First few basic questions, who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?
I am based in Berlin where I have lived now for almost a quarter of a century. Though I am born and have spent most of my life in Germany I am inside still a migrant missing very much the South and its colours.
My Mom is from Zagreb, Croatia, and my dad is Italian. Creativity and art have always been part of our lives, even before my dad Enea Picco took again up (after a very long break) his art practice as a painter.
Though they earned their living in a completely different business, my parents always encouraged me to be creative.
Creating images with a crayon, words or cutouts has always been part of me. Maybe because it also gave me the possibility to piece together the different realities that surrounded me.
My parents ran a café in a small town where a lot of different people from different professions and backgrounds met. Looking back… it was really a very peculiar microcosm.
There was of course the group of artists that gathered around my dad later on, but also photographers and editors publishing leftist literature in a rather conservative surrounding as well as the local brothel owner and some of his girls and their pimps. And then there was this lady that went every Tuesday to the hairdressers and fed me through the eighties with flashy high fashion magazines. I wish I still had them…
After school, I briefly considered studying art but dropped the idea rather quickly after experiencing firsthand through my dad’s career what it meant to be an artist. It made me realize that art’s a business with a lot of very entitled gatekeepers. So I opted for my other passion and studied English and Italian literature. To make it all viable I studied also economics. My intent was to finance my writing, admittedly my plan was good, but also a tad naive.
Well, life led me anyway down other roads also because I usually grab an opportunity when it arises on the horizon. So after a short stay at the European Commission in Brussels, I ended up at the UN and right in the middle of scorched and war-torn Balkan. I started to work for different intergovernmental organizations and spend some years trying to “make a difference” as the Americans call it before I went to Berlin where I concentrated again on writing.
Though I had novels in my mind I seized another opportunity and I began writing radio dramas and documentaries for the national broadcasting services. I had a son and wrote reviews for a newspaper, started a couple of novels before I eventually I finished my first script – which I still have to publish.
After years of wrestling with empty pages and words I needed to break away from my desk. By that time my marriage was broken and I also needed urgently a job, so I took the state exam and started to teach at a public school. Teaching already brought me back to visual arts. But it really needed Covid and the lockdowns for me to get the scissors seriously going.
“This is an almost spiritual process for me because I am in these hours entirely connected to my intuition.”
When you’re collaging, what’s your favorite part of the creative process?
I usually don’t have a clear concept or a readymade vision in my head and I don’t search for existing images to fit a vision. For me it’s the other way around: I see an image, a color… I start to collage. That’s when I lose track of time completely and disappear into my own world. This is an almost spiritual process for me because I am in these hours entirely connected to my intuition. I’m working from home – I need my stuff always around me – and my folks know that I’m not really present when I’m collaging. My teenager actually uses these hours strategically to extort all sorts of things from me because he knows I’m not really paying attention to the outside world.
When I sit down to collage I usually have already a starting point. Some snippets I picked up from the street or found in a magazine whilst waiting for coffee at a café counter. Or some image that I have found on my way to school or at the dentist’s whilst I wait for my turn… That’s the absolute beauty of collaging, there’s material everywhere. You never run out of it.
Sometimes my inner critic yells at me „What’s your style?“ Then I usually answer: „I don’t want a style.“ Repeating a pattern has something soothing and reassuring. You sit down and do what you do, you no longer expose yourself to the uncertainties of finding the right approach for a found piece of paper. I like that too, but as a teacher, I am working with kids – mostly at the age of 10 to 13 years – and their limitless creativity is teaching me. In a way, they help me to shrug off the limitations I can sometimes feel as an adult. Said this, I feel collage is my playground. There are no limits. Today I cut, tomorrow I tear. Today I glue, tomorrow I sew… Anything goes, especially if you give up control and jump into the creative flow.
And then, what’s the hardest part?
The hardest part is to stop and let a piece breathe. I am rather impatient and I want things to get done. But some collages need air and breath. That’s when I usually start another one to bridge this gap. It happens sometimes that I work on several collages at the same time and it even happens that I forget what I have put down under a pile of books to straighten out.
Do you prefer specific kinds of materials? What do you search for when you are going through the materials, what catches your attention first?
This is a toughie… There’s no coherence really. Or at least I can not see it. Maybe the color blue and specifically teal or egg blue? I somehow seem always attracted to these colors. But really it varies, I go with what catches my eye. It can be a blurred image, a hand, a shape, or a figure.
I love old magazines from the 60ties and 70ties. The paper is still very saturated with color and I like the brittleness of aged paper. I also like to work with old book jackets. The more I think about it… my eye really goes first to color.
