I hesitate to classify Marco Mazzoni as a portrait artist, which is what most interview introductions will first tell you about him. Most of his work is defined by finely rendered female faces, framed by butterfly wings, flowers, and other flora and fauna found in the natural world. He chooses these by scouring encyclopedias, and scientific illustrations, and they’re not just accents in his pieces, they’re a major part of the work. But his work doesn’t start with a model like it does with most portraits, it starts with his interest in Italy’s fairy tales.
It’s briefly noted in this interview with Marco, that artists often attempt to connect with things outside of their culture, and, in editing this article, I deeply appreciated his emphasis that he is connecting with Italian culture (even in editing this article I found myself editing it for a western audience – and I apologize for that). It’s through his masterful rendering, I feel, that the rest of the world connects with, and comes to appreciate, his beautiful work. And it’s in speaking with Marco, that we get to learn even more about him, and we see his work on a much deeper level beyond just portraiture.
Did you study art, and what is your previous experience in art?
I studied at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan for 4 years, but my artistic experience is the time I’ve spent in front of a sheet of paper.
Was Brera a very traditional art school, where students are required to spend at least a year drawing casts before ‘graduating’ to color?
Brera is a strange academy because they have a great history, but there are a lot of teachers that speak about being “Avant-garde”. You can choose what kind of preparation you need, but the exercise (understanding the mediums, and the basis of painting or drawing) is up to you. I can say that in Brera the teachers help you to find the “head”, the ideas, but the “hand”, or skill, is your problem.
I read an article that mentioned you are currently located in Milan, and a lot of artists in the States are really curious about the art scene in other countries, especially countries with a rich artistic history. What has your experience been like with the art scene in Milan, and do you feel the general public is more receptive to art?
I don’t know if there is an artistic scene in Milan. The best Italian artists, in my opinion, are not in Milan, but are in other cities of the country. I’m talking about artists like Andrea Mastrovito or Nicola Samorì, Ericailcane and Blu. But, in Milan, there are artists that work well and create fantastic art. For example, I share my studio with Marta Sesana, a very interesting painter.
In Italy, over all, there are a lot of collectors, a lot of art galleries, and if you have a talent you can have your opportunity.
Your work has a lot of depth and luminosity; we rarely see work with this much finish created with colored pencil. Have you always worked with dry media?
I work exclusively with colored pencils and paper, but only with one kind of pencil (Faber Castell Polychromos) and only with one kind of paper (Fabriano F4 smooth, 400g). I’ve tried to paint, but it doesn’t have the same look as dry media.
What is the process like for working with colored pencil? From looking at close ups of your work, there’s several layers in different colors, but how many layers and how long does it take for you to render each work?
I start with an ivory black and dark sepia chiaroscuro under-drawing. When the detailed under-drawing is finished I start with the veil of color, and for every work I study a palette. Basic colors for glazing are usually two: I can use the pink with blue or red with green. I’ve never calculated the time I need for do a single piece, but I like to work from 8 to 10 hour a day.
I love the flowers and nature in your work, and the subject matter is definitely feministic in nature. Can you tell us your subject, and where your ideas for art come from? What is your personal connection to them?
Today, artists develop their own visual stimuli, and the internet is particularly a big influence. In my opinion, this creates a problem of identity behind the artist. Even here in Italy I see many young artists who try to think about icons that aren’t a part of their own culture.
I have simply taken the ancient tales from Italy and the Italian culture, and transferred them onto paper. We have a lot of narrations about witches, women, and plants.
Can you give us an example of one of these Italian narrations? Is there one that’s a big influence on your work?
I say there are a lot of stories of witches, but these stories are told by word of mouth. I can speak to you about some female characters: cogas, brujas… all of the women that in these stories have the power to change the life of men. The janas, for example, are women who suck the blood of men that get close to their caves, and then they hide, and give birth to children.
Your pieces have really interesting titles, like “Eumenide”, “Chemical Furs”, and “Nubicuculia”; where do these titles come from, and how do they relate to the work?
Sometimes the titles are words from a song, sometimes they’re a little piece or a scene from a tale, sometimes, they’re simply the result of a couple of hours sitting in a bar with my friend Paolo.
How is your work continuing to evolve? What are you really excited to work on next?
I see everyday like a new day, I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow.
Any upcoming shows or projects you’d like to tell people about?
I have some work appearing in “La Natura Squisita” at the Stelline Foundation in Milan Opening the 1st of February 2012.
– Written by Megan Wolfe for Warholian
For more on Marco visit his Tumblr site here: http://marcomazzoni.tumblr.com/