Famous for her portraits of global celebrities, Roberta Diazzi has used crystals from Swarovski to create powerful portraits of her latest subjects: endangered wildcats.Roberta Diazzi’s crystallized animal art is an expression of her concern for the planet. It follows on from some impressive portraits of famous human subjects: Princess Caroline of Monaco, the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan, and the Sultan of Oman have all been painted by Diazzi. We asked her how it all came about.
What led you to your particular type of art today?
I graduated in graphics and communication in 1992. After a decade in advertising, I decided to follow my passion, which until then had been only a hobby. So I started painting in 2004 creating pop art—mainly commissioned portraits in acrylic and oil on canvas. Over the years I added other materials like iridescent mortars and resins to create works with expressive impact. What drew me to Swarovski crystals was the desire to make my art recognizable and unique. I had experimented prior to that, but nothing was as captivating and explosive as Swarovski crystals.
Today, your artworks hang on walls belonging to Princess Caroline, the late Luciano Pavarotti, China’s First Lady, and more. How did you first get your work noticed?
Word of mouth—the many people who commissioned me over the years, which caused a domino effect. I came into contact with Princess Caroline through GemlucArt, the annual art competition in Monte Carlo of which she is honorary president—GEMLUC funds medical research and patient care. My painting won the 2010 competition and was presented to the Princess, who decided to reproduce it on silk scarves and sell it to raise funds for GEMLUC. Luciano Pavarotti was a commission by an important Modena family; as a citizen of Modena, I was honored to paint the maestro and his wife Nicoletta Mantovani. The portrait of First Lady Peng Liyuan stemmed from my collaboration with leading jewelry company Luxor Gioielli: I was asked to create the portrait for its Shanghai showroom opening—this time entirely in Swarovski crystals—and later it was given to her.
We love this description of your work: “They are not so much paintings as they are mosaics of light, calibrated and re-cut to bring energy and power to the figures.” How did you discover Swarovski crystals?
I discovered Swarovski crystals after many experiments with less precious materials. I was immediately captivated by the brilliance and elegance of the colors and their capacity to reflect a thousand different shades. My technique encompasses a mix of experiences: first and foremost, mosaics—filling every space with precision and giving depth and interlocking nuances to the image. This goes hand in hand with goldsmithing, since I use very small crystals with diameters ranging from 0.5mm to 4mm.
You use black Plexiglass—how do crystals perform on this the type of surface?
Black Plexiglass is fundamental to my work, because black is the only color capable of fully showing the brilliance of Swarovski crystals’ colors. I prefer monochromatic crystals in shades of white through to gray. I can always find the right colors for the piece, because the range is so wide.
With this series of animal likenesses, were you sending an environmental message, or was it simply the majesty of these creatures that captivated you?
Yes, both. The majesty and beauty of these animals have always captivated me. I truly admire the perfection that only nature can provide.
You speak of being influenced by the Old Masters—and, indeed, some of the more recent Pop Art names, such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Who in particular has influenced you, and what aspects of their art have you tried to incorporate in your own work?
The influence of the Old Masters belongs to the first part of my career, just after I graduated. The pop art portraits, although technically very different from Andy Warhol’s, have a strong appeal for me. So does the synthesis of graphic design and bold use of color inspired by Roy Lichtenstein—they can be seen in some of my landscapes.
Talk us through the actual creative process that you follow.
Creating these artworks is extremely difficult. Many steps go into completing the image, and they determine the complexity. I can only say that it takes about ten steps to complete one of my paintings. Each work is like my child. I spend many hours working on it—even as much as a month and a half for larger works—and at the end it becomes a part of me. When I sell one I’m sometimes a little sad to know that I won’t see it again!
What lies ahead?
There are many ideas floating around. It’s essential to take one small step at a time so that I can grow with confidence. I still have an unpublished portrait that I would like you to exhibit… It’s one of my most exciting works because of the greatness of the person—the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. It’s made using 46,100 Swarovski crystals of various shades. A commission arrived from a government minister in Muscat who had seen my work at a fair and decided to commission a portrait to give to the Sultan. It’s very satisfying to know that one of my works will be hanging in a magnificent palace!