Growing up in Italy I was exposed to art from a young age. The proximity to Roman and Greek archeological sites influenced my artistic imagination which I later developed during my studies. I was attracted to computerized graphics early on. In fact, I conducted my first experiments on an Atari St back in 1986, later publishing my first works in specialized computer graphics magazines. Music is one of my biggest passions. Developing artwork for musicians was my way of staying in touch with the music scene. So I started out by designing artwork for demos of local bands – drawing logos and putting together collages.
My network in the music scene continued to grow over the years, and sometime around 2000 I met Riccardo Conforti of Void of Silence. In 2003, after having created the band’s logo, I worked on the artwork for their third album ‘Human Antithesis’. This recording became a milestone in the doom metal genre and exposed me to a wider audience. Following this, I started working with musicians from different countries and collaborated on a regular basis with certain labels: Aeternitus Tenebrarum (ATMF), I, Voidhanger Records and, more recently, Avantgarde Music.
I am grateful to all those who have trusted me, and who established an ongoing collaborative relationship with me through the years. I think of myself as a “Transmedia Artisan”, because I use a variety of media in my work and don’t follow just one set procedure. When I am creating, I use a mix of different media and software. Some of my pieces emerge from hand drawn sketches, while others evolve out of computer graphics, and still others from a mix of hand drawn and digital designs. In my artistic exploration, characterized by an “artisanal” approach, I frequently put together elements or techniques, which at first may appear to be incompatible or even in contrast with each other.
To give you an example of this mixed approach, I could describe the artwork I developed for my industrial music alter-ego Eidulon: Using a chisel, I started carving on a stone a diagram symbolically connected to the concept of the album. When completed, I took some photos of the result and imported the pictures into Photoshop. Then I digitally extrapolated and reproduced the completed diagram I had engraved and, with the use of 3D software, I developed it as a prism. The image I obtained of this prism was something extraneous and, at the same time, pertinent to its original symbol. This significant ambiguity and the contrast between two-dimensional and tridimensional shapes is what attracted my interest.
Finally, exploiting the layering capabilities of PS, I mixed the 2D and 3D graphic elements to obtain a complex composition. When I am working on a design project, I take into consideration the music, the lyrics, the concept behind the music and how the composer imagines his own artwork, but after it’s up to me to decide how to translate all these elements into a visual message.
On the whole, metal musicians and audiences tend to be quite conservative with regard to aesthetics and visual imagery. Over the years, certain types of designs have been repeated over and over again creating, what for me is, a vicious circle of clichés. Furthermore, after the 80s, in part due to improved software, the average quality of artistic technique improved but the originality of designs proportionally decreased. On the other hand, there are many bands that have understood the importance of visual appeal like Satyricon, Behemoth and Watain. Then there are others like Ulver, Dødheimsgard or Solefald, that have dared to try something new and go beyond the usual cliches of the metal scene.
This is why, even when some clients expressly request traditional solutions, I try to include some innovative elements: all the way from the production technique to the chromatic palette. It’s difficult and maybe not useful to completely eradicate and betray overused and commonplace symbols, designs and techniques of the genre, but it is possible to innovate from the “inside out” without reneging the past and try to introduce people to new solutions and artistic trends. My work has two facets: I am both cover artist and art director/layout designer. As a cover artist, a client asks me to develop a piece of cover artwork from scratch, providing only a few of their own ideas. Then it is up to me to develop the artistic concept and decide which techniques and style to adopt, the chromatic palette and how to integrate the client’s ideas. In this case the challenge is, understandably, to satisfy the client creating a memorable piece of art, capable of visually translating the musical themes.
On the other hand, working as art director/layout designer can be even more challenging, because I have to interact with the work of other designers (artists, photographers, etc.) and have to complete and embellish their work. Is something similar to the work of art restoration: you have to express the full potential of the available material while also filling in the missing elements. This is also a good way to train my technique and improve my skills, because in certain cases, I am obliged to adapt the style of my modifications to the prevailing style of the other artist. In both cases, my objective is to create an artistically coherent outcome. From the colors to the symbols, from the style to the font, everything should be coherent. Above all, the translation of the client’s vision is more important than imposing my style on the work. My “signature” is in the creation of a quality artistic product, that is solid and coherent.
An artwork, a design, created to visually “describe” a piece of music can impress us due to its effectiveness in reflecting the ideas conjured up in the imagination by the music. In other cases, we are emotionally drawn to a piece of art because it accompanies and completes the experience of music that has a particular meaning for us. The way of experiencing music has also dramatically changed in the last 20 years. During the “analog era”, the common approach was to dedicate some time exclusively to listening to music. Consequently, the observation of the artwork and the reading of the lyrics was an integral part of the experience.
