Like many creative and motivated southern Italians you worked your way up from a small town on the Adriatic Sea to the metropole Milan.
I was born in Pescara, in the South. I ran away from the province as soon as I could. I spent some time in Bologna, Canada, then moved to Rome. I loved it there, but after eight years I felt like I was done with it. I ran away from the “Romanity” of Rome. And here I am now, in Milan.
Wait, I’m from Rome. I want to get to the bottom of this. How can you detach from that city after spending 8 years there, and what’s this “Romanity” you’re talking about?
Rome is a vortex; you can easily get trapped. It took me three years to actually get out of there. I started thinking about moving to Milan after five years having been in Rome. I could never live there again for its rhythms. Like everybody says, it’s a chill-out city and it “phagocytizes” its own products. What you create in Rome stays in Rome, it’s hard to export it. But at the end it was amazing. A lot of cool things happened in Rome. It almost felt like people had more interests. They manage to make things happen rather than just chit-chatting about them. The underground scene is lively. Paradoxically, I feel like it’s livelier than in Milan, despite what everyone says. It’s eclectic. I had the opportunity to work in the theatre business, collaborate with artists and illustrators.
Rome is probably the city where you’re most exposed to art. How did it impact your evolution as an artist? Your art expresses itself in many different ways. Is there a specific form you developed more than others, or did they all come out at the same time?
I’ve always had a thing for scribbling. I’m a scribbler (laughs). I guess the different techniques have developed simultaneously, but I’ve had my cycles, you know. I started painting seriously when I was in Rome. When I lived there, I used to tattoo a lot less and paint more. By the time I was preparing to leave, the only tattooing was happening in my apartment as a side project. It was all about drawing and painting. The complete opposite happened when I moved to Milan.
I ended up in Milan ‘cause I was tired of Rome and I needed a change. I like living in Milan, even though it hasn’t given me much from an artistic point of view, but work-wise it has. I’ve worked a lot on tattooing here. I would say that a big difference between the two cities is that, like I said, what happens in Rome stays in Rome. Milan is more connected. What you manage to do here is more exposed and exportable. Everything is eaten by the fashion system in Milan. There’s always a brand sponsoring stuff. It’s all right, I’m not going to criticize it. But when you compromise yourself, your art is inevitably compromised, too. I’ve never worked too closely with the fashion industry. When you create something for someone you have to tune down your research and make it easy to understand, digest. On the other hand, to me, art should not be digested at all.
You live in a great neighborhood and earlier over coffee, you mentioned that you wouldn’t like to live anywhere else.
I love this area. It’s very Milano, it’s very central, and it’s very “ghetto” at the same time. It’s a barrio. I have the Egyptian market, the coolest art gallery, convenience stores, everything one block away. It’s wow!
Despite all this “fabulousness” you are still planning the next big escape, why?
Milan is starting to feel a bit stuck to me. Everyone who’s motivated to do something new is leaving. And as a result, the more I live here, the more I realize how nothing new is happening. I’m very attracted by Sao Paulo and Berlin, obviously. Places where you can still imagine something innovative and fresh.
Going back to your artistic path. Is there a technique you prefer?
Right now I’m drawing a lot. It’s more fun. I used to have a more pragmatical approach. From the conception of an idea to the canvas, which usually takes forever to get out of the way. I’m rediscovering the pleasure of drawing on paper and photos as an output to my need for immediacy. I used to be more anxious about it, staring at the canvas for days, now I’m more instinctive. You think about something, you draw it. I guess I developed this technique while I was traveling. When I was in New York, I started drawing on polaroids or just prints. I think I’m going to follow this path for a while.
What I see today is very different from what you used to do in the past.
True. I started drawing in order to improve my tattooing skills. With drawing I discovered painting in the beginning as an illustrator. Then I got to Milan, Brera Academy, and started working on large-sized canvas. Working on canvas is beautiful because you get to spend time with yourself, relax somehow, but it’s something you have to wait a long time to see finished. The time lapse between the idea and the final work is too wide. Think about a concept for days, sit down and see it finished in a few hours, or less. It’s cool. You get to do more! I guess, at the moment, this is the biggest change for me.
