Name: Kurt Wenner
Countries: Italy & USA
Favorite Book: Andrea del Pozzo, “Perspectiva Pictorum et Architectorum”
(2 volumes, 1693, 1698)
Favorite Museum: The Vatican
Motto: Art is how the universe expresses its creativity through human
q)Please introduce yourself for the first time.
a)My name is Kurt Wenner. I am an American artist, although I have spent
half my life in Italy. I work within the tradition of European classicism and
create original architectural designs, paintings, sculpture and decoration. I
work in numerous media and venues, but am best known for inventing
3-dimensional pavement art. This is a very popular art form that has
inspired many artists.
q)Where did you grow up?
a)I grew up in Santa Barbara, California.
q)Where do you live?
a)I lived in Italy for 28 years and now live in the US.
q)What is your family's past? Were there any artists in your family
that encouraged you to be an artist?
a)My great, great grandfather was an artist as well as my great uncle. I have
never seen their work, and had no visual artists in my immediate family.
q)Did anyone else in your family display artistic talents and inspire you to
explore your own creativity?
a)My immediate family members were creative in areas other than the visual
arts, such as music and the sciences. My father is a retired provost for the
college of creative studies in Santa Barbara, California. The college allows
students to combine disciplines, such as arts and sciences. My mother
taught music, and my sister was a professional musician for many years,
before deciding on a career in journalism. I think I enjoyed the visual arts as
a youth because it was different than what other family members did.
q)What was it like growing up in Santa Barbara, California? How did the
environment affect you? Did the city bring out your creativity?
a)Santa Barbara was a small, sleepy beach town when I grew up there. It
always had many examples of beautiful architecture and gracious villas,
which influenced me very much. Creativity was very much encouraged,
although in the 60’s it had a very hippie flavor to it.
q)Do you remember your first commissioned mural you did when you
were sixteen? What was it a picture of and for whom did you create
it? Was this your first mural or were there others before this one?
a)My first mural was for an ice cream store and manufacturer called
McConnells Ice Cream. It’s a famous Santa Barbara institution. I portrayed
the family of the owners in a composition that was a cross between the Last
Supper and Alice in Wonderland. The family still owns it. I had done many
other works before, but this was my first large-scale commission.
q)What made you decide to become an artist? What influence does art
have in your life?
a)I think that the desire to communicate was foremost in my personal agenda.
Although I always created images, my formal decision to be a professional
artist was made in high school. To this day I work nearly every day
including weekends on artwork of some sort. I always feel that I have more
to do than I can possibly accomplish.
q)How did you search your own style?
a)I always felt that if I studied something unusual and asked good questions
my style would develop naturally. My studies were unusual for their time
and led to unusual works.
q)Is an artist born, or is he made through experience?
a)The desire to create may be part of the artist’s soul, but artists are made and
destroyed every day by experience. I always thought that after a certain
investment of energy it would be possible to rest and enjoy the result. Being
an artist seems instead more like being a garden. While some areas flourish
and bloom, others will whither or become dormant.
q)What kind of artist do you consider yourself? How would you describe
a)I am a contemporary classicist who studies and researches lost, neglected or
ignored ideas from historical aspects of western European art. I try to use
them in an original way to make them pertinent to my time, and challenge
my contemporary audience.
q)Which famous artists have influenced you, and how?
a)The famous artists that have most influenced me are from the past,
especially the late Italian renaissance and early baroque. I have always been
interested in European classical drawing and its development over the
centuries. My enjoyment of this period is not directed at any individual, but
is based on the artistic process itself.
My main influences are European drawings, both architectural, decorative
and figure drawings. They show how the artists thought. The artists and
sculptors I admire generally left great drawings.
q)What factors have most influenced your work as an artist?
Survival, a desire for understanding, and a need to
communicate my discoveries have been my major influences.
a)Is there any new artist that you admire?
I admire anyone who can create works, especially if they have a large
enough public to earn a living from them. I like outsider art and “art brut”
that is contemporary, or at least done in the last 50 years. I like refined,
museum quality “crafts” that mostly go ignored. I do not like it when artists
have others do their work for them. Although I often like many of the
results of this method, I cannot fully respect the artists. Stylistically, I am
always more fascinated with works from the past, before the invention of
photography. To me, artists had a different way of seeing hundreds of years
q)Which artists or people do you admire most? Why?
a)Paramhansa Yogananda would be my choice because I can feel my spirit stir
with his writing. On a more earthly scale, I like the writing and ideas of
Alain de Botton. Most of the artists I admire would not be familiar to people
today, though I can recommend Giulio Romano. In the end I think it may be
more significant for an artist to inspire others than to make a bunch of stuff,
even if it is pretty. I think this is what art should be about.
q)Could you talk about your earlier studies? Out of all the art schools in
the world why did you choose to attend the Rhode Island School of
Design and Art Center College of Design? Were there any professors at
these universities whom you would consider were your mentors?
a)I specifically went to Rhode Island School of Design to study with David
Macaulay. He wrote a book called Cathedral, which was a great influence
on me at the time. It turned out that the drawing instruction at the school
was not strong enough at the time for me to obtain the training I needed, so I
switched to the Art Center College to study with Harry Carmean. He
introduced me to the principles of classical drawing, which changed the
course of my career.
