The naked truth – Matteo Pugliese

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Matteo Pugliese’s journey and research starts from the understanding of universal values, it then moves on to the study of human needs, to ultimately reach for self-awareness, landing on his most profound inner world. Physical strength and determination shape the bronze of his sculptures, but this raw surface also encloses a more vulnerable and human condition, emotions tied to psychological insecurity and torment that are common to all of us. Let us of WoMA introduce you to Matteo Pugliese.

WoMA: Starting from a pure passion for the arts, you have conducted studies inherent to drawing and sculpture. Technique and interpretation counterdistinguishes your sculptural figures, especially in the Extra Moenia series. A thorough study on anatomy, which transpires from the musculatures and veins of your subjects, charged with tension and emblems of strength. From what stems this interest towards man?

I believe that the human body is a complete and comprehensive alphabet capable of transmitting any concept and emotion, not by chance it is one of the most wrought subjects in the history of art. The technique and interpretation of the figure subsequently create that unique and personal language of each artist.

I tend to concentrate on the male body because I’m interested in the expression of a brutal energy and force, and the choice is also due to the autobiographic nature of the themes I deal with.

Matteo Pugliese
Matteo Pugliese

WoMA: Still regarding the Extra Moenia series, the portrayed figures seem to exhibit a willingness to escape from the wall, but the undertaking is constrained if not impossible. This recalls certain sculptures from past artists like Rodin or Michelangelo, works in which man emerged from the block of marble. A duality between soul and matter, freedom and imprisonment. It could be considered as a metaphor of the human condition, past, contemporary and eternal. How did you intend to reinterpret man with a modern twist, both from an aesthetic and procedural point of view? And which reflections did you wish to spark off?

I’ve never posed to myself the objective of “reinterpreting man with a modern twist”, it would have been an extremely demanding task, and also quite pretentious… In truth, I wanted, or better felt the necessity to express myself, my personal condition, with its uneasiness and ambition. I was surprised to see that also other people mirrored themselves in my works, finding reflected also their condition, their sensations and experiences. To quote Kant: “art is the result of spontaneity, authenticity, immediacy, applied in an unmistakably personal way”.

A work of art can achieve universal resonance because people find themselves in the expression of a feeling that is personal to the artist. I agree in the consideration of an artist as a medium, a tool which channels or decodifies certain emotions or universal values. Why do we love Guernica so much? Not necessarily because we recognize ourselves in the tragedy of the Spanish town, but because we feel real the brutality of the violence and human barbarism that is there represented. It’s one of the magic moments of art, when standing in front of a work we feel touched and think “how does this artist, born centuries ago in another country, know these things about me, things that are mine only?”. We feel a bit denuded, unmasked but most of all, understood in our most personal and profound aspects. And to be understood warms the heart and moves us.

To go back to the description of my works in your question, I like to highlight that the challenge to escape from the wall is indeed difficult, but not impossible, it rather represents one’s moment of fight or utmost effort to celebrate the eternity and importance of this moment, which I like to imagine as victorious. Moreover, as much as I feel honored by the comparison, I never thought of Rodin or Michelangelo when I made the first sculptures of this series. It might sound odd, but I’m truly honest in making this affirmation.

Matteo Pugliese
Matteo Pugliese

WoMA: The installation of your works arouses interest not only for the way in which you address the dualism between movement and stillness, collocating the sculptures vertically, but also for how you elevate the contrast between light and shadow, a contrast made extreme by the contraposition between the white candid walls and the dark physicality of the subjects. Unlike other works of art, collocated on a ground supporting prop, your works offer among other things a delimited and partial prospective. How would you explain these exhibition choices?

These exhibition choices are much less studied and planned than you might assume. As I tried to explain before, everything comes in a very spontaneous and natural way, especially for the Extra Moenia series. I tend to pose to myself few questions, start working – without schemes, preparatory works or sketches – and simply witness what happens. I’m the first spectator of my works. I always find more well-fitting the analogy of creating a sculpture upon meditation, which I’ve been practicing for several years; I try to clear the mind from as much conditionings as possible, expectations, reasonings and valuations, and to solely listen to which can be my own feelings and desires, and to subsequently observe what provoked in me the signs and marks that my hands realize on the clay in front of me. For this reason, every sculpture changes during the construction phase and almost never, or indeed never, the finished work is like I had imagined at the beginning.

The concept of the wall is an element that perfectly represents the sense of immobility, rigidity, lack of life and emotion. At the same time, it can nevertheless be considered as a shell, a refuge: no emotion, but also no danger, a death in life from which I escape. The aesthetic yield given by the contrast between the candid whiteness of the wall and the haunted matter of my works, and the game of shadows that is created have been a pleasant ex-post finding even for myself.

