I came across Dario's work when I was searching for figurative artists to visit in Berlin. His work is very dramatic and quite mysterious, figures with masked faces, lots of movement and brushwork. Thank goodness we took a taxi to find his studio because it was a little out of the way and our walking map would’ve taken a while to figure out.
His studio is in a big converted industrial building, a hub for all kinds of creative types. He’s been here in this studio since 2010. Originally from Rome, he relocated to Berlin when the Italian economy and political situation collapsed "with no money for culture or museums". He thought of going to Poland which would have been better value for his money but he was hearing the big "art noise" from Berlin and so he came. He’s been working full-time as an artist for the last two years. Among some of his previous jobs in Berlin was making "very good pizza", something he finds very funny as he'd never been a pizza cook in Italy.
He sells mainly through his gallery, janinebeangallery, who will take 5 to 7 pieces of his to Scope Basel where he has a 5 m wall for his work. It will be his first time at Scope Basel. He makes his own frames and stretches his own canvas. He works in oils mainly but adds some mixed techniques to get the effects he needs. He mainly uses canvas but also uses aluminum, copper, zinc or wood for a very smooth surface which gives a more shiny finish than canvas.
He sometimes uses fast drying medium or even mixes in the small piece of soft lead in by hand to start the oil polymerization technique, an ages old technique.
He uses wide scrapers or this long flexible blade which is actually a crepe lifting knife. He uses brushes and bare fingers, sometimes works over a base of dark spray or lacquer which gives his 3-D effects more realism and depth on the very smooth surface.
He sometimes adds papers to the works. This brown paper had a surface like old leather or old weathered walls. Working with bitumen and oil paints for printmaking, he creates random interesting distressed surfaces and then glues it onto the support with natural rabbit glue to seal the paper surface which becomes hard and durable. When he glues the paper onto the support it will lie down smoothly.
He photographs his models but often works with a lot of invention, some Photoshop compositing and then just works directly on the finished piece. These large bound women images were from his time at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome about which he says "You may need to throw everything away that you learned at Fine Arts Academy unless you were lucky enough to have a special teacher who made a real difference." Unfortunately he did not have a special teacher but his time at art school created an excellent foundation for his work.
Single and in his mid-30s he cooks wonderful Italian food at home, "And better than the Italian restaurants here!" Berlin is good to live in at the moment. He lives just near to where we were staying at our Airbnb in the Prenzlauer Berg district and bikes here to his studio everyday, about 20 minutes. His sweet ride is a reconditioned classic Italian Peugeot bike painted black and red and white.
His proud Mama from Italy came to see his October solo show. "Of course she is proud of my artwork but she was proud when I made pizza too." Mama probably would not hang it at home as she is a more simple woman but she does appreciate it. He works here in the studio and sometimes sleeps here too depending on his late hours. He would love to have a dog one day but life in the studio would not be a good place for the little fellow and his life is not regular enough.
This face cast in gypsum is sometimes used as a model for his paintings, fused in resin with pigments and gnarly roots in his images and sometimes even in sculpture work.
His new work speaks "about bodies, trying to open a gateway for the paintings to tell stories from inside the human being. Painters are like archaeologists, both search for something, knowing where to look but not exactly what they will find. They only know it is necessary to dig." His artwork tells the story better than his words. "If you need to speak the story it’s not necessary to paint it." His most recent work, above, Psyche's Fear.
This gnarly root seems to echo the shapes in the Goya picture pinned nearby on the wall. He works with artificial lights but mainly the work reflects imagined light. The sharp edges of the cradled aluminum support are filed down smooth and the edge is covered with a smooth edge of black plastic to create an elegant finish.
Rome and Berlin are very similar, both very large cultural centers and both teeming with tourists "but Rome is worse, more chaotic." Built more than 3000 years ago, Rome’s roads and transit system are much more difficult than Berlin’s shiny broad new streets created mainly after the war. Here things are always being rebuilt, even today, while Rome is much more chaotic but still wonderful. He would love to live in a quiet place in the middle of Italy and not in Rome or Berlin but that time is not here yet. His family back home have a tiny home in the mountains, a little house connected to an old content from the 16th century. He would love to live in a little house like that, "but not in a convent! But perhaps with just one woman."
Even though his English was not perfect, we were able to have a great conversation. Our days in Berlin were very long and busy and filled with museums, travel and city bustle, quite exhausting but I’m glad we were able to finally connect Dario and visit his studio. Of course there was no artwork on the walls as you may have noticed from the photographs from the studio. All the artwork here comes from the janinebeangallery website and gallery which we were able to visit the next day.
Very beautiful work, very interesting! Thanks Dario for making the time to meet with us and we'll be watching your progress online. See you next time we’re in Berlin and good luck at Scope Basel!
Dario Puggioni’s tumblr website
We finally made it into the janinebeangallery to see Dario’s paintings on our last morning in Berlin. The gallerist brought out two beautiful small works and what had been beautiful online was breathtaking in person. The small size and their modest price made them within range and almost able to fit into my suitcase but our art budget has been spent on this 10 week trip so we had to wave them goodbye.
The gallery has had two shows of Dario’s paintings and both were sellouts, something unusual in today’s tight economy. Some of his works have also gone to museum collections at the Ahrenshoop Museum, another thing that is a little out of the ordinary for a non-German artist. Their only other sold out show was Anna Borowy, also beautiful figurative work. Dario’s work is very personal and beautiful, their only problem with it is there’s not enough of it! His art needs a long time to create and they understand. They take care of the business and he works on the art, a symbiotic relationship.
The gallery is very excited to have Dario in their stable and feel he is definitely on a path to major breakthrough success.
The gallerist mentioned several other exciting galleries but our time in Berlin was spent doing museums this time and the galleries will have to wait until another trip. I can also visit them in my bathrobe and slippers online from home. We just don’t have the time or strength to do both and my first port of call in major cities is the museums to satisfy my own thirst for art. Museums are the meal and galleries are the dessert which I often just don't have room for.
Here in Germany there is now a 19% VAT tax on art. This moved up from 7 to 19% over this last year, a move placed on Germany by the EU. This makes things harder for everybody, the collectors, the artists and galleries but there’s no way to avoid it. Of course foreigners do not pay the extra tax here if they’re taking the art out of the country as they will probably pay the tax when they bring it into their own country and do not need to be taxed twice.