Jago is definitely one of the most talented and promising Italian sculptors today who has been dubbed as the modern Michelangelo in Italy. We had a chance to talk to him in Naples area of the inauguration of “Pieta” In Rome. His sculpture ‘Look Down’ is now in Fujairah and we hope art lovers in the United Arab Emirates will love the sculptor as much as we do.
Jago: Sculpture is something that is a personal research on yourself and a great exercise in communication. Because I cannot go back, when I do something that is it. It is like when you say something to someone, to a material you have in front of you, you cannot go back. You might think you can go back but you cannot. You say something that can destroy or can improve something. Through what you say you can build a masterpiece or you can actually destroy what you have in front of you. So, sculpting marble is this for me, it is a great exercise in communication. This is what I can say now, but if you ask me why I started to sculpt, I do not know. It is probably because I am a materialistic person, I need to touch what is real.
So there is that element of risk involved that you like as well. Can you say that you might need to be in a certain state of mind, in a sort of flow when you create and how do you achieve that?
J: I have a lot of distractions when I work, but usually what I do is because the work is very dusty and noisy I study – during the work, during the process I listen to a lot of audiobooks on business, philosophy, whatever I want to listen to. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks in English so that I can improve my vocabulary. In this way I can learn by listening to one or two books each day and in this way by the end of the year, I have ‘read’ enough books and experienced many new notions.
This is my flow. I usually work using my energy, my passion and that is the way because I know exactly what I am doing and do not want to distract the moment with my mind. That is why I use my mind to study while I work.
Do you feel like every artwork you create, every sculpture you carve, that you leave a part of yourself that lives on in that art? How is that emotional connection between you and the artwork that you create?
J: I always use myself, I put myself inside my work, in a great way it is a translation of what I see, but I am also conditioned by the surroundings, the neighbourhood or city where I am. The city changes everything. When I was in New York, my work was a little bit more pop. The city conditions you to change yourself, and here in my studio where I work will most certainly change/influence my work. Including this moment. This is my idea and I know a hundred percent that this moment will change my work because when I go back to work after this interview, I will put my encounter with you into my work too. Everyone I meet is a value that I add into my work.
Rome is my absolute favorite city in the world and to me it is chaotic. Today is my first day in Naples, and coming from Rome I did not think that it could get anymore chaotic.
My question is why Naples and how do you manage to find harmony amidst this everyday chaos?
J: Well, I work 12 – 15 hours each day, so I do not know what happens outside! When I come to the studio in the morning, nobody is on the street and it is the same when I leave to go home late evening. It happens however, sometimes I might find myself outside in the middle of the day in the chaos, but I do not participate in it. It is the same in New York.
My entire life is dedicated to my work. Rome is a big part of my life, as I come from a small town close to Rome. It is in between Naples and Rome, but more closer to Rome. I have never felt myself as a number. Because when you are from a small city, you are practically nobody and you have to prove to yourself that you can become someone. And probably you have more opportunity to be somebody in the small city that you come from, because it is small.
You can decide to arrive somewhere new and to prove that you can come to realize whatever you have in your mind as this is the point.
You do not like to explain your work a lot because you want the audience to form their own interpretation of the art. Why is that?
J: Because my work is already an explaination of what I mean. It is a language – sculpture is a language that I use and if I have to explain why I do something there is a problem. I have to translate it again. If you write a poem and have to explain it, I see no sense in that. A poem is music, you have to experience it with your own emotions, with your own sensations and that is it. No explanation is required, no meaning given because you will know the meaning. I prefer to hear what people think and how they interpret my work. I have the opportunity to learn something in return rather than having to explain more and more.
In the beginning I had this idea that I had to explain, but not anymore as I prefer to listen.
In this way there is that notion that the viewer kind of co-creates in a way because they project their own experiences onto the artwork and re-interpret it, right?
J: Yes, and we do that everytime. When we judge others, we judge them because we project ourselves in them. Imagine, if I say “You are stupid!”, I can say that because I had the experience of stupidity. That is the proof that I am stupid, because I was able to recognize it in you. I am the first to be stupid. A baby for example is not able to say stupid because he is not stupid. He did not have the experience of stupidity. I prefer to let people be free to say what they think, and what they see. It is not necessary to understand what I mean. Why do we have to always explain what we mean, you know, enjoy what you see.
Do you believe that art is for everyone or do you think that it is something a person should educate themselves on, like who do you create art for? Who is your viewer? Is it everyone, or do they need to have a certain background in art?
J: I think that art is for everyone in the moment that you can participate with it. Imagine a wonderful landscape. Who does it belong to? It belongs to the people who can understand that moment. You are there and you can feel, hence it is your moment and it belongs to you. In this way art belongs to everyone. In this way we can talk about who can buy something, it is a different argument. For me, what I do has to belong to everyone because what do the artists do if we think about it, that is the artist adds value, a word into the vocabulary of a common emotion. So over the past century, our vocabulary of emotions grows and grows for the new generation to understand reality in a better way and we continue to improve.