The major subject I learned on my own was artist’s geometry. This is seen
in my use of perspective and illusion as well as in the proportional design of
my architecture. This subject is perhaps the most important single
component of our European artistic heritage, but in general it is taught badly,
or not at all.
q)Could you tell me how do you get your first job? What story in it?
a)One of the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory taught physics in the
evening at the Art Center. He asked me to create a perspective drawing of
an ion mass spectrograph. None of he artists at the lab could do it because
of the number of angles and curves involved.
q)What is the work of as advanced scientific space illustrator?
a)I eventually was employed at the laboratory and created artist’s renderings
of future projects to Mars, Venus, and even the sun. The images were
created by hand from scientific data, landscapes of outer planets and future
spacecraft. I can’t even begin to describe what the experience taught me.
q)What made you decide to quit a secure post at NASA and move to Italy
and study the works of the masters?
a)The entire time I worked at NASA I studied classical drawing, sometimes
for more than 20 hours a week. Eventually the time came when the only
way to further my studies was to go to Italy and work from the masterpieces.
I saw the first examples of computer graphics imaging (CGI), at the
laboratory and realized I would probably be the last traditional artist to do
that kind of work. Because my own studies were rooted in the ancient
tradition of sacred geometry rather than technical drawing, I was concerned
about this development. It occurred to me that the tradition and significance
of geometrical drawing and design would become lost with computer
graphics in the same way that the tradition of classical drawing had
collapsed with the invention of photography.
q)Did you find a correlation between your scientific illustrations for
NASA and the religious oil paintings you made such as the composition
of the Last Judgment for the Pope and The Miracle for The 21st
International Cervantino Festival in Mexico? To the outside world,
science and religion are total opposites but you have worked with them
both. How did you do that?
a)If anyone thinks science and religion are opposites their philosophy is
flawed. To me, they are just two different ways of organizing human
experience. They are not polar opposites, though they vie for our attention.
Each discipline organizes a huge amount of information according to an
internally logical set of rules. This yields a certain insight into some ways
the universe works. In my opinion, human beings are very far from being
able to grasp the mysteries of the universe as a whole. Religion and science
are two helpful tools if they are applied with refinement and discretion.
q)When, how and why did you start to paint on the streets?
a)I started to paint on the streets of Rome, Italy in 1982. I was studying in the
museums directly from the great master works of art and needed a way to
make ends meet. For six months I spent eight hours a day drawing and
learning from paintings and sculpture. At first I sold the studies to tourists
and museum guards, but it did not cover my expenses. I did not speak
Italian and had no permission to work in the country. One day, I saw a street
painting and asked the artist what he was doing. He explained the tradition
of street painting in Europe to me, where it was a traditional form of folk art.
After viewing my museum drawings he asked if I'd like to paint the head of
an angel while he went to lunch. At the time, it was not a sophisticated art
form, and my drawing skills were more than sufficient in order to distinguish
myself. Working with the chalks came very naturally, and from that point
on I've been street painting.
q)Rome is a city you began street painting. Is there any reason you chose
it for the first painting place?
a)Chalk art in Italy has a very long history in Italy. At one time it was a
religious folk art. Sometime in the seventies, art students discovered it as a
way to make a living. Pavement art allowed me to finish my classical
studies in Rome. I met historians and restorers on the street, while doing my
work. I was even invited to climb the scaffolding in several churches to see
the frescos up close during the restorations. I even touched the Sistine
Chapel ceiling. On some of the ceilings I noticed that the figures were
elongated to appear normal from the ground. I was aware that my street
paintings were subject to similar viewing circumstances- people looked at
the work from an angle rather than straight on. This eventually inspired me
to create a pictorial geometry specific to the street.
q)Can you make a living doing this?
a)As with any occupation you generally find people engaged in the work
because it supports them. And, like any other trade, there are different
degrees of success. Some painters live hand-to-mouth and others enjoy it as
a lucrative profession. Success is very dependent on the sheer number of
people who pass by a work, their reaction to a particular image, and the
artistry of the painter. On first street painting, I made three times my NASA
q)What do you use to create these paintings?
a)Street painting, or pavement art, has a long tradition and is done in chalk or
pastel. It is meant to wash off.
q)Normally how long does it take to create a piece art?
a)Works can take any amount of time, but my personal preference is to design
works that take five or seven days to execute. They total about 25 square
q)Are street painters able to create artwork wherever they want, or do
they have to obtain permits to work in public?
a)This depends on exactly where they are creating. Most street painters soon
learn that it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
q)Your artwork enables people to interact with you during the creation of
your art. Have you received any special feedback from those
a)In the beginning my focus was on providing a drawing demonstration. The
geometry of the work allowed for the audience to enter the pictorial space,
and this became a focus of the art. To me, the feedback from the audience
that is most rewarding is when they are inspired to learn more about the act
q)What is your favorite street painting you have worked on to date?
a)I think the image “Dies Irae” remains my favorite work because I learned the
most from it. Now I am working on stereoscopic street paintings, which are
a lot of fun. I am happiest when I am trying to solve an interesting problem.
When it is solved, I tend to move on to another idea or problem.
q)”Street Painting” has many titles through out the world; some of them
are Madonnaro, Callejero, Madonnari, Strassenmaler, Ephemeralist.
Could you give us a formal title?
a)25 years ago we always used the English term “street painting” to describe
the work. A street painter was called a “madonnaro” in Italy referring to the
religious roots of the art form. It has been more popular lately to use the
terms “pavement artist” or “pavement art.” This seems more elegant.
How does the process of the painting happen? I’m sure that is not as
simple as it looks.
