Art, Craftsmanship, and an Eye to the Environment. Interview with Verena Oppermann and Annalisa Tessarolo by Waldemar Kerschbaumer

Published: 28.06.2022
Waldemar Kerschbaumer
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The Italiano Plurale art collective presents a strong, complete, and diverse image of Italy’s art scene with a veritable mosaic of fresh talent and passionate ambassadors of applied art. Curator Waldemar Kerschbaumer carefully selects artists whose work not only meets the highest standards but also provides refreshing insights into Italy’s contemporary art production.

We introduce the members of the group with a series of interviews.
What led you to use fibre/leather as the basic material for your artworks?
Verena Oppermann: It was actually my family who gave me my love for working with textiles. My grandmother was a tailor and my mother used to make unusual clothes for us children. So I started sewing and wearing my own, sometimes particular, creations. I experimented with forms, colours, and materials. I then studied costume design, which allowed me to combine my passion for literature, collaboration and experimenting with expressions and materials.

Annalisa Tessarolo: Leather was a necessary choice which I have learned to love with time. When I started designing bags, I had plastic prototypes in mind, but producing those would have cost too much as 3D printers didn’t exist. And so I learned to use leather, a natural material which offered many more possibilities than plastic, and I was able to count on excellent traditional craftsmanship.

Your art is constantly evolving. Which technique do you currently favour? Do you go beyond your favourite material?
Verena Oppermann: In South Tyrol I discovered the roots of making textiles: spinning, plant dyeing or hand weaving, and the importance of precious natural materials for my skin and my life. Nonetheless, I experiment with a wide variety of materials on my loom. The three-dimensional objects are the result of my personal way of dealing with the opposing emotions triggered by my surroundings. I look for or produce materials and shapes of all kinds until they match an inner image. The initial results are often raw, rusty structures that will almost furiously defend their shape. As I add the textiles to the structures, they come to life and become softer. Light gives them the final finish and again changes each object’s character completely.

Annalisa Tessarolo: Nowadays, my work evolves mainly because the issue of environmental sustainability forces us to rethink our philosophy of life and work and the materials we use. I confronted this topic with “Flowers for Future”, a line of bags made of felt manufactured from recycled plastic drinks bottles. From a creative point of view, it is a material which has a much more limited use than leather. But it was a wonderful experience and I hope to expand the line on a larger scale production which would be more fitting. Of course, plastic is a petroleum derivative, so it only makes sense to use it if it is recycled.
According to the latest research, many types of so-called “eco-leather” contain a minimum of waste vegetable matter (for example apple peel ) but the base material is always plastic, thus, petroleum. Consequently, leather obtained as a by-product of meat farming is to all appearances the most environmentally friendly choice. I am optimistic that we can do even better in the future.

Verena Oppermann: Working with the spinning wheel. Photo by Antonia Pfeifer.
Annalisa Tessarolo: Work in progress

Which piece are you particularly proud of?
Verena Oppermann: My first fabric made on the loom, a three meter long piece with two colours and a small pattern that took approximately 60 hours to weave. It was hard work, especially for an impatient type like me!
Through weaving, I discovered slowness. It is a challenge for me, because my mind is always two steps ahead, already finished, already thinking about the next project before I have even begun the work. But I want to persevere. I refuse to simply abandon an idea in the sketching phase because of my impatience – I want to see and to feel certain qualities like calm, rhythm, continuity, release, relaxation in my pieces.

Annalisa Tessarolo: Obviously, there are some bags that I’m particularly fond of because they seem to have stood the test of time. It is difficult to choose because together, all the pieces represent my contradictory passions. Some are geometric in design, rigorous shapes that go well with absolute colours such as black and white. Others are intended to be more frivolous, challenging the rhetoric of kitsch, the banality of the colour pink and of plastic flowers.
Then there are the “soft sculptures” that feel as if I should have modelled them in terracotta. And finally, the “painting bags”, where the facade is more important than the third dimension. That is to say, hidden inside there may be an antique engraving which moved me, a mother of pearl button or a vintage buckle. Working makes me happy but only time will tell how valid my work is.

Verena Oppermann: Loom with warp and weft
Annalisa Tessarolo: Dreaming Athens, Bag, 2021. Leather and engraving. Photo by M.F Spanevello

Where does your inspiration come from?
Verena Oppermann: I get impressions from encounters, moods and plays of colour in nature, structures, landscapes, and stories. These impressions gradually merge into my works of art. Building an object of light, my inspiration comes from a material that I shape in order to develop a structure. But its character changes as it meets light, so an exciting dialogue starts.

Annalisa Tessarolo: I am not sure if I can define myself as an artist, so, speaking of the Romantic term “inspiration” seems presumptions. But yes, my creative drive comes suddenly, at any time or place, regardless of what I am doing. Nevertheless, all the styles stem from my accumulated visual memories. I believe that my passion for both ancient and modern art, antiques, and contemporary design, forms the roots of my imagination.

How do your clients perceive your work? Do you have in mind who or how it will be used?
Verena Oppermann: My handwoven pieces are designed with thought and evolved with care. They give a valuable and elegant impression. My clients appreciate these qualities of the unique handwoven pieces. Sometimes while matching colours or weaving I picture a woman feeling well and looking great with a shawl of mine.
In contrast, the creation of an object with light is a personal dialogue between the object and me, and I express myself in the process. Even so, it makes me happy if somebody chooses it and tells me: “It seems to be made just for me!”

