Artist in Profile: Federico De Cicco ‘On Andrei Tarkovsky’

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This interview is the first in a series of pieces for the Exploding Appendix Gallery that showcases artists and their work. In this piece we discuss the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky with Federico De Cicco and explore his influence on Federico’s most recent project ‘Homage to Andrei Tarkovsky’. An exhibition of this series is currently on until 1st April 2017 at Kahaila Cafe, 135 Brick lane, E1 6SB, London.

 

Bradley Tuck: Andrei Tarkovsky is a very visual filmmaker, we could even call him a painterly filmmaker.  So, in this respect, I can understand how he would be an inspiration for people working in other mediums, in illustration, painting or visual arts more generally.  Was it Tarkovsky’s visuals that made you want to create this series based on his work? What made you think, “hey, I want to do a series of artworks based on his films”?

Federico De Cicco: Andrei Tarkovsky was a poet film maker ( and that’s how he liked to refer to all auteur film makers), so in this regard what struck me about Tarkovsky’s films was his artistic language consisting of images, concepts, dialogues and the music which scrolls gently on the screen: this motion is the time of poetry.

I am not sure if we can call Tarkovsky a “very visual filmmaker” because I guess every film maker is in some regards;  what I wish to emphasize here is the fact that like any work of art, the images are just the result of the artistic thoughts and without this solid base the visual result can be limited. Tarkovsky was able to create such masterpieces thanks both to his talent and as a result of his ethical ideas.

My project “Homage to Andrei Tarkovsky- Inner Rooms” came about in a very spontaneous way and that’s why it has a particular meaning for me already.

Since the beginning of my career I have often created some images in both a detailed style or a sketchy one. Apart from a few pieces, I have employed the latter style more for initial studies rather than for final images. I have often considered this “rough” style to be the one that represents me the best but my curiosity for making images brought me to develop the intricate and detailed one as well. To simplify the concept the detailed style requires a good amount of control in how to spread the colors over the surface while the “sketchy” one requires a loose and more instinctive  approach to the painting. I often enjoyed both styles and try to combine them together when possible (while letting the water based colors go where they wanted within the designated area).

Last October soon after completing my previous project “Across the Free Land”, doing the exhibition, and, as a result, being physically and emotionally tired, I took the brushes once again for sketching and painting something worth focusing on. The answer was found on Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies.

It was not planned and while creating images based on his works (and often realizing a connection between the film maker’s ideas and mine), I also felt the need to create some images based on my innermost feelings, dreams, fears and hopes: the more I was painting the deeper I was going.

In the end I have created and selected around 30 pieces which in some cases I have painted twice.

Bradley: How did you approach the transition from moving photographic images to still impressions? What was involved in this ‘translation’ of the image, and how did this influence your approach?

 

Federico: Art has the power to profoundly influence our life but in order to let this happen, we must be aware of the endless beauty which surrounds us and be “emotionally open”.

The process of creating this series started from the simple way of selecting some images which I believed best emphasized Tarkovsky’s ideas without being too explicit, or just relying on the notorious shots; also what I appreciated  most about this process is the fact that by recreating the images on paper, I was becoming more aware of the power of their composition.

Furthermore the use of primary blue and black colours on white paper played a fundamental role for traveling inwardly and discovering myself while opening some locked doors.

Finally the use of the dry brush technique, which made it possible to create some interesting textures, added the final touch and really addressed the whole investigation.

It sounds surprising to me as well but I have started to think that during this process I was getting in a state of mind where duality disappeared and each additional brushstroke added an essential note to the whole composition. There was not such a thing called a wrong brushstroke.

Bradley: I often think of Tarkovsky as a philosophical filmmaker, as someone who, through his films, explored deep ethical, existential and spiritual questions that were relevant to the world in which he lived. He was working in Soviet Russia, so times have changed. In what ways do you see Tarkovsky as being philosophically relevant to out times?

