don’t take it too seriously, it’s a huge world. So we did a lot of digital art in the 1980s, and that’s how we came to work with brands like Adidas and Nike, and Swatch. We were maybe the first around to do incredible stuff with this new medium, the new techniques, and it paid off. We were pioneers in a way.
If you play and really don’t take it too seriously, it’s a huge world
SM: I think the dawn of the digital age has created more acceptance for the art world. Art feels less elitist than it once did…
RM: Yes, exactly. I remember when we were 20 years old the art world was quite different. Super hard. It was a world that I recall being quite unapproachable, because it was a little club, an elite world, that was seriously difficult to get in. We went around the world to look at galleries, from Switzerland to the USA, and the feeling was always that we were not welcome; like a castle, without doors. Nowadays, I can tell you, it’s quite different.
SM: Is there a particular piece in the new projects that you especially love?
RM: Not really, there is no hierarchy. Every piece, for us, is worthy of its own room. Of course, when you put 30 or 40 pieces in one room, it seems that it’s not quite so important. But I cannot say to you that there is one piece that is more important than another. I hope that every piece will give something to someone.
SM: What does the future hold for the Miaz Brothers?
RM: It’s always quite foggy, the future. So it’s a kind of blur situation, like the past.
SM: Quite like your paintings…
RM: Exactly. So, finally, if you see one of our paintings, maybe you already have all the answers.
‘Don’t Look Now’ by the Miaz Brothers runs from 24 November to 13 January. For more information, see maddoxgallery.com