On the occasion of the exhibition The sign beyond the signature, I interviewed for Street Levels Gallery K., better known as Exit Enter. Ten questions to recount ten years of production and research, the one the Tuscan artist made from 2013 to 2023. There is no intentionality in the coincidence of these two tens: the interview took place spontaneously, without a premeditation on the architecture of the article; the work on the exhibition preceded the awareness of this ten-year anniversary. Why emphasize this aspect? Because it is, in both cases, an insight. In Exit Enter’s investigation of the sign, it is intuition that governs its gestures, the trajectories of movement, the pressure of the brush on the support. It is through intuition that the artist recaptures the memory of his body in the execution of that same gesture, that instinctive automatism. From the intuition received during lysergic states, instead, his monsters emerge, his humanoid and robotic creatures, his undesirable beings. To rave culture and tekno music he owes his insight into rhythm, trance, and tribal rituality. From the metallic architecture of Rosignano Solvay he intuits, learns and reworks the resource of dystopia; from the other cities he has seen and lived in, the eager tendency to consume space to the point of creating his first panic rooms.
Together we traced some similarities and dichotomies in his production, delving into his care for the sign and the relationships between the works exhibited in The sign beyond the signature and his ‘little man’ inhabiting the walls of the streets.
Let’s start with the earliest traces of your path. What conditions, events and encounters left a relevant mark on your research?
I started by doing the Nemo Academy, a school more focused on comics, I had gone there because at the time I was drawing grotesque characters and I was into Vernacoliere but after I started attending classes I had sensed that I didn’t fit much with that kind of path. At that time I visited the Venice Biennale for the first time and realized that I wanted to engage in more experimentation beyond illustration. I then moved to the Academy of Fine Arts, also in Florence, where I met Professor Vinciguerra who directed me toward abstract painting. At that time I was hanging out a lot at free parties and using substances, and I started drawing imaginary visionaries, and with friends we would get intrigued about my monsters and these strange animals. The style was strongly reminiscent of tekno party flyers. And, it was Vinciguerra himself, seeing these works that prompted me to delve into a more gestural, less illustrative, more impulsive research. So I started experimenting with scratches on fresh oil, a technique I returned to in this exhibition. From scratching to graffiti, the transition was tight and spontaneous. In reapproaching these scratched marks, I chose to move from oil to stucco because I liked the idea of using a more materic texture that recalled the street wall.
Regarding rave culture instead, how were you influenced by it beyond the aesthetics of free party flyers? How much did the rituality of dancing bodies and experimenting with trance states participate in deepening that insight into gestures?
Raves and substances influenced me a lot. Psychedelic drugs suggested to me the imagery of these svarionante worlds. The rhythm of music, on the other hand, influenced the rhythm of my own gesturality; they are intrinsically linked. In fact, I started painting right at parties; I used to enjoy painting on the walls of factories and sheds, I still didn’t go to the streets. So the thread related to monsters is very much linked to tekno music and partying; I was always fascinated by that rituality. For me it was a bit like going to church: like people who believe gather every Sunday morning for Mass, I also felt that I was part of a community with the same belief, I sensed an involvement other, a now lost tribality emerging spontaneously, a call to an almost ancestral sense of belonging. Even leaving traces in the street for me relates to this, to a return to what is primitive, to the mark and the scratch left behind in a space common to all.
Drawing, especially in the studio, represents an escape from reality, an opportunity to fall into a trance-like state: music, like painting, are tools of totalizing immersion. The crate wall like the street wall, the trance of dance like that of drawing, it is in both situations a matter of welcoming and losing oneself in the rituality of action. The trance state that leads to detachment from reality but, at the same time, to a strong state of presence, a contact with a dimension of transcendence. Frequenting abandoned spaces and the desire to escape from reality have also shaped my dystopian and biomechanical cities, those places where technology has now taken over. I have also always been influenced by punk aesthetics, by the proposal of a post-apocalyptic, sick, monster-won society. I am actually very negative about the future.
It is hard not to ask then why the research for which you are best known, that of ‘little men,’ communicates a completely different message instead. Your characters come across as gentle, the language simple, the narrative extremely positive. Do you think the research on monsters and these dystopian visions is not appropriate for the public and urban context? Why not show this part of your research on the street?