 

Federico: Andrei Tarkovsky films are, and will always be relevant to our times, and that’s because (like every universal work of art) they focus on issues that concern humanity no matter when or where it happens. For me some of his most important ideas centre around:

 

– The role of the artist in society

– The salvation of humanity through moral ideas

– The uniqueness of each individual that is part of a bigger unit (society) but must be aware of  his/her spiritual needs all the time

In order to better express these ideas I will quote some of his movies and thoughts.

About the role of the artist in society:

 

“… To forget oneself, to offer up, to sacrifice oneself as a creator … is the proper way, the correct attitude in an artist.”

 

“For only total honesty and sincerity, compounded by the knowledge of his own responsibility towards others, can ensure the fulfillment of an artist’s creative destiny.”

 

“ We have almost totally lost sight of the beautiful as a criterion of art: in other words, of the aspiration to express the ideal.Every age is marked by the search for truth. And however grim that truth, it still contributes to the moral health of humanity.”

 

“ For art could almost be said to be religious in that it is inspired by commitment to a higher goal. Devoid of spirituality, art carries its own tragedy within it. For even to recognise the spiritual vacuum of the times in which he lives, the artist must have specific qualities of wisdom and understanding.… An artist who doesn’t try to seek out absolute truth, who ignores universal goals for the sake of accidentals, can only be a time-server.”

About the salvation of humanity through moral ideas:

“ If you want the world to go forward we must hold hands, we must mix with the so-called healthy with the so-called sick”

 

“Faith. He becomes aware in himself of what is most important of all;  and that most important thing is alive in every person.”

 

“Liberty consists in the sacrifice in the name of love”

 

“namely that human love alone is—miraculously— proof against the blunt assertion that there is no hope for the world. This is our common, and incontrovertibly positive possession. Although we no longer quite know how to love. . . .”

 

“ the capacity to love. That element can grow within the soul to become the supreme factor which determines the meaning of a person’s life. My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware that beauty is summoning him.”

About The uniqueness of each individual that is part of a bigger unit (society) but must be aware of his/her spiritual needs all the time:

“A spiritual crisis is an attempt to find oneself, to acquire new faith. It is the apportioned lot of everyone whose objectives are on the spiritual plane. The soul yearns for harmony, and life is fullof discordance.”

 

“So long as man and society don’t progress harmoniously or spiritually insidethey will never find peace and their condition shall be tragic”

Bradley: In András Bálint Kovács’ account of Tarkovsky (‘Andrei Tarkovsky’ in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film) he situates his work within the philosophical tradition of Russian Christian Personalism. He identifies two key themes that are central to the personalist project, one is the idea of the person as a mission. The person as a mission is important because through the person as a mission one reaches the transcendent. Thus the second key theme is the transcending of the person. Kovács focuses on Ivan’s Childhood and Andre Rubljov in relation to the former and Stalker in relation to the latter. It is interesting to think how this conflicted with the ideas of the soviet union at the time, which was collectivist rather than personalist, and secular rather than religious.

 

Federico: Regarding the ideas expressed by András Bálint Kovács (the person as a mission and the transcending of the person), I personally believe that these steps correspond to the evolution of a soul set for a journey, a vertical journey for the good of humanity. For example If we take this idea in relation to Andrei Rubliov, I believe we can realise the truth of it.

As Tarkovsky explained in one of his interview: “In literally all his works this artist bore forth the idea of brotherhood, cooperation and mutual love. He incarnates the ethical ideal of his time”.

Andrei Rubliev has been a central figure for Russia during the Middle Ages and this is because the attitude of the priest and the struggle he went through during his whole life. Rubliev was a gifted icon painter that lived in an epoch of bloodshed. During those days Russian land (which was not a country yet) was often plunder by Tartars. Wretchedness and despair was often found in the villages and dwellers could do very little against the brutality of the invaders. Rubliev witnessed all of this but in spite of a serious crisis (which eventually stopped him from taking and painting for quite a long time) he managed to paint what the people needed.

I believe Rubliev can be seen as the person that through a mission reaches transcendency. Transcendency was the result of his struggle which brought him to produce the heritage of his icon paintings.

Regarding the characters of Ivan and The Stalker, I think that in spite of the fact they were on a journey, their aim was less spiritual, so I would argue that they too should possibly be classified under the heading ‘ the person as a mission’.

