Behind the Scenes
Mario Sughi Talks Art, Theft, What's Overrated & More
“Stealing in art is like leaving the place with the best guest at the party!”
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How would you describe the subject matter or content of your work?
I have many memories of long evenings with friends. Faces, smiles, gestures flash quickly one after in front of me. And again, of those evenings, I have almost no memories at all of the topics of our conversations. I don’t think that subject matter is ever such a relevant thing. The real meaning of an encounter, a conversation or painting, is somewhere else.
How do you know when a work is finished?
Ingres used to say: “I leave it to time to finish my paintings.” A work is finished when the excitement it generates comes to an end: that’s when you don’t have anything left either to add or to give to it, or to get from it.
What’s an image that makes you feel at home?
What will make you feel successful?
When I succeed in surprising myself.
What’s the most overrated artistic movement/era?
There are times when conceptual art reminds me of a painting (not a movie) with subtitles all over the place. Magritte sometimes is the same, and so are some Street Artists: for example although I like Banksy, I know that I don’t like him for his work but just for the clever slogans behind it.
What’s (one of) your favorite work(s) of art?
All art is theft—true or false?
Alex Katz in an interview for Flash Art Magazine quotes Fairfield Porter saying: “Painters who borrow get caught. And painters who steal are real good.” And then Katz himself makes this comment “To steal you have to be really mature.” Stealing in art is like leaving the place with the best guest at the party!
If you could have any artist, living or dead, paint a portrait of you, who would you choose?
My father, Alberto Sughi, made a few great portraits of me (one is below). Now, in order to complete the collection, it would be extremely nice to have one made by Pablo Picasso.
What’s an image of yourself that makes you feel old?
What do you think is the age at which people are at their most creative?
At the age of 23 or 24, Masaccio (1401–28) had already completed some of the greatest masterpieces in art history (the frescoes for the Brancacci Chapels). Conversely, Henri Rousseau, Le Douanier (1844–1910), was already in his forties when finally he started to produce some of his great works (for example Tiger In a Tropical Storm, 1891) and Kandinsky (1866–1944) as well was a notoriously late starter. Today we see artists, for example Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920) and Alex Katz (b. 1927), who in their nineties are still painting some of their finest works. The same thing was true for Picasso who, at the age of 91, painted some of the most memorable self portraits ever. So it seems that rather than a good age there is no such a thing as a bad one for creating great paintings.
What is your favorite author of all time and why?
I like Milan Kundera. In his novels his main characters are always men/women in their mid-forties/fifties who (for example, Theresa in Immortality, or the man with no name in Life is Elsewhere) still show a real interest for our world, but don’t love it anymore.
How influential is your personal history and/or politics in your work?
Culture is a bit like your accent, gestures. Unconsciously you pick them up and unconsciously you bring them with you.