A Swide interview with Ivano Atzori previously known as Dumbo who used to be one of the most important vandals in Milan with his graffiti; today he is a strong personality of the Italian art scene.
He started with tagging the streets of Milan but soon was forced to move to
New York because of his illegal aesthetics activities, he continued his creative
journey and as he says, has been inspired a lot. Back in Milan, he took on other
projects such as the temporary concept store King Kong and published a
book entitled Dumbo – Acts of Vandalism and Stories of Love (2007)
where he reveals who he is and the creative world he lives in. Most recently he
has opened the studio Alberonero (2009) where he is the Art Director.
Italian, Milanese, borderline, Ivano is very inspiring and interviewing him was a great opportunity for us to understand how one can emerge from the underground and continue to perform and express an uncorrupted view.
- Dumbo and Ivano
1/ Why did you decide to call yourself Dumbo?
IA: Dumbo is legible, easy to remember and without a doubt fun to write. I was also inspired by the movie that ends in a beautiful way with a message of hope. I would like my artistic career to follow somehow this “circus”.
2/ Why did you start with graffiti?
IA: Every since I was a child I've been obsessed with imagery. I remember borrowing records from my cousin and choosing them according to their cover. It is needless to say that there were many that had graffiti on them. At that time you would not see much graffiti in the streets, it was a real sign left by someone, an “indelible” mark.
3/ Is the book you have recently published meant to be the first of a series?
IA: I would love to think so. Working on an editorial project is an experience that helps you to grow. I love books as an object- I love their touch, smell and their presence. And the idea that you can feature a whole career, a vision, some works, some photographs inside one book really appeals to me. I like the idea of being able to get a better understanding of someone ‘s world. When my book came out I got lots of emails from people whom I have not seen for years and thought to get in contact with me again. Once a book is published, it has its own individual “life”; you can rediscover it again and again.
4/ What does this book enable you to say to your audience?
IA: With this book, I wanted to talk about my friendships and love experience, my nightlife and my travels. I wanted to transmit all the energy that surrounded me in those past years to the reader. At the end, I was not so much concerned with showing the end result (in this case, graffiti) as I was with showing everything that surrounded me.
5/ Was King Kong just meant to be a one –off? Some kind of pop-up art platform?
IA: Substantially, King Kong was a platform for everyone
that we, Federico Sarica and I, thought were valid- designers, creative people,
brands, photographers, artists, etc.
It was a clothing shop, of course, but it also offered music, books- basically it offered something fresh for whoever wanted something new. From the beginning it became a spot where young Italians and foreigners would meet, among them were Miltos Manetas, Ryan McGinley, Perks and Mini, Dash Snow, Lele Saveri, Giorgio di Salvo, Nico Dios, Aaron Bondaroff, Donald Cumming, Camilla Candida Donzella, Cyprien Guillard, Josh Lazcano.
6/ Who runs the graffiti scene nowadays? Where is the epicentre?
IA: Honestly I have no idea. My energy is focused on something else even if I am still involved in the Graffiti scene.
I felt the need for a change and wanted to evolve, grow and explore other medium that would enable me to explore deeper themes such as chaos, hope, abandoned dreams, break ups, reality; I try to analyse my feelings and to find what could be interesting for me to share. I work with various media and can easily jump from one to another; while waiting for a canvas to dry I start breaking pencils for my next sculpture, my mind is always stimulated by something.
I also work on other projects besides my "usual" artwork. Right now, I am
focusing on a project called "One Size Fits All"; it is very strongly linked to
my past as a graffiti guy - the ski mask. I have asked a number of international
designers (from institutional ones to more edgy ones) to produce a one of a kind
ski mask meant to be a part of a private collection. I have taken pictures of
friends wearing them in different situations; these photos illustrate where I
have been and Dumbo’s current world.
I am planning on revealing the one-off masks along with the photographs in an exhibition to launch in September.
- Milano & New York
7/ Would you say that you are a cosmopolitan expressing your view on different cultural canvas?