Annalisa Tessarolo: A woman will choose a bag if it is well made, light, easy to carry and suitable for its intended use. Only if this is the case will the buyer love the bag as much as I do. Evening bags are the only exception because the aesthetic value is more important than practicality. The purpose of this type of bag is more to complement a beautiful dress than contain small, indispensable objects. And so, once I have designed a model, I evaluate how it can be carried as far as possible and make the necessary modifications. The design should combine aesthetics and practicality highlighting the beauty of everyday gestures. As far as my clients are concerned, I believe their choice is instinctive, immediate, as if they had found something that they had been looking for a long time.

Verena Oppermann: Small fabric with pattern in dalldraell, Textile, 2019. Cotton, linen. Photo by Enzo Bellini

Annalisa Tessarolo: Flowers, Shoulder bag and evening bag, 2002. Leather, plastic flowers. Photo Lubosh Cech.

How do you feel about having to put a price tag on your creations?
Verena Oppermann: It is always difficult to put a price on an object that I put my heart and fantasy into. But it also makes me a little proud when the time comes to let a project go and bring joy to someone else. My clients see the work behind the objects and understand its worth.

Annalisa Tessarolo: I hate putting a price on my works. It is embarrassing and impossible to be objective. Some time ago I decided to ask a friend, who is also a fashion and sales expert, for help.

Do you have an underlying concept that you express in articles, books, galleries, museums, etc.? What do you think of contemporary Italian fibre/leather materials art?
Verena Oppermann: I could probably talk about this for hours, but in as few words as possible I would simply say: curiosity, sustainability, creating a lasting impression and making people think.

Annalisa Tessarolo: Bags are usually thought of as fashion accessories and rarely as art, especially these days. Those like me who consider bag design a form of art cannot rely on an alternative exhibition circuit, so it is difficult to find comparisons. Perhaps the only example in leather design is the so-called luxury goods market which is completely different to that of art. There, the myth has replaced aesthetics and personal judgment
The only thing that art and fashion seem to have in common now is a disorientated aesthetic taste. Globalization suddenly brought together age-old cultures that have little or nothing in common, thereby shattering their idea of beauty. Something we consider refined may be offensive in another culture. Likewise, something we see as vulgar could be a sign of civility for others. There is no longer a common ground for art criticism. This has given me a certain sense of loss and isolation that I try to fight by giving a shape to my dreams.

Verena Oppermann: Colored sharpe, Textile.
Annalisa Tessarolo: Cover, Bag, 2018.

When does fibre/leather become art?
Verena Oppermann: Fibre or fabric become art when their composition and makeup convey a higher sense or meaning, e.g. if they create a symbol or evoke feelings in the viewer.

Annalisa Tessarolo: When the aesthetics of the object move us because it shows the spirit of who created it and holds something we can share.

You are part of the “Italiano Plurale” artist collective. What prompted you to join them?
Verena Oppermann: I sometimes felt alone with my work being somewhere between art, handcraft, and design. Ever since the curator asked me to become part of “Italiano Plurale” and I joined, I have felt the encouragement of a group presenting their works together. They all combine these three classifications on a high level. It gives me the chance to learn from excellent artists and to believe in my talents.

Annalisa Tessarolo: Italiano Plurale is a cohesive, united and stimulating group, full of enthusiasm with lots of advice to give about any aspect of our line of work. It also gives me the opportunity to take part in events it would be much harder to get invited to if I were on my own.

What is next on your calendar?
Verena Oppermann: Handwerk & Design fair in Munich in July 2022.
Annalisa Tessarolo: Handwerk & Design fair in Munich in July 2022.


About the Interviewee

Verena Oppermann, born in Hamburg, Germany, lives and works in Bolzano. She holds a bachelor in costume design (University of Hamburg for applied sciences,1998) and worked as costume designer and head of costume departments in theatres in Germany, Austria, and South Tyrol for many years. She is also an interior designer for private and public spaces, a costume designer for theatre plays and an art teacher. In 2003, she began experimenting with handmade objects and textiles. Having mastered the technique, Oppermann started weaving natural textiles on her wooden loom and works with metal, wood and glass. Her collection of unique lamps tells of her deep fascination with the play of light on various materials. Her collection of handwoven fabrics, shawls, and accessories is testimony to her passion and talent for producing silky textures that caress the skin and lift the mood.
Annalisa Tessarolo was born in Asolo, inland Venice, and lives in Vicenza. Design and fashion design has been her passion since studying History of Art (1991 Master’s Degree with honours in Art and Humanities). Tessarolo has worked as a university researcher, art critic and creator of contemporary art workshops for children and now dedicates her time to designing bags that turn this most feminine of objects into a true work of art perfectly suitable for everyday use. Each design is unique and will only be shown in art galleries.

About the author

Waldemar Kerschbaumer
is the Creative Director and founder of the advertising and web agency adpassion based in Bolzano, Italy. He spent 7 years working for a local weekly magazine and over 10 years in different advertising agencies before founding his own company. adpassion caters to a variety of different sectors, from business to education and museums, and private and business clients as well as artists.
Italiano plurale was born in 2018, when Waldemar Kerschbaumer was asked to select Italy’s best and most promising jewelry artists for the Vienna Jewelry Days. The big leap came after just a few months: The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s annual PMA Craft Show settled on Italy as their guest country for 2020 and Waldemar was asked to curate and select the best Italian artists from various art categories. His previous experience promoting artists and having their work shown at international events proved an invaluable asset in the early days of the project. Italian artists expressed the need for support, especially for a whole host of excellent yet underrated artisans.