What follows is the first of three conversations on the same subject between Raimundas Malasauskas and Manfredi Beninati that took place on the 4th of February 2011 while the two of them stood in front of a random painting at Manfredi’s studio in Palermo for over an hour. Raimundas recorded the conversation on his mobile phone. Later on somebody transcribed the whole thing word by word. It is here presented just the way it came out of th recording without any editing being done to it. It is perhaps more interesting from a psychoanalytic point of view than it might be from artistic one.
RAIMUNDAS: So you wrote about the work that didn’t exist?
R: What did you write it for?
M. Just for myself.
R. Was it in any way different from the works that exist?
M. No, I think it was kind of separating from the kind work I was producing at that time. It was two years ago and of course they change, your style normally changes a little bit. So you go through stages: sometimes my paintings were more neat and minimal, although much more confusing than this one
R: Was this more confusing than it is now?
M. At one stage. It will take you ages to focus on things
R: But do you remember the story of this painting?
M: The one that I wrote about?
R. No , more in terms of where this painting started at, what was the first thing that you’ve painted here.
M. Hmm the first thing was this little one (points his finger to the painting.)
R. Ahah, so that’s already another work, this is like a sketch.
M: Yeah the kind of work that I make for myself, just for fun. That’s my mother of course, young, that’s from my photo. I didn’t know I had all these blank canvases that I have just been stretching for a couple of days and then I needed to start to get back into painting because I haven’t been painting for like a year.
M. Because I was doing other things mainly like drawing. So any subject was relevant as long as it gives me a fresh start, and after all to me subjects are not important. I start new painting from anything that I find seducing.
R: My impression is that this painting started from the boat
M. No, it started from this (points his finger to a woman). And then it changed so many times. Now I’ve decided to turn it into a stage.
R. You mean ‘stage’ in a theatrical sense?
M. Yeah like a theatre stage, so the floor will be here, this is will be a silhouette of something and the floor will be here, and then this will be the background like in layers, and then this will be as if it was painting background. My mother will be like a silhouette as well as the tree.
R: So in this painting you’ve first painted the figure that you see as your mother…
R. And then what was following?
M. And then that’s what I usually do, I start from something that will be the subject of the painting without knowing what will happen to the rest of the canvas and then try to build up an atmosphere, to give it like a dimension, starting from the centre of course the subject that I’ve chosen.
R. This woman that you see as your mother never moved from that position in the painting?
M. No no she was always there.
R: While other things were sort of moving around and she was a stable element…
M. Yes, he is a part of the main subject which is the tree with her on top.
R. Is she standing on the tree in the original photo?
M. Yes. At the beginning I was drawn by the painterly quality of the photo and that’s actually how I started working on it, to make like a replica of it in colors because the photo is in b/w. But then of course because it’s not part of my way of working.
R. You don’t often work from the photo?
M. Hmm, actually yes, is something that I do and I don’t. I do in sense that I always get the subject, the main subject that will be eventually not the subject anymore but just some element. I work to make them not so important as they were at the beginning. So they are usually the starting point and then slowly they become even less important in the economy of the picture and then a detail that somewhere is floating round it with no meaning
R. Has ever Milena thought the she looks like your mother?
M. Does she?
R. You don’t think so?
R . I thought that this was Milena
M. Ah really
M. My mother is totally different now.
R. But then what happens?
M. Ok so I choose from a photo something to start with, in this case is my mother standing on the tree, so I kind of sketch my mom on the tree with a brush and then work on it to make it like a proper painting and turn the whole canvas into a proper painting and then, because it would be too obvious to me, I have to, because it’s something that I feel like that I have to, destroy the hierarchies. In order to do that I have to bring the main subject that in this case was my mother on the tree, to the same level as anything else in the picture that normally are the other elements coming out by themselves, so that’s not me deciding the boat should be there…
R. So everything becomes the same sort of mirage, you don’t go deep into the space, it remains more like a tapestry
M. Yes yes, at this stage…although when I start working on the stage idea it will gain some depth and the layers will be more defined so the foreground and the background or all the other layers in between.
