Interview with Alex Prosperi

Alex Prosperi, born in 1989, was born in Teramo and moved to Bologna for his studies, where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, finishing the bachelor’s degree in 2013. He lived in Berlin for a year before returning to Italy and moving to Milan, where he attended the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in painting in 2017. Alex does not only dedicate himself to painting, but also to writing, particularly poetry.

Francesca Della Ventura (FDV): Alex, first of all thank you for taking part in this interview. You are the first male artist we are hosting in our “pink” virtual space. Can you tell us something about your training and how you approached the world of painting and writing?

Alex Prosperi (AP): I am Abruzzese by birth, stomach and heart, but I grew up head and shoulders in Bologna, where I attended the Academy of Fine Arts, painting course. I lived for a while in Berlin, looking for a sort of rive gauche, but more wandering than anything else, and the last stop was Milan, where I finished my studies in painting at the Academy of Brera, and where I still live. I started painting at the university, with time my approach to the story of things has changed, but I have always drawn, since I was a child: animals, sea monsters, lots of dinosaurs, I drew mainly looking at my grandfather’s encyclopedias. I also liked bulldozers, but not like Salvini. Growing up, there was a shift towards comics and illustration, but then I realized that I needed space, and not time, so I moved to the canvases. And the monsters, the ones we all have a bit, have remained, but they come from inside instead of from a book. And then I write, yes, but I don’t remember why, maybe it’s de André’s fault. He said that Benedetto Croce said that those who write after the age of 15 are either poets or idiots. Since I don’t know how to sing, I’m a great idiot!

FDV: “Noah’s Ark”, “The torture of Prometheus”, your paintings have ancient, mythological and sacred subjects. The brush lacerates the figures and the story has many times a strong drama, close to the disturbing… why? How are your works born?

The Prometheus’ torment, acrylic on canvas, 100cmx100cm, 2021, ©Alex Prosperi

AP: My work, my thing, my path let’s say, which only later becomes a painting, begins with a question, a reflection on myself and in myself.

“The question can be summed up as “who am I?”

“Which of the thousands of facets of my personality has taken over the others today?”

“When I look in the mirror I don’t recognize myself, as if I don’t associate the voice I hear with the face I have” …and all this also becomes a reflection on the fact that nothing is as it seems…in short there is this unknown black hole inside and out, a little nihilism and a little despair.

And so I take my inspiration from mythology, from the tortured saints of religion, from literature, to look for a metaphor that expresses this doubt of mine, this obsession of mine, which gnaws at me like the eagle at Prometheus, and which has a thousand faces that grow back every time, like the Hydra. Or animals of all kinds that pop out of Noah’s belly… and so on. So the painting starts here: there’s something I want to say and I’m looking for a way to do it, I have to throw it out to psychoanalyze myself and the way I found was to paint. I have this image in my head that is the visual expression of the question and I throw it up on the canvas. No preparatory sketches or pencil drawings, at most lines to make me aware of the volumes. Then slowly I continue, I color, I modify and … the form takes shape outside of me in an almost autonomous way, there is only this image that hovers around and then it materializes there. It probably ends up being totally different from how I had originally thought of it or maybe it’s very similar. But what matters to me and only to me is that it stays outside and no longer inside. Then the painting ends, it lives on its own, I don’t care anymore, if it disturbs you I’m very pleased, if I sell it it’s even better! The technique is acrylic on canvas simply because it is quick to use and I am very lazy.

FDV: If we wanted to label the subjects of your paintings (I don’t like to do it, but if we must) we would say that you do a type of figurative painting very close to the surrealist world. What has surrealism represented for you in the evolution of art history? Who are the surrealist painters that most inspire you?

AP: Max Enrst, obviously Dali, but because he was the easiest one to take inspiration from, but also Goya, the crazy one, Kokoschka and Ligabue, always the crazy one, even if they are not surrealists. In the beginning I have to say that yes, surrealism, but by chance, was the thing I clung to the most, even though now I believe and hope I have made a world of my own.

What it represented for history I don’t know, that’s an art history question and I didn’t study! But I think it was a nice pretext to tell people to “look inside us”, like a nice tap from which to let dreams and dramas come out. And that for me, for an artist, I think is fundamental.

“Multiple personalities feed on a demon”, acrylic on canvas 100cmx100cm, 2020, ©Alex Prosperi

“Noah’s Ark”, acrylic on canvas, 200cmx200cm, 2018 ©Alex Prosperi

FDV: In your opinion, at what point is figurative painting today? Is it still doing mere quotationism or do you think there is still a lot to say in the figurative field?

AP: When it comes to art, painting or not, everything is always so possible that even quoting is sacrosanct art. Banksy who stole from Picasso said that real artists steal. I, for my part, always hope that I’m not a copy of anyone, but I also think that in the end it’s just a desire to say “hey, look at me I exist too, I’m a desperate guy like you!”

FDV: How do you see women in art? Is there equality in this field according to you?

AP: I myself feel very much like a woman, I put up with pain and I get paranoid! Lots of colleagues: Delay, one above all, Giulia Cellino’s stage name, (I didn’t ask her if I can quote her, I hope she won’t get angry) is the first one that comes to my mind because she is a friend, she does comics and illustrations. More or less the others I know come from that world there, and maybe yes, in this small world there is parity. But I don’t hang out in those circles that closely and experience the world of galleries and collectors very little, through no fault of my own, but because I feel it’s distant, (because they all take themselves too seriously) and so I wouldn’t know if there really is parity or not, in the art world. I just hope it’s not like on Instagram, where you need to take a sexy picture of yourself and only behind your work to get into the algorithm. I do have some doubts though.

The art is made by the human being and the human being is not yet evolved enough to be able to understand that the mantis eats the head of its mate, the bee is queen and the men are workers and the mother hyena is in charge of everything.

FDV: One last question: what is it like to live in Milan as an artist? How do you move in the circuit (very difficult and closed, we must admit) of Milan’s galleries?

Living as an artist, in Milan as in the world, is for me the same as living in the world as a person (we are all playing a part on this big round stage). With the difference that I am sensitive, and I start crying for example when I look at Munari’s grave at the monumental cemetery. That is, I don’t think the artist is something different from the others, he is a desperate man like everyone else who cries out to the world, I am here too. And so is Milan, it’s just a stage, a path, a stall, no different from the other stages, paths… stalls! Perhaps on the part of artists, or in short, of that category of people who call themselves so, (I no longer know if I want to be called so) there is or should be a different sensitivity in looking at events, at things outside and inside themselves, a depth of gaze and stomach. But I don’t think it’s a sinequanon condition.

As I already said, I don’t move in the gallery circuits, through my own fault, through laziness and because I don’t know how to do it, and because the ones I’ve asked, ask you for money to stick one of your paintings by them, without really giving a damn about telling you “you suck, I like you.” However, I won’t deny that I would love, just to see the effect, (I’m coming too no you’re not) to get into this big exclusive mall!

Sorry for being long-winded and going off-topic, but I absolutely love doing it, maybe because I’m self-centered.

“The Hydra”, acrylic on canvas, 100cmx100cm, 2021, ©Alex Prosperi
Francesca Della Ventura
Francesca Della Ventura

Francesca Della Ventura is a journalist, curator and contemporary art critic, as well as founder and director of inWomen.Gallery.