MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2019. The creative artisan Osanna Visconti di Modrone is based in Milan, where she works with traditional techniques, in particular lost-wax casting of both bronze and silver. Her earliest inspiration derives from jewelry pieces made for her mother by famous Italian artists, including Lucio Fontana and Arnaldo Pomodoro. Nowadays the unique aesthetics of Osanna Visconti’s naturalistic pieces create demand from clients around the world.
I would define myself as an artisan because I love crafting things, and I would also define myself as being somewhat of a designer. I really like being in the foundry where the wax models are made, spending my days modelling with my hands.
Why did you choose to work with a material like bronze?
I fell in love with this metal because it is malleable and warm. Often when I see things, especially in nature, I imagine how they would be in bronze. It’s as if I could take a magic wand and freeze, for example, a leaf, a branch, or a stone in bronze.
Do you use other materials?
I also love silver, but I prefer bronze.
They are all one-off pieces. I work with artisans who are masters in professions that are heading towards extinction. The human relationship with artisans is wonderful.
How did you get your start?
I was a jewelry enthusiast from a young age, as my mother collected jewels made by artists. I worked for Christie’s in New York for a year, and I made jewelry for a few years, but then I decided to make jewels for the home, with the same technique but on a larger scale.
What are jewels for the home?
For example, vases made with leaves, candelabras, tables, room dividers, and bookshelves.
Where do you work?
I work in Milan, only with Italian artisans and with artistic foundries just outside the city where artists like Giuseppe Penone and Pomodoro go to have their castings made.
Would it be true to say that you were inspired by Claude Lalanne?
I have liked Claude Lalanne and her whole aesthetic for many years, but my work is different.
Do you consider yourself to be an artist?
I think “artist” is a big word. I don’t know how I would label myself, but I like to think of myself as a creative artisan. I don’t make conceptual objects. I make objects that are going to be used.
The Nilufar Gallery represents my pieces, it is probably the most important gallery in Milan. I also have a workshop in the old medieval part of Milan near the Duomo, in Via Santa Marta, where I spend a lot of time.
Who buys them?
Clients in many parts of the world, from Krakow to the United States and from Paris to Geneva. I have just recently delivered an enormous counter—with bronze leaves making a sort of collage—to the Petersham Nurseries in London.
Are you working on other projects?
A large dining table.
Would you say that Milan is a “design city” and, in some way, a “city of craftsmanship” as well?
Design Week has just ended, and it was a huge success. It brings more people to Milan than the Fashion Weeks. It is a really interesting time because the city explodes with exciting projects and becomes like a big creative museum.
They say that Milan is the most dynamic city in Italy now.
Yes, it is true because it is a city with a lot of energy where a wide range of people with different ideas come, people from different generations. There are many special places, including private homes where people from all different backgrounds come together. A lot is happening in the fields of design and fashion.
Is Milan very different from Rome?
Yes, it is very different. Rome lives off the glory of its beauty and riches. Milan is a more aggressive city that has had to work hard to stand out. For designers such as myself, Milan is more exciting and it is full of galleries and architectural firms.
Now my daughter Madina makes the jewelry.
Do you make many pieces?
I would say that I make about one hundred per year.
Are these pieces very expensive?
Yes, they are because the labour is expensive. It takes a good couple of months to create a table, because it is all hand finished.
Is there anything you would especially like to make in the future?
Yes, I would like to make a bed. A bed like a bamboo forest, like a dense grouping of bamboo. I am in a dialogue about this with someone who would probably like me to make it.
Do you work a lot?
Yes, I work all day. My life is mainly work and children.
Do you think that there is such a thing as a unique Italian elegance?
Yes, absolutely. Foreigners are fascinated with very recognizable Italian style because it has a unique glamour that appeals to the most sophisticated people. There are things that only we Italians know how to make with a high level of craftsmanship. Italians have extraordinary class and natural spontaneity because we have grown up surrounded by the cultural heritage that is the greatest asset of our country. It is a way of being, an eye trained by the great masters, ranging from Giotto to Fontana.
Portrait of Osanna Visconti from an original image by Giovanni Gastel.
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