R. Would you be able like to remember all the sequence that you are doing with this painting?
R. Really? What did you do after this boat?
M. No that was the first part, this was the second one…and then this is the last things that I did just a couple of weeks ago because I worked on other things.
R. So you come back on the painting time after time…
M. Yes yes yes
R: How long does it takes?
M. Aspetta …hmm… since July… 6 months…
R. It’s like almost every couple of days you do something on it?
M. No, now it’s been like a week or ten days that I’ve not done anything on it
R. So how did you do that spiral?
M. Because I like the contamination that takes place with all the other paintings because I take an element from one painting and how to kind of infect all the other works that I do like the sculptures, the drawings … because this is also like a stage.
R. So to come back to the boat what is interesting to me that they’re all going to the left, it’s s a sort of unusual move in the Western ainting because in a way like dominating the movement are from left to the right and then there’s sort of rhythm that is more easy and smooth.
M. It’s funny because I was discussing this subject a few days ago with somebody I can’t remember who he was, because I was doing somebody’s profile, he was of course facing left…
R. A profile of an existing person?
M. No out of my…
M. And he also started from the same and he was also facing left
R. Because you’re both right-handed
M. I think it was left handed, but anyway we were discussing exactly this and it’s funny that you should bring that subject.
R. Yes because it’s quite unusual that boats in the painting will go to the left
M. Why? Because most painters are left handed?
R. No, it’s because, let’s say the representation of progress or evolution in the Wester iconography is always going from the left to the right, it is connected to the reading also. So when something goes to the left it becomes more disconcerting. So what did you paint after a third boat?
M: You see that ribbon of almost glass?
R. A sort of religious thing?
M. Yeah maybe it comes from the light, as if the light was turning to glass…so it’s actually maybe against religion. The light comes as in the Renaissance paintings, it’s where God is and then by turning into a kind of glass, a ray of glass it turns into something material, tangible, like a theatrical… there’s another source of light coming from…
R. And that’s also like a bubble that is turning into a vase or a sculpture…
M. Yeah the one next to the fake bird
R. Why the bird is fake?
M. They are not like the other ones, they have to be fake, it would be a much more realistic thing because now that’s what I have to work on, turning it into something that feels almost real as if you were looking at the photo of a stage where all the elements are so colorful and confused only because they are a mixture of two dimensional painted things on top of silhouettes made of whatever solid material like wood or carbon. So the layers will be the most important elements
R. So there will be different spatial planes?
M. Now for instance if you do this and bit of shadow here so make it darker here, modify in order to detach this from that layer and this from that you also need to do some light here, behind this or more pronounced here and then it will be more detached.
R. Right. So it will be more realistic then?
M. Yeah a little bit more realistic
R. Because with the light now it is like an infinite surface, a sort of surface without the bottom even without depth, everything is like a mirage or tapestry.
M. Yeah but it needs to be more..it needs to give people a bit of…of a clue, of a more tangible clue
R. Why do you think people need that?
M. Because people are stupid usually, they normally mistake things for other things. You need patience and to focus, you always take energy and time to do things that have a reason to exist. Otherwise is just do whatever is in the air…
R. You know but if you leave it like this now maybe it could be someone who owns it and in two years they’ll call you and say, you know I just noticed that…!
M. Yes but that’s not what I’m after.
R. What are you after?
M. It has to be important for myself, it has to work for myself but then at the same time be more legible to people
R. So when you paint you think about these people?
M. No, when I get to a certain stage of the painting, when I can start to decide how it will be eventually, the final product only in that occasion…
R. So it’s more like a conversation with yourself or your memory?
M. Yeah yeah it is, but the good thing is that you can make up your own memories you don’t have to fish, to pick from the real one.
