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Italian artist Carlo Ballerio talks sustainability, process, and philosophy

Carlo Ballerio
Avery Dennison
Europe, Italy

Every artist has a message for the world, an ethos driving their artistic choices, and a style as unique as a fingerprint. Carlo Ballerio is an artist based in Varese, the lake area North of Milan, Italy, whose work reflects his passionate and complex inner world. His mixed media art combines inks and dies, paint, repurposed refuse material from wine label making, and upcycled materials he finds lying around. 

His use of materials, focus on sustainability, and stunning collections have gained him international acclaim. In 2001 he ranked second in the International Critics Award at the San Remo Art Competition. His work is featured in gallery style at the Avery Dennison office in Italy. He has exhibited in Italy in several solo and group shows and he collaborates with the Libreria Bocca in Milan.


Label waste reborn

For years, Carlo worked in the wine label industry, but left when he decided to focus full-time on his artistic pursuits. His focus on sustainability and his love of materials, in particular the tactility of different papers, remained intact and are two of the most interesting qualities of his work. 

Carlo says his personal philosophy and his perspective as an artist has been greatly influenced by the idea of Kintsugi. The Japanese art principle teaches that an object which is broken and mended carefully--typically with gold and silver--is more valuable than the original object. The idea being that nothing is ever wasted, and that the love and care that goes into an object is what makes it valuable. 

“In this philosophy, dark or that happens in life are brought to light. They can’t be hidden away because they add to your experience and enrich your life. Like scraps or waste, these experiences can be transformed and upgraded into something that you recognize to be beautiful,” he says.

Carlo’s work is defined by his intention. He says the materials he uses “already have something inside” and it is his job as an artist to bring that life into visible form. For him, philosophy and art go together. And his art in particular is a way to “reuse something that would otherwise be dead.” He says it is critical that this industry waste be turned into something positive.

For artists using traditional materials, the paper texture is part of the painting, Carlo says. How the paint works with the paper is about dilution of the paint and the paint brush, but not necessarily the intention of the painter. In contrast, Carlo makes his own materials and uses the texture of the refuse label papers as a fundamental element of his work.

“The texture of each material tells a unique story. When you close your eyes and feel different label materials, they each give a different emotional feeling and experience. This specific tactile quality becomes part of my art,” Carlo says. 

To Carlo, “the real beauty is the sum of the facts,” which begins with materials that would be deemed “waste” by many, becoming transformed into a work of art that tells a story.

Circularity and art

“A material has a start and an end. But through art, these materials are immortal,” says Carlo. 

Carlo’s interest in the circular shape is more than a love of geometry--it’s a testament to his commitment to sustainability and the circular economy. In the wine and spirits industry, as with much of the consumer products industry globally, there is a lot of waste, Carlo says. While global governments and companies are working hard to find solutions for recycling and eliminating waste, he is interested in taking action now.

“The circular shape continues forever. For me, it is both a representation of the circular economy and the circularity of life,” he says. “I often use circular elements such as round CDs and disks in my work, as well as scrap items--like inks, paper, and vessels--because they represent this duality.”

More than a philosophical statement, Carlo sees the “life force” or materials and the value that force brings to society. “Physically, art is never dead. Once you’ve seen it, it will never end. It lives on forever. A material, bottle, package--they can be the life force for this art.”

Creation and destruction

The creative process of an artist says a lot about what they’re trying to communicate to the world, as well as what kind of artist they are. Carlo’s process begins early in the morning. At about 5 AM, Carlo wakes up to enjoy the silence before the world wakes up. 

“In that moment of stillness and silence, all my thinking of the day before comes out. What I saw the say before, what I experienced--I review it all,” he says. “Much of my work is about what I’ve experienced sensorially.”

His work is often about communicating with his environment. He says, typically, it’s something he felt, saw, smelled, or heard, that is later translated in a series. And, often, he is trying to translate emphatic and communicative physical gestures into visual permanence.

When he started his artistic pursuits, he says he started there--with the arm and hand gestures of people in his town. He says, “I took an old wine bottle, put ink inside, and made arm and hand gestures the way I saw them the day before. These gestures are made sentient. Through the hands you embrace, kiss, pat a shoulder; it’s the way of communicating for the Italian people.” 

“You are participating in life during the dance of communication.”

Creating his work is both an act of creation and destruction. He begins with a large piece of refuse wine label material laid out on the floor. He sits in the middle and simply lets his emotions out. 

“Art is only thought; only thinking. When I am creating, I don’t think about what I’m painting. I think about respecting the paper and my materials. I think about the people, society, and my environment. Color doesn’t matter. What I'm painting doesn’t matter. It’s all about the feelings I’m expressing,” he says.

When he’s finished the creation, there is a great destruction. Carlo breaks the larger piece into smaller ones completely. 

“When I paint, there’s an energy that comes out. I have no thought for the result, only big creative energy that needs to be expressed. But when the energy comes down, I must go into a phase of destruction. There is a balance--between creation and destruction--it is necessary,” he says.

When the piece is “broken,” he looks at all that is laid before him and a small piece will catch his eye. He says this is the starting point. From there, the bigger picture and the message of what he’s created begins to come together. The next part of the process is putting together all the pieces that are broken.

“All must be put together; nothing is left behind. The first piece is like the ‘mother’ and then all pieces get pulled in--the sons and daughters. Nothing is left at the end,” Carlo says.

For the love and appreciation of art

For label and packaging designers, Carlo has a specific message about the importance of the work to the public. He says that art cannot just be in a museum. To put it on a shelf on a wine label or on the front of packaging for consumer goods, is to make it possible for everyone to see art. 

“Most people, if they want to see real art, feel they must go to a museum. But we know there is art all around. We cannot escape. But it is nice to have labels with true artistry because there are many people who don’t know that this exists. But then they go to the supermarket and look for a nice bottle of wine or a nice packaged snack and there is art right there on the shelf. This gives people an important message: art is for everybody and everywhere,” he says.

To learn more about Carlo Ballerio and see his portfolio, please visit his digital home at