Spotlight: Mario Loprete
By: Claire Fogarty
Mario Loprete is an Italian artist based in Catanzaro, a small Calabrian city in the south of Italy. His alternative (and more comical) name for it is ‘nine hours from New York’, or the ‘El Dorado’ for artists. Alongside the beauty of Loprete’s Italian town, and its appealing proximity – albeit by plane – to the ‘Big Apple’, he and I discussed his work, his career, and the current climate of the art world. I was instantly intrigued by the multifaceted nature of Loprete’s work. One glance of his art invited me to ask questions about the boundaries which exist between two and three dimensions, word and image, music and visual art, tradition and modernity, and different cultural identities, all of which he poetically answered by interview.
The first topic we tackled was form, particularly in Loprete’s use of concrete. My personal favourites from his collection of work are the oil portraits he produces on concrete. I love the merge of current hip-hop culture with a traditional form – an achievement Loprete informed me was conscious. “Reinforced cement, or concrete, was created two thousand years ago by the Romans. It has a story dating back to the last millennium, and has made amphitheatres, bridges, and roads that have conquered the ancient and modern worlds. Now it’s a synonym for modernity. Everywhere you go you find a concrete wall: it is a symbol of the modern man. From Sydney to Vancouver, from Oslo to Pretoria, reinforced cement is always present.”
Loprete also preaches the importance of art’s accessibility. “If man brought art onto the streets in order to make it accessible to everyone, why shouldn’t he bring the urban sphere into galleries and museums?” Loprete believes it is this blend of the urban with the traditional that is helping to increase his exposure in “prestigious places” and boost requests from “important collectors”.
Although in many ways Loprete fits into a post-modernist canon which mixes the dialogue between the art world and its exterior, as well as ‘high’- and ‘lowbrow’ art and objects, he admits: “The works I’m creating are all made of concrete. I propose the rejection of the senses and of logic. Paraphrasing the Dada artists, who were “deliberately disrespectful, whimsical, disgusted by the traditions of the past”, he also speaks from the practical viewpoint of producing art which is more widely accessible and promoted in twenty-first century visual culture, which explains the use of advertising imagery in his work. “About ten years ago, I felt that my work needed a promotional push. Visiting cities like Milan, Basel and Rome, I stumbled upon some advertising signs which were as big as palaces and had promotional messages. So I asked myself: ‘Why don’t I paint real and recognizable metropolitan views?’”
Loprete’s work also seems to merge several artistic forms – music clearly features very heavily, as does language, particularly in his sculptural ‘Words’ series. Loprete talks modestly (and humorously) about his interest in graffiti and being able to directly communicate with the urban sphere. “I love graffiti. I really like to study its ability to communicate with others. But I know absolutely nothing about how to do it… I tried but with awful results”. He explained, however, how dabbling in graffiti taught him the value of words in visual art. “I understood that the use of word is fundamental to making art. Words hit the brain directly, like a cold and devastating bullet. So, feeling that a piece of my ‘mosaic’ was missing, I created a new series of works.” I agree that words create an instant connection with their reader, and I believe their visual representation can adapt the way this is achieved. Loprete explains his interest in physicalising words by making them three-dimensional. “I build letters in reinforced cement with which I compose the words that I transmit my message with. They reach the viewer like a scratch on the surface of the skin. The abstract concept of the word presents itself alongside the concrete.” I find it particularly interesting that Loprete also plays with both the Italian and English language, perhaps inciting a cultural narrative. I like that he chooses fundamental, universal concepts like life and art, which have, indeed, become almost abstracted beyond meaning. These concepts can fit a physical and material form, not just a purely literary one.
Moving onto music, I asked him why he feels so passionately about hip-hop. His answer fed back into his earlier point about accessibility. “At some point in my career, I felt the need to utilize a theme that could be comprehended by everyone. In hip-hop I found the solution. It’s a philosophy of life, without geographical borders”. He also tells me that hip-hop forms and informs his work. “Music is art and it’s a part of my work. Rap music always gives me company when I produce my art. It is the soundtrack of my work.”
Loprete also offered more information on his working process, which provoked further interest in his blend of the traditional with the modern. He claims: “The artistic process by which I create my work is classical. After I have traced the very detailed drawing, I put the oil colours and the glazes on to reach the final result. The subjects of my portraits take form from a picture that I download from the Internet. I then elaborate them on the PC. I have a database of five thousand different photos per artist.”
Moving from form to content, we cover some issues of identity. Loprete informs me that his work – quite literally – involves himself and is mingled with his identity. This is most evident in his ‘Clothes’ series. “For my concrete sculptures, I use my personal clothing. When using plaster, resin and cement, I transform my sculptures into artworks. My memory, my DNA, remain concreted inside, transforming the person who looks at the artworks into a type of ‘post-modern archaeologist’ who studies my work as if it were a collection of urban artefacts. I like to think that those who buy my work also buy a temporal door, which, if they enter it, will conduct them into my world, into my way of doing art.” Loprete seems to share an emotional connection with his patrons. “My art is always dedicated to those who can recognise it. To those who can see my message.” It is interesting how he describes a similar affinity with those artists he portrays. He mentions Ja Rule, Xzibit, The Game, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé and 50 Cent, along with a number of Italian hip-hop artists. “But I like painting common people even more, who are more real, who are far away from the photograph sets and free from other authors trying to publicly interpret their lives. These are the subjects that I find more emotional.” In this way, it seems Loprete’s work can be viewed as a conversation which binds the subject to the artist and then to the patron in the manner of a flow chart.
Loprete’s work also tackles some of art’s larger issues. “I exceedingly like to paint everything that symbolises the ‘urban’ style. The task of the artist is to talk about the world that surrounds him”, he remarks, reiterating his point about increasing dialogue between the interior and exterior ‘gallery’. He informs me of the general lack of an incentive to support local art: “The collectors from Catanzaro buy a lot of contemporary art. They attend art shows and national galleries, but the artists that get supported are not from Calabria.” I would be interested to learn more, perhaps from the perspective of the artists he portrays, about the fusion of Italian and hip-hop culture, and how aptly artists like Beyoncé or 50 Cent would believe a European man could capture the essence of hip-hop as a genre. I wish Loprete great success so that one day we can receive their responses! In the meantime, though, we can keep track of Loprete’s career on Instagram and Facebook.
One of my favourite things about meeting Loprete was speaking with someone of such passion. A highlight of our interview was when he told me: “The will of doing is incredible. I get up in the morning and I want to paint. At night, I go to sleep and I feel satisfied because I think that another day has passed, a day dedicated to the research and strength of my work.” I hope that one day I find a career I feel this satisfied with!
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