Laura de Santillana is an artist living and working in Venice. In the course of decades her work is pared down to a formal abstraction that allows the material great coherence and at the same time great freedom. Santillanas works are characterized by a refined, minimalist approach to form and color. Her works are present in many public and private collections.
Laura grew up surrounded by the scent and heat of the glassworks, with glass workers at the lunch table at the factory and artists over for dinner at home. So it is unsurprising that Laura’s artistry is not only characterized by beautiful and striking work, but also by pushing the limits of what is technically possible. The achievements of glass, if you will.
Like her father, Laura first studied to become an architect, but when it was time for her internship, a good family friend offered a piece of advice: “Leave Europe and come to New York – we have much more fun over here.” That friend was none other than Massimo Vignelli, a legendary graphic designer known for rejecting all but five fonts. This was during Vignelli’s golden days in the mid-1970s, when he designed New York’s color-coded subway map and brand profiles for American Airlines, Bloomingdale’s, IBM and Knoll. “If I were to name a single important teacher in my life, it would be Massimo Vignelli,” concludes Laura de Santillana.
Life in New York evolved into a day job with Massimo and his wife, Lella Valle Vignelli, at the design studio Vignelli Associates while attending night classes in illustration, color theory and typography at the School of Visual Arts. Her work at the design studio increasingly came to involve art books – from production tasks such as correcting color proofs to design work.
In addition to designing books and to the fact that her most characteristic works are called “books,” Laura de Santillana is also an avid reader. Her home in an industrial property on the Venetian island of Giudecca, where she now lives with film director and writer Gianluigi Calderone, is quite the library. They share an interest in literature, and reading is one of Laura de Santillana’s most important sources of inspiration.
Laura worked with the gallerist Barry Friedman in New York. From 1996 to 2011, they had a close partnership that led to influential art collectors beginning to acquire pieces by Laura de Santillana – and in turn, to her work’s representation at museums and in collections throughout the US.
In Seattle and the Czech Republic, Laura has conducted experiments aiming at challenging the possibilities of glass. Her “books” are tablets of hand-blown glass that is compressed into a fairly flat, yet still multi-layered surface. “They are the result of the reduction of a spherical form originating from a bubble. Their energy also derives from the tension they set up between painting and sculpture.”
Watching the process is almost heartbreaking: a group of strong men at work in incredible heat, with what appears to already be a perfect shape, indicating in every way that it is finished...until, following Laura’s instruction, it is compressed through a long and complex process, then reversed and the mouth of the vessel is stretched open and sealed. The finished pieces could indeed be characterized as a collapse, but it’s the very opposite – the ability to achieve this has required years of experimentation and the most skilled maestri in the world. The results are breathtaking, not least because of the effects created by the double layers of glass.