Sofia Silva

I was born in Padua, Italy, in 1990. I hold a BFA in Visual Arts and Theatre from the IUAV University of Venice and a MA in History of Art and Preservation of the Artistic Heritage from the Cà Foscari University of Venice.


I am a painter and an art writer. I do painting from sight. As my painting is from sight, I do not refer to memory, and nor do I delve into the surreal. I draw on a wide range of theoretical and personal narratives to make thematic paintings that question notions of formalism. Abstinence and subtraction are important themes within my painting practice, one which always tends to be anti-spectacular.


My painting and writing practices are linked by a particular love for editing. I find editing my essays even more pleasurable than writing them down, and I have great fun understanding and solving my own painterly failures, for I consider failures the redundancies of authorship. The details of my process vary from one time to the next, but a number of fixed elements remain throughout the corpus of my works: I am fascinated by the spontaneity of house painters and annoyed by mastery and technicism; I work to ensure my hand does not get entrenched in knowing how to do certain things, and my brushstroke is often fleeting. From an ethical point of view, it is very important for me not to fully master my pictures: it’s a way to escape from spectacle and from any abused meaning or imagery. I go for truthful colours, homogenous and clean, and as for mark-making, I like marks that are faithful to drawing. 


Even though I hold an MA in the History of Art, I try not to consider painting a mere continuation of art history. I find contemporary painting to be the only visual medium that can consciously and radically escape from visual consumerist intents by not being driven by any pre-conceived visual meaning. The less the painting is seductive in terms of storytelling, the more I find it seductive. From my own point of view, painting has a profound epistemological value; it’s closer to the philosophy of knowledge than to any device of retinal pleasure, although beauty does play a major role in my specific research.


I am deeply involved in the destruction of my own works; I habitually tear my own canvases to shreds. From each canvas, I conserve the shred of which the beauty or anonymity has the most to say, and I proceed by gluing or sewing it onto another canvas. In this manner, collage helps me to break the simulacrum.


I am dead set against the illusory and hostile to theatre in painting. I believe painting is presentation and not representation. I like to undermine the narrative process, my conscious attention usually turning to form and only rarely to contents. I feel a kindred spirit with the visual framework of the rebus and the freedom of nonsense.


In 2020, I began working on series of paintings, while before that I had always worked on single artworks. One of my ongoing series is called Bitter Herbs. The title refers to a group of herbaceous plants that ascetic medieval female saints and mystics used to chew, swallowing the sap and spitting the fibre out, as part of their holy fasting. While painting this series, I began to merge my painterly practice with my ongoing interest in mysticism and its manifestations throughout history.


In Bitter Herbs, I question the habit of medieval women’s abstinence from food, and therefore from other bodily needs, in relation to my need as a painter to cultivate an abstinence from processed images and the aesthetics offered by society. Women’s holy fasting, or inedia prodigiosa, has been read by academics as an initial struggle for liberation from a patriarchal society, but also as a tragic battle between the woman, her desire and her body. I have transposed these struggles into my paintings, and view my works as meditations on withering and solitude, beauty and blissfulness.


As far as my art writing is concerned, I am committed to the historicisation of overlooked artists from the twentieth century and to the decoding of trends in contemporary Italian painting. I have a peculiar interest in art criticism itself, in studying how it’s evolved in the Italian context and what possibilities and new issues it has to face in conjunction with the expansion of the canon.


Click HERE to read a text by Giorgio Di Domenico on Sofia’s recent works