R. But you know it happens all the time. Whenever you remember something you change the chemical composition of that something so when you remember something we change that thing.
M. The same words in practical terms is human society like outside the individual sphere. If I witness something today then I’ll tell you about the event I saw, and then you’ll pass these information to somebody else and then after 100 years the story will be totally different. So it’s the same, we work, our role in society is that of the neurotransmitters…
R. It’s strange I haven’t seen anyone kissing in the streets in Palermo.
M. You’re living in a certain part of Palermo, as I told you the first time we met, I’ve been in the centre where you’re staying now maybe 3 times. As I told you, real Palermo to me is all there, in between this mountain here on the left and Monte Pellegrino.
R. And people there kiss a lot?
M. I don’t know, I’ve never…
R. I’m sure there’s no one kissing in your paintings…
M. Noo, there’s no action in my paintings …it’s always like you say a “mise en scène”. As if you’re looking to the people through somebody you don’t even know, into the world of somebody you don’t know… and you see what this person wants to show, want you to see about them.
R. Do you want to say something about yourself to the people through your painting? like the daydreaming you know? Like when in the space of daydreaming and have like elements, different memories appearing, kind of like a fantasy space, you know when you have Marilyn Monroe meeting Einstein in the same space, it’s like a sort of daydreaming…
M. Do you daydream about Marilyn Monroe having sex with Einstein?
R. Not really but I mean that they meet in the same space even if they’ve never been in the same space so in this space like anything can happen and suddenly those boats appearing and they go from right to the left, yeah anything can happen here. What is this having in your memory?
M. Have you ever heard of Cicciolina? She was with us. Cause my mother was a member of this party and at the age of 15 or 16 I also became a member and then it became a Trans European party. Really. I’ve been to meetings in Budapest and more.
R. What was the program of the party?
M. Pro abortion, pro divorce, pro euthanasia, it was actually not so much linked to ideologies and bullshit like that but more practical with a civil aim.
R. What happened with it? Does it still exists?
M. Yeah but now it’s like nothing, it was very important and actually it was turning big in Eastern Europe.
R. What was the activities you were involved in?
M. Meetings of people from all over Europe to discuss these subjects. The last two years we were focused on anti-proibitionism?! So…for legalizing drugs. Do you know Marco Taradash?
R. No, who is he?
M. A very important person in Europe for legalizing all the drugs. I don’t agree with that anymore…
R. What happened? What changed you?
M. I had lots of personal experiences and lots of my friends… all of sudden it was too late…
R. Legalizing could be related to psychedelic aesthetics that I see in some way reflected your paintings?
M. I shit on psychedelic culture, I hate it…
R. By your formal vocabulary you could be associated with it
M. Yeah you could do what you like, you can say that blue is white, it’s your opinion
R. But why do you shit on psychedelic culture?
M. Because I hate all these trashy-post-60s revolution bullshit…
R. Maybe in 30 years you will be considered as one of the Italian psychedelic artists.
M. They can see me whatever they like or not.
R. The version of the painting that you have now, do you think it’s sort of something finite like what you are trying to do?
M. Now it will be just the way I want it to be right now, otherwise I’ll just throw it away. at the beginning when I first sketched my mother and the tree I didn’t have a clue, it’s like I hate it, I developed a relationship with my studio works where you get too intimate but at the same time I need my freedom.
R. If you like what you paint, does it put you in a good mood?
R. When we talk about therapy, it helps to know yourself…
M. It’s so crazy because your work becomes a person but it’s not…
R. But do you feel that this painting already teach you something about you?
M. Not about me…the only lesson that I have from painting is to be very practical, painting-wise…
R. Do you mean not to make replicas of existing paintings of yours?
M. No, maybe next time something will be more clear to me and allow me not to do the mistakes that I’ve made…
R. What are the mistakes for you in painting?
M. Doing something that leads you to a waste of time.