An exclusive interview with the author of “Anatomia di un Cuore Selvaggio” – Anatomy of a Wild Heart. Which as it turns out is her own life story. In which tattoos have had an important part to play…
Last January Asia Argento brought out her first autobiography “Anatomia di un Cuore Selvaggio” which perhaps contains a reference to the 1990 masterpiece (“Wild at Heart”) directed by the great David Lynch. A hard hitting book too. Because over its 245 pages it spares nobody (her family, lovers, ogres encountered in Hollywood, herself, especially herself) in a style that runs off the tongue with the bluntness of rock’n’roll. A bit like Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, a bit “Dirt” by Alice In Chains, a bit “White Pony” by Deftones: this work, straddling two millennia, is a disturbing feast to which we are all invited. A book with a cover illustration of a heart pierced by a dart which – as we find out in our conversation with Asia – is a sketch by an internationally renowned tattoo artist. So we will leave you to the lengthy interview Tattoo Life had the pleasure of doing some weeks back with the Roman actress and director. A worldwide symbol of that fight against the rot that went under the hashtag #metoo. Daughter of one of the greatest visionaries of the twentieth century. A true Italian.
In the prologue to your book you make it perfectly clear that you have often in public presented yourself as a “false me”. Basically a sort of armour to against the pitfalls of show business…
Yes, but if we are talking about tattoo art here, well then I’ve always been a “true me”… (smiles). In the sense that I wanted tattoos from the time that I was five years old. In those day I was always telling my parent and two sisters that when I was grown up those damned drawings on skin were going to be mine.
So when exactly did your first encounter with ink take place?
In Amsterdam, when I was fourteen years old: I got an eye on my shoulder blade that I still have today. Then, around the time I turned eighteen, I got the famous “female angel” that I have between my belly and pubes.
And that was the start of the first controversy…
Look, it must have been late autumn 1995. The weekly magazine L’Espresso asked me to pose for the cover and I turned up at the shoot with a leather jacket without a top underneath, leaving that tattoo in full view. It was like it was the end of the world! Half of Italy heard about it (including my father who I’d managed to hide it from for a couple of years…) and the first spiteful remarks started coming.
They said I was a bad girl, a sex fiend, a pervert, someone who had gone and tattooed her vagina.
But for me that angel was, and still is, a spiritual symbol connected with the positive energy of the Chakra. I had it tattooed on my stomach because it is there that our most visceral emotions are unleashed.
That tattoo was in part inspired by Nirvana, right?
Yeah. I had it done by a historic tattoo artist in Rome: Bruscolino (aka Massimo Grilli, ed.),one of the founders of the Roma Tattoo Convention. And the wings of the angel were a tribute to “In Utero”, Nirvana’s third and last album which came out right around then.
Years later you would make “Last Days”, the film directed by Gus Van Sant which tells the (fictionalised) story of the final period of the Kurt Cobain’s life. Speaking of which, did you ever actually meet the Nirvana front man in person?
Yes, that’s a story I would have liked to put in the book, but in the end, I didn’t manage to. I got to see Nirvana live in the States, but that time in Rome was really ironic. Basically they had invited the band to perform on “Tunnel”, a satirical programme on the TV station Rai 3 which featured a lot of alternative music. I happened to be in the corridor outside the studio a short time before the recording, and who came up and sat down beside me but Kurt Cobain in flesh and blood, and politely asked me for a cigarette. And there I was, petrified, in my hippy punk outfit (after all it was the 90s), and I pass him a lousy multifilter without even a word.
I was certainly shy, but maybe in that case it was just a question of common decency. You know at the time I had already been involved in some films (including “Trauma”, directed by my father Dario – which had been shot the previous year in America) so I knew the kind of trouble fame can bring. So basically I chose not to hassle Cobain by acting like a fan. Then, in the course of a month, I heard about his first suicide attempt in Rome and then his death in Seattle. I felt a sort of regret that still surfaces sometimes. That day I would have liked to show him around the Capital on my scooter, offer him a joint, stuff like that, have a bit of fun. Shake him out of all that angst he was going through. For just a bit.