IA: I've always separated art from graffiti; to say that
graffiti belongs to the art world is wrong and irrelevant. Graffiti is a form of
vandalism- it belongs to city walls and cannot in any case be moved otherwise it
loose its essence. It is meant to shock and to offend, it has to generate strong
8/ What inspires you the most in Milan? And in New York?
IA: Cities are small story containers; in the end they are
made by the people who live in them. In both NY and Milan I have met many people
who I have found fascinating and inspiring.
I love being surrounded by people and watching them laugh, cry, collapse or argue. These behaviours are my source of inspirations and are essential to my creative process.
- Coming back to Milan
9/ What is shocking? Did you experience some difficulties?
IA: It is shocking to sit next to someone in the tube and
suddenly get a look when this person has realized whom he or she is sitting next
It is shocking to walk out of the house on a Sunday morning and to not be able to buy some bread.
It is shocking to see people with no sense of style in the Milanese streets.
It is also shocking to sit outside a bar and enjoy a fantastic glass of red wine.
The taste of a mozzarella di bufala is shocking.
It is shocking to see some ethnic diversity in Milan.
It is shocking to see how old people outnumber young people in Milan.
It is shocking to pass by one of my 1996 tags.
It is shocking to discover how different I am from the old days.
It is shocking to meet again with old friends and realize that you do no longer share the same interests and views.
10/ Following your return did you feel you had something totally new to tell to the Milanese crowd?
IA: Yes, definitely. As an artist, you need to respect your audience. The core message remains very simple (fuck you, I love you, love me, etc.) but you need to find a way to say it so that it can be understood and appreciated. It's a tricky game where one has to keep a balanced view but still take some responsibilities.
11/ Are you nostalgic?
IA: No. I never look back.
12/ Do you feel that you have a revenge to take?
IA: Ah... Damn it... Yes I think so. Although I don't like to admit it.
- New influences and upcoming projects
13/ Do you think there is still an underground Milanese art world?
IA: If by underground you mean outsider artists, yes it
does still exist. I think many of these people are extremely valid and dynamic
and, in comparison to the more academic artists, they dare and tend to have
They often became artists by chance through music, street gatherings, squats; their approach is therefore more spontaneous.
14/ What do you feel is missing in the underground Milanese art scene?
IA: Easy- facilities, galleries and a proper market. However some very tiny signs that things are changing were to be noticed recently. But, as I said before, when you are a self made man you keep creating your own opportunities by finding the support you need to achieve what you have in mind. You always believe in yourself and that is what drives you really. To be an artist, you need to be patient, to work hard and to be dedicated… That is what my wife tells me.
15/ Do you recognise who you used to be in the new generation of Italian artists?
IA: In a certain way, yes, I can recognize myself in the
younger generation. I have noticed kids that are angry and don't really know
why, which is how I used to feel. I tried to transform my frustrations to
creative energy. Most of my works are linked to problems and difficulties I had
I still consider myself as being part of the new generation of Italian artists. If we take into account the fact that in this country artists are considered young until around the age of 45, then I still have another ten years to go!
16/ Do you consider that you have a specific role to play because of your past experience as a banned artist?
IA: I don't like the idea of playing a specific role, but if I can be considered as a reference for younger artists, I would be proud- it would mean that I have transmitted something and left my “stamp”.
- Swide’s Q/A
1/ Walls or train coaches?
IA: Anything illegal.
2/ Spontaneous or planned?
IA: Spontaneous. Or seemingly spontaneous but actually planned, although you have to be really good to pull this one off.
3/ Day or night (for inspirations)?
IA: Day and night.
4/ Black or white (for the canvas)?
IA: Black, white, black and white.
5/ Dumbo + Ivano or only Ivano?
IA: Ivano Atzori.
Sources: Ivano Atzori
Photo credits: Ivano Atzori, Lele Saveri, Joao Paolo Ribeiro, Giorgio Di Salvo
Text by Delphine Hervieu.