In Rome, where the weather is terribly hot, I go to visit Mimmo Paladino in his studio on the top floor of a Palazzo in Piazza Navona, facing the church of Sant’ Agnese by Borromini. The terrace is amazingly big and I ask Mimmo: Do you play tennis on this terrace?
“No, I like to walk up and down when I think.”
Why do you work in Rome? Do you find it inspiring?
“Not much, but my daughter and granddaughter live here! Personally, I much prefer my studio near my hometown of Benevento or Milan. I used to live in Milan, then I moved. But I would like to go back. I feel that new things happen in Milan.”
“Nothing precise, but I feel new talent, a new energy that I don’t feel in Rome.”
What are you up to nowadays?
“I paint like I always did, but I am also extremely interested in cinema. For instance, I did a film on Don Quijote. Cinema for me is like painting and you use actors as signs.”
Along with Chia, Clemente, Cucchi and Ontani, you are one of the artists of the so called La Transavanguardia?
“It was an idea of the critic Achille Bonito Oliva. We did things together before. We were a group of artists moving away from conceptual art. When I went to New York in 1978 Annina Nosei, a very famous art dealer, showed me the paintings of David Salle; Julian Schnabel and Sandro Chia were also there. The idea was to touch the material, it was not a coming back to painting, but more an idea of freedom. It was not a coming back to the classics, like postmodernism in architecture. The great impact of American art on me was in 1964 when I saw Rauschenberg’s works at the Venice Biennial.”
You always wanted to be an artist?
“My father was a traveller, my uncle a painter and I learned to look, to watch.”
After New York you went to Milan?
“Yes, I preferred Milan, there was still a strong creative atmosphere. Fontana had just died, Ettore Sottsass was there, I felt better close to a world of design and architecture. I came to Rome later because of my family, but I am not sure that I like living in Rome. As I said, Milan is a strong motivator.”
You are a very Italian artist?
“More Mediterranean. Maybe Naples would be the ideal city for me, but it is too tiring. I am Mediterranean, closer to the Arabs than the Germans.”
How has your work changed over the years?
“I work on both small and big projects with the same intensity. For instance, I just made a big lily flower 40 meters height for the procession in Nola, the city of Giordano Bruno. Last year I had a show in Ravello, there was a lot of space available and I was able to fill that space with my work.”
Do you think of yourself more as a sculptor or a painter?
“I discovered sculpture later in my life.”
Who are your collectors?
“Some are friends, some I don’t know. For instance, one of my collectors is the singer-poet Francesco De Gregori. He collects small works. I used to be very close to the art dealer Lucio Amelio, he was part of my work, and some others like Mazzoli or Benedetti.”
And what about museums?
“Today curators work in order to make a career. People are different now and I don’t see a new Rudy Fuchs.”
But you live and work well in Italy today?
“I am a tourist, a luxury tourist. I don’t see museums, very few collectors. I can live in a very beautiful country without receiving anything in exchange.”
What about your work Montagna di Sale (Salt Mountain)?
“I created it as a project for Ground Zero but it was too expensive, so I did it in Milan and Naples. I would like to do it in Red Square in Beijing.”
Who are your artistic friends?
“Not many, I was a friend of the singer Lucio Dalla, I am a friend of Enzo Cucchi and of Tony Cregg and I am a very close friend of Toni Servillo and his brother.”
Do you see critics?
“Where are they? Years ago we used to see them.”
Do you see interesting new artists around?
“There are so many. If something new is going to happen, it is more likely to be in China than anywhere else. The way they look at the west is an oriental way and this is how they look at the paintings of the Renaissance.”
You too have also looked hard at Renaissance artists?
“I looked, especially at Giotto. He was anonymous, not yet an artist.”
You have worked in theatre, do you also like to make films?
“Yes. For instance, I created the scenes for an Orlando Furioso with Stefano Accorsi.”
“I did it 10 years ago to illustrate the book, and Don Quijote in two volumes with illustrations.”
Mimmo Paladino talks in a very friendly way, smoking cigarettes one after the other. His wife Mimma comes to remind him that they have to go to see a very private preview of the new film of Martone on Leopardi. I don’t ask Paladino if he has it in mind to do some work based on Leopardi’s poetry. I know that he still paints and loves it, but he wants to try to work more on cinema. He is attracted by a new media, like other artists are today.