Let’s go back to 1995 and that famous cover with the angel tattoo on display. Did you ever feel like a sort of Suicide Girl ahead of her times. A sort of “godmother” of that erotic punk movement?
Listen, back in the 90s, I would have shuddered at even the word “godmother”. Also because, back then, I wanted to be an icon of nothing at all. If certain girls had tried to follow me, they would have just fallen over the cliff along with me! (laughs) I didn’t like to be admired and I only did certain over the top things to please myself. From this point of view, getting tattooed was nothing more than following my own inner convictions.
And what about today?
Well, today I’m 45 years old, a grown woman who’s had children. And I’ve made my peace with certain kinds of attitudes. So yeah, I think I was ahead of the game as far as the Suicide Girls are concerned. At least here in Italy… (smiles)
In the book you write that around 2013 you were overcome by this great urge to get tattooed again. What was the main reason for that?
There was more than one reason for it, but to cut a long story short, I was fed up with being a blank canvas. Whether it was on set or when they invited me to do guest appearances. And the movie production companies kept offering me parts in these costume films and I was honestly sick and tired of them…
I can well imagine.
You know, I’ve made my fair share of that kind of movie. From the 1500s to the early twentieth century, I think I’ve done pretty much every historic period! (laughs) And there was always the same rules: the director, in agreement with the costume designer, didn’t want to see any trace of a tattoo. I won’t even go into how many hours of airbrushing I had done in the past to cover the angel tattoo. Once, in a classic horror movie, I even had a sort a sort of fake scab applied so as not to offend the gaze of the viewers…
So it was a political choice: a taking back ownership of your body.
Exactly. And then in that period there was also my ex-husband (the director Michele Civetta, ed.) who didn’t like tattoos on women over the age of thirty. I spent years trying to keep him happy and transforming myself for a humdrum bourgeois lifestyle. And then when it finally came down to the choice of whether to get laser off the tattoos or get rid of my spouse, well guess which one I opted for? (laughs)
If I’m not mistaken, it was in that period that you got to know Marco Manzo of “Tribal Tattoo Studio” in Rome…
That’s right. And I immediately became his favourite, in the sense that our work in progress of fabulous tattoos is still ongoing. Marco Manzo (@marcomanzotattoo) is someone I hit it off with straight away because he was totally against the idea of laser removal of the angel. In fact he went and restored it to its original perfection. Then we went straight on to my sides where he did some sacred geometries, then moved on to some ornamental tattoos, and finally, we got to the work of art that everyone admires today: that elaborate necklace of Black ‘n’ Grey I’ve got around my neck. The design for it was done by Marco’s partner, Francesca Boni, a great graphic artist who also comes up with some really classy playlists.
But before the tattooed necklace there was that one in Cannes…
That’s right. One year they invited me to walk down the Croisette and they gave me a load of money to wear some jewellery that was really tacky and oversized. This included a set with emeralds which, when I put it round my neck, made me feel like a Christmas tree on legs. I mean, we’re talking about me here. Me, who only feels comfortable going around in sneakers, jeans and Slayer t-shirts …
So how did it end?
That evening I looked at myself in the hotel mirror and said “Never again”. I came back to Italy and started getting tattooed again, beginning with little Russian tattoos on my arms, the kind they get in prison. Then, by chance, I got to know Marco Manzo who had his shop on the Cassia, near my house. That was when I discovered a whole new world and realised once and for all that all it would take was to add ink to my body in order to free me from the iron rules of show business. So much so that after the necklace I decided to get myself and great big back piece.
Right: tell me about the tattoo you’ve got on your back.
I don’t want to come out with too many spoilers, like in the best films, but it’s inspired by a corset done by Marco Manzo based on a design by Francesca Boni. The green colours inside are those of the Mediterranean, a sea I love to swim in for hours. And it was while I was swimming, a few summers ago, that the idea for a tattoo like that came to me. Because with all that swimming and physical exercise, deep inside I already felt like a bit of a mermaid… (smiles)
Did it hurt when you got that one? I can imagine that the corset and the necklace were far from easy to get done…
No, that one no. Partly because I have a very high pain threshold, partly because Marco has an extremely delicate touch when he pick up the tattoo machine. You know, if I put together all my ink, I have spent not hours but days in his shop on the Cassia, without every feeling any discomfort. And anyway, in my case, tattoo could never ever mean pain. At the most a sort of inner meditation. A constructive moment that I take for myself, just like someone who in order to relax goes to spend an afternoon at the spa.
