Venturing into Virgilio Villoresi’s gleefully surreal, miniature world

While the Italian artist-designer-filmmaker-animator barely begins to scratch the surface of his repertoire, Virgilio Villoresi coalesces his dreamy inspirations in a conversation with STIR.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Jan 22, 2022

When we call a work transcendent, we may mean that purely in sensorial terms. However, every time a work of design, art, film, or any of the institutes of showmanship strikes that distinction, there is, almost immediately, a bridge formed between the viewer and the displayer. Near infinite machinations go on behind the scenes of any such work, of which the viewer is blissfully unaware of, but the effects of which include the transcendence I mentioned.

Villoressi on one of the miniature sets designed for Kartell Wonderland | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
Villoressi on one of the miniature sets designed for Kartell Wonderland Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

I have a theory. For the two way bridge - the relationship between the viewer and displayer - the transcendence is rarely on one end of it. The work, too, has to be transcendental - breaking bounds, constantly challenging notions of what constitutes the traditionality of one’s work, and operating beyond the trivialities of genre. There is, perhaps, no other creative professional I have recently interviewed who has made genre more trivial for me, than the Italian designer-artist Virgilio Villoresi. Ever the showman, living and weaving dreams in Milan, Villoresi’s works comfortably tread the uncertain ground of dreams. That dream-like quality, often observed in the works of modern film auteurs including (and strikingly reminiscent of) Wes Anderson and the gothic-noiresque yet delightfully animated films of Tim Burton, is often manifested in Villoresi’s surreal filmic visions on a miniature scale.

  • 05 mins watch Villoresi’s music video for John Mayer’s ‘Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967’ | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Villoresi’s music video for John Mayer’s ‘Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967’ Video: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • A still from the music video, shot using stop-motion and 2D animation | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    A still from the music video, shot using stop-motion and 2D animation Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

Akin to a puppeteer, playful but always in control, Villoresi himself oversees every aspect of his productions - the art, the production design, characterisation, format, animation, and even cinematography. The results are equal parts dazzling and oddly calming. It’s as if the manic energy of the miniatures gives way to an unprecedented sense of order on-screen. While it may be rueful, beautiful chaos up there in Virgilio’s mind, what manifests is a scene so structured, so doctored, you can’t help but be drawn into the illusion of absolute control backed by nearly absolute freedom. Half of the calm may also be owed to the luxe pacing of stop motion animation, a technique encompassing nearly all his work, and come to think of it, even Italian animation at large. For how else do you dream, if not lured into a mystical lull?

  • Zoetrope by Virgilio Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Zoetrope by Virgilio Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • Trompe l’ oeil by Villoresi, a kinetic work that hinges on the vision of one eye, every 180 degrees of rotation | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Trompe l’ oeil by Villoresi, a kinetic work that hinges on the vision of one eye, every 180 degrees of rotation Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

The emotional core of Villoresi’s work is sacrosanct, all but a peek inside what brews inside a fantastical brain. Transcending the futility and frugality of ‘genre’, as stated, Villoresi’s work, although spanning north of a decade, is also increasingly experimentative in and of itself. While his visions effortlessly oscillate between monochrome and a melange of colours, between 2D and 3D stop motion animation, between sculpting and sketching, the scope is always grandiose, like a Broadway production but on a miniature scale. Consisting of both commissioned work and personal projects, Villoresi has been sought to lend his surrealist-miniaturist vision for a number of international brands and clients, including Louis Vuitton, Fornasetti, Kartell, Zara, Caffarel, Sammontana, Cucinelli, Acqua di Parma, and Bulgari. However, as is true for most artistic pursuits, Villoresi’s best work has been truly independent. I bear particular fondness for his videographic rendition to accompany John Mayer’s powerful ballad, ‘Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967’. Probably less dream-like and more melancholy than his other works, I believe it to be his personal masterpiece, and a barrage of emotions put to acid-stained paper.

  • 01 min watch Behind the scenes of Villoresi’s short brand film created for Brunello Cucinelli | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Behind the scenes of Villoresi’s short brand film created for Brunello Cucinelli Video: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • A still from the brand film meant to display the finesse of Italian craftsmanship | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    A still from the brand film meant to display the finesse of Italian craftsmanship Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • 01 min watch Brunello Cucinelli, official fashion video by Virgilio Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Brunello Cucinelli, official fashion video by Virgilio Villoresi Video: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

The spaces he creates for staging his drama are particularly alluring. Spelling a mixed range of influences, although quite distinctly falling under Italian design, Villoresi treats his backdrops with equal love, designing them to be more than just pretty sceneries. In the spaciality he is able to build, ranging from a vanity set to entire city blocks, the freedom of the miniature scale lends him and his works the inimitable power of being freed from the constraint of creation for utility, translating to nothing but bold, infallible expression.

  • 01 min watch Behind the scenes of Villoresi’s Finding Christmas for La Rinascente | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Behind the scenes of Villoresi’s Finding Christmas for La Rinascente Video: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • A still from Finding Christmas for La Rinascente | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    A still from Finding Christmas for La Rinascente Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • 01 min watch Official video for Finding Christmas, La Rinascente | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Official video for Finding Christmas, La Rinascente Video: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

In an interview that somehow felt like sharing a cup of coffee with him at his studio, Villoresi spills the secrets of his creations, what is most important in his compositions, his relationship with his ideas, and the functionings of a creative mind, untethered.

Anmol Ahuja (AA): To say that your learning and training has been multidisciplinary would be an understatement. Where and how do you see these streams intersecting in your work?