This is the way I see that the artist can contribute and give back to the community. It is like a scientist who does his research. An artist is like a scientist, his work is an artistic kind of research, an emotional research and what he does is for the community. You can sell the product that you realized, but after that it is for everyone. Anyone can use it.
I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite pieces of yours, ‘Lookdown’ that was in the Piazza del Plebiscito. What was the reaction like towards that piece? Was it always positive?
J: We are talking about an important place in the centre of Naples, a very iconic square and so it is always very controversial to do something like that and you have to be respectful of who is really attached with that kind of image. It is like a sacred place for someone. When you do something like that you have to accept that someone might love it, some might hate it, some might go to touch it and you have to a be aware of that. If someone says something bad about your intention, you have to accept it. It is just natural because you chose to expose yourself to it. You do that because you need something like that to happen, it is a learning process. For me it was like a street art operation. Usually street art is very fast, easy, cheap and economical. The instrument you use is very cheap, whereas the internal value of it is another thing. But, try to do something, and this was the question I had for myself – try to do something with sculpture. Are you able to abandon your sculpture on the street? It is very interesting because if you do something cheap, you can do hundreds of them but if you need a huge investment to do something like the sculpture, are you ready for that? This was interesting for me because I needed to understand the attachment I have to what I do. Are you able to destroy the work that won you a lot of honor and recognition? Are you able to destroy it?
It was interesting to talk about my ego. In Italian we say, like when you have a baby, ‘mettere il mondo’ – to give back to the world – when you are born, it is something that you give to the world. A piece of art that I worked 12 months on, I give back to the world. Parents feel pained and put their baby in a comfortable zone, it is because you are afraid of the world, you do not want to give back to the world. You think ‘I do it for myself’ but at some point your child will grow up, fall in love and go away. This is the same thing that happens to a piece of art.
Watching that video with the young gangsters kicking and throwing the sculpture. As someone who did not create anything, but who loves your work, when I saw the video I was so angry. I can only imagine how you felt.
J: I felt very happy. I had to pause when I saw that video and was reading the comments because you know what happened is that those guys did not do that because they hated the sculpture. They did that just to make a video for TikTok content. Just to share and laugh with their friends. They did not understand the power of communication. They did not know. The public reaction in return to the video was enormous. Everyone was instrumentalized including the politicians. They needed that event to happen so that they could use it as an example of what should be the correct mode of conduct. The politicians need that. To defend the guys who did it, maybe they made a mistake, they have a life, they have a family. What is behind their motives? The families of the boys sent me a message saying “we are poor people, we work, we educate our sons, we do not know why they did this, probably just for fun.” So what can you do? Can you stick a knife into their backs and turn it?
Your response to that incident, and another reason why your fans love you even more is that you wanted to invite them into your studio so that they actually see how much work goes into that and learn to respect.
J: There is always an opportunity. My idea is that everytime something like this happens, you can use that moment (even a bad moment) in a different way. I want to see the best and the most beautiful thing in everything. It is my decision, my freedom. And there is also another side to the coin, so inviting the guys here to my studio, I discovered that in front of me I had wonderful guys.
They came here, they tried to sculpt. I had them touch the Pietà, and we talked. If we are open to the communication, and this is what I think is the sense of art – to share. On social media we have this word – share – a very important word. I want to share communication, I want to understand what I have on the other side. I want to ‘like’. What is a ‘like’? A ‘like’ is a person who dedicated the most precious thing they have to you – time. Time is the most precious thing we have and they dedicated one minute of their life to see your video. And how can I estimate this value?
So I invited those guys to my studio and understood that they were very good guys. And they understood what lies behind and their life changed and my life too.
That is beautiful! I watched the video and was so angry, but I am relieved that it ended well.
There is that famous notion that an artwork already lives within a stone, and a sculpture just sets it free, just liberates it. Do you agree with that or is it just your idea, art, the technical aspect and lots of work?
J: Both. There is a balance of both. If you have a block of marble, a piece of stone, potentially inside you can find an infinite number of sculptures. You can see whatever you want inside it, and I can see whatever I want. Between me and you there is no difference in the freedom to imagine something inside it. That is the power that we can imagine everything. But there is a difference between me, an artist and another person. We can imagine both but I have a responsibility as an artist or a sculptor in this case to chose one from the infinite number of possibilities. This is the responsibility of the artist – what I want to show, discover inside the marble, the choice I have to choose what to find and what to show.
Ofcourse, it is true that I have to work in order for it to come into existence, what I see inside to the best of my ability, I hope.
S: I agree, there is a lot of work behind it all, there is no quick formula?
J: Not at all. For me it is very important to work, to use the tools that I have at my disposal. It is important for me to create. As artists we are in a particular moment in time. If we use our hands to create, we are considered as ‘mere’ artisans and not sophisticated or intellectual enough to be artists. The real artist, in my opinion, is a genius who is able to translate an idea in his head using his hands into a form.
It is important to instruct the new generation on how to become independent. We must equip them with entrepreneurial skills. Teach them how to adapt to different circumstances.
