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INTERVIEW: GIULIA GRILLO AKA PETITE DOLL’S DEBUT U.S. SOLO EXHIBITION OPENS AT THE UNTITLED SPACE

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The Untitled Space launched the solo exhibition of Giulia Grillo aka Petite Doll on Friday, November 4th at the Tribeca gallery, marking the debut of the Italian photographic artist’s first headlining show in the United States. Highlighting Grillo’s surreal, performance-based photography, the exhibition spans the prolific career she began as Petite Doll only three years ago. The artist attended Friday’s opening reception in what was her first-ever appearance in New York, donning a black leather ensemble and a plastic beret complete with a large beetle as she discussed her work and inspirations with admiring guests.

The self-titled exhibition premieres a number of artworks from Petite Doll’s ongoing series The Crab Girl and includes selections from her latest mixed-media project, In the Name of Perpetual Connection. Also on display are video works and behind-the-scenes archives that document the artist’s recent expansion from still photography into video art and NFTs. Prior to the opening, she spoke to The Untitled Magazine for its recently-released 10th Anniversary “REBEL Issue” about the pop-surrealism that inspires her art, using the grotesque and bizarre to subvert common beauty ideals, and the origins of “Petite Doll.” Read the full interview below.

<em>Giulia Grillo aka Petite Doll The Crab Girl<em>

What is the origin of the name “Petite Doll?”

I get inspiration from those pop-surrealist dolls with big, dramatic eyes that seem to come from cartoons. In my self-portraits, I try to simulate the appearance of a doll in order to create a dreamlike dimension that raises questions about what is real and what is not. I’m also very tiny, which is why I define myself as petite!

Which other artists do you take inspiration from?

My inspiration ranges from the traditional surrealist artists (Dalí, Magritte, Ernst, Delvaux), including the first surrealist photographers (Dora Maar, Man Ray, Hans Bellmer), to contemporary pop-surrealist painters like Mark Ryden and contemporary sculptors like Qimmy Shimmy.

When did you start experimenting with art, and how did it develop into a career for you?

I started experimenting while I was pursuing my first degree in Graphic Design in Italy – where I’m from. It was an extremely experimental phase, and it took me a while to find my personal visual language. When I moved to London, I studied at University of the Arts London, where my style significantly developed. From there, I started to have different artistic opportunities that allowed me to elevate my work to a more professional level.

Visually, how would you summarize your art for someone who has never seen it before?

I combine surrealism with photography, transforming myself into different grotesque characters. Each work carries a whole manifestation of intricate concepts, from the unsettling to the cute, and pushes the boundaries of what is possible.

<em>Giulia Grillo aka Petite Doll The Baking of a Cake<em>

Why did you feel self-portraiture was the best medium for your message as an artist?

I started taking pictures of myself very randomly. When I didn’t have any models to photograph, I simply used myself as a subject. I gradually realized the purpose (and the most fun part!) of my art was the entire process, including dressing up, of creating my characters. It became a sort of performance and way to express myself.

The art you create is extremely unique! How do you come up with your otherworldly concepts?

I get asked this question very frequently. The truth is that I take inspiration from everything that surrounds me, from art to everyday things. It can be a feeling or a dream that I want to express through images. Sometimes, it just starts from an everyday object that I find visually interesting, and then I build a concept around it. I also do a lot of visual brainstorming – it helps me keep my imagination alive. Creativity is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more you have.

What draws you to the surreal – and sometimes grotesque – imagery in your work?

I’ve always been fascinated by the Surrealist movement. I find beauty and magic in the unexpected and the uncanny; it’s appealing and disturbing at the same time. Surrealism is the celebration of the unconscious within the creative process. We are free to express the most authentic part of ourselves without the restrictions of the mind.

You elaborated on The Crab Girl series for “The REBEL Issue” and made several new works exclusively for the magazine. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the series?

The Crab Girl is a series I started in 2019 and explored over the years. The Girl with Lobster Hands is my most representative character, and she was inspired by one of my favorite surrealist objects, the Lobster Telephone by Salvador Dali. Other than that, I find the figure of the lobster visually interesting because to me, it also symbolizes strength and diversity. The Crab Girl represents the uniqueness and beauty of being ourselves.

You’ve very hands-on when it comes to creating your molds, props, makeup, wardrobe, and photography. Can you talk us through your process?