I’ve always seen the city as a place to leave something for people to have a dialogue with, on the street I work for the viewer. Otherwise I could work in the studio no? Painting without thinking about the context with which I am approaching doesn’t appeal to me. For me the studio is the place of experimentation, the streets on the other hand represent spaces where I can communicate in a simple way, precisely because I do not know the people I am addressing I prefer to use an immediate, direct language. I have often found myself making mural interventions in small towns and villages, I feel that in these places making monsters would not make sense, I prefer to be more accessible.
Unlike the ‘little men’ who are clean and rigorous, your mark on the canvas is often dirty and scratched, at other times exhibiting drips of color that invade the space of other elements. It is a sign devoid of pretension and formality that almost seems to want to subvert the punctuality of the ‘little men’. What conditions led you to elaborate this dichotomy?
Actually the little man was initially dirty but only because I could not use sprays. The idea, however, was always to make it cleaner, more graphic. The work on the canvases is different, it’s more expressionist and experiential: I like to see the brush stroke and the drippings, in many canvases about cities, the buildings are just a brush stroke. I never do shading or sketching, for me often the ‘good the first’ applies and there is never a will to erase. Gesture is the antithesis of preparation. Certainly I have references, which are my drawings on paper where elements arise that can also be found in some of the paintings in the exhibition but these are mainly imaginaries from which I am inspired. Paper is my space to freestyle, I carry it around with me all the time and because of that I experience it more. Often when I look at my sketchbook it is like seeing a photo album; each sketch is a photograph, I remember where I was, what I was doing and how I was feeling, like a kind of diary. I also often make them when I am waiting in line at the post office or around town. I was inspired by some of these for the Open Yards series but especially for the black and white works. The works with black and white can be traced back to my most intimate works, to those where ritual is strongly present: the texture of the brush is evident, I like the tool to be very visible, to be immediately noticeable.
In fact, it is precisely your brushwork that restores a different rhythm to each work. It is a kind of score that is defined in space, and therefore, in time, between the beginning and the end of each track. From rhapsodic tempos to softer rhythms that lull you.
In fact my research on the canvas is just that, it is an alchemical investigation: the pressure on the canvas, the variety of the drippings…what if while the color is dripping I make a scratch in it? Or if I combine the putty with another texture? Of course there is also the eye that monitors the execution, but my research revolves around the interaction between different mediums, in addition to the behavior of the brush I like to study the trace left by different tools. That’s where the experimentation comes from, I get curious to see what happens. It is an experiential and cathartic process.
And this process, which began in 2013, continues to this day. For 10 years your body has memorized a certain gestuality, that of rapid execution of movements that, in turn, shape symbols. What symbolism do you continue to carry with you and what have you discovered in more recent times?
The scratched star, the spirals, the monsters are archetypal signs. They recall an almost childlike gesturality that my body has acquired and repeats spontaneously. Some of the canvases in the exhibition such as Abbattimento Aereo, Alta Tensione, Down the Line I and II are a reinterpretation on canvas of old drawings, even Slataper 15 takes sketches that bring me back to the view from my old home in Florence.
I like the reference to everything primitive, and I would like my research to continue in this direction, toward an atavistic regression. I would like to associate the stylization of the human figure with raw, ancestral graffiti. Lately I have become interested in astrobiology, astronomy, and the universe: I have made a series of black holes and starry skies that refer to an ancestral dimension linked to the cosmos and to matter.
In some of the canvases and pages of your sketchbook, the marks are distributed with strong density, almost suffocating the free space in an attempt to obsessively consume the void, as if you fear the emergence of white among the blackness of the marks. What do you think of this reading? Does it resonate with you in any way?
Filling space is definitely an urge to conquer, to want to fill everything but I am not moved by fear of empty space because I also like to work on the sign in a minimal way. I am moved by the obsessiveness of gesture and repetition, an uninterrupted motion that allows me to access a state of spiritual trance. Another important element is the desire to build my own world; in fact, one of my fascinations has always been the idea of the ‘panic room,’ as in the case of the project made just with Street Levels Gallery, Exit Through the Virus (2020).
