In Raw Pigment Powders Extracted from the Earth, an Artist Discovers the Essence of Being

A few kilometres outside of Verona, Italy, the painter Indivi Sutton tours a family-owned firm devoted to colour.

Article by T Australia

INDIVI SUTTON 1Photography by Indivi Sutton.

The New York-born, Sydney-based painter Indivi Sutton has long been enchanted by colour. Her fascination was first sparked during classes at New York’s Rudolf Steiner School, only deepening through her subsequent education with the contemporary American painter Paton Miller and in colour theory and painting studies undertaken at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Sutton first discovered raw pigment powders in Venice. “I found there was nothing else that enabled me to achieve the movement and layering on raw linen,” she says. “These saturated powders hold the presence of nature and a vital energy, and painting with them feels very connected to the way story telling evolves in my work.”

The translucent quality of the pigments allow Sutton to build gradual tone, perception and depth, resulting in works that depict aura-like revelations. “The pigments have allowed me to explore colour as entities themselves, and to connect with my sensory intuition and ultimately the voice of the work.”

Here, Sutton talks to T Australia about her visit to Dolci Colori, a family-owned pigment firm founded over 100 years ago by Aturo Dolci, and her journey to the essence of the powders that have served as the beating heart of the family for four generations.

On Andrea Dolci…

I have been waiting for three years to visit and meet Andrea, the great grandson of Alturo… I rode by bike to Dolci Colori to meet Andrea, about half-an-hour from the train station in Verona. His beautiful mother was busy in the storefront that sells the firms earth colours, oxides, products for restoration, building and bio-building, lime paints, washable paints, plasters, spatolato and ecologic product. Andrea appears and leads me into the factory, his gentle nature expresses immediately the connection he has to the process and meaning of his material. In his office are cabinets filled with files of powder, many from his grandfather that are almost encyclopaedic in the stories they hold.

On the treatment process…

The walls that lead to the factory are painted with pigment colour samples, [and] as we venture into the manufacturing area he shows me the barrels that are filled with the ground minerals that have released their essence in mounds of vibrant colour. Some of the most potent red pigment comes from the earth surrounding Verona. Each earth colouring is treated with a different working process; some are coarsely crushed, some first fired in the kiln or others are mulled by hammer or ball mills. It is a process of experimentation over many years that has given Andrea the knowledge to understand each mineral and how best to extract its colour.

On the origins of earth colour…

I am amazed by [his] generosity in sharing his knowledge, and how we find a common language in colour. Surrounded by these gifts of the earth I have a new appreciation of why I am so connected to the pigments. He tells stories of the origins of earth colour, from the reds, ochres, yellows, purple and green earths that are regionally specific but principally due to hydroxide silicates (iron, magnesium and alkali). For example, green earth of Prun lies in basaltic canals in southern Verona. I am mesmerised. He brings me to his workshop where he reveals how deep his emotion for creating colour feeds his constant experimentation, and we very naturally connect to the shared love we experience by bringing these earth colours into being.

On the purity of the pigments…

We talked for a long time, and he drove me to the train to return to Venice. To meet the maker of these essential ingredients was to connect with someone that truly understood their power, and our appreciation for each other’s expression was beyond words. What became so evident is that this age-old practice of the releasing of colour from the very material of nature and the earth gives rise to nothing truer in its purity of expression and depth, because it holds with it the very essence of being.

This interview has been condensed and edited. 

View Indivi Sutton’s works at “Evermore” at Saint Cloche Gallery, Paddington, from May 24, and “Eurythmy” at KI SMITH Gallery, New York, from October 16 to November 26.