Luca makes films, makes paintings, makes stories. He recently moved from New York to North Carolina, where he has become a visual artist full time. We talk about this recent decision, the relationship of art & commerce, art as work, and what is beautiful/not pure.
KB: So, what I’m immediately curious about is your thought process before you moved to North Carolina and decided to make art your primary business. Was there a definite moment in which you decided this?
LD: It was gradual. North Carolina is a name. And for me being an artist has always been a problem of relations between names and things.
I make art since I was a little kid. I always felt the need to fill up pages with ink. But it’s only since I was sixteen and started playing in punk rock bands and being involved with the Italian underground music scene in the 80’s and early 90’s, that I started thinking of myself as an “artist”, even if the word was never spelled out. I didn’t say that I was an artist and my friend didn’t either. What I really loved was to draw flyers and covers for LPs and cassettes. I was interested in the visuals. I bought tons of LPs only for the cover. If there was the need of an image, I was the one who was called to make it.
Gradually I started making pieces that were not functional. I just made them so I could look at them. I gave them to my friends. In a way those images were functional too. I made them so they could cover the stained walls of my friends apartments. The art I like the most is not pure. I love religious art (and I am an atheist) because it gives to the artist a constraint to work with. That’s why I like to make book trailers, because they limit what I can do, which is the greatest freedom. One of my favorite movies of all times was made to sell a chair. I started to say that I was an artist pretty recently.
In the last four years, since I moved to the USA, art has been what I do most of the time. Moving to North Carolina has been that last step of a process. I sit in from of my table for at least eight hours every day, no matter what happens.
North Carolina is not only a name of course. Here life is a lot less expensive than in New York. I can have more space to work. Here I realized that I have/don’t want to have other ways to make money than art. The problem is not if the money comes or not, or if the money is enough, but what are you ready to face, to which extent are you ready to sit at that table and cut paper without knowing if somebody will pay you. Right now all my socks have holes.
How about you? You are a writer and also an actor. How do you live this dichotomy?
KB: Well, I want to say that acting and writing aren’t very different, but that’s not the case. They’re different in that acting is working within constraint, always, and I’ve never had any sort of constraint in writing that wasn’t self imposed. But, I feel that I’m a better actor in my writing than I am acting, if that makes sense. I tend toward writing in the first person, and that is just inhabiting a body.
They are different to me in terms of money, though. I’ve been acting professionally since I was 12, for eight years now, and it’s really been in the last five years that I’ve been able to make a living wage. And in the last two and a half years, because of the television show I’m on regularly, I’ve been able to support myself and travel and publish books. I’m spoiled. But I’ve worked and put myself in the body-to-object gauntlet from 12 on. So: acting is certainly different from writing. As an actor I’ve had to constantly assess myself in a really complex web of relations, think of myself as a Thing. Writing: not so much. I get to sit in a room and play-think. All of this is a long way of saying that I think each active side of me is informed by the other. It’s all imaginative work, and to be able to pay bills and eat food from imaginative work is nice, as you’ve said. Or have you? Have your perceptions about the nature of art changed since? Does it feel more like work? How does having such a rigid schedule affect your emotional attitude about your art and the art of others?
Oh, and what is this movie about chair making?
LD: The film made to sell a chair is Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair (1960) by Charles and Ray Eames. (above)
Since it has become a “job”, I have been able to focus more on the art I really care about.
Art and work are strictly connected for me. I like the obsessive quality that you can reach by putting an insane amount of hours into something. In a way, I consider art the purest form of work, because it’s a systematic, patient, scrupulous waste of time. Here’s an example of what I mean by “waste.” Recently I was working on a short sequence for one of my animations: blood dripping on a house on fire. I painted and cut out a bunch of small paper drops (so small that I needed tweezers to move them). I could have cut 20 drops and looped the sequence to make it longer in the editing. Instead, I cut 80 drops and shot the entire sequence. The drops are so small that probably, in looping them, nobody would have noticed the difference. But I would have noticed it. I like that all the drops are slightly different. I think that on a subliminal level, people see the difference. It’s a matter of texture, of hand-made quality. That’s why I hate digital animation and flash animations, because they are shortcuts. From a commercial point of view, I wasted time. I could have done what I did in less time, and it would have looked almost the same. The difference is in the “almost”. Work, in a capitalistic sense, is optimizing time, making the most out of the least. What art does, or at least what I do, is to mimic work, and invert its terms. The time I throw away shows up in the art I make. It’s a trace of what I put my body through, something unnatural (work is unnatural) that tires, exhausts the body.
Sitting every day in my studio for eight or more hours thickens my emotional response to art–mine and other people’s. I don’t believe in inspiration. I’ve sort of trained my body to work at any time. I have just to sit at the table and accept the fact that I will have to go though blanks and make bad art and make mistakes etc. Also, there is a mechanical aspect in my art, which I enjoy immensely.
With writing it’s different. I can’t write for more than one hour a day.
For how long can you write?
KB: I’m trying to write for longer stretches. My temporal decisions fit the project I work on, mostly. I wrote one short novel in 72 hours (was writing for all but 9 of them), with little revision later. I wrote the first draft of another short novel in 400-700 word bursts that lasted around fifteen minutes each. It depends on the voice or underlying energy that seems to carry the words and carry me in them. Although, mostly and lately, I’ve been like you. Why do you think you only can write for an hour per day?
I like this: ‘Since it has become a “job”, I have been able to focus more on the art I really care about.’
