Lucio Palmieri, Milanese by adoption, recounts his world through colourful, vibrant images. Swide tells his history, revealing how to never stopped dreaming.
Lucio has big dark, round eyes and a very deep, engaging voice that surprises you at first because it clashes with his gentle manners, so much so to make me wonder if I am not really interrupting his train of thoughts with my questions. I will find out he inherited it his voice from his father, an actor. His mother is an obstetrician. “Two very creative people who respect immensely what I do. I mean, if my Mom is not creative, who is, right?”
He opens his laptop to show me his work, and almost immediately stops talking, looking at me with an expression between embarrassed and incredulous. “I speak through my work…better, they speak for me. What do you want to know?” I smile. I think he is right: that’s his language and I am interfering to try to understand it, too.
Lucio Palmieri’s works are the most complex drawings I have seen in a long time among young artists.
He is only 25 and already produces a lot of material and has experimented a lot of techniques. He is about to discuss his thesis in contemporary art restoration at Accademia di Brera. “I have always drawn since I was a kid. I can’t remember wanting to do anything else. It was a need, not even a choice. But then I decided to take a different path, only to find out that I was doing it because I was afraid. It was a way of defending myself from my own art.”
Then, when did he understand he had to let everything go and try to confront himself with his works?
“I can tell you the exact year: 2008. I was attending Chromatology, and my professor – who then became my mentor and my friend – said “Every mistake we made is actually correct, it only depends on how we look at it and which use we make of it”. From then on, I felt like I was given the permission to make mistakes, to try and keep trying.”
Girl gone wild, 2012, graphite, Indian ink
I wonder if he is happy now to have chosen the academic path of restorer, then. “It’s something I love to do, and it gives me the right skills to be able to measure myself with precision, too, together with creativity. It gave me rules to follow and a great understanding of different materials, which it’s the aspect I am mostly interested in when I create. If I didn’t study this, I would not have discovered drawing. I have never embraced myself as an artist. I tried to approach art in a different way so to understand it even more and at the same time don’t expose myself too much. While I was studying, though, I understood that I was scared of it because that was exactly what I longed to do.”
He never approaches the blank piece of paper – which actually in his case are different kinds of papers collected in typographies, scraps of other old books, old paper bags – with a precise idea. “It’s the material (matter) that talks to me, not me to it. Often a story is suggested by its self. I let myself be fascinated by the random materials I find, and let them suggest what to do. I associate things without planning, see? I found among the things I saved this piece of paper that belonged to the former house I was living in, and then I attached to it a piece of paper from my latest house. It’s random. I meander the surface until it finds its way, its story.”
Untitled, 2012, photographic print on glasspaper
And yet, he has many ideas running in his head, all the time: “In one of my retrospective, "Lacune" (gaps, missing parts), I had to occupy a cloister space, arches that had frescos missing. This is what I came up with: some are pieces of paper that just fill the void, some stress the idea of emptiness instead.”
Gaps, 2010, Chinese ink on glassed paper
So where does his poetry come from? Heart or brain? “I’d say heart, but it’s supported by rules. I know it sounds weird, but I don’t reason too much over works, although it’s more correct to say I reason over them, just in a different way. Most people don’t understand that even if they don’t get the message in a work of art, there is a code behind, a flux made of many factors, a work in progress.”
Born in Forlì (Emilia Romagna), he now has been living in Milan for 5 years. His main obsession, collage and decks. “Do you see this? I started with a Lana Del Rey picture and then worked with collage. This instead is made of decks pieces, which is a different concept than my usual one, where I create myself a “deck” of works that people can use (as a deck of cards) and keep however they want. This one is a work made of plain deck cuttings, instead.”
Lana, 2012, Collage
Untitled, 2012, Collage
His other obsession, I find out, are colours and dresses. Which relationship does he have with those two? “The relationship I have with colour is a very bad one” he laughs sheepishly “I love them all and I am never able to pick one. Luckily, it’s my drawing that ends up asking for that one and that one only, and so it decides for me.” Fashion is something that fascinates him, you can see that in his work: “The first gesture, before the tailoring, before the realisation of the dress, is the one of the pencil, the sign you draw on paper. It’s a little miracle to me.”
Gaga meets Versace, 2012, elt-tip pen and colored pencils
Baroque, 2012, Collage
To draw he uses every sort of media: watercolours, crayons, pencils, Indian ink …
Before I was drawing mostly men, now more women, but sometimes the two genders blur together, somehow. I turn over the pages of the big sketchbook he has brought, it’s big and heavy and beautifully stained by paint. As I turn pages, a whole fantastic world of fairy tales opens up. “See? This is Serena”. I am looking at a – actually fat – mermaid. “She is called Serena because it’s a pun (in Italian “sirena” means mermaid, and “serena” means happy, serene). She is not happy at all. She wants to be skinnier, but somehow she can’t. It’s a sad story but I want to change it.” I found absolutely incredible how his fantasy travels through images, I can see them chasing each other through the pages. “Sometimes I just need to stop thinking, or the story would develop too much…”. In another page there is a beautiful old-style dress: “It’s for a friend of mine who asked me to illustrate a fairy tale she picked for a children’s theatre project, called ‘The Love of the Three Apple-Oranges’. It’s a beautiful story by Carlo Gozzi, which my Mom always told me when I was a child. My friend didn’t know that. Life is weird, isn’t it?”
I am shocked by the amount of work he produces on a daily-basis. Where does he put it all? “I’d rather have other people keeping them. Once I am done with a work, it doesn’t belong to me anymore, I need to give it to someone who is going to appreciate it. It’s a good thing, I love the thought of someone taking care of them. It can have many declinations, some of them I am not even able to see.”
What is the message of this “philosophical travelling”, then? “The material is already a big message. It’s a gaze on my world that becomes the one of one other. It’s an explorational path, a trip. A bit like a deck, it can be taken and re-interpreted. Or, more simply, it’s just nice to stare at them.”
As I stare, too, at his works, my thoughts go back to that professor that in fact changed Lucio’s life. “He was my mentor not because he insisted in teaching me something, but simply because he invited me to look around me, inside of me, in a better way”.
I have the feeling Lucio has learned how to do that, and is passing on to us that good lesson.
Interview and text by: Elisa della Barba
Lucio Palmieri Retrospectives:
August 2011 - “PantaloniPantomime” Spazio Cinema Anteo, Milan
July 2010 - “Lacune” - A cura di Italo Chiodi- Chiostro di San Francesco, Bergamo
October 2008 - “Prima” Teatro Cantiere Florida, Florence