From artists following The Grand Tour, to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, the Bernini marbles, and Caravaggio masterpieces, art in Rome has a long and enduring history. Today, the typical tourist itinerary takes in the wealth of classical art the Eternal City has to offer. Cast your net a little further however, and you’ll discover Rome’s modern art scene is alive and well. The latest contemporary offering can be found on Via del Babuino.
Amongst the big-name designer stores, and smaller but equally pricey boutiques in this area, lies the new gallery of ‘Dicò – The Fire Artist’. The space itself has been gutted and stripped back to the bare bones. The grey color palette of the coarse, naked concrete floor and the discolored whitewashed brick walls showing years of wear, tear, and repair have been deliberately chosen in contrast to the works of art found inside.
Arranged in this industrial setting are large and colorful artworks in a style unlike any other. Dealing with themes of fame and celebrity, the artist, Dicò, uses a range of mediums to create different textures and visual effects. Think of the pop art of Andy Warhol as a reference point; beginning with a very recognizable and accessible image and modifying it.
Dicò talked me through his process. “It starts with a photograph, often from a film. For example, this work here of Morgan Freeman, I took from ‘Million Dollar Baby’. I modify the image because then it’s a photo exclusive to me, and no one else in the world has it.”
Using photographs from the celebrity world as the basis of his work, Dicò creates pieces that echo our modern day obsessions and fixations. Once the subject has been chosen, he paints the canvases in bright and bold pop art style. The most compelling aspect of the paintings however, is the embellishments Dicò adds next. Colored resin is splashed around erratically and neon tube lighting inlayed on top of details he wishes to emphasize: the mouth of Marilyn Monroe or the glasses of Gandhi, for example.
In fact, Dicò takes inspiration from the techniques of Italian painter and sculptor Alberto Burri. Burri was famous for using non-traditional materials and transforming them further with a range of methods including ripping, tearing, stitching, and burning.
Dicò’s most well known trademark though, is his use of plastic and fire. Each piece is covered with transparent Plexiglass, which he then melts and burns with a lighter. This outer coating takes on new forms and shapes giving a third dimension to the piece.
The artist explained to me how this combustion technique initiated his success in the art world. “I found myself with a sheet of Plexiglass, which I burnt with a lighter repeatedly. This burning made a sculpture on a work of art. I showed it to a famous gallery of Rome and Miami: La Galleria Ca’ d’Oro. They saw my first Marilyn Monroe painting, and exhibited it in Miami together with work from artists like Romero Britto, Francesca Leone, and Andy Warhol.
“When I arrived at my first exhibition, there were 30 or 40 people in a queue with a camera to take a photo of my work. I found journalists and television presenters that wanted to interview me.”
Dicò appears proud to be mentioned in the same sentence as these other artists, and pleased to receive press attention. Indeed, he openly talks about his desire to be successful.
“I’m an artist very much in demand around the world, and my problem today is that I receive a lot of requests and I have to say a lot of no’s. You have to select, select, select if you want to become great in your life, because to just say yes is easy. To say no means you become valuable.”
This process of selection also applies to selling the paintings. For Dicò, they must be displayed in the right environment: a collector’s house or museum for example. Hanging a piece in just any old place would be the same as throwing it away.
“For me every work is a child. When I leave a work, I hand it over and explain how to stick it on the wall in the right place, I say goodbye and take a photo. I’m happy to make it, happy to sell it, and I’m sorry when I leave it. They are all my children.”
So simply having the funds to purchase an artwork by Dicò doesn’t guarantee you’ll be taking one home. To enquire about purchases speak to the gallery assistant, but let’s just say prices start at a few thousand euros.
Regardless of whether these hefty canvases, exploding with color, texture and energy, would coordinate with the décor in your own home, you can ponder over them in the setting chosen by the artist himself.