This is remarkable, and I think more prevalent in some realms of artistic work than others. To use Hollywood produced TV & film is kind of a bad reference though, because that is the most maximally stuffed-with-commerce Art there is; some, like Christopher Higgs, would argue that most if not all of it is entertainment and not art. And this brings up the Eames video you that I’ve posted above. In what ways do you find yourself struggling with the idea of concession? To audience, or to trends in format like video length?
I really like your articulation of what artistic work is, work with inverted terms. And I agree with you fully in the recognition of those individual blood drops; I think that an audience is more perceptive and spongelike than most corporate bodies think.
I’d like to know what your blanks look like. Do you know the longest amount of time you’ve gone without working on a project?
LD: I couldn’t stop thinking about your 72 hours novel. It’s something I am not able to do, so it’s like a wonder, like watching somebody swallowing knives. I’d be curious to know more. About the position of your body. About whether you were taking breaks, if you were drinking or eating. What were you using to push yourself forward? Writing itself?
My bursts are one hour bursts. I timed them. After one hour the energy wears off. I think that writing is not only the act of writing but everything that is around it, waiting, taking notes, collecting ideas, throwing ideas away etc. A writer that I realy admire uses the expression “working the hole” to define this activity around writing. In my case, working the hole is making art. Actually, it’s more correct to say that I work the hole of my art when I write. I am more, in terms of time spent, a visual artist than a writer.
Art and entertainment: for me they always go together, or at least that’s when they are more interesting for me. John Carpenter is art too. Pasolini is entertainment too. I can’t separate them. Baudelaire wrote that “art is pure like the water of the sewers”.
Concessions: never. The most commercial work I’ve done so far are record covers and book trailers. In both cases, I’ve worked with people who really like what I do and let me do whatever I want. I wouldn’t be able to work otherwise. As a commercial artist, I suck. I just make what I like to make, and then try to sell it.
My blanks, when I make art, are still making art. I keep drawing even when I have nothing to draw. I know I will have to throw the drawings away but the important thing is to keep going. In order to reach what I want, I have to go through what I don’t want.
Projects: Never been without one. I work on multiple things at the same time. There is a subtle neurosis in having too much to do, which is what keeps me going.
How are your blanks?
KB: I’d like to start off saying: yes, I bet you could do it. It was an activity of will & caffeine. I let the fetus of the book stay inside me so long–the first and last sentence–that, when I finally birthed it, it came in waves, not unlike labor. And I couldn’t stop, or didn’t. I was sitting in a chair looking at a screen for most of those hours. I stoop, I have awful posture. I ate chocolate, water, corn & black bean enchiladas, and four large Red Bulls. The breaks were just staring at the screen, but for the most part I was writing and moving text around on the pages.
I do trust whatever energy that I sense in making, too. Again: waves. Waves of attention. “Working the hole” I like, but what if it was “working the void”?
What is that Baudelaire thought from? I can’t find it online.
It seems to me a more straight forward process: making the thing and then selling it/giving it away. More like birth and more like creating something alive. Although, I remember you say that constraint is good for you. What if you were to work within a more strict constraint; make art that is even more concerned with a topic or subject that already lives somewhere else, like a brand? Do you find that you also have a sort of window of interest toward your art? Meaning: do you ever grow bored with something that you’ve made but are still trying to sell/place, and if so, do you notice a pattern?
‘In order to reach what I want, I have to go through what I don’t want.’ This is great; this is story.
Tension makes tension makes art.
My blanks are daily. I generally fart around a lot. I’m trying to do more, and better.
LD: I love the image of the fetus. I love the idea of labor.
I am familiar with awful postures. Chocolate and caffeine: I use them a lot when deadlines are tight.
The Baudelaire phrase is somewhere in his writings about art. I translated by memory from an Italian anthology of his essays. It’s one of my favorite books ever. He talks about money too, money and art.
Constraints: so far, the constraints I had to work within, have never been that strict. They have been more like words or images that I used to build my own constraints. There have been a few cases where somebody asked me to do something very specific, and I ended up not taking the job. A band asked me to make a video with girls in a car stopping at a store to sell their guitars and buy microwaves. Of course I said no. I wondered if the band ever looked at my stuff. I need the money, but more than anything I need to do what is congenial to me. Let’s say, one day a big company wants an animation from me. They will obviously have very specific constraints. If these constraints allow me to make something that is still personal, that allows me to make the art I want to make, I’ll take the job. If not, I will not take it and keep wearing the same pair of sneakers. It’s kind of simple. I always know where the line is.
Sometimes I get bored of what I’ve done, yes. But not that often. Last week I had to put up a show and ended up choosing only the pieces I’ve made in the past three months. Everything else looked stale. If I don’t like a piece, I don’t even try to sell it, I wait and see what time does to it, and to me in relation to it. The window can open again: yesterday I started putting away old work and really liked it, again.
I agree about what you say: art is making something alive and the trying to sell it/give it away.
Only a couple years ago, I hated the idea of selling my art. I wanted to sell only reproductions and keep the originals for me. Now I am ok in selling my art, because I am interested in the reason why somebody would buy a piece of mine. Buying art: it’s not only about the money, it’s also about what happens to the work, how its life, to keep using your image, continues. Recently I made a piece with a pair of tiny glasses and the writing: “I do not need them where I am now.” A woman bought it. She told me hat her father had just died and that he always wore glasses (she had his glasses in her pocket while talking to me) and that the painting reminded her of him.