A Conversation with Artist Mario Loprete
Worthwhile Magazine™ recently interviewed contemporary Italian artist Mario Loprete. Loprete’s paintings and sculptures frequently explore the tensions of contrast, combining untraditional materials such as concrete with classically rendered portraits of notable figures from the hip-hop world. This interview has been translated from the original Italian and images of the artist’s work are included with Mario’s kind permission.
WORTHWHILE MAGAZINE™ (WM): You utilize concrete as an artistic medium, both to create sculptures and as a canvas for your oil paintings. What prompted you to explore concrete as a medium?
MARIO LOPRETE (ML): This new series of works on cement is giving me more personal and professional satisfaction. How was it born? It was the fruit of an important investigation into my work in search of that "something" that I felt was missing.
Concrete was created two thousand years ago by the Romans. It has a long history of amphitheaters, bridges and roads that have conquered the ancient and modern world. Now it is the synonym of modernity. Wherever you go and you come across a reinforced concrete wall, there is the modern man.
The next step for me was obvious. If man has brought art into the street, why not bring the urban into galleries and museums?
WM: Your concrete sculptures of clothing are cast from your own personal garments. In what ways do you feel these very permanent sculptures capture an essence of your own identity?
ML: For my concrete sculptures I use my personal clothes. I use plaster, resins and cement to transform them into sculptures to hang. My DNA and my memories remain cemented inside, transforming the person who looks at the works into a sort of post-modern archaeologist who studies my works as if they were finds of urban archaeology.
WM: It seems that a common thread in your work is the juxtaposition of contrasting elements such as the ephemeral nature of crumpled clothing captured permanently in concrete and oil paintings inspired by hip-hop culture rendered in a very classical academic style. Have you always been drawn to contrasts, or is this a theme that emerged over time?
ML: I live in a world that I shape to my liking through the pictorial and sculptural gesture, transferring my experiences, photographing reality through my personal filters, refined over years and years of research and experimentation.
Painting for me is my first love. An important, pure love. Creating a painting, starting from the spasmodic search to find the concept with which I want to convey my message, is the basis of my painting.
Sculpture is my second lover, my artistic betrayal to painting. That voluptuous and sensual lover who transmits different emotions to me, that touches forbidden strings...
By alternating painting with sculpture, always trying to convey my message, it makes me a complete artist.
WM: You've written previously about how you hope to achieve aggregation and a movement towards greater integration through your work with contrasting elements, and indeed the very medium of concrete embodies this essence of aggregation where the material is broken down into tiny parts and reconstituted into an entirely new form. Do you think your Italian heritage has shaped your perspective in any way?
ML: I like to paint everything that symbolizes urban style, because I believe that the task of an artist is to tell the world around us.
About 10 years ago, I felt that my job needed a promotional push. Visiting cities like Milan, Amsterdam, Basel, Rome, Cologne, Barcelona, I came across billboards as big as the buildings that housed promotional messages. So I asked myself, “why not paint real and recognizable metropolitan views, replacing advertising with my B-boys?”
I live in Catanzaro, a small Calabrian town in southern Italy. Geographically, it is a beautiful place to live, but it has drawbacks from a cultural point of view. We are in the land that the Greeks called Magna Grecia. It is rich in history and culture but with the bad political management of a sterile and incapable ruling class, the town has not experienced its full potential.
WM: What is your typical process for painting a portrait? Do you work from a model in person, or do you prefer painting from photographs?
ML: The subjects of my paintings are shaped from photos that I take or that I download from the Internet. I enhance them on the computer and eliminate what is superfluous for me, creating that important balance for the communication that the subject must give. I have a database of 5,000 photos which are divided and organized by different themes in my work.
I especially like to portray Ja Rule, Xzibit, The Game, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé and 50 Cent and the whole Italian hip hop scene. But even more, I like to paint ordinary people who live a life outside of photo shoots, without stylists. In these subjects, I find the most emotional connection.
The artistic process with which I build my works is traditionally academic. After completing the very detailed drawing, I switch to oil paint and glazes to arrive at the final result.
When the finished painting is perfectly dry, I add a particular varnish that ties together all the colors and shades and also gives the work the brilliance and lucidity of a poster.
WM: We are fascinated by your series of oil paintings on concrete and would love to learn more about how you create them. Do you have to apply any special base to the concrete to be able to paint on the surface, or is standard gesso sufficient?
ML: I really like painting on concrete. I create reinforced concrete frames for my medium to small size, fairly heavy jobs. For large works, the use of canvas is followed by cement and resin. With brushes and rollers, I create the effect of wood veins for the frame.
Then I paint them with oil paints as if they were frescoes. The porosity of the cement immediately absorbs the color, which gives me little time for the execution, but it facilitates my glazing process.
I am intoxicated by the scent that releases fresh color on the concrete: pure ecstasy.
WM: What message do you most want to convey to our readers? What most motivates you in the creation of your work?
ML: I never tried to be a trendy painter of the moment.
I try to focus on pictorial and content quality.
My art has always been aimed at those who recognize themselves in it. Who sees a message? Who sees my message? Art can be bought for taste, for pleasure, for investing. I like being able to think that whoever buys my works buys a temporal door and who wants to cross it, will be led into my world, into my making art.
I believe that training is fundamental in any profession, and in art it is even more so. Art is somewhat different than most professions in that you need to both know and know you don't know. An artist must be unique yet also familiar with the history of art.
A man does not choose to be an artist, but it is the art that takes possession of man.
WM: Many people don't realize how challenging it is to be a professional artist. Are there any experiences you are willing to share about the day-to-day challenges of being creative as a business? What sort of changes would you like to see in the field in the future?
ML: An artist has a fire inside and the daily economic difficulties can never extinguish it.
When you live alone, art is very, very difficult. Every sale is important.
The system of art is manipulated by market forces that make the prices of some artists soar while clipping the wings and dreams of others.
Faced with this reality, the artists have only two possibilities: either they adapt to what the market and the artistic operators ask for, distorting their art-making, or they commit themselves to find a job that makes them economically emancipated and free to carry on their personal artistic projects.
For this and for many other economic reasons, I found a job that does not take away too much of my creative studio time, but allows me to give my family a dignified life.
This solution involves a very important thing for an artist: freedom.
I am free to express what I have inside, carry out my projects without having to chase after sales and never compromise.
Sales allow me to travel around the world to meet collectors, attend galleries, and see museums.
Right now I am working hard on three personal exhibitions that will be an important step for new goals:
I will be exhibiting from 29 August to 31 October 2019 at the Manni Art Gallery in Venice (http://manniartgallery.com/)
From 19 November to 31 December 2019 at the Biblioteek in Hilversum, the Netherlands (https://www.bibliotheekhilversum.nl/)
From April 2020 to April 2021 at the Zylinderhaus Museum in Bernkastal, Germany (https://www.zylinderhaus.com/)
Many thanks to Mario Loprete for chatting with Worthwhile Magazine™. You can learn more about his artwork and studio by following the links below:
Saatchi Art Profile: https://www.saatchiart.com/marioloprete
Artist Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Worthwhile Magazine™ 2019