Matteo Pugliese
Matteo Pugliese

WoMA: In the Guardians series, the artistic language and expression undergo a radical change. In these works, the freedom of movement of the subjects is no longer halted by the presence of a wall, but restrained by gigantic armours of oriental patterns.  The armature has been altered in a deliberately disproportionate way, conferring to the figures an aura of military resolution and authority. The themes of freedom and imprisonment are once again present, but this time dealt with a more distant vision from the Western one, incorporating instead more primordial narratives. What prompted you to take on this parallel stylistic research? Which are the outcomes and conclusions that you have been able to personally draw from this thematic exploration?

Actually the concept of prison and freedom is a theme very dear to me. Also here, the Guardians series was born out of the willingness to carry on the discourse that started with the Extra Moenia series. They are figures that have concluded that existential battle, which the damned of the wall are still facing. They’ve come out and finally achieved awareness, equilibrium, and I would also say consciousness of themselves. The others, in Extra Moenia, are still looking for themselves, while the guardians have finally found themselves. It’s true, they are armed and armoured, but those weapons are a metaphor of the inner weapons, of an achieved safety. They are never represented with weapons above their heads nor in the act of offense. The faces have grave but peaceful expressions, narrowed eyes of those who no longer fear any threat.

I have imagined them in protection of my sacred space, the protectors of my world, be it my home or my feelings. This gave rise to an extremely interesting research on the protector figures of different cultures and religions. The recurrence of these figures in the history of every people is what pushed me to abandon a “classical” style and representation to leave room, from time to time, to a free inspiration to the most diverse costumes and cultures. From this stems a personal research that I’m still conducting and which still fascinates me a lot; I began to collect some amulets and sculptures coming from a variety of places, which have in fact this apotropaic function. I have a fetish for Namji of Camerun of beginning ‘900 that is my favourite, it’s decorated with shells and transmits an incredible force and energy. It’s an ancestor of my custodians and a piece to which I’m very attached. Again, to observe in the aftermath the analogies of my custodians with works of hundreds or thousands of years ago, really strikes me and brings me back to that concept of universal values and needs that crosses through all mankind.

An element that is also present in the Guardians series is a certain sense of irony, precisely because having achieved that kind of centering and awareness, we can finally allow ourselves to relax and smile. Also the materials used witness this more relaxed and amused phase; certain armours are created with hundreds of fake nails, bolts, coins, beads etc. I used as ornamental motifs shoe strings, nails, electrical equipment and other. Perhaps I simply learned to take life less seriously…

WoMA: In both the series, there’s a particular attention to the face and its expression. Force and determination create spasms and contractions that seem to prelude to moments of fight or freedom. They seem to be universal revelations that touch and shake each one of us, nevertheless to what extent is the essence of Matteo Pugliese, as a man and not an artist, present in these expressions? 

The face, the hands and the muscular tension, besides the movement, are very important elements in my work as they have the function of expressing and dealing with those concepts of energy, determination, torment that are central in my research.

With my works, I would like to linger on those small and transitory moments of immensity, born out of the confidence towards oneself and life, moments in which man is connected to the universal and for one instant becomes immortal, if you excuse the paradox.

Instead of an art that pushes us towards commiseration, indulging on the ephemeral human condition (decadence, vanity, pain, death), I prefer to linger on the divine and universal spark of man, no matter how transitory or fleeting. I know I’m contradicting myself because actually in my works that torment and desperation is in any case present and from which I’ve just said to want escape. But we know that the two opposites always end up overlapping…

WoMA: It could be said that you’re an artist in full affirmation of his carrier, with a vast and varied artistic production, and a really remarkable exhibition background behind. With what feelings do you think back to the beginning of your path, when you rented a space in Milan to set up your first exhibition? Which instead the fields still unexplored that you intend to wander in the near future?

If I think back to the beginning of my career, I easily get emotional even today for many different reasons; the first one is that I realize that by a whisker I could have not lived this life and this job which I feel born for and to which I feel grateful everyday. I want to say that a personal dose of insecurity, also dictated by social and family conditionings, was pushing me towards very different directions. Not by chance my artistic path is self-taught; I’ve never attended courses not I’ve ever been in a studio of other artists. The theme of prison and freedom which we’ve just discussed is very dear to me, also for this reason; I saw around me many people who lived a life not theirs, people who unfortunately have never had or found the opportunity, force or chance to express themselves, and who deny or don’t nourish their true selves, be it professional, sexual or social. Living within a “wall”, they never risk negative judgments because they’ve conformed to the expectations of society, but they’re trapped, they can’t connect to their deepest inner selves. A personal path of self-consciousness, the encounter with the right people at the right moment and above all my partner, gave me the necessary force and confidence to move on, while the tower of supposed certainties and conventions was beginning to collapse under the doubts and the drivers of my creative pulse.

Anni Wu