In the past I improvised works directly on the street. Most of my recent
works are done on commission, and a presentation drawing is created first
for the presenter to approve.
q)What is the most difficult aspect of street painting?
a)It is more physically demanding than many other forms of visual art. If it is
a profession, the artist needs to be productive on call rather than following
moments of inspiration.
q)Do you remember how long it took to paint the most time consuming
a)I have worked as long as six weeks on a picture. This was due to the rain
rather than the complexity of the piece. Unless a work is protected, it is
difficult to carry it forward for more than five days. Many of my more
complex designs have taken a week to ten days.
q)Do you still do street painting?
a)I did about twelve works last year.
q)Is there a sidewalk that you secretly desire to paint?
a)My desire is to start creating images for galleries and museum exhibition. I
have a number of works in mind that could use a more protected
q)What is the basic theme of your paintings? Do they have religious
themes, fiction or mythical themes, or something else?
a)I use themes that are traditional to European art. Sometimes the works are
religious and sometimes they are mythological. In Italy the themes of the
street paintings were generally religious. In the USA my favorite subjects
are from classical mythology. Naturally, even mythological paintings were
religious 2000 years ago, but in our time people think of them as allegories.
The myths are fun for me, and appropriate for my work. We live in a
particularly confused society, lacking consensus in terms of history, morals
and culture. Even the Hollywood studios, such as Disney, DreamWorks,
and Warner Brothers find great relief in the classical myths. It seems they
are reviving classical culture out of sheer desperation; trying to find a
cultural common ground. Naturally, this is what classicism offers.
q)What’s your point of view between “Street Art” and “Graffiti”?
a)The difference is in the intention of the artists. Graffiti artist work in
isolation to impose their vision on an unwelcoming environment. Street
painters interact with the public and seek to gain their interest and support.
They do not try to permanently alter the environment, but seek to enliven it
for a moment.
q)Is graffiti art, if so, for what reasons?
a)To me, art is nature’s way of expressing its creativity through human beings.
If graffiti is creative, it is art.
q)Do you feel there is a relationship between graffiti and your own work?
a)My work is aligned to graffiti because it allows me to express myself
directly to the public without an intermediary, such as a gallery or cultural
institution. It is different from graffiti in the sense that pavement art seeks to
entertain, amaze and challenge the public in the hopes of financial
compensation. In general, graffiti is focused on the artists’ need for self-
expression. The works are not dependent of the public’s approval.
q)Do you feel there are any differences between graffiti works on display
in the street and those displayed in a gallery?
a)They are absolutely different, context changes every work, and no work in a
gallery can claim to be entirely independent of public approval. It is an
irony of our time that we attempt this.
q)Are there any further comments you would like to make regarding
a)Aesthetically, I rarely like graffiti. I can admire the vigor of the expression
and appreciate the need to work outside of conventional venues. Graffiti is a
form of “outsider art” sometimes called “art brut”. It represents the human
need to create in its most powerful and fundamental form. Outsider art
reinvigorates all of the arts when they lapse into convention and repetition.
Graffiti as an art form has all of the challenges and problems of any other
movement. It constantly risks lapsing into conventions and creating venues
that are at odds with its primary message. Artists eventually seek some sort
of acceptance or approval from some group of people. It becomes a problem
when part of their message is that they don’t care about this.
q)How do you feel about the ephemeral quality of the art form?
a)The ephemeral aspect of street painting was most important when it was a
religious art form. The 3D street paintings do not necessarily need to be
ephemeral, as they would make fantastic permanent works of public art. The
problem of maintaining a work on a horizontal surface is not an easy one,
and only very recently has it been possible to use digital technology to create
permanent pieces from the designs. I expect this will become popular in the
q)Do you feel sadness when your artwork destroyed by the weather?
a)I do not feel sad when a completed work is destroyed because I know it
cannot remain fresh and beautiful any more than a flower can. Weather is
still the most frustrating part of street painting, since pastels aren't
waterproof. It can be very exhausting to have works destroyed during the
creative process. This does not get easier with age either.
q)How long does it usually take to fix one of your works after a rainfall?
a)I usually need to be able to fix a work within a day after a rainstorm. This
can be quite exhausting, as I must move over the whole picture rather than
concentrating in an area.
q)Have you seen the popularity of street painting grow since you have
been doing it in Germany and in other parts of the world?
a)It is truly unbelievable how global the art form has become, and the millions
of people who now participate as artists and spectators. It gives me a special
pleasure to see the illusionism become so prominent, as this was my
q)How many people make their living as street painters?
a)There are probably two to five hundred street painters at any one time that
depend on street painting as their primary source of income. There are many
more seasonal painters, those who only work in the summer months.
q)Have you suffered prejudice by painting on the streets?
a)25 years ago street painting was strongly associated with poverty and
desperation. That is now mostly removed from the public mind. I did,
however, suffer it in the beginning, and it took time to change the
q)What is the secret to street painting?
a)For me, the secret to street painting is to remember that it is a performance.
The process should capture the imagination of the audience.
q)Do you consider what you do as art?
a)Street painting is a recognized art form with a long history. It is a very pure
form of expression as it was originally a devotional art. I am currently
finishing a book about the history of street painting. People think of it as
spontaneous, but it actually is a tradition.
q)According to your website you make your own pastels to paint with.
How do you make your pastels and where did you learn how to do it?
a)When I first started street painting I used commercial chalks and pastels. I
soon found the chalks to be too dusty and they constantly blew away on the
street. The pastels were more permanent but too costly; as I would consume
a couple hundred sticks per picture. It didn't take long before I began
experimenting and making my own pastels with pure pigments and binder. I
started making my own pastels in Rome. I was fortunate because they still
sold the necessary raw pigments in the hardware stores. Although I studied
old recipes for pastels, my final recipe was taken from an unrelated text
dealing with marbling paper. My handmade pastels are stronger and more
permanent than commercial products.
q)What are your views on street painting as a contemporary art form?
a)Traditional street painting, where artists copy masterpieces, is still a folk art
rather than specifically a contemporary art form, although the quality of
some of the work has become incredible. The street painting illusions are a
contemporary art form that did not exist 30 years ago. I think this aspect will
continue to evolve because there are numerous possibilities that have not yet
been explored. It is still fresh and experimental.
q)How do you feel about experimentation with the street painting art
form with new methods of artistic collaboration other than the
a)My own personal focus is on experimenting with new venues related to
street painting. Some years ago I introduced vertical elements to the
compositions, and now I am working on stereoscopic images and digital
q)What will be the most interesting part for you to do street painting?
