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.
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.