« READ PART 1 | What follows is the second 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: It is interesting for me to find out is how the painting starts…
MANFREDI: It started with a blank canvas
R: Do you usually keep blank canvas white or do you have tinted background?
M: Yes, most of the time background first and then start sketching the subject.
R: In the old painting they used to put different shades in the background, it wasn’t just white, it was ochre, grey… Do you remember what was the background of this painting?
M: I think actually some kind of red, different red, from pink to orange, the dominant color was red. I can still bring out the background by rubbing the newest layer of color with turpentine.
R: When you start painting do you mix colors on the pallet?
M: No I normally, I’m not very orthodox, I stick the brush into the color tube. They are mixed on the canvas, straight on it, I can even paint straight out of the tube, for instance yellow, blue and then mix them in the canvas.
R: Yeah but that means you have to do that immediately.
M: No, the oil paint takes days, even weeks, it depends on what you use, turpentine, how dense you mix it.
R: For fat brushstrokes it can take years. Have you studied painting?
M. No, I’ve studied law, then I dropped out university and started cinema and working on the film industry for a few years…
R: How long did you study law?
M:Only 3 years, the only thing why I enrolled university was in order to keep postponing the military service that at that time in Italy was compulsory
R: You didn’t want to go in the army?
M: No but then I did it in ’92, I was living in Spain at that time and one day my brother called me and said “Manfredi you’d better be here by the day after tomorrow or you’ll get arrested, it’s the 3rd time they summoned you.” I spent a fortune to get from Granada to Palermo, there was no connection at that time. There was a strike in Italy, no cigarettes in Italy…
R: What happened to them?
M: ‘Cause tobacco industries pay tax to the government and sell them through the government, so probably the people were from the government…I knew that from newspapers cause everyone was speaking about that and I brought back 50 cartons of cigarettes, 3 huge suitcase packed with cigarette and I bribed the official… and then I was in the army for one month instead of 12… I could come back before I was due to come back and once here I arrange with a friend, who was a doctor…he put my name on somebody else x-rays so I officially had 2 slip discs so I was in the military hospital for 2 weeks. We were all wearing this white and brown pajamas and one night , the night before they did … the CAT scanning machine, we broke in the office to sabotage the machine, we broke everything.
R: You didn’t get into troubles for that?
M: No we were too many, it was impossible to figure out who did it?
R: So all the young Italians that didn’t want to go to the army and tried to look insane? I’m interested in the subject of people faking insanity
M: I do that, I always do that
R: You mean in the family life?
M:No everywhere, I actually think people are stupid
R: Including yourself?
M: Excluding myself… that gives me the opportunity to have somebody at my level, cause I don’t really know how to be stupid I end up in being insane.
R: Yes exactly, how does one fake insanity?
M: The only way is fake insanity like traditional insanity, unless you are really insane.
R: If you are really insane you don’t make a difference.
M: That’s why insane people say they are not, if someone say I’m not insane you can say that he is 100% insane. Are you insane?
R: No, you are insane Manfredi.
M: Yes because insanity become normality to you, so much that you don’t feel it.
R. Yes but faking insanity is interesting, there ‘s the mafia guy in NY, he was so good in faking insanity that he was fooling police.
M: Yes that’s an old trick that people, criminals, trial and things…they all pretend to be insane.
R: Yes you’re not responsible for your actions.
M: Yes you can’t be convicted…
R: A big alibi, insanity. So you bribed the guy and came back to Palermo?
M: I was in Umbria, I jumped on the train and went there to get there 6 am the following day.
R: And you studied law before?
M: Yes, and then cinema that is my real love.
R: But you don’t do films?
M: I do for myself but sooner or later I’ll go back to the original idea of making film.
R: So you shoot and edit yourself?
M: Yes, yes, for instance now I’m still editing this film we shot in 2 days in Los Angeles at Milena’s house with friends, because it’s so crazy, there’s no plot we just had faint idea of the story but without knowing how to develop it. It’s actually, anything I do even this film, I have to make things so complicated, I couldn’t paint anything…if it takes me less than one month it’s not worthy, not good. Same with this film, I’ve edited it so many times…
R: The shooting took 2 days and then?
M: It’s divided in 3 parts and it’s like theatre, about acting, like a metaphor in the way of the metaphor, people so bad in acting they make it so good. A bunch of people that got together in Milena’s house, they do stupid things, there ‘s a scene where everybody is cooking and they don’t communicate, Milena is getting something ready for lunch and someone else is preparing other thing… everything at a very high speed.
R: It’s just one camera?
M: Just one, that one. Then they sit have the meal and they become very calm, with music, no more noises, music that you can hear discussing of sensible things until two of them start fighting and they’re professional stuntman and this goes on for 10 minutes, fighting around, ended up in the garden and you see Milena and Jenna like in the background having wine and talking about recipes and stuff, very calm. Then again I close up to the two guys and again fighting…this discrepancy between the two…and then the second part starts with Milena, garden with high tree at night, pitched black, this professional cinema light, light projector, and start like shines the top of the tree and it’s Milena moving the light in the garden and it’s very fascinating and in the meantime there people acting like creatures living in the garden…that’s the idea… and you catch a glimpse of this guy in the tree and somebody else doing something else, then all the thing together and there’s and helicopter flying very low on the garden and I put make up on each faces and that’s when the play starts, play that Milena and two guys, cause the garden is like a hill, they’re the top and every time you look there there’s someone new, in the mean time at the top they’re trying to get the play to get sense and they try different things, like opera…and then there’s me sitting on the corner isolated from the rest, calmly sat in a coffee at night editing the film on my laptop and from that moment I bring the film through the computer to the next day when the all thing start again…
R: Wow, sounds super, just with that camera? Who’s holding the camera? When are you going to finish it?