So I am not afraid of the empty space itself; rather, I fear that space might end. In the moment I draw, I want that moment to last as long as possible because it is precisely while I draw those marks that everything seems to make sense and when the mark runs out I lose this dimension of security. Drawing for me is a testimony to existence. I would add then, that this eagerness is the child of a capitalist society, of which I am also a child and from which I learned this anxiety to consume spaces, an eagerness in wanting to fill them totally. This also brings me back to my very first walls, those of my room in Rosignano. There, perhaps that little room was my first panic room. I often invited friends over and we drew together; it had become a kind of bunker-social center.
I know the Rosignano area well; I have always spent my summers between Vada and the White Beaches. The backdrop of the long strip of sand with Solvay in the background is evocative, harking back to a decidedly apocalyptic atmosphere: the grayish smoke, those metallic volcanoes, and the strong contrast between the body of the factory and that of the beach. Having spent part of your adolescence right in Rosignano, how much did this setting influence your imagery of degenerate cities? How did the cities you experienced enter the interior of your studio production?
Rosignano Solvay had its own weight in the creation of my dystopian imagery. I often went to see the factory as a child: the turrets and light cables in some of the works also refer to that scenario. The references of hyper-productive cities tie in with these memories, although it is the transition from a small town like Rosignano to a more lively and chaotic capital city like Florence that shocked me. Florence is not a big city but it allowed me to get out of my comfort zone; the move from a small seaside town to a place with very different architecture was somewhat traumatic. Passing the first few times by Campo di Marte, seeing the railroad and all that concrete fascinated me in a contradictory way, I was attracted and at the same time annoyed. The buildings sometimes became the excuse to trigger a certain gesture, a certain brushstroke. I have always been fascinated by architecture: skyscrapers, arcades, massed buildings. My cities encapsulate the flaws and excesses of contemporary society, from traffic to the eagerness of capital, drugs, sexual and erotic references. And here again the rave culture that inhabits warehouses and abandoned spaces returns. I had once gone on a trip where I saw the party as a monstrous environment, and so even the cities I drew at that time had turned into a real hell, a place of the high, a toyland ruled by exaggeration and excess.
Coexisting these dehumanized urban landscapes with the project of the ‘little man’ inevitably opens up a question of identity. The ‘little man’ is your tag, your signature, your code. The works in The sign beyond the signature, on the other hand, do not fit into the strongly recognizable and defining alphabet of Exit Enter. Do you feel this path belongs to your identity or do you perceive it as another, disconnected presence? After the exhibition The sign beyond the signature, will you attempt to reunite these two languages? Will you also begin to take the discourse around the more instinctive sign to the street?
These visions belong so much to me but I don’t know how much they belong to Exit Enter. I don’t know whether to change or to create a new identity, I have a hard time mixing this rotten and overbearing outburst with the ‘little man’ who instead is kind, positive, ironic, irreverent, and connects with love. When I started doing this I was reading The Art of Love and I had fallen in love. Hearts, flowers and balloons amused me, I used to play with them, they were my comfort zone; I used to do them running along walls, it was always a more playful gesture. Gradually I realized that in the urban context it was interesting to see these characters, and from an instinctive process it turned into a more planned and reasoned research that now I don’t feel as close as before.
I hope this exhibition will open a new door for me to access another audience. I will always paint for myself freely, in the factory and in the studio, but it is important to come up with things that allow me to continue doing this work. Unfortunately, this is how the art market works; an artist can hardly be free to express himself without considering the aspect of selling. I am afraid to mix these two researches that, as we state in the title of the exhibition, are linked by the sign and its gesturality but at the same time represent two dichotomous, almost irreconcilable aesthetics.
Final question. The sign beyond the signature chronicles a decade of your studio production. What did it mean for you to find yourself in this collection of works, I would say almost autobiographical, made from 2013 to 2023?
Yes, it is actually ten years of experience collected in one place. Viewing the works in the exhibition allowed me to activate some connections that I had never realized. Some brushstrokes recall each other and thus also recall the memory of that same movement, made years apart. Picking up my whole path gave me the opportunity to have an overall view and, above all, reactivated the desire to experience so much more. Then I believe that only with this overall look at my production is it possible to mature one’s own interpretation, the works taken individually would be meaningless. My will and that of Street Levels Gallery was to communicate another of my worlds, a dimension that is unknown to many but that has existed for me for a long time and will always continue to exist.