Interview

(Luigi Monteferrante was born in Montreal, Canada, 1962. After studying Social Sciences at John Abbot College and dropping out of Classics at Concordia University, he moved to Italy in 1984. He lives and works in Vasto Marina.)

Poet, playwright, novelist, musician, painter – who are you, Mr Monteferrante?

I spent most of my life writing bad novels, and though I had some short stories published, novels were literally my life. Then, about five years ago, I started writing poetry again, what I hadn’t done since I was a teen, lyrics really, initially for a friend; from lyric to poetry was the next step.

And the publications came. That’s quite a list of magazines.

Thank you. Forty, or so, mags with most publishing more than one poem, so I’d say there’s about a hundred poems out there. Meanwhile, though, I bought my first guitar, recorded a few songs as McMonty, great long lyricist accompanied by very poor playmanship, but the songs got airplay in New Zealand, the US, Canada. In NZ, I was on playlists with Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and the like.

You were surprised?

Totally unexpected. And my friends who’d been playing since forever were rather upset.

Envy?

Perplexed. But I tired of that, too, and started producing ambient or electronic music by the name of Gang of Tolstoy.

You’re a big reader of…

Never as much as I would like to. It was Tolstoy or Dickens. For their embrace and variety.

Sounds good. Gang of Tolstoy.

And some interesting tracks. Music for Museums & Galleries, the last album, I’m rather pleased with, plus a few other tracks from previous albums. The Day We Left Earth, for one, and others. A lot to trash, too, no doubt.

So after music for galleries, paintings?

An extension of writing poetry with a pencil and pad, but what was happening was I was moving from working with words – oh, and meanwhile, a slew of plays, one of which was produced and staged in New York, this was 2011, part of my book tour – Stiletto Heels & A Pork Pie Hat – 7 cities, 15 events in 30 days…

Pretty hectic.

Yes. From words to songs to pure music, wordless  music, to the visual arts. It started with driftwood, and taking pictures of torn billboards, or broken stones, but I finally bought my first canvas, brushes and paints not knowing if what would be my first and last, indeed, if I was even going to finish the first.

But you did. And you have quite a number of paintings. Prolific would be understating your case.

Case is the word. Some say I’m obsessive. All or nothing. Okay, I accept that. But I found beauty in painting, the act, the physical act, without my having to seek, find, set words in place, word by word after word, words, words to create a body of work, an edifice.

And is painting so different, brush stroke after brush stroke you are building up an edifice, as you say.

But it’s wordless. I don’t have to talk.

But your work, the series you call Figurative Narrations and Modern Mythologies, are often stage sets with characters who do seem to be in the middle of a dialogue, a discussion, with us, the viewer, I suppose, providing the words, or imagining the exchange.

Exactly right. I never liked telling people what to do, but as a teacher, I often did. As a teacher, from teens to CEOs, individuals and groups, I had to act, talk, force myself to be outgoing, gregarious, simpatico. As a writer, you had to create characters who were likeable, or not, formulate conversations, create the illusion of an inclusive ongoing argument, and then stop. I just didn’t want to say anything anymore.

Not in words.

Not in so many words, no. And the aesthetic, it has to be nice to look at. I don’t mean flowers or landscapes, but I was recently at a couple of fairs in Brussels and London, and don’t see why I should look at mutilations, for example, suffering grossly portrayed on canvas. Not something I would hang in my living room. For shock, there’s the news. So, yes, you – artiste – might be suffering – angst, abuse, whatever – but a little perspective is, at times, helpful. Being bombed, maimed, stepping on a landmine, famine, thirst, this is true suffering. Real physical pain. And the hurt of hopelessness. Us, we just paint pictures. And, if you’re lucky, somebody comes along to buy it and hang it on the wall because he or she likes it, because it goes with the sofa, to cover a hole in the wall, to impress friends, as an investment, whatever.

