When it comes to decorating your kids’ rooms, white walls just won’t do. But before you give them free rein to plaster their space with stickers and crayon scribbles, why not introduce a little fine art into the mix? Enter The Magic World of Uti, a colorful line of perfect-square prints — back on Gilt today — and the brainchild of Italian painter Cristina Ghelfi, whose mother, Uti Fontana, serves as muse for the collection’s titular character. We chatted with the Modena-based artist about her family, her inspirations, and her signature craft.
Little Inspirations: Where did this line of artwork begin? Does each painting have a special meaning?
Cristina Ghelfi: This work has always been inside of me because it is related to my love for nature, animals, and colors. Often I take inspiration from the news, from a photograph, from a book, or while walking somewhere. With the colors, the play and lightness, I try to exorcise the lack of respect that human beings have for the land. I illustrate what surrounds us, what we do not see or have forgotten — A world of colors, smells, trees, flowers, mountains, and animals. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Uti is a little girl who rejoices in what she sees and what surrounds her — she loves to play and constantly interacts with everyone and everything with curiosity and wonder. In her world, there is space only for color and positivity — she is what I would like to see every day.
LI: What is your training? Do you have a background in fine art?
CG: I started drawing from a young age and it has always been my passion, perhaps conditioned by the environment in which I grew up. My grandfather, who designed engines, had a passion for painting, also my uncle, my mother, and then my father, Franco Fontana, who is a gifted photographer. I attended art school and graduated in graphic design, with a Master’s of art and decoration. I attended 3-D animation and illustration courses, but honestly, I’ve never been an excellent student and possibly because of my shyness, the academic environment made me feel like I was in a cage and my creativity was hidden. My most important training comes from experiences of life, my family, and also the time I spent in the United States which has been very important in my journey of creative growth.
Ghelfi’s parents, Franco and Uti Fontana — Portrait by Douglas Kirkland
LI: How does your mother, Uti, act as your muse? Do you have a favorite character from “The Magic World of Uti”?
CG: My mother is an endless source of inspiration for my work and there is no particular reason. She’s just a wonderful person, a very positive and strong woman, and a constant point of reference in my work. Uti is the main character of my children’s illustrations and definitely my favorite. I get attached to the most recent piece of art I am working on or to those which I have only imagined.
LI: What other artists have inspired you?
CG: I have a great admiration for Mark Ryden, a wonderful contemporary painter. In photography, without a doubt, Franco Fontana. And, going a little back in time, I would say Leonardo da Vinci and Perugino.