Creating props and looks for my photoshoots is one of the most important parts of the process. It’s when I challenge my creativity to bring ideas to life. Although I’m not a professional sculptor or makeup artist, I like to experiment a lot! I use different mediums and techniques, such as polymer clay, SFX prosthetics, resin, plaster, etc. Sometimes, it seems like there’s a lot of Photoshop work going on, but I always use real objects because they give a sense of materiality that is not always achievable digitally. I’m also very lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with many talented sculptors and artists all over the world. When I’m particularly inspired by their work, I develop my concepts around their pieces.

<em>Giulia Grillo aka Petite Doll My Favorite Music<em>

What went into making the new works that we are featuring?

I recently reshot two pieces of The Crab Girl series that were originally taken a few years ago because I wanted to create a dynamic video version of them. Each image of the series presents unconventional life situations of the hybrid girl trying to adapt to the real world. Of course, they’re humorous, unrealistic, and satirical. I’m interested in creating a sort of parallel dimension – a disturbing fairy tale that allows us to escape reality for a bit.

Tell us about the symbolism behind your work.

My images are full of metaphors and symbolism. I like to turn familiar situations into something extraordinary, as it actively stimulates the imagination of the viewer. The visual paradox is one of the most symbolic elements of my work. If you look closely at my art, you’ll see that everything creates contrast, even the way I use colors. I create a visual balance between opposites: Beautiful and grotesque, rational and irrational, desire and repulsion, delicacy and brutality, reality and dreams.

You address beauty standards and like to distort traditional concepts of beauty with your work. Can you elaborate on why you choose to do that and how you achieve it with your images and videos?

I find beauty in the unusual, the weird, and the unconventional. Traditional beauty standards are just boring to me. I find beauty in all of these things because they shock and excite that curious part of the mind that hungers for the unknown. That’s why I constantly play with my appearance – by adding many facial features through the use of silicone prosthetics, for example.

Which of your works has been the most challenging to create, either physically or mentally?

To be honest, each of my works requires a lot of effort and patience. Sometimes, it takes several trials to achieve the desired result. I only recently started to experiment with video, so it’s one of the most challenging mediums for me at the moment. Creating an image is about capturing a single moment, but a video requires you to explore the dynamism of movement, which I’m still learning about. I’m definitely intrigued by the performative nature of video.

You’ve described your art as “a reflection of contemporary society and its underlying fears and desires.” What are those fears and desires you explore?

My work is quite satirical with the intent of mirroring our contemporary society, sometimes by crossing the boundaries of the absurd and offering dystopian scenarios. I often explore themes like technology, love, diversity, beauty, and anxiety, which are all reinterpreted according to my surrealist visual language, of course. It can evoke irrational fears but be visually attractive at the same time, embracing chaos and unconscious desires. My images are often considered disturbing, macabre, or provocative, and I guess that’s because I want to invite the viewer to confront the deeper part of the human psyche.

<em>Giulia Grillo aka Petite Doll Dig Out Negativity From Your Mind<em>

How has social media changed the way you approach creating art?

Since I started experimenting with my work, I also started sharing it on social media. It’s an ever-changing landscape, and sometimes, it’s a challenge for artists like me to adapt to new formats. This constant need for adaptation can become corrosive to the artist’s work, so I think the most important thing is always creating what you feel rather than what others want to see. On the other hand, I think social media is a great place for conversation and dialogue. It’s a useful tool to easily showcase your work in a digital vitrine.

You have a solo exhibition coming up this fall at The Untitled Space. Can you share what we can look forward to in the forthcoming show?

I’m beyond excited for this wonderful opportunity. As it’s going to be my first solo show in the U.S., I will showcase a wide selection of my most beloved artworks from 2019 to today.

Tell us about the NFT artwork you have been creating. How have you transitioned your still images into moving images in your most recent works?

As I mentioned, I recently started experimenting with video, and it feels like bringing my photographs to life. I think they would definitely work better in an NFT context, but I’m also quite new to this world. I think it has a lot of potential, and I’m really curious to explore it.

What’s next for Petite Doll? Do you have any other exhibitions or projects on the horizon you can share with us?

Yes, this year has been particularly full of exciting opportunities! I’ve got two other upcoming exhibitions this autumn in Italy and the UK. And of course, I can’t wait for my solo show at The Untitled Space in November. 

For more from Giulia Grillo aka Petite Doll, follow her on social media: Instagram

Event photos by Isabella Marchiel for The Untitled Magazine

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