Marco Rea: Pop Surrealist Provocateur
in conversation with
Born in Rome in 1975, where he still lives and works, Marco Rea graduated in History of Contemporary Art, producing for many years graffiti on the walls of several Italian cities as a graffiti artist. It was during this time that Rea created and developed his own unique ‘Pop Surrealist’ technique of spray painting on billboards and the pages of glossy magazines. The result being nothing less than provocative.
Take for instance, ‘From Bulgari to Art’, in which Rea’s technique transforms glossy magazine advertising into something entirely new, alive. Rea has raised the culture jamming ethos of Italy’s urban street artists — a form of subvertising used to disrupt or subvert media culture and its mainstream cultural institutions, including corporate advertising — into an entirely new realm of artist endeavour which focuses not only on subverting or critiquing political or advertising messages, or their negation, but to transcend both image and message with one of Rea’s own creation.
UG: How has the experience of living and working in Rome, surrounded by so much classical art and being so close to modern fashion media influenced your work?
Marco Rea: It’s terrible! It seems that time did not pass! Please remember to Italians that Leonardo Da Vinci was dead long time ago and that we too are in the 21st century!
UG: Your artistic research considers two different points of view; Street art and pop Surrealism, keeping your works recognizable and original. How do you accomplish this amid global mass media which quite literally consumes art for advertising purposes?
Marco Rea: I use spray and I create surreal images using a “pop” support but I never wanted to make something that is “street art” or “pop surrealism”: I follow a personal research and my own sensibility, the way in which I perceive the reality (or the unreal). If this is defined or perceived like street art or pop surrealism it’s ok, but I don’t mind.
UG: You created and use a technique, which is the spray painting on billboard. Can you elaborate upon this process, this technique, and how it is distinct from your contemporaries?
Marco Rea: For many years I did spray paint to realize “graffiti” on the (anonymous) walls of Rome. Now I use the same sprays on the (anonymous) commercial billboards.
I do not want to be a spectator who undergoes a not requested show, I want to use this show and to become active in it.
For me it’s something obvious and natural, I do not know why nobody did it before.
UG: Your work rises from a glossy image, created in order to sell a product, full of messages of desire and fascination, which stir people to material fetishism for mass culture products. You remove the product from this image and the atmosphere totally changes, the subject is bent to your will, the subject becomes other from yourself. What would you consider the driving force to be to “bend” this “material fetishism for mass culture” to your will?
Marco Rea: It is a strong need to take out what is exploding inside me. I live constantly with my head in other “places”, one only world is not enough for me! I feel the need to represent these “other worlds” and to do that I find inspiration in all that is surreal and ethereal: dream worlds, foggy memories, spectral and magical figures, …
UG: Surely, there is nothing more transgressive than to appropriate mass culture, the messages of desire and fascination they stir, and use them for your own artistic purposes. What do you consider the ultimate purpose or direction for these cultural and mass media appropriations in your work?
Marco Rea: My aim is to give a new life to a serial product that is, because of its nature, “dead” since it starts to exist. I like to transform this product into something different from its nature. I think that it will be too simple to paint an image starting from zero, instead it is a challenge for me to paint on an existing image. I like billboards with female models because they seem to me like anonymous dolls which I can fill with a soul, an emotion, a history. I am the first to be fascinated by this metamorphosis. When I finish an artwork it seems to me I made a kind of magic.
UG: Your “favourite models are women in their intimacy, lost in their thoughts, dreams, mental explorations, caught in their mental spaces.” (from the catalogue “Italian Pop Surrealism”). Why?
Marco Rea: Women can amplify their emotions and passions, good or bad that is. Joy and sorrow, love and hate. Their sensibility makes them weaker in some cases but in general stronger than men. This duality inspires me. From time to time, sadly, my work is associated wih violence but in my mind there is no violence at all, every work I made is a tribute to women, to their intimacy, strength and fragility.
UG: Your artistic inspirations are Bacon, Schiele, Witkin, Bellmer and contemporary Chinese artists, famous authors like Poe and Kafka and Oriental culture, characterized by a void and silence aesthetics. You obviously have an affinity for dark, surreal, melancholy themes and allegories. Do you see your work further developing along these lines, or into even bolder, more transgressive areas of investigation?
Marco Rea: I do not know how I will develop my art but I believe that “Art never come from happiness”, our experiences take us to different paths, sometimes unconsciously.
That I ever felt an attraction towards dark, melancholy, silence, pathologic, ghosts, ancient photos and macabre: I really do not understand why. But I’m sure about one thing: my melancholic creatures will never become “Hello Kitty”.UG
Marco Rea has exhibited his works abroad at Strychnin Gallery (together with Mark Ryden and Ray Caesar), Cell63 Art Gallery (Berlin), Fun House Gallery (Detroit), L’Art de Rien Gallery (Paris), Genuine Artikle Gallery (New York), Kaneko’s Gallery (California), BLOOOM Art Fair (Cologne), in Italy he exhibites at MondoPOP (Rome), Mondo Bizzarro Gallery (Rome), Vecchiato Gallery, Famiglia Margini Gallery (Milan), Fabrica Fluxus Gallery (Bari) and many others, and his work has been published in Juxtapoz Magazine (USA), Inside Art (Italy), Velvet (Italy), CG (Italy) and many others. Marco Rea is represented in Rome, Italy by Andrea Furlan on behalf of Vecchiato Art Galleries.