Milan-based PAOLO TROILO is a self-taught visual artist who first began drawing in pencil at the age of four. After an illustrious twelve-year career in advertising, Troilo decided to leave the corporate world behind to follow his true passion in art. In San Francisco for his United States debut, he took a break from prepping his show at COUP D’ETAT GALLERY to speak with LUXETIGERS about his journey into the art world, his affinity for the male physique and his unique technique.
Victor Vargas: You had an established career in advertising prior to entering the art world. What inspired you to make the change?
Paolo Troilo: Advertising. Advertising itself inspired me to change. I respect that kind of work but at the same time, after you work in it for a certain period of time – about 15 years – quite a long period, you realize that if you’re a creative guy or you feel like a creative guy, that is not creative work. Not really. I mean if you want to be pure and go to the pure expression of yourself, you have to leave advertising, because advertising is definitely not pure. It is linked to questions of the market, the client and your idea changes so many times that you realize that your previous natural idea is not natural anymore.
Victor Vargas: So you wanted more liberty? The liberty to create without the influence of a client…
Paolo Troilo: Yes, and also to tell about what advertising teaches you when you work in it. Reality is completely different.
Victor Vargas: Yes, of course.
Paolo Troilo: You say of course but we have to think about the masses …
Victor Vargas: That’s true; I work in advertising as a freelancer …
Paolo Troilo: Yeah, but people don’t assume “of course, it’s not real”.
Victor Vargas: That’s true and that’s a very good point actually.
Paolo Troilo: And so, a lot of people are under control and it’s okay, huh? I’m not that kind of man – that kind of man that it’s possible to keep under control – I feel.
Victor Vargas: Which is a virtue for you as an artist, I believe.
Paolo Troilo: I think so.
Victor Vargas: Your approach is unique because you work using your fingers instead of brushes. What are some of the unique properties that this process brings to your creations?
Paolo Troilo: If I were a gallerist ha, ha, ha, the gallerist would tell you “Okay, the difference is that nobody can copy this!” Ha, ha, ha.
Victor Vargas: Your finger prints!
Paolo Troilo: Yeah! Because, you can make a fake Van Gogh but actually, you cannot make a fake Troilo. But this is not a reason to say that Van Gogh is worse than Troilo, it’s the technical stuff that most probably the gallerist would say to you. But the fingers … okay, let’s see the canvas – the canvas is my body and not because I want to show my body but because I prefer to interpret myself in what I feel and to think that my feelings, my very instinctive feelings are everybody’s feelings. Okay, the feelings of everybody. To do that using fingers is like a void to put something in between your thoughts and what you are doing. So, the fingers give my canvases more strength because it’s a direct translation of my ideas and emotions.
Victor Vargas: Have you always focused on painting male figures? Is that how you started off?
Paolo Troilo: The male body to me is the most interesting piece of nature because it moves its shapes and muscles and mass in a very different way with light and shadows. I definitely love women but at the same time, I prefer male shapes because the reaction is more dramatic. The reaction of the body because I don’t distort the figure, I try to keep it as it is in nature, so starting from a male body; I start from the miracle of the light – a natural construction. Also, this is also linked to the fact that I use myself and I want to keep using myself because the translation of my thoughts and ideas in a body are complete once I use myself and I am man with the body of a man.
Victor Vargas: Since they are self-portraits, it’s clear in the paintings that the subject is the same man, over and over, which it is, as you said it yourself but the faces in some of the paintings are left open to interpretation or obscured. Is there a particular reason for that?
Paolo Troilo: Yes, because, starting from the point that I use myself just because I want to use a male body and using myself I can be focused on my feelings. These are not self portraits. These are portraits of human beings translated to a male body – that is actually me – sometimes you see my face clearly and sometimes not but most of the reactions to my paintings, even from women, the reaction is, “I see myself”. Even from women.
Victor Vargas: So, people relate to them a lot …
Paolo Troilo: Yeah, exactly. Most of my collectors and the people who come to see my work, they forget about who it is and this is very important. I don’t want to use recognizable subjects. No babies, no old men, no women, no men with particular body structures. I want to use like an icon, let’s say, even if I’m quite an iconoclast. An icon and repeat always the same figure, so you can forget what you see as a shape and start to concentrate on what’s happening inside.
Victor Vargas: And the feelings, because you have said that it’s important for you to communicate the feelings …
Paolo Troilo: The feelings; but the aesthetic part is so important, because I’m Italian and I belong to a dynasty from a figurative and aesthetic country. So, through this aesthetic way to show the emotion and through the male body, I try to reach that point.
Victor Vargas: Can you tell us in your own words what some of these emotions and kinetic energy are saying?
Paolo Troilo: Let’s say that every painting has a story, so every subject is different. I think of my works also as mirrors. The people are the ones that build their own emotions in front of my paintings, you know. I usually start by using a precise idea because the painting has not come into existence, not yet, it tells about sustaining a family but at the same time someone else will approach the work in a different way.
Victor Vargas: When you begin a new canvas, do you set out to portray a particular mood dictated by your own mood on that day or do you wait until you get in front of the canvas and see how you feel?
Paolo Troilo: This part of the process belongs to my preparation. I try to understand my feelings, because I would like to be very focused in my paintings, I try to understand what I’m feeling and what I want to transmit and the feeling that I have in that moment is what builds the painting. When I start to paint, I go into another world, because I paint with my fingers, I’m very close to the canvas. I’m not the type to work from far away and look at it from a distance. I’m more like someone working on a miniature so I go into a particular state of mind that gives me the serenity to translate with a strong effect. Even if I am serene executing the results. So it’s not the moment in which I’m painting that the emotion is inside me, because at that moment, I am completely technical inside.
Victor Vargas: Are you ever surprised by the results?
Paolo Troilo: Always! Because I work so close to the canvas that in the middle of the painting I take a couple of steps back and I say wow! Always, always, always – always like a kid in front of my stuff.
Victor Vargas: Actually, since you brought up the subject; you are now a father. Has the birth of your son influenced your work?
Paolo Troilo: Yes, it was the confirmation of what I think. And every day that passes he teaches me the fact that we are singular individuals and special. Even if I love you so much, at the same time, if I fall down and hit my knee, you as my mother or father come to me and say oh, you poor boy, how are you doing, are you alright? I am the only one that feels that pain. And every day he reminds me of that, in a very instinctive way.
Victor Vargas: What inspired you to have your U.S. debut in San Francisco?
Paolo Troilo: Meeting [The Gap’s] Stephen Brady. He was first a collector and then became a friend of mine. I started to think about a U.S. exhibit. With him we tried to figure out and enjoy this idea and when I heard about San Francisco, it was a combination, it was a chain reaction. Knowing a friend, a good friend that is very familiar with my work and speaking about San Francisco as a revolutionary city that is so intense and so strong, in the way it speaks to you and then coming to Coup D’état – it was a chain reaction.
Victor Vargas: What is your next project?
Paolo Troilo: A solo show in Venice. This is good to think about because going from San Francisco to Venice is like going from one heaven to another heaven.