M: Probably before I die… 80 minutes long
R: You were shooting for two days, lots of footage.
M: Yes, like 500 minutes… but it has to go down to 40 minutes and at the same time more projects. That’s the way I work.
R: It sounds to me that the film is similar to the painting
M: Yes I was telling you that.
R:Certain elements have the same world, like a collage of different worlds and you put more and more to create it more dense.
M: Maybe I’ll delete a part of it, like in the case of this film I’ve never had a precise idea.
R: But in the film is the camera stable? Here, when we see this painting you can see that is painting from the view of a fixed eye.
M: Painting are stable, even if they show motion or an action…
R: But there’s a certain frontality in this painting that makes me think that way.
M: Do you know why? Because you’re looking at it from this point of view. If you go on the other side of the canvas you’ll have a rearview of the painting
R: I’d love that, what do you think I would see?
M: The back of it. Whatever is in between the four edges of the canvas is frontal and that’s why I don’t like aerial views, things like that because that’s fake. For instance in Caravaggio you see actions, but they are not real actions, they’re like a mise en scène of actions. As Saint Francis, the nativity to represent the birth of Jesus, Joseph , Mary , the cow and the animals…that’s called the nativity…
M: Yes, so he would reproduce the moment and he did it in order to show people, because people are stupid, you need to show them the action thing in the flash otherwise they always misinterpret something, so you have to put things in front their eyes in the most tangible way. Caravaggio wasn’t painting a real action when Christ point out at the card player, like a nativity but with an adult Christ… so action in that case you can tolerate but sometimes I don’t, like the movement of something, it’s the contrary of the essence of painting and I used to do this experiment s when I was a kid, paint a movement for instance but now I know that is totally pointless.
R: Why against the essence?
M: Because painting is an iconographic thing, the essence is a moment.
R: but that’s what futurists were doing…
M: No, they were doing the movement, it means many moments
R: So the essence is an attempt to capture some kind of…
M: OK, the other example could the baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca where Saint whatever the Baptist was pouring the water on to Christ’s head and he shows the water drop still there up in the air like frozen…like that actually…
R: Oh I see…
M: And that turns the water drop into an object, an iconographical representation something not necessarily related to nature, to the way nature works.
R:Yes because is not like in the reality. Claude Monet tried to approach it from the side of appearances.
M: I hate Impressionism. Medardo Rosso he’s the most sensitive artist I’ve ever come across.
R: Was he from Sicily?
M:No, from Torino, Milano… he was, he’d go for a walk and then come back with some new experience of life. There is the impression that things are in his brain, and then he’d try to recreate that moment that he saw, it was like a mnemonic thing. Another point of making art, keep everything in mind. You can’t keep relating things that surround you while you’re making art, it wouldn’t be as pure as it should be, you have to eliminate the things that are in your head…
R: So, he would come back and try to synthesize?
M: Almost portrait of people, never a person in front. As a Jewish boy for instance, always same subject repeated 20 times, because of the technique of his works. He was trying to make things in the most complicated way possible, maybe he was like me, needed to feel like he had worked enough, maybe if he did something in 5 minutes, to me and to you would be Wow! but not to him. Every time he was changing something…
R: That’s what you like?
M: Yes that’s what I like. Alighiero Boetti once made this series of ball pen panels, that’s to me the most mesmerizing thing. I saw it in the Whitechapel Gallery in London and almost the second floor was completely filled with maybe 20 huge panels of this and from the distance you couldn’t realize and then as I got nearer to the board and I realize how many lines were there…he used probably an assistant…that was because he felt that. A lot of work, you have to work, in life if you want to achieve something you have to work, you have to be in touch with nature even, we take everything for granted but why we should have all this for free. We have to work. All the artists that are working today probably won’t be remembered in 100 years.
R: Maybe society in 100 years will be such that they’ll be remembered in a different way
M. Yes absolutely, but certainly not these artists, they’re mistaking, mostly due to the system that we have.
R: What system?
M: The art system that decides what to do, who has to be collected and who has to obtain more visibility and this influences a lot the way the art develops in society.
R: You mean what kind of works gets more support?
M:Like Olafur Eliasson – he doesn’t deserve it… I know he’s not an artist, I understand where he comes from, what he wants to do…
R: So what is an artist for you then?
M: An artist is somebody that works according to the rules of making art. Then if he has talent better for him…
R: But the rules are changing…
M: No the rules have always been the same, about filtering the whole world through your eyes, your ears, and finally with your hand. Then back to the world through your work. You look at something, the way you represent that glass would be totally different from my version, and this difference is what art is. It’s not something spectacular, it’s so simple…
R: In this definition what good artist is…
M: I’m not saying that Olafur Eliasson is not a good artist, he’s not an artist, that’s different. The difference between a good artist, a bad artist, that is different. I think it doesn’t work the same way for curators, historian, you look from a different point of view, use an art to develop an idea. It’s so easy to me to distinguish, the basic thing to understand to start working, distinguish between art and the rest, if you don’t know how of course you can’t distinguish an artist from a non-artist.
R: So someone could be a great non artist?
M: Yes of course they do something else, not art. We should call the designer artists too, but it’s totally different.
R: So someone without a hand cannot be an artist?
M: Would he have feet?
M. Ok he still can do something with his feet. Some of the greatest writer didn’t know how to write…
R: Yes exactly…
M: That’s another way, an artist is a storyteller.