Virgilio Villoresi (VV): It is true that my work is the result of many disciplines combined together. I like to think that everything started thanks to dance. When I was a child, I studied classic dance, and I believe that the musicality of the movements I learned in those years are still linked to some choice of animated movements that I make everyday in my work.

  • Still from the official video of Golden Light by Radiohead, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from the official video of Golden Light by Radiohead, directed by Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • Still from Moon Boot brand film for Moncler | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from Moon Boot brand film for Moncler Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

AA: Do you have a particular favourite among the multiple streams and disciplines your work spans, including art, design, film, and animation?

VV: I don’t have a favourite discipline. I always try to bring my vision to any situation. It's like if my talent embraces one of these disciplines and makes it its own, I go with that. That’s why I usually prefer clients who give me freedom to express myself.

AA: Do you have a favourite genre of film? Do you see films from these genres influencing your work?

VV: I am passionate about many kinds of films, like the experimental animation films of Norman Mclaren's National Film Board, West European animation cinema, or Federico Fellini and Jean Cocteau, and the B-movies of Roger Corman and Jacques Tourneur. One of the films that most influenced me was “The Hand” by Jiri Trnka. The meta cinematic intervention of the hand is still burning in my head.

  • Still from The Artisanal Orchestra by Sergio Rossi, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from The Artisanal Orchestra by Sergio Rossi, directed by Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • Still from The Artisanal Orchestra by Sergio Rossi, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from The Artisanal Orchestra by Sergio Rossi, directed by Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

AA: What would you say is the best way for audiences to experience your work?

VV: What I do is invite the audience to play with me and the imagery I create in each work. So, the best way to understand my work is to let me guide you and lose control. It’s a kind of mental journey through my world, based on the concrete and material representation of dreams.

AA: What is the genesis of an idea for Virgilio Villoressi? Where does conceptualisation begin for you?

VV: It all starts with synchronicities. I believe that inspiration is all around us… you have to keep a door open inside yourself and welcome all the things that draw you. My secret is to catch every idea, feeling, and object that deeply attracts me and make it my own.

This inspiration constantly oscillates between two states of mind: one of dazzlement, exaltation, close to an almost divine satisfaction; the other of depression and punishment. That’s why sometimes I feel cursed and other times I feel gratified.

It all starts with synchronicities. I believe that inspiration is all around us.
  • Still from Bulgari Pop Wishes, advertising for Bulgari, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from Bulgari Pop Wishes, advertising for Bulgari, directed by Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • Still from Bulgari Pop Wishes, advertising for Bulgari, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from Bulgari Pop Wishes, advertising for Bulgari, directed by Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

AA: What is the one property (of your design, art, or existing objects you capture) that you like to experiment with the most: is it colour, materiality, light, or something else? 

VV: All the properties listed are important, but for me the most crucial is light. Light is the matter of film, it is ideology, feeling, color, tone, depth, atmosphere, storytelling. Light enriches, erases, reduces, blurs, emphasizes, alludes, makes the fantastic come true by adding transparencies, tensions and vibrations. Moreover light digs a face, or smoothes it, creates expression where there is none, can design the elegance of a figure, enhance a landscape, and give a magic touch to a background.

Light is the first special effect intended as a trick, as a deception, as an alchemical factory, a machine of the marvelous. I use it to deceive and amaze at the same time.

  • 01 min watch Behind the scenes and making of The Magic of Suits for Brunello Cucinelli | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Behind the scenes and making of The Magic of Suits for Brunello Cucinelli Video: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • A still from Villoresi’s film for the garment brand | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    A still from Villoresi’s film for the garment brand Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • 02 mins watch Official video, The Magic of Suits for Brunello Cucinelli, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Official video, The Magic of Suits for Brunello Cucinelli, directed by Villoresi Video: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

AA: Working with big brands vs. working independently: what do you prefer? Have you been able to strike a balance?

VV: I prefer working independently and to feel free to express my creativity. But, I have to say that in the last few years, even some big brands let me totally express my creative flair, completely trusting my skills.

AA: Are there any particular themes that one would find recurring through your work? Are there themes that you haven’t yet worked with and would love to incorporate in your work? 

VV: The desire to amaze the viewer is the fil rouge of my works: that’s why when I imagine a story, I put myself in the shoes of a child fascinated by a game of magic. Then, the ideas appear in a natural way.

When I imagine a story, I put myself in the shoes of a child fascinated by a game of magic.

AA: Tell us the one emotion that, despite all abstraction, you haven’t been able to display through your work?

VV: I don't know... I would say.... the seriousness. Honestly, I can't take myself too seriously!

  • Still from Kartell Wonderland, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from Kartell Wonderland, directed by Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi
  • Still from Fornasetti’s Home, directed by Villoresi | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
    Still from Fornasetti’s Home, directed by Villoresi Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

AA: What do you look for in a space before capturing it on camera?

VV: I open a gap in my imagination, and next, I try to create a projection of it directly in front of me. Once created, all I have to do is position the camera to capture it in the best way. I feel like between my inner universe and the scene I create, there is a cross exchange. They feed each other.

AA: Can you explain the insignia on your site with your name, your logo? What does it represent?

VV: My logo represents my childish way of playing with my art. The inner child inside my mind and soul, naive and sincere, who doesn't want to grow up at all.

Virgilio Villoresi on the sets of one of his short films | Interview with Virgilio Villoresi | Virgilio Villoresi | STIRworld
Virgilio Villoresi on the sets of one of his short films Image: Courtesy of Virgilio Villoresi

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