Recreating the 90s, Mario Loprete is bringing b-boys back to life
First of all, where do you live, where do you show your work?
My name is Mario Loprete. I live nine hours from New York.
Nine hours will take me from my city to NYC, the “Eldorado” for artists.
I live in Catanzaro, a small calabrian city in the south of Italy. It’s a beautiful place to live in.
If geographically it is a great place, the same can’t be said from a cultural point of view. We are in the land that the ancient Greeks called “Magna Grecia”, rich in culture and history, but with a bad political administration and a sterile and incompetent ruling class that never wanted to take advantage of its huge potential.
To be honest though, in the last years, something has changed because some forward-looking entrepreneurs have understood the importance of the value of what history has given to us.
What started your fascination with b-boys and breakdancing culture?
It is not the man that chooses to be an artist, but it’s the art that possesses the person.
When I find myself on the road, my brain automatically traces the perspective of what I see. I mix the colors on a virtual tablet, searching for the right shades. As soon as the painting takes form in me, the landscape already has already changed and I start yet again.
This is what makes a man an artist.
If you are an adolescent and you live in full the boom of the breakdance culture of the 80s and 90s .... I think it is obvious to bring back the sensations and the music that accompanied me
You've been doing it for a long time, what keeps you exploring this culture from the 90s?
At some point in my career, I felt the need to use a theme that is accessible to everyone.
In hip-hop I found the solution. It’s a philosophy of life, without geographic borders. Rap music always kept me company while I studied. It was the soundtrack of my work.
Music is art and it’s a part of my work. I prepared a beautiful series for an eminent art show composed of CDs, covered in concrete, on which I painted some B-Boys who dance. These are contained in plexiglass casings.. Nowadays there are very few CD players around, but the music on the inside is there and it will always be there. Looking at an egg you already know that there’s a yolk in there, without the need to open it.
The subjects of my portraits take form from a picture that I take or that I download from the net. I elaborate them on the PC and I eliminate what I consider to be superfluous, creating that important equilibrium to impressions that the subject must make. I have a database of five thousand different photos per artist, a photographic cut, social theme, projects for future art shows, etc.
I like to portray: Ja rule, Xzibit, The Game, Mary J Blige, Beyonce and 50 Cent along with the members of the italian Hip-Hop scene, closer to me. But I like painting common people even more, way more real, who live a life away from the photography sets, free from authors. These are the subjects that I find more emotionally appealing.
I love to paint everything that symbolizes urban style, because I think that the task of the artist is to tell the world what surrounds him.
Your medium is interesting, you tend to paint a lot on concrete, you even have a couple sculptures in concrete, what's the idea behind that?
The new series of work on concrete is the one that is giving me the most personal and professional satisfactions. How was it born? It was the result of an important investigation of my work, the research of that which I felt was missing. Looking at my work in the past ten years I understood that there was the semantics and semiotics in my visual speech, but the right support to value the message was not there.
The reinforced cement, the concrete, was created two thousand years ago by the Romans. It has a millenary story, made amphitheatres, bridges and roads that have conquered the ancient and modern world. Now it’s a synonym of modernity. Everywhere you go and you find a concrete wall, there’s the modern man in there. From Sidney to Vancouver, from Oslo to Pretoria, reinforced cement is present and consequently the canvas where artists can express themselves is present.
If man brought art on the streets in order to make it accessible to everyone, why not bring the urban into galleries and museums? It was the winning step to the continuous evolutionary process of my work and that is what is allowing me to show my work in prestigious places and is making my work wanted.
For my concrete sculptures I use my personal clothing. Through some process, in which I use plaster, resin and cement, I transform them in artworks people can hang. My memory, my DNA, my memories remain concreted inside, transforming the person that looks at the artworks into a type of post-modern archeologist that studies my work as they were urban artefacts.
There is a racial aspect to what you do, hip hop culture and b-boy culture come from primarily black artists and dancers before it trickled into white culture. How do you deal with race in your work? What do you think of the idea of cultural appropriation?
Art, music, dance has no color. The color of the skin has generated ideologies and wars .... the arts are the expressions of free minds and souls, which can not be cataloged.
What did you work on before breakdancing and rap?
Artistically I formed myself as a self-taught person, studying the history of art and the great masters in an aseptic way, without external contamination. Until 1998 I painted without precise rules and with the most varied techniques, trying to understand the mixtures and veils of the masters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With my studies in the Academy and attending galleries and museums around Europe, I understood that my work needed the energy that only my constant commitment to research gave me.
What are the most exciting trends in art for you? Most exciting young artists?
I am very attracted to art that tells stories, which transmits emotions. The artist has the duty to give a reading key to a reality different from what the mass media oblige us to undergo.
The artist is the custodian of artistic knowledge that has to be retold in a modern way.
You can follow Mario Loprete on instagram @marioloprete