Hector Campbell: Many may find it hard to believe, but apart from your recent MA at Chelsea College of Art, you are largely self-taught. Could you explain a bit about your artistic background? And how did you find the MA course at Chelsea?
M.P: That’s how usually people react when they look at my paintings and I tell them I am a self-taught painter. But I believe that painting with oils is simple, you are an alchemist and you have to respect few rules when painting layer after layer. I have learnt by looking closely at famous painters from the past like Velazquez or Rubens, and modern painters like Borremans, by trying to replicate the brush strokes and intensity, and eventually I have developed my own style.
I was always interested in art, my first artistic approach, when I was 18, was starting a comics academy in Rome, I used to draw a lot back then. Then, when I was 21, I went to Venice and there was a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition, right there I decided I wanted to make art and to be a painter. I didn’t know any technique, however, so I started with oil sticks and acrylics, making works walking the line between figurative and cartoon. When I was 23 I met the American painter Ross Bleckner in Rome and he pushed me to move to NY. I lived there for almost 2 years selling my oil sticks works on West Broadway street on weekends (people loved those works!).
I was 25 when I returned to Italy and decided I had to get a college degree, but as art colleges in Italy are not particularly good I applied for Fashion College where I was hoping I could develop my creativity and drawings skills. It was a bad choice and I didn’t enjoy the fashion aspect, however, after the degree, I was offered to go to London and teach illustration at the same college that just opened there. I moved to London in 2004 and worked as a lecturer for 11 years, whilst at the same time trying to keep my art practice going. In 2015 I resigned from my job to focus full time on my art career, and 2 year later I applied for the MAFA at Chelsea.
The MA was a full-on experience, I was finally surrounded by like-minded people and I think the best feature of the course was those group critiques, and just working side by side with other artists. The workshops at Chelsea and the people there are amazing and it gave me the chance to experiment with other materials that I would never normally work with. What the MA ultimately gave me is control over my ideas and the ability to talk about my works with much more confidence in the presence of an audience.
H.C: You’re previous worked as a lecturer in Digital Design, Visual Communication and Creative Illustration. How did you find that experiences? And how does that work influence your own artistic practice?
M.P: Being able to quickly sketch figures with the right proportions is something that helps me a lot in my paintings. Having exercised my eyes for so long when I was teaching, when I reproduce a figure from a digital image to the canvas I never use projectors or grids, I just use my eyes.
The other skill is the use of Photoshop, which I have taught for many years and is now a constant part of my creative process. What this computer program can do is simply amazing and is now part of our every-day life through filters and image alterations. In my paintings, I like to show this use of Photoshop, which is now becoming a strong distinction, especially on my latest works.
H.C: ‘Oillages’, a previous style and body of work of yours, culminated in two solo exhibitions in London (at Forty7Gallery in 2015, and Stour Space Gallery in 2016). How does that series of work compare and contrast to your current output?
M.P: My ‘Oillages’ are fun little works of art, I love them and they are still connected to my painting practice, especially the ‘Circles’ series. When I mix colours I often use plastic plates and always keep them as they have incredibly fascinating palettes and shapes of colours. When they are dried I cut off the edge, find little figures from old postcards and cut and re-position them on these plates, magically they become imaginary little worlds with landscapes made of brush strokes and dried paint.
In all of the ‘Oillages’ series, I play with images from the past and give them a new life in connection with the painted surface. My interest in using the past to recreate something in the present is not dissimilar to what I am doing in my oil paintings.
H.C: Your current paintings incorporate ideas of classical imagery and iconography, distorted as if they had been passed through a computer simulation. Do you find yourself being interested in, and inspired by, art history? And why are you interested in manipulating the images in the way you do?
M.P: It has been said that “you must know the past to understand the present” and to that, I add “and create the future”.
I am a painter and my artworks are about painting. I am interested in the beauty of classic imagery, and through the filter of our most common modern tool, the computer, I want to re-use the same beauty but altered and transformed to generate a new type of aesthetic.
H.C: Finally, could you give us a little insight into the works you’re creating for the upcoming exhibition?
M.P: For the ‘Young London Painters’ exhibition I have made 3 new paintings. The larger one is a continuation of ‘The Game’, a large painting I showed at my degree show, and as the title, ‘The Game II’, suggests it is simply about the game of painting, my game of using the past to create a new aesthetic. Its large scale is an attempt to communicate that kind of grandeur typical of classic paintings.
In the two smaller works I present a new kind of alteration: I have erased the main part of the subject’s body leaving just the outside edge, so it looks like you can see through these animals. What you see in this emptied space now is my white brush stroke in a hysterical loop: the beauty of the past and the state of uncertainty of the present time?