Your first show…

The Space Renaissance Conference at Politecnico di Milano, May 2014. It ties in with the modern mythologies. I remember the Apollo missions and being fascinated by space travel when I was a kid, a short time I had completely forgotten, but was very real for a while, but then you go in different directions, your life takes a different path, and you grow up being only a fraction of what you might or could have been.

Do you think this is just a phase, then? Painting.

Much of my fifty years was spent writing and reading, and I’m still reading, so I may be good for the next fifty years as a painter.

Which painters have influenced you most?

I don’t now. As a teen, besides the greatness of Michelangelo and Leonardo, De Chirico’s work struck me as deeply familiar – I vacationed in Italy every other summer – sunlit piazzas, beaches, etc. But I’ve never thought of him as an influence. At that time, I discovered and enjoyed the literature of the Surrealists, Dada, that whole period, and the painters of that same epoch were more than peripheral to my readings. Futurism, for example, or the manifesto, is still little appreciated, I think. Or wiser head turned it into design they converted to mass production. And objects for insatiable consumption. All that, though, is now a hundred years old. Hm.

You sometimes work in series.

Speaking of mass production, eh? I experiment. I like to move on, try things, see where it goes.

Maybe you’ll write or produce a graphic novel one day.

Maybe. One big opus, or opera, a musical. I did write one a few years ago, but it got put aside. Needs work, and it was before I started painting. No, this would have to bring all my work together, the paintings, photography, musics.

What inspires you? Where do all the subjects or themes come from? There are so many.

They come to me in dreams. Or after priming the board, the painting appears to me, ready-made; all I have to do is add color. And with the Blue Room series of paintings, where I primed blue, all I used was a brush with a smattering of white, if that.

That, or those, are your more recent.

In real terms, my work is all very recent, but time bends, is elastic. Some of my early work I feel was made when I was seventeen or eighteen, work Painted in my garage in Lasalle, just up the Street from my dearest and oldest friend, Cosimo Cavallaro, an artist you surely know, but the truth is while he Painted, I would often just watch, or talk, or be off on own to write. But the truth is that from then to now is an instant. I really feel like I went through the Whole process, art school, scene, etc., and then sort of disappeared for years.

You said smattering of white. Are you reducing, minimizing. From novels to music to paint to, what, no paint?

Oh, no. They were followed by paintings that were very bright, very colorful. Well, I do have an idea, but come back and see, won’t you?

I promise.

When I did, in mid-September,  2014, he had completed a number of paintings, a number of series of paintings; most notably, the Afterlife of Romans, Homes, but all he wanted to talk to me about were the Abstracts of Seymour Snowe, somebody I just had to meet.

We arranged to meet in Vasto Marina, where Monteferrane lives in a beautiful Liberty-style Villa with a fabulous view of the sea, a pink house with Ivory highlights, and a veritable tower; we chatted awhile, and then, as if he’d just remembered, I was told Snowe would not be coming. Period. No reason, no excuse, no apologies. But Monteferrante had some of Snowe’s work he gladly showed me. I was not impressed, put off, I later suspected, by his not having shown up for our appointment. What would my boss say, and how would I justify the expense, was my prime concern.

When I’d seen everything he’d collected from Snowe, I asked if I could see his new work, this in September 2014.

Sure, he said. This was my last painting before my break at the end of July.

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Iphigenia on the Beach

And this, he said, are two new works – fresco, fresco. For a new series.

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He was grinning, which begged my next question.

A big change.

I had a handful of paintings prepared, more Afterlife of the Romans, but more of the same, and I wanted to do something different.

Again?

Again.

He prepared some tea for himself, after offering me a glass of Montepulciano.

Where do you place yourselfin the grand scheme of things?

Here, there, everywhere, but I am alone. They, the few or the many, don’t need me, don’t need artists. A little amusement, a past time, but the seriousness of their own affairs occupies too much of their own time and energy with no or little left for art, for literature, for poetry. Who reads poetry nowadays? Students, and other poets, and does it matter? No. We are in a solipstic multiverse of a sinkhole, and I say: good, to each his own. Now my next series, or series of series, is, shall we say, photography…

Photography…

Because it involves a camera.