How is the difference between fine art and street painting? Could you
please tell us how you paint, and with what kind of materials? How long
is the painting going to stand on the ground?
a)I think that the desire to communicate is foremost in my personal agenda,
and because of this street painting has always been fascinating. To the best
of my knowledge, few art forms have the universal appeal or the wide
cultural demographic that street painting has. Traditionally street painting
has been a performance art. It has always been considered a fine art, but was
traditionally impermanent. This made it impossible to market the images as
fine art gallery products. Street painting technique lends itself to digital art,
and therefore this aspect is likely to change.
Street painting is and was done with chalks or pastels, usually directly on the
pavement. The emphasis on the art form has moved from being an
impermanent sacred art to a performance, and now to a form of interactive
art. At one time the destruction of the piece was vital, then the creation of
the work in real time became more significant. Now the juxtaposition of the
work and the environment and its relationship to the audience has become
the most defining feature. It has become interactive. A traditional street
painting lasted only hours after its execution and needed constant
retouching. Today the permanence varies widely.
q)What is the most difficult aspect about creating a street painting?
a)It used to be the weather, now it is generally the time constraints. It is also
physically difficult to sit cross-legged for hours on end, especially with age.
q)Why are you able to walk on your painting and not damage it?
a)Most of the painting's color is in the pores of the pavement and not on the
surface. Although I try to walk on the picture as little as possible,
sometimes I must in order to retouch a spot, or remove debris that has blown
onto it. I may also put a sheet of paper or plastic on a finished area before
standing on it.
q)How can you see what you are doing?
a)Unlike other projects where it possible to stand back and view an entire
work, street painting and large scale mural painting are unique in the sense
that one must imagine the whole painting while working on a detail of it. It
takes special training and experience to work in such a format.
q)Do you make a drawing of what you are going to paint?
a)When I first started street painting I seldom made drawings of what I would
paint. Now that I only paint for special events I work out the composition
and geometry prior to arriving at my painting site.
q)Where was the most difficult place that you have painted?
a)The most difficult place to paint was during the street painting competitions
at Grazie di Curtatone in Italy. There was limited time, it was dark, and the
pavement was rough.
a)Why do you use chalk on the street and not other tools such as spray
a)In the early years the impermanence of the work was an important feature.
The idea of painting religious icons on the street in chalk has a centuries-old
tradition in Italy, and I began my street painting experience within that
tradition. We often worked the same spot for months, creating new images
when the rains destroyed the earlier ones.
a)Some people believe art should only be done for art’s sake what are
your thoughts on paid street painting commissions?
a)For many years I worked only for tips and have fond memories of those
days. The art form however, could not grow and evolve without the promise
of it becoming a lucrative field.
q)Where does this kind of 3D painting come from?
a)The three-dimensional street painting is my own invention. I created it by
studying a type of anamorphism that existed in the 17th century. For
several decades artists designed large works to be seen from one specific
point of view. I was invited to climb the scaffolding in several churches to
see he frescos up close during the restorations. I even touched the Sistine
Chapel ceiling. On some of the baroque ceilings I noticed that the figures
were elongated to appear normal from the ground. I was aware that my
street paintings were subject to similar viewing circumstances- people
looked at the work from an angle rather than straight-on. I started creating
my particular perspective geometry by adjusting the proportions of the
painted forms to accommodate the viewpoints of the spectators standing at
the base of the work. Unlike traditional anamorphic compositions, such as
church ceilings, the viewing angles were very wide, and I started to use a
curvilinear fisheye lens to document the compositions.
My own geometry is different from the 17th century works, and I have not
published it. It combines a logical use of linear perspective with a projection
outward from the human eye. Other artists that emulate the three-
dimensional pavement works use a more traditional geometry called
“quadratura” that does not involve complicated calculations. They do not
understand that my geometry is unique.
q)Why did you invent 3D street painting?
a)My objective in inventing the 3D street painting was to insert my original
classical drawings into contemporary environments. I established the
creation of the works as performances that allowed the public to view the
process of classical drawing. For nearly 20 years I was the only artist who
could do this work, but now other artists can use graphics programs to
imitate it with quadratura. Most of these artists are not classically trained
and they have altered the original intent of my work to suit their own
abilities and taste.
q)3D street painting has an extremely strong visual impact. It relies on
both perspective geometry and drawing technique to achieve this.
Could you tell us how you begin the design? Do you make a design
a)I always begin a design with geometrical calculations and a perspective
drawing. This drawing is based on the size of the work and its spatial
relationship to the viewer, the environment, and the public that may
participate in the final image. Every work has two forms, the anamorphic
form of the art itself, (as it will be painted), and the perspective form, (as it
will appear to a viewer or the camera). My own work creates an interface
between anamorphic and curvilinear perspective, andI work back and forth
between them. The geometry of my work is different than that of the other
artists. I place the viewer extremely close to the work. The three-
dimensional figures I paint would not actually be in classical proportion
from this viewpoint. For this reason I use the “hyperbolic anamorphism” of
my own invention.