S: The trends I see in the art world today are in Pop / Neo Pop Art. This seems to reflect on our need and desire for more, instantaneous consumerism. Artists therefore, seek to get famous fast rather than focus on creating something.
As an artist, how do you balance maintaining a personal brand thereby being sustainable in the long run and being truly creative as you freely develop your style?
Without a personal brand it is difficult for artists to gain opportunities and they risk losing their creative side.
J: It is important for one to understand that you need time. The problem is that we want to be famous without working for it. A tree takes a long time to grow in order to produce oxygen for everyone. A mushroom grows overnight and has the perception that it has grown very fast, but in a day or two it is cut and taken away. If you do not develop the consciousness and knowledge of how you grew so big, so quickly, it is very difficult.
On the internet information and new knowledge is available for free. You can improve yourself, learn business, apply ideas from people in different parts of the world to your own art practice. The most common question I get on social media is students asking me how do they survive doing what they love?
In school nobody teaches you these things. You study, receive your grade and go outside to work.
Invest in yourself, and then your investment will repay you.
S: Are you afraid of death and do you think that in a way you try to avoid it in your art?
J: No, I am not afraid of death. If at all, I am curious about it. It is a part of life, and I am curious about everything I do not know. Probably, I am more afraid of pain. I think people are not afraid about death or dying as much as they are afraid of feeling pain in that moment. We do not want to suffer as we might think that death is as pleasurable as an orgasm and we are going to go to a wonderful place!
I am more afraid of suffering as opposed to the actual idea of death.
S: True, but then your work will probably outlive you and you would want to avoid death in that case.
J: No, no…it is like when you walk on the sand, you leave behind footprints. The footprints are like life, they may disappear too. We are meant to participate in the moment.
I think this is just the testament of human life, that they get to leave behind something for the community and they can take that as a point of reference to do something else.
It is also alright if people forget me after I am dead, because after all I will be dead and a part of everything. Talking about mushrooms, they are wonderful. When you die you become something else, a tree or mushrooms maybe. I am curious to find out what can grow out of the ground from me after I am buried.
S: What are you working on right now?
J: I just finished the Pieta and on the 1st of October 2021, we are going to install the sculpture in the centre of Rome. The installation is going to be inside an institutional, historical place – The Artist’s Church – in Piazza del Popolo. We will be there for the next five months. At the same time we are working to hold exhibitions in different parts of the world.
I am also working on a new project, the biggest piece of work I have ever done, Aiace e Cassandra. I am working on the model in clay now and going to transfer it onto marble. I will not be going on vacation anytime soon!
S: Will you be traveling to the United Arab Emirates? I believe you have a project there as well?
J: Yes, I will. Aiace e Cassandra is part of the project in the U.A.E.
A piece of art is like a company. My sculpture is like a company, I do not sell the entire artwork. When you sell, you get money in return and money loses its value over time. It is wonderful for an artist to build collaborations instead. Work together with people instead to exhibit the sculpture in different parts of the world to increase its value. Build a museum in the centre of Naples. Bring the sculpture ‘The Veiled Son’ from New York City to the new museum and earn passive income for yourself as an artist from everyone who goes to visit.
The truth is to do something. Everyday you have to do. Study and apply what you learn by doing. People do not want to learn or study anything and would rather use their energy to complain.
To answer your question, we are coming to the United Arab Emirates in the middle of October. The sculpture ‘Lookdown’ will be moved from the centre of Piazza del Plebiscito to a new location in the U.A.E. The aim is to move the sculpture from the popular, crowded piazza in Naples to somewhere quiet and unknown. Someplace with a beautiful view.
S: NFTs is one of the biggest trends in the art world today. Whether people understand them or not is unclear and yet they are jumping onto this trend. What is your take on NFTs and do you think like all trends that it will eventually pass? Would you ever want to take part in it?
J: It is very interesting and has real potential. I think that it will change a lot and quickly. I am not the kind of person who invests with their gut feelings. I would want to take my time to understand how to invest and do the best thing about it that is also not just virtual but is something physical too. This is important for me and I do not want to lose myself in the process. We are waiting to study it more. At the right time I will do the right thing. Not a lot of things, but the right thing. Not a lot of works, but a few masterpieces. This is the idea.
It is something incredible and a manifestation of the times we are living in. Everything is possible today, and I can imagine how ten years ago people would not be ready to even consider talking about Non-Fungible-Tokens! You buy something that does not exist?!
In fact, six years ago we sold shares of the sculpture I did of the then pope Benedict XVI, a naked portrait. We sold 1000 shares. The interesting idea behind this is that you are buying a part of something that you can go into a museum and say “that is mine”. The idea that you do not go into a museum, pay for a ticket to go inside to see something that someone else says is a piece of art. Instead, you go to see your work. This is a new concept. When I was in the Academy of Brera, talking about this concept, no one believed me. There were gallery owners and professors of art and they were thinking what on earth was I going to do. But we did it. I have something in my mind and I am going to do it. At the right time.
Follow Jago on Instagram: @jago.artist
Read our interview with Jago in Italian