Born and raised in Italy, Federica Donato received her degree in Strategic Communication and the History of Contemporary Art from La Sapienza University in Rome. She later moved from Rome to Brussels, where she completed her training in painting techniques. Subsequently, she began exhibiting her work in both national and international art shows.
As an artist and activist, Federica Donato’s mission is to promote awareness about globally relevant issues. Her ultimate goal is to foster personal understanding and to generate change. Currently living and working in Washington, DC, Federica believes strongly in the power of education to create healthier and sustainable knowledge-based societies.
What is your background in art?
Federica: Raised in Southern Italy, I grew up within a community surrounded by history, culture, diversity, and an incredible artistic heritage.
Located near the center of the Mediterranean Sea, this region witnessed a long series of foreign dominations, migration waves, and cultural exchanges. Accordingly, its population diversity comprises multiple genetic layers, which makes the deciphering of different ancestral and historical backgrounds particularly challenging. I came to appreciate the hybrid formation of this society from successive waves of cultural influences. The classical tradition of Ancient Greece and Rome has been ever-present in my life, profoundly impacting my education and is continually seeping into my work.
While constantly appreciating the splendor and innate beauty of classicism, I have been growing increasingly aware of some of the ugliness of reality—hypocrisy bigotry, and moral depravity. As with most sensitive artists, I became passionate about exploring the darker often hidden aspects of reality and the repressed feelings of the human being, those that the culture of beauty relegates to the room of horrors.
I soon started appreciating artists known for their depiction of nude reality like Francisco Goya and those who let us touch the beauty of the truth like Toulouse Lautrec or Edgar Degas, as well as those that reveal the grotesque aspects of society like James Ensor. I have this duality within me, an urge to embrace immediacy and reality often lost in too much adherence to classical traditions.
I am also attracted to the primeval and universal power of certain art. Painters like Giorgio Morandi or Mark Rothko have created spaces that widen our gaze so we can better reflect and bring us beyond the limits of reason, while creating a universal language.
Always feeling the great need to expand my horizons and to enhance my knowledge, I decided, at the age of 24, to leave Italy and live in Belgium. While there, I studied painting techniques in the studio of an extraordinary Belgian artist, Gauthier Hubert. I gained greater awareness of the contemporary art scene and also received my degree in History of Contemporary Art from the University of Rome in 2013.
Embedded in my art are a number of historical, philosophical, visual, spiritual, and biological subtleties derived from my diverse background and artistic influences. My artwork reflects an enduring interest in the human potential in a world fraught with violence and ambiguity.
How does creating art make you feel?
Federica: I feel that I am doing what I was born to do—building bridges between myself and others and conveying concepts that I cannot express in any other way.
Art brings people together and transcends cultural and ethnic differences. Through my work, I attempt to create an empathetic experience for viewers with a diversity of backgrounds and world views. Creating art that can be universally embraced makes me feel empowered and actively engaged in the world community.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Federica: A simple pencil.
What is your creative process like?
Federica: Initially, ideas for my art come to me rather spontaneously by closely observing daily life. I am interested in anything that inspires reflection. I have a passion for nature, for people from different cultures, and for any idea or experience that challenges me and pushes me out of my comfort zone.
I rely frequently on my intuition to determine what may inspire a future project. Since I am the sole judge, I may have inadvertently discarded some great ideas. Who knows for sure?
Next, with an idea in mind, I begin sketching, an act of progressive appropriation of the image and its sense,
Subsequently, I decide on how to proceed to finalize the work. I use different techniques—abstraction or figurative—depending on the message I want to convey. I do not view my artwork as commercial products, but rather as outputs from my deep reflection about and enhanced understanding of the ever-changing world around me.
You have created your most recent work through the systematic repetition of an ink stamp on paper. Why have you used that process, and what does it symbolize?
Federica: My work is both straightforward and complex.
For me, this systematic repetition represents the constant wrongs others have done in the past and that we continue to make today. More precisely, most of my artwork centers around the loss of human dignity. I focus on emphasizing how both people and the environment are victims, abused and deceived by false dialogues across time, as well as victims of hypocritical societies, excessive nationalism, meaningless formalities, and unproductive practices.
Using this repetitive process, I create fullness and emptiness, intensity and lightness, depth and distances. Unlike with a brush, there is no room for error; just as in certain circumstances, there should be no space left for mistaken actions. Open mouths, cavities, darkness, fullness and emptiness are like a scream into the void. The space stands as an echo of human brutality. The spectator is challenged to actively view and decode the image.
For this series, I have used alphabet letter stamps to emphasize the power words and dialogue have to convey the truth. I believe that only knowledge and awareness of the world can pave the way to a healthier society. Moreover, the minimalist choice of black and white in this series emphasizes the message—the urgency of communicating the truth.
How has your style evolved over the years?
Federica: Just as I have been changing and growing so has my style. Yet, it is not just a result of my acquisition of new artistic skills, but also a reflection of my life’s journey, a constant willingness to leave my comfort zone to explore the unknown and to gain ever-greater knowledge and awareness of the world around me. I have not only been experimenting with different media, but I have also expanded the types of subjects to convey my messages. I do not see myself living without taking risks nor without exploring different territories. I always attempt to make what I do relevant. I do not want to be banal. So I usually think,“I have to try to do this,” and then I do it. The more you fail, the more you understand what caused the failure, and then you can make progress.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
Federica: To overcome the tyranny of the blank page, I seek out places where I hope to find inspiration and to fuel my imagination. Contemporary and past artists are both an incredible resource for me. While many might think a good idea is needed to get started, I have learned that the most important thing is just to get started, not necessarily being productive but simply active. I have found that I can be both active and reflective during a meditation session or a museum visit. When my mind is unplugged, and I am out of my studio, I am at my most intuitive. When I then return to the studio, I feel recharged and ready to engage in the creative process.
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Federica: As an artist and educator, my mission is to promote awareness about globally relevant issues. My ultimate goal is to foster personal understanding and to generate change. The arts enable people with different world-views to come together and share experiences. I definitively want to contribute to creating that space sharing. I believe strongly in the power of a universal language that is rooted in “feeling;” common to us all; and can transcend time, space, and cultural differences.
Art is more and more a reaction to what goes on around us and helps us to reflect on what is happening in the world. Why are we here on this planet? What is our purpose? What is our responsibility? Throughout my life, I have asked myself these questions, and they continue to influence me as an artist. My R-evolution series evokes the growing disconnection of the modern world from nature as well as the lost sense of humanity. Nonetheless, my pieces also convey an atmosphere and message of hope, even if there is still a long way to go.
As citizens of the world, we are all interconnected. The future of our children should be our main concern, and I believe strongly in the power of education to create healthier and sustainable knowledge-based societies.
Contemporary artists have responsibilities even greater than those of the average citizen because we have the ability to grab people’s attention and direct it towards specific objectives. We have the skill to magnify problems, incite feelings (both negative and positive), and really make a point. While this ability puts us in a privileged position, it also comes with responsibility.
I actively support campaigns directed to raise awareness on issues close to my heart. I donate part of the revenues from the sale of my work to small nonprofit organizations focused on human and social rights and environmental issues.
I am also the author of a soon-to-be-published book, an analysis of some aesthetics and moral aspects of Western and Eastern art that aims to promote a dialogue among diverse cultures essential to create a universal ethic.