Almost all of the 3D pavement works are done for public venues. In general
there are presenters who must approve the design. For this reason I create a
detailed tonal drawing for presentation. Drawings are not highly valued in
our society, but I take great pleasure in creating them and consider them to
be my best work.
q)This innovative appeal of 3-dimensional street art has inspired many
artists. Do you consider your art a “new kind of art”?
a)From the very beginning, (1984), I considered my street painting illusions to
be a new form of art. I linked the artistic and classical imagery I was
studying to the contemporary world using perspective and photography. By
making the work into a performance, I was able to avoid dealing with some
of the antagonism that existed toward classical drawing in the 1980’s. It has
become very popular in recent years though I am seldom given credit for the
innovation. When I publish the form of anamorphic perspective I employ it
will be understood as being different from the historical geometry.
q)Could you introduce your original architectural designs, paintings,
sculpture and decoration? What do you consider to be original
a)My own designs are a result of my studies of European classicism. As
works of architecture they are original in the sense that none of the elements
are copies of existing designs. I have created my own proportional scale and
I design every detail from scratch. Some of my designs introduce concepts
that did not exist historically, but few people have the background to be able
to understand this. So far my architectural commissions have all been
private and the clients have wanted the designs to be somewhat traditional.
It would be fun to do shockingly original designs within the classical
tradition, but I would need the right patron for this. I already have the ideas.
q)On your website the architectural designs look classical. Why do you
like the classical style so much?
a)European classicism is an enormous cultural heritage. The roots of this
tradition stretch back before ancient Greece at least to ancient Egypt. This
gives the tradition five thousand years of history. In this way it is similar to
classical Chinese culture. The European classical tradition is not really a
style, but a visual language that encompasses hundreds of different styles.
Studying and working within any tradition this vast can be daunting, but is
endlessly challenging. I also enjoy decoration in architecture and the
classical tradition is unrivalled in its ability to organize decorative elements.
q)How did your work as an artist eventually lead you to architecture?
Was architecture an area that you were always interested in pursuing
or did it end up being a natural progression in your career?
a)The major subject I learned on my own was artist’s geometry. This is seen
in my use of perspective and illusion as well as in the proportional design of
my architecture. This subject is perhaps the most important single
component of our European artistic heritage, but in general it is taught badly,
or not at all.
After spending many years creating paintings and decorations for sumptuous
homes, I began to be asked to create original architectural designs. Along
with artist’s geometry and perspective, I have collected and studied many
theories about classical proportion and architectural design and eventually
came up with my own. It was exiting for me to put my theories to practical
q)Your designs take on a very Roman feel. Is this due to the amount of
time that you have spent in Europe or has this style always been a
favorite of yours?
a)I lived in Italy for 25 years, so the influence is ongoing. The basic premise
of my work is that there are aspects of classical culture that have yet to be
explored. I never seem to run out of ways to do this.
q)Which do you find the most personally rewarding art or architecture?
a)No matter what kind of project I am doing I spend most of my time lost in
the contemplation of spatial geometry. To this end I can spend countless
hours with the architecture. Composing figurative art is difficult and can be
fairly exhausting. I usually need to be refreshed and concentrated for this
q)How do you decide on a subject?
a)When I have free reign on the subject matter, I often like to create
compositions using famous themes from European art and music history.
This invites a comparison of my work to earlier artists. Perhaps I do this for
myself, as the number of people in my audience who can understand the
references is probably small. Now that I am older I enjoy using themes that
appeal to children, as they are the most consistently enjoyable members of
my public audience.
q)Do you think that your work became an “oasis” for people that were
tired of modern and futuristic art?
a)Fundamentally I consider my work very contemporary. It defies the
conventions of modernism, and therefore draws a lot of people to it. I do
believe that our century has made a monumental mistake by discarding the
tradition of classicism. Musicians manage to preserve their classical
heritage, while creating new contemporary forms as well. The visual arts
has a “slash and burn” relationship with its past. It will preserve the works,
but not the creative process.
q)How do you think about your style of your painting? What kind of story
you wish to show in your street painting?
a)My street painting compositions began as studies of renaissance
masterpieces. When I began creating original compositions, I was almost
immediately invited to participate in and start arts festivals. I considered the
creation of the work to be a performance and a drawing demonstration.
Because the work was created for public venues, I generally based the
subjects on traditional and recognizable themes. In Italy the themes of the
street paintings were generally religious. In the USA I mostly work from
classical mythology. Although the myths are fun for me, and appropriate to
the style of my work, there is a certain irony in the “Renaissance” of their
popularity. We live in a particularly confused society, lacking consensus in
terms of history, morals and culture. Even the Hollywood studios, such as
Disney, DreamWorks, and Warner Brothers find great relief in the classical
myths. It seems they are reviving classical culture out of the sheer
desperation of trying to find a cultural common ground. Naturally, this is
what classicism offers.
q)Is there a relationship between image and word in your work?
a)There is a relationship between image and story in my work. I like the
works to tell a tale.
q)In general, how long does an image take?
a)Most of my works take three to five days to design and a week to execute.
Some works may take much longer depending on their size and complexity.
Most of my work is done on commission and I have little control over the
size of the individual jobs.
q)Could you describe the process of your creation?
a)All the works start with an idea that is usually worked out in a tonal
drawing. This kind of drawing is a hallmark of my style. The perspective is
also worked out at this stage.
q)In what way do you exercise your skill?
a)I am mostly working full time, and can only exercise my skill through the
projects that arrive. This is not always the best situation. I often end up
designing difficult works so that they remain challenging to me.
q)When you are doing a new work, what thing is your first thought?