Which doesn’t mean that I dismiss newer stuff or packaging. I have also worked with textiles and other textures in combination with photographs and postcards. Sometimes I stitch with paper thread or vintage thread that I find in charity shops. I love to scavenge through charity shops, book shops, and flea markets. As I mentioned before: There’s material everywhere.
How easy or hard is it to finish your work? Do you ever get burnt out on a piece, and what do you do to keep working and being productive?
Usually, it’s easy. I start and I go through it until it’s done. But heck yes, there are these collages that are a real challenge. Like my absolute favorite, that almost didn’t make it.
When I started it, I had laid out some really good snippets, some treasured ones. I was quite pleased with the result. I had worked for the first time with masonite. It looked elegant and minimalistic when I realized that I had managed to glue my snippets upside down. On the back of the masonite board was a hole for the hook and it was now on the bottom instead of on the top.
I really don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me back then to solve the problem by simply sticking one of those self-adhesive mounts on the back and hanging it as I needed it…
Instead, I was quite upset and started to rework the whole thing. I ended up with a totally overloaded collage that I definitely hated. I tossed it in a corner of my working space, but it was eating at me.
It took me some days but then I had an idea of how to rescue it. I finished it rather quickly after that and what had been a failure turned out to be one of the best collages I did so far – at least that’s what I think.
How do your art and art-making impact other parts of your life?
It’s difficult for me to separate art and life from each other. My mind is constantly busy with creating something and with art in one way or the other. I walk the dog and I catch a glimpse of some street art on a withered wall. I ride my bike to school and pass by some wind-torn posters. I cross the street and find some lost notes. Or there are a couple of old books abandoned in a box outside a house…
I live in an exciting city full of possibilities and also of struggles. I am used to looking at the details. At the end of the day, I need to set a picture out of all the fragments that I gather during the day. It’s like finding a sense of what there is. It’s also an outlet to cope with the many emotions that I have to keep at bay during the day. I guess it’s therapeutic.
And then again that’s only one side of it…. I’m currently collaborating with an Italian goldsmith. She’s an old friend and I’m a fan of her work for over two decades. That’s why I’m particularly happy that she suggested using some of my collages as an inspiration for a new jewelry line. These brooches and pendants have a very urban feel to them and meet the collage aspect not only by taking up details of my collages but by integrating different materials like paper and found objects.
It’s amazing when you can find like-minded people and sometimes even other artists, put your heads together, and creat synergies. It’s a way of expressing yourself and reaching out. All these are aspects of community and communion, of life itself.
What influences you as an artist? And how do things influence you?
We live in the age of information. It’s a visual age and I am the visual type. I suck pictures up like a sponge. I enjoy observing the works of other artists, not only collage artists. They inspire me, especially when it comes to technique or style and I learn a lot by observing and reading about art.
But what really influences me is reality or better said: My analog realities as I experience them in my every day out and about as much as the many realities that come with an interconnected information society. Images are not easily erased from a mind. Once they are seen they cannot be unseen. And there’s this constant flow of visual imagery shouting at you „buy this“ or “do that“, “don’t do this“, “come“, “go“ and so on. Collaging is for me a response to these imperatives, to these calls. They are my notes to the outside world, letters to whoever wants to read them and they express how I feel about what I see, and what I believe. At the same time, they are questions and asking for responses, stimulating hopefully others in turn.
What do your art and collaging mean to you?
Well, I guess I have given that away in a way… What I love most about this medium is the fact, that you don’t have to study first how to apply color, how to finish a piece, how to handle your material, or how to draw correctly the proportions… Anyone can just start, cut and glue along. You can find material everywhere. This makes collage less exclusive than oil painting and that’s probably also the reason why it’s still so undervalued – Something I don’t understand at all, given the common worship of artists as Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Schwitters and to a lesser degree of the collage women like Hannah Höch or Eileen Agar…
I mean in the end, the foundations of composition and use of color are something that everyone can learn. What makes collage to me special or any other form of art – whether famous, by a man or a woman – is how a piece affects me. Does it touch my heart, soul, or whatever you wanna call this inside you. Does it evoke feelings of comfort, of aversion, of familiarity in me? Does it provoke thoughts? Or all these things and more at once?
When I am saying my collages are letters from inside me to the outside world then collage is the language I am using. It’s like French or math. It’s a visual communication of how and what I believe and a digest of what I perceive. Those snippets tell a story, my story – giving away how I see the world and where I come from.
If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?