In Ivan’s Childhood, Ivan a 12 years old boy is determined to join the fight against the enemy. His main reason to live is bound to the idea of taking part in the war. Unfortunately he finds a terrible ending after being caught by the Germans. We can easily see that the person Ivan was set for a mission and by offering all himself to the cause, he overcomes his limits.  However I doubt if we can call this transcendency mainly because in my opinion what burnt inside Ivan was the urge of revenge (given by the tragic situation and the loss of both parents) and not some higher values which instead can be found in Andrei Rubliev’s mission ( like the idea of brotherhood and peace for all).

Regarding the Stalker and its namesake movie I can see this figure having a mission but I believe that his prime aim was based on the false illusion that thanks to his guidance, the visitors of the Zone could find hope in their life (when nothing else can fulfill this idea) and in return he too had a reason to hope for. I am deeply motivated by the idea that high purposes in our life have to be met inside us first and shared with our beloved. I hardly believe that these purposes can be strictly associated to a place or material thing in particular, therefore I struggle to see the Stalker as a person able to achieve transcendency.

It was also Tarkovsky who liked to pointed to the figure of The Stalker’s wife as the one at a stronger spiritual level. Contrary to her husband, she was able to sacrifice all in the name of love, thus to have a constant hope for the future that did not require anything else but living with her husband and daughter.

In regards to the relevance of Tarkovsky’s movies nowadays, I support the idea that in there we find, and will always be able to find, responses to our spiritual needs. Being spiritual or being connected with our inner voice (and being able to try to listen to our own voice), is something that can be achieved in different ways. Religion is one of them; art is another or simply having a great respect and love for life, knowing that things are immense, people’s deeds can be immense. Nature is out there for us all the time and helps to remind us of this. In the end I believe that the genuine journey of a soulful man will lead to the same place: A place called Love.

Bradley:  Tarkovsky is often seen as important to a particular auteur approach to cinema, which usually emphasises an individual artists vision, often opposed to the more commercial model of the studio system. The art of illustration, maybe because it tends to be a piece of artwork made for someone else or to accompany something else, tends to be seen as something closer to the commercial end of the art world. Where do you see your work fitting into this?

 Federico: Auteur directors persistently struggle to make a movie while being coherent to their vision and language, and this is because cinema, and more generally art, decided that moral ideas, the search for beauty and expressing the truth, are no longer fundamental for the realization of a movie or for the creation of a new piece of art.

Nowadays the primary aim of movies and art is to entertain and make a profit and by doing so, we completely lose the scope of it, and we put ourselves in a very dangerous place, a place where those who have the opportunity to address important issues can’t, or don’t want to, therefore everything is possible, everything is irrelevant and superficiality reigns!

Regarding my personal idea of being an image maker (more than an illustrator or artist), I believe that categories are not essential for those who have had or are trying to contribute to the world of art which is the world that belongs to everyone, the world which anyone can satisfy his or her thirst for harmony.

I always like to view illustration as the young daughter of mother art and this is because I believe that it is the profoundness of our research that ultimately help to establish what is the real nature of our works. Often the so-called illustration does not need to be profound but it is not always the case.

In this regard I can assert that some of my commissioned works are more profound than the personal ones in which I had no restrictions given by the client.

Bradley: What other projects have you been working on?

 Federico: Last summer I completed a five year long personal project called Across the Free Land; the project tells a story by using the images found on the flags and coats of arms of countries around the world. The adventure follows the journey of a central protagonist, whose appearance changes as he visits different territories and encounters a diverse cast of characters. The complete project reflects my view of the world as a unique whole that should not be considered in terms of the division between states, dominions and other entities.  Visually speaking this work is very much different from the Tarkovsky one and in spite of having changed the appearance of some of those elements found on flags and emblems, I decided it was good to keep the same appearance in which they are usually represented.

Other works of mine includes some commissioned works done for a couple of main clients based in London.

 

Bradley: Where can people see more of your work?  

 Federico: If you would like to see more of my works, please visit:

https://zumar7.com/
https://www.behance.net/zumar7

Thank you

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