38-year-old Milano-hailing architect and painter Diego Delfino effortlessly balances a longing lens for all things romantic and historic with a sharp sense for minimalism, simplicity and contemporary design to create elegant works that he would be quick to simply pin-down as “ugly paintings”.
In conversation with Tattoo Life, Delfino demystifies the dominant role of femininity in his work, how the world of tattooing has influenced his visual language and where Mies Van Der Rohe’s “less is more” philosophy may take him next.
Women rule your work, but what do you feel is so powerful and striking about the female form that leads it to play such a prominent role in your paintings? What are you trying to capture or achieve?
You can look at the classics, from Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to the Virgin of the Rocks or the Lady with an Ermine, or through Caravaggio’s work – his courtesans and prostitutes depicted as sacred figures in his religious paintings. There’s Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and the Primavera, with the three dancing graces, and then fantastic work of William Godward, who’s classical girls are true bliss. I always have been influenced by the subject of women in antique paintings, as well as their role throughout history, but at the same time, what really captured me at first, when speaking of American traditional tattooing, is the recurrent figure of the woman – the lost love and the distance from the loved ones. Ultimately, the female figure has always been considered the ultimate image of beauty.
Think on Venus, the godly incarnation of Beauty! It’s a universal language that transcend time and space, and has adapted through the centuries to the beauty canons of their time, but in the end, I think it’s something we all carry – something we are born with. Our ideals of beauty are held within the concept of Mother Nature and perfection of the female body. I guess painters throughout the ages have always celebrated this idea, in one way or another – not to mention the fact that, throughout history and until recent times, the arts were only accessible to men. It just came natural to me to paint the way I do.
Mostly, my ideal of beauty comes from the Victorian Age and the early 1900’s, so I guess it obviously reflects that classic sense.
Can you speak to your relationship with tattooing? When were you first struck by tattooing as an art-form, and how did classic American traditional tattoo-art come to play such a strong role in your work?
I became a fan of classic American traditional tattoos around the time I started painting. By accident, I discovered this old documentary series called ‘True Love’, where this Italian guy travels across the US in order to build a sleeve from a number of artist’s work within a 7-day frame. He collected work from Bailey Hunter Robinson, Steve Boltz, Bert Krak and Todd Noble among others. This week-long exploration of contemporary tattooing sparked my interest in the world of tattooing. From there, it was basically a trip backwards, as I started studying the old classics.
I’m aware you’re an architect by day. How do you feel this has influenced your work? What led you to such a field?
I don’t think that the two can combine, and I try to keep them separated as much as I can. Working as an architect is much more boring than one could imagine.
Have you ever considered applying your painterly designs to skin?
It happens now and then that someone ask the permission to gat a tattoo with some of my designs and I don’t have any issue with that. If they’re crazy enough to do it and they find a good tattooer that can give justice to the original artwork, why not? But I never have or will paint with that in mind as it would force me to follow certain “rules” in order to make a painting into a flash, while I basically try to do the opposite, making flash drawings into paintings.
You have recently produced a series of pieces that depict digitally distorted women. They stand out from your other work in-that the pieces acknowledge the tension that exists between history and technology. Can you speak to your thinking behind this series and how you came to achieve such masterful results?
I started experimenting with my distorted series of paintings few years ago when researching Bruno Munari’s work. Munari, an artist and designer, experimented with the possibilities of xerox machines in the early ’60s. The word ‘Xerografie’ can be sourced directly from his works. I basically do everything manually and without digital aid using an office xerox machine and a lot of free time to waste, as the final result is impossible to pre-determine. I choose a photograph I want to represent, usually a portrait from the 1920’s, and start scanning it while moving the paper randomly. When I’m satisfied with the result, I do a reproduction of it – tracing it onto the watercolor paper.
You mentioned the role of women within antique paintings, and your interest in such things, but can you speak to a core piece that stands as a catalyst for the work you create today?
If I have to choose one individual piece, it would be one of Earl Christy’s girls – perhaps this one image of a blue-eyed girl holding a red feather. To me, it’s the perfect representation of proportion and beauty, and I often return to the piece.
Your work is so tweaked and hyper-clean, but what part of the process of painting do you most enjoy, if any?
I know some people hate painting hair, but I think it’s quite cathartic. It’s a slow and painful process, for your eyes and for your neck, but I manage to completely detach from my surrounding and enter a deep state of calm. It’s the only part of the process where I manage to relax. Painting is overall a stressing experience for me.
You’ve mentioned artists who inspire you aesthetically, but can you speak to any artists, across all mediums, who inspire you in-terms of their philosophy or outlook on creating?
As I said, being an architect doesn’t influence my paintings on a stylistic level, but has obviously affected me throughout the years in a more general way. I’d like to think that Mies Van Der Rohe’s “less is more” philosophy has always been something I’ve fully embraced – not so much in terms of the details and the accuracy of the drawing, but more the balance between covered and negative space on the paper, and ultimately the ability to understand when it is time to put down the pen and not add any more elements to a piece. I essentially aspire to one day produce work in-which everything is being said and nothing more is needed.