Although music lovers still maintain this approach today, in the last decades, also due to the advent of digital music, the act of listening to music has become something that is possible to do in parallel with other activities. Consequently, the role of artwork has also changed in recent times and for different reasons (economic and cultural). The development of accompanying artwork has lost a lot of its originality in favor of what I consider to be a conformist and narrow approach, aimed at pleasing the expectations of the majority. This trend has resulted in that “vicious circle” of clichés that I alluded to before. On the contrary, I believe that visual art should complete and enrich the listening experience, surprising the audience and pushing forward the development of new forms of expression.
Classic and neo-classic sculpture is a never-ending source of inspiration for me. I believe it is essential for an artist to look back to the classics. This is why I appreciate your idea of dedicating a section of the HMA site to information about painting masters such as Mantegna, Caravaggio or Antonello Da Messina. It’s not only important to study their technique, language and approach to composition, but also understand the way they became innovators in their era and/or their field. For me a master artist is an innovator. Many of the masters were “silent revolutionaries”: they helped develop an artistic genre by modifying and elaborating on set patterns that had been repeated for decades. At the same time, my work is extensively influenced also by the art of the 1900s: equally by the first years of the century as well as by current trends. Between the different art movements, Futurism, Informalism, Spatialism and Conceptual Art certainly had a big influence on my own artistic development.
As I mentioned earlier, Contemporary Art is a significant source of inspiration for me. Consequently, as much as possible I attend exhibitions and visit galleries to discover new ideas and artists. Similarly, working in synergy with other artists is another way that I refresh my creativity: I am always looking for opportunities to collaborate on projects, because I find that the exchange of points of view and ideas is a reciprocal learning experience which generates renewed energy for my creativity. At the same time, the combined efforts and ideas of two (or more) persons can create a work that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. And this is valid for the other forms of Art as well. In recent years I have collaborated with many including the incredibly talented Nicola Samorì, the brilliant painter Benjamin Vierling and the very skilled designers Karmazid and Costin Chioreanu.
Again, looking at classic painting is a way to learn the meaning of symbols and how to use them. In the past, symbolic literacy was widespread. Even the average person with no formal artistic or literary education was capable of interpreting the majority of symbols found in the artwork. Symbols were a common means of transmitting culture and cultural messages (above all, religious). Over the centuries, Western cultures have progressively lost the ability to easily “read” these symbols in art. I regularly study the symbols of classic art and also share my research through my blog and Facebook page.
I am amazed by the complexity of symbolism that can be found in certain works of art. Let’s use the example of one of the paintings featured on the HMA site, in the section dedicated to the above-mentioned Antonello da Messina: namely, “St. Jerome in His Study”. Antonello was one of the most significant artists of the Italian Renaissance. Nothing in a painting by Antonello is random or unplanned. Each brush stroke is important and has a logical explanation. In this masterpiece, created around 1475, through the use of light and composition, the artist identifies a “sacred” space in which the saint is located, and a “profane” space outside of that. In the latter we can find a number of symbols, some of which are even contrasting.
On the right, in the dim light, we see a lion, representing brute force dominated by piety: according to legend, Jerome, who lived as a hermit in the desert, removed a thorn from the paw of this animal. On the left, the cat and the stole, placed in the shade (and therefore outside the sacred area) communicate impurity and sin, and would allude to the two other monotheistic religions – islam and judaism. Finally, the most controversial symbols: the rock partridge, the peacock and the water bowl, are placed on the frame architecture in the foreground and therefore neither inside, nor outside the sacred area. If considered to be inside the sacred area, they would represent the fidelity of Christ (rock partridge); the immortality of Christ and divine wisdom (peacock); and the idea of purity (basin of water). As such loyalty, wisdom and purity would all be virtues attributed to Jerome. However, there is also a second level of meaning that can be attributed to these symbols, if they are considered to be outside the sacred area. In this case, the rock partridge would become a symbol of lust and folly, in analogy with the animal’s behaviour of stealing and not hatching its own eggs; the peacock would represent pride; and the basin of water, used as a mirror, vanity.
This dual interpretation whether these symbols should be considered as placed outside the “sacred” environment, reflects the intellectual genius of Antonello, I consider this research absolutely fascinating and I try to put into practice what I learn. Recently, working with Kommandant from Chicago, I symbolically translated the concept of their lyrics, focused on an immortal figure chosen by God to be his instrument on earth who chooses suicide as an act of rebellion against that same God. To communicate this concept, I drew an arm holding a laurel wreath, referring to his victory in this act of rebellion, sticking out from the waves of the sea, symbol of the underworld. I am member of The Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD). Created in 1996 by an Act of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, RGD is Canada’s only accredited body of graphic designers with a legislated title and the second such accredited body of graphic designers in the world. RGD is also affiliated with the International Council of Design (ico-D), a world organisation for design professionals, founded in London in 1963. As a member of the association, I aim to draw attention to the communication needs and modes of expression of musicians and music lovers.
Interview by Alex Milazzo – Copyright 2016 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.