What about the imagery? Has that changed as well?
I don’t know, maybe. I think that the subject of my work is soul. I have always been attracted to and studied “the knots of soul.” My subjects are different, but I guess there’s a whole sense of continuity between what I used to do and what I do now. I hate defining my older work as “pop” even though I’ve been getting that a lot. At a first glance, you may say that the lines and the colors are pop. It shows there’s something comics-y about it, but the story behind my work is not pop at all… I’ve always been referenced as “pop,” and maybe that’s why I’m using less colors these days.
You’re not gonna like it, but I think I saw some Wesley, or some Lichtenstein, but definitely a lot of Wesley in your paintings.
Haha. If I really have to mention one of those guys as influential to my work it’s Otto Dix. Other than that, I think I was really influenced by Riccardo Mannelli, my mentor. The conscious despair you see in his work has always been a big inspiration for me, rather than his poetic inspiration, or his style. He mainly does hyperrealism.
There’s often blood in your work. Why?
There is, and there isn’t. You actually never see blood dripping, but there are slits, cuts on the body. It’s meant to be intimate imagery; I’m trying to tell an intimate story. I think blood is too strong; it stains. It kind of feels dirty.
What are these characters looking for within their bodies? I’m looking at that painting with a man who has his hand stuck in his chest.
They’re probably looking for themselves, or maybe they’re looking for others inside of them.
It’s very strong imagery. The bodily component seems to be very important in your work. Is there some sort of connection between this and the fact that you do tattoos, as well?
The body is a temple of what’s inside of us, so maybe tattooing is a way to connect the inside with the outside. There is a connection, yes, but I’ve never really thought about this parallel. But yes, the body is very important to my artistic research.
Do you perceive the body as a canvas when you tattoo?
Yes and no. I don’t take into consideration the pain factor. I stay focused on what I’m doing because the act of tattooing needs to be firm and determined in order not to compromise the result. From a stylistic point of view, I try to put myself, as much as possible, in my tattoos. I used to be more classical but I also like experimenting. That said, I am convinced that there needs to be a precise distinction between tattoos and painting or drawing. A sketch for a tattoo must “smell” like a tattoo. Tattoos are artisanal; you need to understand right away that that sketch is going to be a tattoo even if you decontextualize it. I was talking about contemporary art once with a friend in Urbino, and he said: “If there was an earthquake and you were to search through the ruins, you would definitely recognize a Modigliani, not a Duchamp.” I guess it applies to what I was trying to say about tattoos and tradition.
Speaking of tattooing and tradition, don’t you ever find it sad, or demeaning, how these days there seems to be an obsession with putting notes on your body? It’s like people are trying to write their own story on themselves.
You know what? I think that tattoos belong to people and their cultural situation. In our time I think it’s natural that people are doing that. This is a rather strange moment we’re living in. I prefer not to judge. If people feel the need to do it, I’m fine with them doing it, right or wrong.
The Democracy of tattooing…
Tattoos have always been an anchor, a shelter. Think about the warriors, the sailors, the convicts, in the classic tradition. People have always tattooed to show courage, to face their fears. And the fact that people are tattooing so much these days shows clearly how much the people need to show that they’re not afraid. They need to fill a gap, and they do it in the most tangible way. A tattoo is on your body forever, and if you’re willing to suffer the pain, you’re not just doing it for the heck of it. There must be something strong behind it.
And you don’t think this is somehow off? Do you see this tendency as a healthy way to bring your boldness out?
I don’t like the tendency to show off. You see all these people with tattooed neck, hands, and face. What for? Maybe do your chest and back first! But I hardly ever turn customers away. If they want to get something that’s painful, and will never come off, they probably already have a strong motivation. So be it. No questions asked.
Thank you so much for your time, Rudy. It was truly amazing to walk around with you, get a little feel of Milan’s atmosphere, and have such a nice talk in your apartment.
If you wish to see Rudy’s work, make sure to check out his official website here.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who presents a special curation of our pictures on their site. Have a look here!
Interview: Massimo Cannavacciuolo
Photography: Marco Annunziata