Oil painting, illustration, tattoo. But that’s not all: there’s also a love of art, for female iconography, a certain flair for artistic creation and for life itself. Claudia tells us all about it in this lengthy interview, revealing all we could possibly want to know about her professional and private life, painting us a fascinating portrait of the eclectic artist she has become.
Hi Claudia, what I’d like to ask you first is how you got involved in the tattoo scene: when did you get started and what was it that made you want to go down this path in the first place?
Well, you could almost say I have a genetic predisposition for tattoo (only kidding!) From a very early age I was drawing everywhere around the house, including on the walls, and – why not? – even on myself and other kids. But then again, that’s all perfectly normal. As a teenager, felt tip pens weren’t enough for me any more. Things changed when I started going out at night, hanging out in the first underground bars in Rome, driven by my love of music and I began to see my first people with tattoos, something pretty rare back then. In those days, it was only in places with a goth-punk or metal vibe that I could admire tattooed sleeves. And I was completely blown away by them. And I wanted them too! I was 17 when I got my first small tattoo and it was then that someone suggested I try to combine my love of drawing and this magical, mysterious art. I gave it a try. I was utterly terrified, then bewitched and in the end, possessed. And I’ve never stopped since.
What sort of artistic training do you have and what’s your background?
I can only answer by starting with oil painting, because there is something primordial about it for me. Like I said before, there is a direct connection between art and my childhood. Apart from my wanting to leave an indelible mark everywhere, I just loved watching my mother as she grasped her paintbrush, silhouetted in front of the canvas, standing there like an orchestra conductor and, right before my eyes, created bucolic landscapes, madonnas and city streetscapes. The smell of the graphite, turpentinet, they’ve always been part of my life and I still could never do without them. I studied art at highschool and then at third level, and after that, I served up to the world what mind, heart and hands create in unison. I started visiting the various art galleries that appealed to my tastes, first as a spectator, then as a buyer and collector. At the same time I was trying to propose works I had produced myself to gallery owners and curators, always hoping against hope. And a certain point something shifted and my paintings were being hung on the same walls as the work of those artists I had always loved so much. Illustration, oddly enough, came last. One day, a client I was tattooing who had a little publishing house asked me if I would illustrate a children’s book and that led to my involvement in a whole load of projects in the field of publishing, work I still find really satisfying.
How many books have you illustrated?
A fair few, for children and teens. And some covers for novels too. But let’s say that the work I’m most drawn to is Note di Viola, as always for the publisher Bakemono Lab.
How would you define your style if you had to choose just three adjectives to describe it?
Surreal, bittersweet, arcane.
How do you manage to balance technique and artistic flair? The more rigorous aspects with the creative side?
As far as I’m concerned, technique has always had to adapt to my imagination and not the other way round. It’s just a means, a vehicle that allows me to give shape to my visions, my figurative impulses. I personally believe that method should manage to satisfy all that is needed in order to achieve the final goal, the right representation…and by “right” I mean what really satisfies you once the work is done, though never without some objective self-criticism. Anyway, whether it’s figurative art, music, dance or anything else, an artist can never limit themselves to simply executing the work. What I mean to say is, studying and improving your technical skills is indispensable. I honestly think it’s a neverending process, and that’s why, for me personally, the best way I know to balance creativity and discipline is to study, observe, and always keep evolving.
With love, dedication, constance, without ever abandoning, but rather, constantly nurturing the visionary part of the brain.
The female figure is central to your artwork. Would you like to tell us something about this theme of yours?
My iconography mainly derives from the archetype of the “eternal feminine which raises us up”. This is a concept which has always haunted me. Woman as psychopomp, in ancient matriarchal societies where there was no concept of war, the cult of the Mother Goddess, caring for and nurturing the entire cosmos, harmonising with nature, these are all themes and abstractions which inspire and celebrate my representations. My figures, by incarnating these principles, link childhood and adolescence, incarnate metamorphosis, the passage to adulthood, with all the demons that go with it. The charm is deliberately retro and the indispensable totem animals are vital for me: they stand for the indissoluble bond with the natural primordial part of the spirit. And I have to add an inevitable autobiographical presence to all of this, and that’s about it. My works possess me; I am inside of them and they are always inside of me.
Who are the artists and tattooists who inspire you most?