A camera and imagination.

Boh, he shrugged. A camera, for sure. I will show, send them to you:  GEOGRAPHICA, Travels with Constance, Quilts for Quilty…

Very different work, indeed. It was time for me to go.

Already? What about you? You’re a writer, a poet. Tell me…

He asked many questions, but I really had to go. I thanked him, he thanked me, we shook hands, and he asked me to come back, be his guest, write that novel I had always meant to write.

If you don’t, nobody will care; if you do, you will, he said locking the gate, turning away, walking down the steps to his seaview terrace, the waves indeed now roaring. With laughter, I thought, with laughter.

 

In November, Luigi said he would be in London, so we arranged to meet at Somerset House which was hosting the Christ Stein exhibition of photography from Blondie & the Advent of Punk.

I was a punk, the only one in high school, right from the start. I would skip school, read NME or Melody Maker right at the stand, as I had no money, and I bought Pretty Vacant, stamped on transparent Yellow vinyl at Cheap Thrills, an import record shop on Bishop Street, in Montreal, but my life changed when I bought and listened Never Mind the Bollocks. I would listen to Anarchy in the UK, God Save the Queen, the entire album, over and over again on this Admiral stereo in my bedroom, and everything changed for me. I used to be a polite, inquisitive student. a big reader; after the Sex Pistols, the Clash, The Jam, I became … Hm, I was still polite, inquisitive, only I began challenge my Teachers; actually, no, my classmates were more frequently scorned and derided. I wasn’t very popular. Except with some Teachers who, I believe, enjoyed my engagement and passion and, ugh, did I answer your question?

I didn’t ask one yet.

Sorry. How about you? You were into prog-hog-rock, yeah?

Disco. I know it sucks …

Well, no, the fact is that when Saturday Night Fever was released, it changed the scene, too. Montreal was the disco capital of the world, after New York, and disco and punk exploded the status quo almost simultaneously, and I learned that I just loved to dance. And was good at it. And my mother, a seamstress, Always had me tailored infine suits, jackets, trousers, and pointy shoes from Italy, so I had this split personality.

A punked Tony Manero.

I remember going to the Limelight, still under the radar at the time, and then 1234, a converted funeral home on Mountain Street, with my friend Cosimo, but where I most often went was The Beat on Ste Catherine, Glace on Stanley, and a little place called Vog on lower Bishop where I used to hang out with the owner’s girlfriend. Marina, that’s her name, French. Gorgeous. And her boyfriend, well, I was lucky I didn’t get beat up. Hm, I have been lucky in life because more than once I’d have beaten myself up if I were somebody else.

A smartass.

To be polite. Anyway, what do you think about the pics?

Interesting.

I was going to do a series entitled School Days, or Art School Daze, but it got pushed back by other works.

You didn’t go to Art School.

I might have, but I didn’t. Just recently, I kept myself company by these imaginings: my life as an art school student. I have one painting – Bachelor’s, and the one after that – but the idea was, is, the next one we are going to have a room in complete disarray with at least one body in senseless torpor, a reflection of moral turpitude by turpentine. A propos, have you started/finished your novel?

I have, but there’s still a way to go.

One day at a time. You know, there’s not a day I don’t paint. Except now that I am here in London.

And the purpose of your visit?

No mission, no purpose. I am going to museums, a few openings, galleries, walking around, hanging out in pubs meeting and talking to people.

Will it affect your work, do you think?

I don’t know. I suppose so.

Well, do send me your work if and when it’s done, will you?

And send me a draft of your book when you’re done, yes?

I will.

Good, now have you ever been to anyone of these London superclubs….

Reader, I have. I suggested he go. And I presume he did, given two of the post-London paintings he sent me. As for the effect on his work on a deeper level, I shall have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I shall return to my own novel, The Life & Times of a Randy Olde Man as Art Collector, Curator, Gallerista, Artist, Sculptor, Model – a memoir.

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