Could you tell us your flow of your creative process?
a)Generally I think about the environment of the work, most of the work is
created for a specific environment. Then I think of the geometry of the work
and an appropriate theme. In some ways my process is more similar to that
of an architect, although most of my work is drawn and painted.
q)Do you listen to music when you working? What kind music is your
favorite? How do you think about the relationship between music and
a)I actually listen to early Italian opera. Maybe this isn’t too cool, but the
elegance of the music is very important to me.
q)How do you usually become inspired?
a)I rarely can wait for inspiration to do a specific work. My real inspiration is
in the ability to understand and communicate lost bits of European visual
q)What is the most difficult thing when you doing the artwork? How do
you conquer it?
a)Difficulties rarely arise in the execution of an individual work. The real
difficulty for me is to maintain control of my career and move it forward in
directions that are in tune with my artistic mission. Every day many
requests arrive for works. I need to decide which jobs I will take to pay the
bills, and how I will move forward on the projects that I want to develop.
This can often be very frustrating.
a)How long does it takes, on average, for you to complete a painting?
a)All my works are different, but most projects are designed for a 5-7 day
q)Can you describe the relationship between form and color in your
a)Form is everything in my work. Color is used to emphasize form and space,
rather than for its own sake.
q)How does the setting in which your art is viewed effect how it is viewed?
a)Almost all of my work is site-specific, and the site does affect the meaning
of the work.
q)What is the significance of the particular medium/s you work in?
a)I work in a wide variety historical media as well as contemporary ones. For
me, the nature of the work determines the medium; the medium does not
inspire the work.
q)Do you think your art can be an incentive for people to visit the
museums and galleries or the idea is to bring art of museums for the
reach of everyone?
a)I have attempted to prove that the tradition of European drawing and
painting can be employed to create new and innovative works. It would
please me to see the curiosity about the images lead young people to
discovering this visual patrimony. It is too often buried in the mass of
imagery we create.
q)Do you use digital tools? What do you think about the difference
between digital and traditional techniques?
a)Today I use and enjoy digital techniques, although my expertise is limited to
2D programs such as Photoshop. I still do the 3D perspective calculations
by hand. For most of my career all my work has been designed and
produced by hand. Even when I worked for NASA, computer graphics had
not been invented. We even drew and inked the spacecraft diagrams by
hand. There is nothing wrong with digital tools, but the lack of experience
with traditional techniques can create a gap in an artist’s education. Art
education has yet to sort out the knowledge of past generations and extract
the vital information from the various traditions. For this reason each
generation is presented with a confusing array of concepts that may or may
not be helpful to a young artist. Completely ignoring thousands of years of
human experience in favor of current visual or stylistic fads is likewise a
poor plan. This is especially true for younger artists who will outlive the fad
and be ill equipped to move in different directions when it has run its course.
q)Could you please tell us your life attitude at this moment?
a)My desire is to move into education and share my experiences with younger
artists. I have been reorganizing my life significantly to accomplish this.
q)Any plan for you in the short term of the future?
a)I am working on creating books and programs that will teach geometry,
perspective and illusion as well as classical drawing and painting. I have a
book of my street painting experiences and a history of this art form at
Sterling Publishing in New York. I have also developed a new kind of
stereoscopic street painting and premiered it in London. I am also redoing
my website to be more informative and offer Giclée prints of drawings and
q)Can you explain what kind of reaction that your art has on the public?
a)Street painting has always had a fantastic popularity with the public. It is
difficult to imagine another art form that would have such a widespread
q)What is the first reaction of people when faced with your painting?
a)In the beginning the reaction was surprise, wonder and a bit of confusion.
Now people approach the image with expectations of what to see. The
diffusion of the images has been broad. I sometimes miss the old days for
the reaction of the audience.
Surprisingly I found out that you have many very young fans due to the
Gear of War image at Xbox. How did it feel to create something so “S-
Fiction”? Did it bring back some really cool NASA memories?
My core audience has always been in the 20 to 45 year old range. They are
not tied to the concept that art must be flat and non-representational to be
q)You are considered a Master Artist, how does it feel to get a title that is
originally given to painters such as DaVinci, Michelangelo, and very few
a)The title, “Master Artist”, refers to the ability to compose original works
within the language of classical form across a variety of mediums such
sculpture, painting, architecture. I’ve worked hard to be able to succeed at
doing this. There were many master artists in the past, and the term “master
artist” should not be confused with “great master artist”. “Old master”
seems to imply “great master”, because it also refers to the body of work that
is in museums today. A master artist will also create works that inspire
others and be able to teach. This is the most significant meaning of the term.
q)Artists work really hard on their creations, usually taking up a lot of
their time. When the piece is finally complete, it may receive negative
criticism. How do you deal with such criticism after working very
hard for long hours?
a)I have usually been very lucky with criticism, but I know it can be painful.
The Internet is a great new forum, but is very prone to rude and immature
comments. The most depressing thing for me is to have other people be
given credit for my inventions or works. This is rampant on the Internet and
very depressing for me. I have been accused of copying people who are
actually imitating me. I think that artists probably need to be more thick-
skinned now because of people’s ability to make anonymous comments on
work. Perhaps this is easier said than done.
q)Do people still give you change for your great work?
a)For three decades all my work has been done on commission for museums,
arts festivals, and corporate clients. I sometimes miss the complete artistic
freedom I had when I worked for tips, and would not be opposed to
returning to that lifestyle. At the moment it is still difficult for me to turn
down the commission requests.
q)Do you earn your living by painting?
a)I have always earned all my money with my art.
q)Who pays for your paintings? How do you sell your art?
a)Almost all my work is done on commission. Both events and permanent
works are made to order. This is mostly due to the scale of my work, which
makes it difficult to mount a show.
q)What does making art bring out in you? What do you mean to express
about yourself in your works?
a)Making art it so much a part of my daily existence that I have a hard time
separating myself from my work. Conversely, when I create I am not
focused on expressing myself, but focused on a more universal theme or
subject. The expression of my artistic personality is something that happens
by itself as a result of my relationship with the work.
