Alessandra Genualdo on catwalk fashion, East London's authenticity and rescuing stray cats

Alessandra Genualdo is an accomplished Italian illustrator and painter currently living and working in East London. She lives with her gorgeous dog Kira and has a roster of clients for whom she creates beautiful artworks.

Inspired by fashion, Alessandra has interpreted the catwalk looks of Prada and Gucci, immortalising the garment-adorned models. In addition to her client work, she lectures at London's prestigious Chelsea College of Arts.

We caught up with Alessandra to find out more about her creative process, inspiration and upbringing in the Italian countryside.

Can you talk us through your career journey to date?

I studied graphic design in the south of Italy, before realising working on a computer was creating a gap between myself and the work I was making. When I moved to London I started to reconnect with making things with my hands, working in a sketchbook, doing some painting. That’s when I realised I wanted to become an illustrator, and I applied to the MA Illustration course at Camberwell College of Arts.

It was a crucial year for my artistic development, but I still didn’t feel good enough, and right after my graduation I waited a few months before feeling confident enough to send my work out to potential clients.

Since then I have been working on a variety of projects – editorial, fashion, startups, social media content – always trying to develop my personal practice at the same time – that is very important to me. Since 2014, I have also been teaching illustration at the Chelsea College of Arts.

When did you first realise you were creative?

I was quite creative as a kid. I was an only child who grew up in the countryside, so I used to make up games for myself and spend hours drawing, cutting out paper dolls, playing violin and pianoforte – as well as climbing trees and rescuing stray cats.

As a teenager, I used to make and sell stuffed toys and I still loved to draw, but growing up in the south of Italy, illustration wasn’t that well recognised or known as a profession, so until much later I didn’t quite know how to turn "drawing" into a job.

How has your style evolved over the years?

The most defining moment for my work to start taking shape was during the year of my MA at Camberwell – I never studied illustration properly before, so it was quite eye-opening.

After I graduated I kept experimenting and researching. I really wanted to keep improving, as I was very insecure towards what I was producing. Even today, I am still overly critical towards myself. But like any artist, my work is constantly evolving. Looking at some of the illustrations I made last year they seem so far apart from what I create now. We are constantly entering a new phase of our work, even when it doesn’t look like it.

Where do you get your inspiration?

From the most varied sources. Ingmar Bergman and Jean Luc Godard’s films, Scandinavian interiors, the 1960s, fashion. Women have also been a source of inspiration for me, trying to capture their strength and fragility.

In 2017 you captured some of the key looks from Gucci’s Cruise fashion show in your unique illustrative style. Can you briefly describe the creative process behind these pieces?

I really liked the collection, the retro silhouettes and floral patterns. I picked the looks that spoke to me the most and gave them my own interpretation. It was quite a straightforward process, and I found it very easy to translate the collection pieces into paintings.

In addition to Gucci, you’ve also produced illustrations for Prada and Glamour magazine. Does fashion inspire your work?

Yes definitely, when the work of a designer reflects my own aesthetic – the shapes, patterns, colour palette; I immediately see their clothes turned into a painting. Growing up there was always fashion magazines lying around the house, and I was so fascinated by the beauty of the models as well as the clothes.

Your illustrations are character based. How do you develop these characters?

The characters I draw are mainly sourced from my imagination and my idea of beauty or what I find interesting in a face or a pose. I often take pictures of myself if I have to illustrate a pose that I find hard to draw from memory, and I don’t work much from sketches unless it’s for a client. I always paint using gouache, and I add details in coloured pencil.

You’re currently based in East London. How is the creative scene there?

My studio is in Hackney Wick, where I am surrounded by artist spaces. It is a portion of East London that feels still a bit uncontaminated, compared to Shoreditch or Hackney, but probably not for long. The creative scene here feels quite genuine and, in some ways, untouched by trends.

Do you have a favourite art gallery or museum?

One of my favourite museums is the Geffrye in Hoxton. I love period dramas and walking in the Geffrye and the replicas of rooms from the 17th and 18th century makes me feel like being in one.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, I am reading Winter by Ali Smith. I bought it when it snowed in London as it seemed like an appropriate reading material.

Do you have any key pieces of advice for budding designers?

Always try and be honest in what you share with your audience, to create something that expresses your own way of looking at things, not someone else's. And to make sure to fight for your rights and professionalism being respected.

What is the main challenge you’ve faced as a freelance illustrator? And how have you overcome it?

Amongst all the various challenges, I think the instability that a freelance profession can give you is often an obstacle, both in terms of productivity and income. You expect to be creative at all times and to constantly work on something new and amazing, but that is not quite realistic. I find it fundamental to keep myself busy, and if I am not that inspired, to try and channel the creativity I am not able to express through drawing into something else.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

Growing up in the countryside I had over 15 cats. My grandfather taught me how to use a shotgun when I was eight years old. And I have never been bowling.

And finally, what’s next?

After my new show opening at Pocko, Dalston, I will start preparing some new paintings for a solo show in Madrid, one in the south of Italy, and another one in London. I also have a couple of personal and collaborative projects lined up, and I hope to have enough time to complete them by the end of the year.