Italian artist P54 paints about destiny. He paints about the tribulations and struggles we all face in life. He creates narratives about fighting against time and the cards that life deals us. Can we forge our own paths or are we manacled to future’s that are already written? Symbolism and storytelling form the basis for P54’s hard hitting imagery and his own experiences of hardship, along with an innate ability to channel them into universally existential comments about the tormented experiences of sentient beings trapped in a corporeal dimension, with only one utter certainty: the inevitability of death. Through the tragedy, loneliness and despair of P54’s introspective observations, there shimmers a determination and the acceptance to endure.
P54 was born in 1981 in Parma, Italy, where he currently lives and works as a graphic designer and Illustrator in the world of fashion. He obtained a degree in graphic design at the P. Toschi Fine Art Institute in 2000. Out with the creativity of his day job, P54 makes the time to work through his personal thoughts via his fine art and has exhibited his work extensively within his home country and abroad.
WOW x WOW is incredibly honoured to have two new P54 originals in our current WOW² group exhibition of square artworks. ‘I’m not Scared’ and ‘Something to Die For’ are both beautifully realised examples of P54’s ability to express engaging thoughts about the darker aspects of the human condition. Read on to find out more about this fascinating artist, as he discusses his life and art in the following exclusive interview.
Hi Frank, thanks very much for making the time to have a chat, we really appreciate it. To get us started, can you give us some background on what has lead you to this point in your professional life, be it your formal training, serendipity, etc.?
Hi, and thank you. I’ve been drawing since I was a little child and I always wanted to become an artist. I attended the art school in my home town and I made so many friends there who are still my best friends. It was not the school that taught me how to do what I do now, but was instead the desire to explore and the constant need to express myself and surely my friends had an input as well; together we grew up a lot. In the 1990’s we had a crew of writers and spray painting across Italy. We also painted oil canvases and we put on exhibitions together. We lived together in Barcelona and we’d paint all day. We explored the artform together and everyone developed their own style, but we were always in healthy competition with each other to do better and this always pushed me to improve. We now have completely different styles and interests, but our friendships are always the same. Okay, maybe I went outside the question, but it was the first thing I thought of.
Talk to us about growing up. In what ways did your childhood and upbringing affect your relationship with the arts?
I learned about art from my mother. She grew up alone and there was no money at that time, so I only had toys built by her and me. A cardboard box turned into the castle of the Masters of the Universe and obviously I drew a lot. I constantly invented characters and created stories. This taught me to look at the world with creativity and never judge by appearance.
Before we get into talking about your fine art, it would be interesting to hear a little about your day job as a graphic designer and illustrator in the fashion industry. How did you end up working in this field and what do you enjoy the most about it?
I’ve worked in this fashion design studio for several years. I was looking for a job in the graphics industry that gave me the ability to draw a lot of hands and I found this. We design kid collections and I had to learn to draw for the kids. Sometimes I meet a child on the street wearing my design, it’s weird and beautiful. By day, I design nice and ironic things and when I go home I draw what lies in my head. I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I love this contrast.
Your personal work centres around big themes related to the human condition. Questions about the soul, the finitude of life, death, loneliness and time, all rear their heads within your symbolic subject matter. We’d love to hear you talk about some of the big questions you’d most like to find answers to and in what ways exploring them within your art is helping you towards self-realisation.
As I always say, “Life wishes us dead”. I often wonder if you can go against your own destiny. If a destiny exists, and I think so. Sometimes it seems that there is a road already defined for us and that it is impossible to leave it. I see people who have easy lives and others who have to fight for everything. I imagine fate to be a black hole that attracts us toward it. The swirl takes us, but we have to fight. I seek answers and obviously fight every day to create my own way. I like to paint this silent struggle between ourselves and the magnet that attracts us to our end.
What gives you the impetus to sit down and pick up a pencil or a paint brush? Do you only work when you have an idea or a deadline to meet, or do you start working and let your images unfold in a more organic way? How does the creative process work for you?
I have so many images in my head and try to sketch these ideas continuously. Then when time is right, I sit down, open my sketchbook and start defining them. Often while I paint, I add elements that I had not thought of before in the sketch. The atmosphere is very important for me, and for this reason before starting a picture, I do photographic research; cloudy skies, storms, forest fog, dark waters, etc. Sometimes I create a very simplistic computer simulation of what the image will be, to figure out the colours and proportions. While I paint, the subject begins to come to life and I begin to get into another world. At some point, things are done alone. Other times I have a very clear dream and I just have to put it down on paper.
Being an artist who works within the visual realm, can you shed some light on some of the most important inspirations and influences on your work that aren’t visual?
Mhhh, this question is complex. The inspiration is around us, sometimes I just stand in front of a country meadow; just heaven and earth and start to imagine as if it were a white sheet drawing us up with the mind. Sometimes the inspiration is born from a dream. Sometimes inspiration arises from a memory, from the sensations lived. I painted a canvas that tells of the death of my dog, my best friend, and I painted it months after he was gone. I’ve painted a memory. I’ve painted a pain. PAIN-THINGS.
What have been some of the greatest breakthroughs you’ve experienced within your learning as an artist? Those moments that have opened up whole new creative avenues or that have led to you taking large leaps forward in your development?
It’s a trivial thing, but there was a time when I realized that there are no rules, there is no right or wrong and there are no limits. Art is not subject to the forces of nature, but it is free as far as its mind arrives. I started exploring the atmospheres of my mind and discovered a new world. I realized I could represent the unreal. How to take a picture of a dream.
What is your relationship with the history of art and do you feel that it is important to have a good understanding of what has come before? Can you talk about some of the artists from the past who you feel a kinship with or who have inspired you?
Yes, knowing who came before us and what they did is important. I’ve studied art history and I think every picture I’ve seen in my life has given me something. In my artistic career I’ve enjoyed many great painters of the past. I spent a period in which I was obsessed by Egon Schiele and his style. Then the light and the shadows of the great masters like Caravaggio. But the most important thing in a picture for me is the narration and the search for what cannot be seen. So, my reference painter is Magritte.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one whose memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
I think my art is born from a wounded soul. I have had a rather difficult life and I believe that several things have left their mark. My mother tried to kill herself a couple of times and I’ve found her; the last time was 4 years ago. Many good friends died too young and my thoughts often go to them while I paint. I do not know why. There have been so many things that it would be impossible to tell here in a few lines, but my wife always tells me, “It’s a miracle that you’re still healthy in mind.” Art definitely helped me to deal with so many difficulties, and it often provided a way of not thinking about the real world.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
I love the art of contemporary painter Aron Wiesenfeld and I’d love to have an artwork of his at home. I would like to have so much money to buy works of art by several painters, but only figurative. If I were a millionaire, the canvas I would buy would be ‘The Empire of Light’ by Magritte. This work has a sense of quietness and at the same time of anxiety that disturbs me and makes me travel with my mind.
What’s next for P54?
In October I will become a dad!! And this is the most fantastic thing I can imagine. I’ll have a little girl. We will draw together, this is a certainty. And then, I have many projects in my head; painting obviously and I’m working on a clothing line called BAD FATE that I care about a lot.