q)What were some techniques that you had to learn on your own through
practice and experience that art education did not teach you? Is
practicing important in building your skill and confidence?
a)The major subject I learned on my own was artist’s geometry. This is seen
in my use of perspective and illusion as well as in the proportional design of
my architecture. This subject is perhaps the most important single
component of our European artistic heritage, but in general it is taught badly,
or not at all.
q)What materials do you use for your oil paintings? What facial
expressions and body movements are challenging for you?
a)I use a fairly traditional technique for oil painting. In general, I prepare my
canvasses from raw linen, rather than buy prepared ones. I mix the
preparation of the painting ground myself, but do not use the old animal
glues. I use a selection of the highest quality oil paints and pre- mix about
40 colors with a palette knife before starting to paint. My paintings are done
in layers, using the technique of glazing. Expressions and body movements
are generally resolved in the drawing, and rarely are an issue in the painting.
q)How did you get involved in making sculptures and ceramics? When do
you know a piece is finished and you no longer need to work on it? How
long do you usually spend on a piece?
a)I started making sculptures when I was working on a villa that required
them. Therefore my very first sculptures were 6’X20’ each. I knew that in
theory, my classical training in drawing should allow me to sculpt, but it was
still very scary because of the size of the commission. In a very short time, I
realized that my skills did transfer, and that sculpture, at least in clay, was
very much like drawing. I had wanted to do ceramics for a long time, but
this too waited for a commission before I was able to learn the craft. I have
always supported myself with my work, and commissions are often the only
way I can finance learning a new process or technique. Some of the
fundamental ideas that I use in my work are the result of studies I do on my
own time. This can take years, and I have to wait a decade or two before the
ideas are understood enough to be applied.
q)How did you get involved with animation and being a consultant for
Disney Studios and Warner Brothers and conducting workshops for
their staff? Is the teaching rewarding for you?
a)My parents were both teachers, and it has always come naturally to me.
Sometimes I have actually avoided it, perhaps because it seems like cheating
to earn money for something that doesn’t seem like work. I have to give
credit for my introduction to the studios to my manager Karen Schmidt.
Long before she managed my work, she worked for those institutions, and
hired me! I have seen good and bad teaching in my life; teaching is
rewarding to me when it challenges me. I am hoping to begin teaching
seminars in the next years.
q)Regarding your work with Disney Imagineering, are there any specific
works that reflect your artistic influence that Disney fans may
a)I created an entire illusion room for their Tokyo Disney Sea theme park in
Japan. In addition I did a lot of teaching and consulting, and I like to think it
rubbed off. The artists and designers are already very sophisticated, and I
often get ideas from them as well.
q)How many companies have you worked for? Which one left you
a)I have worked with dozens of top international companies, and many public
institutions. Of all of the private companies I have most enjoyed working
with Disney. I like the artists, designers and directors in that company.
They have always been respectful, professional and enthusiastic.
q)What influenced you to start a two-day residency program with The
Music Center in Los Angeles, CA? How do art and music come
together for you? What components do they share? How is the
program coming along?
a)To the best of my knowledge, the program is ongoing, although it is now in
the hands of younger artists. I devoted a month to the program each year for
about a decade. Eventually it became impossible for me to continue it,
because of the expense of spending that much time away from home (I lived
in Italy). Another factor was the amount of energy necessary to do the job.
In the years I did it, I taught and demonstrated the art for at least 100,000
children. I hope someday to create a teacher-training program that will be
q)Do you find yourself still wanting to paint or do you leave the painting
up to your students? What are some qualities that a good lecturer or
art teacher should have in order to guide the students?
a)As much as I have painted in my life, I wake up every single day wanting to
paint. Although it is rare that I go for a week without creating art, I become
nervous and irritable when this happens. I think that someone who does not
have the need to create art cannot teach. It seems that an art teacher or
lecturer that creates every day can be a good teacher, even if they are
themselves commercially or critically unsuccessful. People who do not feel
compelled to create art probably have a much harder time teaching it.
a)Your love for art and all it represents has taken you all over the world.
Do you have a favorite location that has provided the most memories for
a)Rome would be on the top of the list, and more recently Mainland China. It
sometimes reminds me of my early years in Italy because I cannot
understand the public or read the signs. Globalization in China has come so
late that there is still a huge amount of cultural distinction.
q)What do you consider as art? What is art for you?
a)For me, visual art is communication by decoration. I think of it as a way to
give a deep and subtle message under the pretense of making things
beautiful or entertaining.
q)In terms of your art, do you have a particular favorite piece or design?
a)I think my favorite work is the “Dies Irae.” It was a summation of my
studies, and presented a personal direction for me. It was so different than
anything done before that it took a long time for the public to grasp it.
q)Do you think you have grown as an artist since your initiation? What do
you think has changed?
a)I have certainly grown since I started, and different years have brought
completely different venues. Sometimes I feel the desire to return to a
particular study because I feel I could do much better now. I am not always
in control of what I can work on at a given time.
q)What is your goal in creating paintings and illustrations? Is it your goal
to be a famous artist or you just have the passion for creating artistic
a)Generally when I start a work my goal is to learn something. I think I am
relatively detached from the outcome of the work other than to have the
experience of creating it be useful and rewarding. Now that I am over 50
years old, I feel that I would like to consign works to posterity. Earlier I felt
I was still learning too much to be concerned with this.
q)What is your signature work of art?
a)My most well known piece is a work of pavement art known as the “Dies
Irae”. It has been published all over the world, and it was the piece that
introduced 3D street painting to the world. Many artists have taken up this
art form in the last decade.
q)What do you feel is your greatest achievement as an artist so far?
a)My most successful invention has been the art form of 3D street painting.