On an individual level, I have deepened my awareness by exploring the world of art, through different periods and schools. I have loved, and still carry with me, some of the big names on the art scene over the past seven centuries, and I would devalue their importance to me by just listing them. There are so many painters, sculptors and just as many tattoo artists who have set me daydreaming and spurred me on to create work of my own. As I said, it would be a neverending list and it would be intolerable to leave anybody out. That’s why I’ll try to narrow it down to just two names: Salvador Dalì for painting and the Leu family for tattoo. And I want to stress that I’m not just talking about artistic appreciation or inspiration, but a pure and utter devotion for their invaluable contribution – innovative on global scale – as well as their priceless mental freedom. What I’m talking about is their sincerity, for better or worse, their spontaneous approach, the way they seem to be immune to the concept of fear, since they don’t feel the need to wear a mask. It’s rare to find such a genuine spirit.
There are some people who simply make history, who are the stuff of legend and these people stay with us forever.
You’re a really eclectic artist. Can you tell us something about your most recent collaborations, the shows and the projects you’ve been working on?
At the moment, one of my paintings is in an exhibition in New York, a lovely all-female collective show, tattoo artists from all over the world. The exhibition is called Ladies ladies Art Show, and it’s at the MF Gallery. I’m also exhibiting in Los Angeles, three little paintings for another collective show, The fantastic Coaster Show at Gallery 30 South. As well as this, I’m still working together with the publisher Bakemono Lab on a load of new book projects which will be seeing the light of day some time soon.
Speaking of your collaborations, I saw a lovely portrait of Audrey Horne (one of the main characters in Twin Peaks, ed.) which you did for an exhibition at the Nero Gallery… I’m dying to know if you are a fan of the series. Are you into David Lynch and his dark and fabulous world?
Absolutely! As far as cinema goes, David Lynch is part of the kind of imaginary world that inspires me most. When Twin Peaks came out in Italy, I was just a teenager, but I was really into films and music of a certain type. Twin Peaks immediately became a drug for me. When Nero Gallery contacted me asking me to do a painting inspired by the scene I couldn’t have been more excited. I chose Audrey as the subject straight away, because obviously, she represented all that I could have possibly wanted to paint.
You did the poster for the London Tattoo Convention. Can you want tell us something about it?
What can I say? When Miki got on to me a year ago and asked me if I wanted to do one of the three posters for the London Tattoo Convention I was absolutely thrilled. For me it was a challenge, an honour, and of course a terrible source of anxiety! But, as always, once I’d caught my breath and got down to work, I tried to find an image in my head that would, in terms of symbology and setting, represent this enormous artistic event that is the London London Tattoo Convention… There’s nothing like it anywhere.
I know this wasn’t the only project you worked on for this event…
The poster was done a year ago, actually, but this year I got involved in what has to be the geatest artistic challenge I’ve ever faced. I was asked to paint an entire Gretsch, and that has to be my absolute favourite model of guitar. It was fun and awful at the same time. I’d never painted anything three-dimensional before, let alone a guitar with all its shapes, curves, protruberences and concave bits and the countless little metal parts to be taken off and then put back on again! And what’s more, I had to deal with the nerves about my work being exhibited alongside all these other amazing artists. Let’s say I had just a touch of performance anxiety. But anyway, thanks to the invaluable advice from friends and colleagues, I managed to do it in the end. And I’m really happy with the way it turned out.
Have you got any dreams for the future? Where do you see yourself and what do you think you will be up to a few years down the line?
My dreams for the future are something that have changed often over the course of my life. Right now, I’d love to be able to wake up tomorrow with super powers. These would include being able to beam myself to wherever I wanted to go, telekinesis, and the power to heal the people I love. A few years from now, I reckon I’ll be doing exactly the same things I’m doing now: painting, tattooing and spending time with the people I care about.
Before we wind up, is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?
I’d just like to add a little note, as a person, not as an artist. I can say that I’ve had plenty of challenging times, but also lots of satisfaction, in my life so far, but the most important thing is that I never forget who has helped me. If there’s one thing I truly despise in a human being, it’s ingratitude. There are so many people I am grateful to, and not a single day goes by that I don’t think loving thoughts for each and every one of them. My connection with people who have been good to be is indissoluble. All the rest is just water under the bridge.
Claudia Ducalia‘s project for an exclusive exhibition at the London Tattoo Convention 2018, in collaboration with Gretsch Guitars – watch the video!