Italian artist Gabriele Pellerone has pioneered a new painting technique. He approaches the canvas the same way a tattoo artist approaches the body. In order to be able to create a “tattooed” painting, Pellerone uses latex, rubber, chalk, and resin as his support. Only after he has carefully prepared these surfaces does he move on to the inking with the help of a tattoo machine and needles. The highly original nature of his work, polished technique and signature style have garnered him significant attention in his home country. In 2017, Pellerone became the first tattoo artist to participate in the Venice Biennale.
It is up to the viewer to decide whether Pellerone has elevated the tattoo—this salient marker of outsider culture—to the rank of high art, or whether he has slyly subverted the limits of what is typically considered high art. Undoubtedly, by creating a pastiche of Renaissance, Classical, and Pop Culture themes, juxtaposing traditional icons of Classical art and faces of Hollywood stars, historical figures of antiquity and today’s political leaders, the artist challenges us to question the place of art in contemporary culture.
What does it take to be a tattoo artist and how did you discover that you wanted to make art that references tattooing?
It’s all based on the passion for art, design, aesthetics, and research. I have been tattooing people for many years, but I wanted to find a way to make the tattoo immortal, so I thought about tattooing paintings, in this way a tatauggio can be put on display in a gallery, a museum and the work of a tattoo artist can be viewed forever over time.
What sets your work apart from what you would typically see in a tattoo parlor? In other words, why tattoo something other than the body?
The tattoo is usually done on people. This is what limits it. When the person dies, he also takes his tattoo with him, in this way the work of a tattoo artist can no longer be seen. I wanted my work to be seen also after death, so I chose to tattoo paintings and sculptures. In this way, the stroke of the tattoo artist, like a painter’s stroke, remains forever indelible.
Tattoos are a frontier where the private meets the public. They are often a display of something that has very personal meaning. Is there a story about a tattoo of yours that you would like to share?
I would have many things to tell about my career, but this one is certainly the most important for me: I have a blind friend: he does not see, but he believes in me and has faith in me, so one day he asked me to tattoo my eyes on his back, so I could see for him and protect him forever.
A tattoo is also valuable for the feeling and passion: people who are tattooed are happy.
You live in Italy, the country with the most UNESCO world heritage sites. What is your relationship to this great heritage? How does this overwhelming sense of the past inform your work?
Italy is a great source of inspiration for me, but American culture fascinates me, which is why in my works I combine Renaissance and Pop culture. It’s a perfect match. Life is strange; as a child, I loved to draw but I hated the history of art, but today I can not do without it.
How would you describe the relationship between your artwork and body tattoos?
Tattooing a painting, a sculpture or a person is the same thing for me, I use the same machines, the same needles, the same colors, so I want to demonstrate the power of the tattoo, the tattoo is an art comparable to painting, with one important difference. A tattoo artist cannot make a mistake.
What attracts you to the mediums you prefer, such as latex, plaster, rubber, etc.? These materials suggest a particular relationship with the body. Could you elaborate?
I produce my work starting with the support. The rubber, the chalk, the resin are produced by me, all these materials are different from each other, but a tattoo machine works on all these supports. I use rubber because it resembles human skin. It is soft, has the same color, and the result is that of a normal tattoo done on people, it’s perfect. I also love to tattoo resin statues, in this kind of material I can also use colors and really get into the process, it’s a very special thing, original and unique.
I’m happy to be the first artist in the world to have brought the tattooed pictures into art galleries and museums.
How do you proceed about making a piece like “Hand Snake” or “Donna e Psiche 1”?
I prepare a draft on the canvas, after which I take the machine, the needles, and the tattoo. It stay, indelible on the canvas, it is a cool one. I often start with an idea but I end up doing more. “Donna and Psyche” are my first tattooed pictures, representing the passage of the tattoo from the person to the art gallery. I have been exhibited in the Venice Biennale. It was the first time in the world that a tattooed work was exhibited there, I am the first artist to have done such a thing. I could be a promoter of a new artistic movement that is emerging now. This is an advantage for me. These works are easily recognizable, no other artist currently tattoos paintings, so this is big news in the art world. I chose that the first gallery to exhibit this unconventional artwork had to be Agora.
How much time do you spend on your pieces? For instance, how long did you work on “Donna e Psiche”? Could you talk about how it originated? It appears to reference strongly vintage pop-culture and design. Did you have specific sources in mind? How and why did you choose them?
During the day I tattoo people, I spend the night painting. Am I crazy? No, I have a dream. I spent three weeks working 3 hours a night to make the “Donna and Psiche” series. I’m happy that when I create something I do not feel the time flowing by.
“Woman and Psyche” represent my first interpretation of this new artistic movement. This series contained the first tattooed pictures put on display at the Venice Biennale.
I love the female figure, beauty, aesthetics, so I wanted to dedicate these works to women, for me to be sacred, pop culture has made it possible to customize and make a woman’s face unique in a new and original way, I’ve dedicated different works to women, but these are my favorites and will have a historic value.
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