This has influenced many artists and directly or indirectly touched millions
of people. It is still only a small aspect of a much larger comprehensive
study of geometry, design, perspective and illusion that I have been working
on for the last 30 years. I am working on publishing this material now. It
will be much more important than anything I have done so far.
q)Have you been using the Internet to learn more about the world, to find
more opportunities for yourself to explore, or has the Internet been
useless for you? Do you have any favorite websites?
a)Nearly all the requests for my work arrive over the Internet. I myself use it
rarely. Oddly, many of the ideas I work with have not found their way to
q)Tell us about your recent works. What do you plan to do in the future?
And what are your dreams?
a)Sterling Publishing of New York will soon release a book with 25 years of
my pavement art. I am working on creating a museums show.
q)Which countries exhibit your work? Do you select these countries or the
countries invite you?
a)My work is shown all over the world. I go because I am invited to exhibit
q)What has been your favorite experience in all of your life?
a)My favorite years were the first years I spent in Italy. Even as they were
happening I would think, “these years will be the best years of my life.”
Other events were extremely important in my life, my marriage and the birth
of my son. But in those years I became me. Whether we want to admit it or
not, all things move from this center.
q)Are there any memories or events from your career that you are
particularly proud of?
a)Until now, the National Geographic documentary on my early work, and the
Kennedy Center Medallion stand out. I hope that my biggest contribution is
yet to come, and it will be in the area of education.
q)On which pictorial movement would you classify your work?
a)I think I sort of created my own pictorial movement, but the evolution of it is
still very much in transition. It should come to some more tangible
conclusion in the next decade.
q)Do you share your plastic work with other activities?
a)I do not always have the opportunity to sculpt. I hope to interface it more
with my drawing and design as I move into education.
q)What is your plan for the future?
a)I am currently working on educational programs that will bring the results of
my personal experience to the next generation. I plan to mount educational
demonstrations on my website. These will include the famous illusions, but
also a comprehensive survey of geometry in the arts, including proportion
and architectural design. Later I will expand the demonstrations to include
other subjects such as classical drawing. When I started studying this
material, many of the ideas seemed obsolete. Now the pendulum is
swinging in the other direction and much of what I know has contemporary
applications, especially for computer graphics and imaging. The classical
drawing provides a solid foundation for contemporary drawing styles, which
are becoming more figurative.
I am also working on stereoscopic street art.
q)Do you have advice for young artists who want to be successful as you
a)I have always measured my own successes and failure in terms of personal
growth. Now that I am older I think more about my contribution to society.
My advice to young artists is to accumulate skills. This includes skills with
digital technology, but more importantly perceptual skills. The technology
will change constantly over the lifetime of a young artist. Most of what they
learn today will be obsolete within a decade or even sooner. Perceptual
skills, such as those involved in drawing, painting, sculpture and geometry
are much harder to acquire. So are the traditional techniques of creating art.
For this reason they provide an advantage to the young artist and a buffer
against the hardships that are all too common with a career in the arts.
q)What message would you give to the “new” artists of today?
a)My message to other artists is to search the past for ideas and aesthetics that
have been lost in our time. Only by reference to our global artistic
patrimony can we assess the validity of our personal contributions. If we are
torn from historical references, our creations are likely to be overly attached
to current fashions.
q)What is one mistake that aspiring artists seem to make?
a)Rejection comes from others, and is only important if they are right.
Frustration is a natural part of the creative process. Some artists come up
with formulas and by repetition avoid failure or frustration. Other artists
have no consistent procedure or technique, and are constantly frustrated.
The key is to have a procedure or technique that guarantees success, but is
sufficiently flexible to accommodate new ideas.
q)What advice can you give to aspiring artists?
a)If you are creative, you will have the tendency to constantly move out of
your “comfort zone.” Good technique allows you to escape back into the
safety zone when the work starts to fall apart. If you lose lots of works, you
should reassess your technique. Master painters of the past did not lose lots
of works, but were nonetheless creative.
q)Do you have any tips to give those that aspire to make a living out of
a)How an artist makes a living at art is essentially a personal choice.
Detachment and a thick skin are the basic tolls for selling anything and art is
no exception. I would say for a young artist it is best not to wait around for
galleries and agents to do the selling. Get out there and sell it yourself.
q)What advice would you give to an artist that loves to be someone like
a)My own work is based on understanding the history of the art I love. Many
artistic traditions are rich and unexplored. The Arab culture has left works
of great geometric beauty that are no longer understood. By understanding
the principles underlying these works, new and dramatic works could be
created today. If I were Arabian, I would pursue this idea.
q)What words of wisdom do you have for anyone interested in entering
the world of Street Painting?
a)Street painting requires a lot of courage. Few artists are immediately
comfortable sharing their creative process; it is intimidating to them. What I
have found is that the process results in a catharsis. The artist learns that the
public does not actually understand the process well enough to be critical,
and is truly fascinated by the creative process, even if it is imperfect. It is a
great liberation to learn this. That being said, street painting for tips is a
survival skill. It is immensely difficult, but the rewards are proportional to
q)What tips would you give me on how to create an anamorphic image?
a)I am writing a book about artist’s geometry. Until that is published, I am
keeping my proprietary geometry to myself. What makes the anamorphic
images successful is a strong knowledge of perspective and good classical
drawing skills. I would concentrate on those, rather than seeking an easy
way to do the work.
q)Do you have any final messages for our readers?
a)I would say that we are in a time of great transition in terms of culture and
the evolution of human perception. There are very few art rules and little
advice that is useful or applicable to young artists. At the same time, it
seems to me that there is a trap peculiar to the new generation. This is the
possibility of avoiding the development of skills. Gaining perceptual and
manual skills may become much more important in the next decades than we
can possibly imagine.