Lucio Pozzi was born in 1935 in Milan, Italy. After living a few years in Rome, where he studied architecture, he came to the United States in 1962 as a guest of the Harvard International Summer Seminar. He then settled in New York and attained U.S. citizenship. He now shares his time between his Hudson (NY) and Valeggio s/M (VR) studios.
In 1978 the Museum of Modern Art, New York, exhibited his early videotapes in one of the first single-artist exhibitions of the Projects:Video series. He occasionally writes and has taught at the Cooper Union, Yale Graduate Sculpture Program, Princeton University, and the Maryland Institute of Art. He currently is an instructor at the MFA and BFA programs of the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work has been presented at Documenta 6 (1977) and at the Venice Biennale (American Pavilion) in 1980. His art is represented in various private and public collections.
Bradley Rubenstein: Painting's obsolescence as an exclusive tool for information or propaganda has liberated it from the burden of being applied to purposes other than the exploration of its own universe. You are one of a few artists who don't take painting for granted, but engage in it on a daily basis. How do you approach your practice with its attendant doubts?
Lucio Pozzi: I cultivate doubt because I feel that the current taken-for-granted dominance of proof and verification, of strategic clarity and resolution, is warping the exchange between artist and viewer.
When I am starting a painting, I consider it a situation, like any other mix of ingredients I may want to combine. First I set up the logistics of that which I choose to engage in: the materials, the sizes, the time. Then I decide the starting point of the operation I will conduct: the technique, the approaches, the imagery. But at all stages I make sure that none of these decisions are, for me, binding; they are only starting factors that can get transformed and get lost -- even be totally contradicted during the ensuing process of making. Unpredictable doubt supplies the energy to proceed.
BR: Instead of relying on an assumption of collective criteria for art, contemporary artists choose their own individual reference points for creativity. Your works have many layers, but prominent among them, you seem to be fascinated by metamorphosis. Can you elaborate on this at all, specifically with regard to your large, mural compositions and installations?
LP: In order to avoid depending on binding rules, even those I might set up for myself, I have developed a large pool of resources -- material, technical, imagistic. It’s like an expanding keyboard I can play to infinity. The key to my playing it is the endless translation from one combination of elements to others. The resulting hybrids are metamorphic and never the same.
This process of translation is carried on inside every single artwork and also from groups of works -- I call them families -- to other groups of works. When I produce large compositions, the process of translation happens relentlessly from one part to the next.
BR: In spite of your history as a conceptual artist, you have never lost track of the importance of the artist’s hand in the work. In an age that has become increasingly digital, you have managed to straddle a position that includes reproductive works (photos, prints, etc.) yet retained a personal touch that is uniquely your own.
LP: Being myself is inevitable. I think that if one does not try to predefine one’s touch or modality, they will surface without the author even knowing their connotations.
What has been called conceptual art is for me the analytical starting point of my art. Enumerating the concepts, materials, and processes as ingredients underlying an operation has cleansed me of centuries-old tenets such as style. Without what I learned from conceptual art theory, I would not have been able to throw myself into further and further explorations. Without Duchamp’s urinal, I would not be able to paint a vase of flowers.
Much conceptual art is now stuck in rigid denial of the subjective. By sensing it as a mere but necessary starting point, instead, I have been able to then incorporate in my process, also, factors like the touch of the hand. Many artists detail the program by which they operate. I have no program but find out what comes from my doing only after the fact. Allowing the hand its unfathomable contribution to art-making injects the energy of uncontrollable psychosomatic forces into art.
BR: You have focused a large amount of attention on the teaching of art. How has this affected your own practice?
LP: Fundamentally. Because of our being bereft of commonly agreed-upon criteria in art, I have nothing to teach. This is the basis of my teaching. Thus the art workshop is a field of permanent learning for me. I don’t impose, but only question and learn.
BR: If there are no common criteria agreed upon by the art community, do you believe that art can be taught anymore?
LP: No, art cannot be taught. The art school is an experiential arena where options are compared. There is no judgment, but the conversation is enriched by opinions being exchanged. These opinions are not generalities but are focused on specific conditions.
BR: You write and speak a great deal about your work and working progress. How does language define your practice?
LP: It’s a collateral process. I started speaking and writing about my methodology only because I got fed up with repeatedly finding myself typecast within the obsolete canons persistently applied to the arts -- the yawnful prescriptions of the new, the original, the consistent, the style, the intentions, the content.
BR: Despite the current lively discourse surrounding art making, we have generated a quagmire in our attempt to corral the content of art. In what ways do you envision an escape from the dominant practice of giving more import to the packaging of art than its content?
LP: I have a dream: that artists will take advantage of the unprecedented freedom they now have and by so doing foster a corresponding freedom in the viewers. Freedom does not mean indifference to discourse nor does it mean surrender to distraction. On the contrary, it requires a constant alert to the conditions of existence. It is rooted in a critical attention to one’s innermost fabric and to the deeper potential of others. It seeks open dialogue and no conclusive answers.
BR: Would you define your art, then, as political, sensuous, or escapist?
LP: I don’t define my art. I actually have no clue about what it may be. It seems useless yet indispensable.
BR: When asked why he wrote, Dylan Thomas replied something like, "In praise of God and love for mankind." How do you feel about this turn of phrase?
LP: Praise of God is a yearning for the impossible -- yes, God or whatever you may want to call the dimension we strangely are able to conceive of yet have no idea about. Mankind is me and those who walk around me: narcissus and the crowd, so fragile, so immensely diverse, a fatal attraction or a weft of mystery, misery, eruption, just being. - Bradley Rubenstein
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.