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Surreal Life: The Striking Portraits of Artist Fabio La Fauci

Exploring the line between the abstract and the figurative, the Italian artist’s portraits are mysterious but beautiful

A combination of figurative and abstract, Fabio La Fauci’s portraits could be considered difficult to categorize until the artist explains his fascination with “borders”—liminal spaces where one thing blends into the other.

“I like [geographical] borders. I remember when I walked the border from San Diego to Tijuana, it was such a powerful experience. In a matter of a few hundred meters the world changes,” recalls Italian-born, Berlin-based La Fauci. “But I also like the ‘borders’ between a perfume and a bad smell—borders are interesting. In my portraits there’s the border between figuration and abstraction, the merging of the two languages to create something new.”

Artist Fabio La Fauci seated in front of portrait sin his studio
La Fauci, shot exclusively for Christie’s International Real Estate in his Berlin studio, combines influences from Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism throughout his work. Image: Trevor Good

La Fauci’s almost disturbing artworks begin “with a scribble. The face is the first thing I do. From there it’s a very long process, as the materials need weeks to dry.” Those materials include paint, gel, and ceramic. The artist works on several pieces at a time, and he describes the process of painting, waiting, and painting as “somehow meditative.”

In my portraits there’s the border between figuration and abstraction… the merging of the two languages to create something new

Born in Milan, La Fauci studied graphic design and did a year at art school before a lucky break changed his life. “I had no money when I was studying, but I won some money playing the lotto, so I bought my first computer. I had no idea how to use Photoshop or other design software, I learned by myself. After a few months, I managed to wrap up my first advertising portfolio, I started doing interviews, and I got hired at Saatchi & Saatchi Milan.”

A portraits created with colorful mixed media i
A combination of materials creates each work’s unique textures and result in faceless, yet extremely expressive, portraits that “offer the viewer something that will evolve inside themselves,” La Fauci explains.

From Milan he moved to Barcelona and then to London for work, before deciding he’d had enough of advertising. Taking “plan B and transforming it into plan A,” he decided to concentrate on his art. “I resigned. It was reckless, but sometimes you need a bit of madness to make the jump, so I moved to Berlin. Back then [in 2008], the city was very affordable and pretty bohemian, plus I was younger.”

La Fauci works from a studio in the heart of Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. “The studio is messy, as I’m always in production. I try to keep it in order, but when I’m working nothing else seems important. Every now and then I do a massive clean-up. It normally takes a week to clean up the mess!”

Sticking to a rigid routine, he starts work at 8:45 a.m., listening to the same radio show “since forever,” switching to familiar film audio from midday onwards. “I put movies on the computer, movies that I have watched hundreds of times, so I don’t have to look at the screen, I only listen to the dialogue.”

A blue butterfly painting on black background
Creative metamorphosis: the artist has recently been evolving his style and is currently working on a collection of butterfly paintings.

As well as developing his striking featureless portraits—“It’s a challenge that I like… I feel that there will always be room to work on this theme”—La Fauci has been busy with a series of butterfly paintings that further develops his unique use of his chosen materials, and he is currently working on a collection called Abstract Monologues.

“I already have ideas to develop other possible routes on the theme of portraits,” the artist explains. “I have ideas that I just have to put on canvas to see if they work.”

Banner image: Artist Fabio La Fauci’s Berlin studio is filled with his series of striking portraits. Image: Trevor Good