Hotelier now an artistic action man

Philippe Caretti bends, swirls and dashes as he paints. His work is reminiscent of the action painting of the mid-20th century, but he uses syringes rather than brushes or sticks.

Video by Jiang Xiaowei. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Special thanks to Xu Qin.

At first glance, Swiss artist Philippe Caretti’s work is reminiscent of the action painting of the mid-20th century where American artist Jackson Pollock would drip, pour, throw and splash wet paint over a canvas to create a work of art.

However, he differentiates himself from the former drip painters by using syringes to “spurt” rather than “drip” the paint using more conventional tools such as brushes or sticks. In his painting kit, syringes (without needles) of various sizes replace brushes.

“The quality of the syringes is the key, as well as the liquidity of the acrylic,” says Caretti as he stands barefoot on a canvas laid out on the floor and begins to paint on the rooftop of the Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai.

He bends, swirls and dashes as he paints and sweats. The paint is first drawn into a syringe and skilfully expelled to form his envisaged lines, dots, blotches or patterns. 

Painting with syringes is not easy. Movements can be controlled to some degree but there are always instances where pressure on the syringe plunger causes chance spurts of paint.

But Caretti embraces this spontaneity. “It’s all about freedom of expression. There are no boundaries … so long as you know how to keep the balance. I do whatever I want to do, in the way that is pleasing to the eyes."

Hotelier now an artistic action man
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Hotelier-turned-artist Philippe Caretti

Hotelier now an artistic action man
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Caretti's painting kit includes syringes (without needles) of various sizes.

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Caretti first arrived in Asia more than 30 years ago to join the hospitality industry. The majority of his career was spent in smart suit and tie, holding senior managerial positions at hotels in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Jakarta and Shanghai.

“There has been no other place that has molded me as much as Asia,” says Caretti, who last year left the hotel business to paint full-time.

“I’ve observed a type of pragmatic spirituality in China and its people. It’s a curious and wonderful mix of accepting and yielding but being purposeful, an unabashed embracing of the metaphysical while being grounded in reality. I’m interested in this ability to be different polarities or dualities at once, and it’s a positive outlook that has shaped my own immensely.”

Caretti has a solo exhibition — “The Poetry of Colors” — at Oi Ling Antiques in Hong Kong. It showcases more than 40 abstract paintings from the past four years. He says the concept of the exhibition comes from the Chinese philosophy tian ren he yi,  meaning the oneness of heaven, Earth and humanity.

“‘The Poetry of Colors’ is the manifestation and exploration of my own outlooks and inner dispositions, in their raw forms and different nuances of happiness, unfettered by pretenses,” he says.

Hotelier now an artistic action man
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Caretti uses a syringe to sign his name on a painting.

Q: When did you take to painting?

A: My background came from an art that is building and opening hotels. Throughout my life as a hotelier for more than 40 years, I spent a lot of time making recommendations on what to do in the hotels. 

When I came to Shanghai in 2001, I started painting abstracts. This artistic side of me allowed me to contribute to the interior design of the hotels. 

I decorated the inside of the presidential suites of the Pudong Shangri-La, the items, the paintings, the statues … It was quite a moment of excitement.

Q: What do you understand by abstract art?

A: The Chinese prefer a painting which means something, while Westerners can accept a painting that is totally abstract … Not everybody is ready for abstracts. 

I believe that art, no matter in what form or on what subject matter, reflects one’s inner disposition to some degree. This isn’t something that can be hidden or ever fully suppressed. 

So for my inaugural series of paintings, I wanted to explore and pay homage to the influences that have pushed and pulled to shape my own temperament.

Q: What are you trying to convey in your work?

A: It’s been a meaningful journey of understanding. They are an expression of the intangible in forms, colors, textures and materials that serve as direct communication to our profound selves. 

Even if we know our inner selves, maybe it’s not something that is easily conveyed, as it permeates every action and every thought.

Q: Any further plans after the exhibition in Hong Kong?

A: Over the years I have been making progress in what I do. I am lucky to have friends in art circle who would like to give me recommendations on what else I can do to improve. … And I’m confident my abstracts now have been brought to a much higher level.

After Hong Kong, I am taking the exhibition to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and lastly Geneva by the end of the year. 

I am happy that my paintings are being sent to different parts of the world. It’s a good feeling.

Hotelier now an artistic action man
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Caretti works on a big syringe painting on the rooftop of Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai.

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