Rome's via Margutta has always been a special spot for artists. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck filmed Roman Holiday (1953) there, and during the 1970's, legendary movie director Federico Fellini lived in No. 110 via Margutta with actress Giulietta Masina. These days, the street is the backdrop for the popular annual art exhibition, Mostra d'Arte dei Cento Pittori. And at No. 118, Il Margutta RistorArte, a trendy vegetarian restaurant offers a delightful blend of food and design in an unforgettable dining experience involving taste, sight and touch.
While enjoying a vegetarian meal or an aperitif, walk into the restaurant's contemporary art gallery where paintings, sculptures and graphic art line the walls. RistorArte's gallery is currently showing Prozac in collaboration with Accademia del Lusso, an exhibit documenting of the work of Italian artist and graphic designer, Giorgio Lupattelli.
|Saint Sebastian (2008).
Current affairs, scientific progress, racism and a universal sense of alienation are the themes in his art. His works portray a modern society that is moving increasingly faster, demanding robotic efficiency and the competitive drive of racehorses.
Lupattelli's pieces are shocking, depicting firearms, knives, blood, drugs, surgery, superheroes and poisonous animals. A strong message lies behind them: "I like provoking the audience and making them reflect on the precariousness of human beings, who believe they are all-powerful. The truth is that we're all mortal and can fail in a modern society surrounded by violence and lack of direction; where mass communication replaces our reality by influencing our behavior and making us an alienated herd, unable to think critically," Lupattelli explains.
According to Lupattelli's interpretation, drugs are often the way to survive this contemporary lifestyle. That notion is manifested in his painting, Elettroshock (2003), which portrays Earth being perforated by a 20mg Prozac pill, much like a bullet hitting the human brain. "Unfortunately for many people, Prozac is considered the ideal cushion for the anxieties derived from social performance. By acting on their nervous system, the magic pill soothes pain and has a calming effect, like a modern opium."
Chemical substances can be a pharmacological equivalent to religion's remedial effects: they both can ease one's sense of alienation. Lupattelli's Saint Sebastian (2008) is a perfect example of this metaphor. Lupattelli evoked American photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe's, St. Sebastian portrait and designed the X-ray of a crucified black martyr. The piece can be interpreted in several ways: "The black man on a cross can symbolise a minority that takes on the world's troubles and fears, as Jesus did when he was crucified. His skeleton is made visible so as to explore his soul deeper and deeper. The cross represents the Church, but at the same time, the cross of the hospital, and on his body you can read the text of the Latin Holy Communion liturgy that I partially changed with a few names of well known medications to make the connection between science and religion stronger." Among the original Latin words, Lupattelli mixes in pharmaceutical product names: Mustargen, Triatec, Prozac, Enapren, Enturen, Retrovir. In this sense, science can be seen as similar to religion in producing an effective cure for an individual's sense of isolation, or as a clear opponent of the Church due to their contradictory assertions.
Inspired by American pop art from Andy Warhol to Keith Haring, Lupattelli often mixes graphic and computer design with oil or acrylic painting. After drafting an image using Photoshop, he hand paints it on a larger scale. When creating his characters, he says he is influenced by the genius of other contemporary artists such as Duchamp, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Matthew Barney and Robert Longo, as well as those working in different entertainment industries. He often makes reference to Stanley Kubrick films, whilst Pink Floyd and rap music underline the atmosphere of his works.
It was the popular rapper Eminem's life, for instance, that inspired Lupattelli's striking work, BrainDamage, in 2010. The rapper has often revealed his loneliness and drug addiction in his lyrics. On his album Relapse, he raps in the track Déjà-vu: "I'm a prime candidate for the gene to receive the drug addict traits (…) Start off with the NYQuil (...) to a harder prescription drug called Valium (…). Sometimes I feel so alone, it feels like I've been down this road before." These words inspired Lupattelli to depict Eminem screaming out against drugs, violence, sexual perversion, the persuasive power of mass media and even unhealthy fast food. Wisdom and creative madness make our weaknesses clearer. BrainDamage is an invitation to react by turning weakness into positive energy.
But is it true that all we amount to is a paradoxical herd of alienated sheep, simultaneously lumped together but held apart by a technological consumer society? Despite the fact that the Internet has changed the nature of social interaction, and that television has imposed new aesthetic models with its advertising, one can choose who to be: an isolated victim of a heavily technological world, or one of those strange aliens who resists standardised thinking.
Maybe art and design can't change the world, but Lupattelli's shocking and audacious images can surely save us from permanent "brain damage" by reflecting on the problems of our age with critical eyes and attitude.
Prozac Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Il Margutta RistorArte runs from February 24 to March 18, 2012.
Via Margutta, 118 00187 Roma
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