Another major artist who has worked on your skin is Akilla. Full name Akilla Horiyamato, a member of the famous Horitoshi family. What can you tell me about him?
That we met up on Instagram. Akilla had posted a photo of me and from there we started to write to one another. I wanted him to tattoo me with one of his famous oriental peonies and, when the moment arrived for him to come to Italy for the Roma Tattoo Convention, we came up with this kind of crazy barter: I would do him a little tattoo and Akilla would in return tattoo me one of his floral pieces on my right thigh. One thing led to another and in the meanwhile, he has also done that heart pierced by an arrow which appears on the cover of my autobiography.
And is Asia Argento also… a tattooist?
Are you kidding? The only two people I’ve ever tattooed in my life have been poor Akilla and a friend of mine who works in theatre. With Akilla all I did was my tag (“AZ”) which I used to sign with when I was a kid. And for my friend I wrote the phrase “Live Love Die” which I got myself after the tragic death of Anthony (Anthony Bourdain, who was romantically linked to Argento up until his death in 2018, ed.). And in that case I have to say I made a right mess on her body…Sorry!
Akilla also did that floral snake that begins on your left thigh to finish with its head on your right. How did that come about?
That snake is made up of chrysanthemum petals and, seeing as how I was going through an existential crisis at the time, I suppose it speaks for itself… It was only a short time since Anthony’s passing, I’d lost my job as judge on “X Factor”, the global #metoo struggle had ironically turned against me, and then there was that ridiculous matter in Berlin with Rose McGowan, which I explain properly in the book… That summer, on the island in the Mediterranean where I go to get away from the ugliness of the world, I kept on seeing snakes everywhere, and I hunted them too! I just couldn’t take any more.
What I needed was to finally have a good, protective serpent on my side, and so I asked Akilla to tattoo me a nice big one.
I called it Nori in honour of Norifumi Yamamoto, a Japanese MMA fighter who was a great friend of mine and Akilla’s. Unfortunately that awful year 2018 took him away as well… (sighs)
You’ve got the word “Bob” on the forefinger of your left hand and on the back of the same hand you’ve got “Saved” (and these two tattoos are clearly visible on the back cover of your book “Anatomia di un Cuore Selvaggio”). Would Bob be Dylan and “Saved” the title of his controversial gospel album from 1980?
You hit the nail on the head. Bob Dylan is god to me and his religious trilogy (“Slow Train Coming” from 1979, “Saved” from 1980 and “Shot of Love” from 19’81, ed.) has made me autistic if you think of the number of times I’ve listened to it in my life. Dylan was also the favourite artist of my mother (the famous actress Daria Nicolodi who died last November, ed.) and with music, that’s exactly how I am: I can spend days on end listening to the same song and still adore it as if it were the first time I’d heard it.
“Saved” is a pretty strong word, isn’t it?
Definitely. With that tattoo I just wanted to get the idea through to myself that I too was finally saved That I was saved from something truly terrible. But then life kept on throwing awful things at me, but it’s all part of the mix.
Tell me something before we wind up: writing a book like “Anatomia di un Cuore Selvaggio” I won’t say that it will save you, but at the end of the day it must at least manage to give you some comfort?
Well, while I was writing it, it was awful having to relive all those stories connected with my life. Then once I had handed in the proofs to the publisher, I was still hurting inside. I felt like I had been picking at an old scab and this had opened up the wound again and made it bleed. Then after a few months, something odd happened…
You felt at peace because you had cleared it all up in your own mind?
Yes, something like that. Now I actually feel good, though, as I am saying it to you, I still feel a little shaky inside. And what if life still has other unexpected blows in store for me? Never mind. All that matters – I’ll say it again – is that I’m feeling good now. And it comes kind of naturally to confess it to you.