Growing up surrounded by flora, fauna and Sardinian women, Marco Mazzoni anchors their nuances as his primary influence in his illustrations. With every stroke of his coloured pencils against the paper, his mind runs on the beauty and dangers of nature and the people he surrounds himself with and attempts to replicate both their facade and character. The output overflows in a series of haunting and divine phenomena of the living beings, letting intimacy and individuality spill onto his canvas and marry with artistic hypnotism.
To introduce your art and artistry, how would you describe your style and yourself as an artist?
I am a person some may consider a little quirky, but it is the craft of drawing that requires me to be like that. My art is the continuous representation of my experiences as a child, the Sardinian women who have been part of my life with their stories and ideas of the world, and the animals I have always seen living in the countryside.
Most of your paintings are drawn with coloured pencils. They offer softer hues and highlight intimacy and delicateness through gentle strokes and shadings. How do coloured pencils resonate with your artistry? What other mediums have you experimented on?
During my art academy years, I was not a wealthy student and I did not live near the school, which meant I could only afford cheap materials that I could easily bring with me on the train. In this sense, pencils were a mandatory choice. I would try day and night not to feel any less than my classmates and bring my coloured pencils to their maximum technical potential.
In Italy, up to 15 years ago, pencil drawing on paper was not considered as important as oil on canvas, coming from a gallery point of view, but I noticed a change over the years. I tried a few times changing mediums, switching to liquid materials, but I realised I am just bad at them.
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Rifling through your anthologies, the essence of flora and fauna permeates through almost all of your paintings: a strangled owl in thin branches, a woman’s eyes covered with a flower’s petals, or fishes hovering in the air. They depict humanity within nature, our intertwined relationship and the cycle of life. Why do you turn to nature as your source of inspiration? Do you conceive the imagery of your paintings by being in nature and studying them?
I grew up in nature and knew it in all its facets, its beauty and dangers. In each of my drawings, I always try to convey a slight sense of restlessness similar to the feeling one might get when walking through the woods. Growing up in the countryside, I discovered years later that since I was a child, I had been easily accustomed to the concept of death with animals and plants following their natural cycle of life.
This allowed me to have a different approach to my art, perhaps compared to an artist who grew up in the city. Nature helps me bring a sense of peace to what I create. I always try to create ephemeral beauty – something I can see only once like a flower or an animal in a particular pose. Nature is beautiful but fragile, and to me, having the ability to draw fragile beauty creates perfect harmony.
In the earlier years, you mostly painted women surrounded by flora such as The Rescue and Dance/Weep/Dance. They portray divine femininity with nature reflecting who and what we are. Yet looking at the paintings, darkness swallows them whole to symbolise the loss of identity. When do we lose our identity? How can nature help express our repressed self? Why did you work on a dark background over coloured pencils?
I do not know if we ever lose our identity. I think we were not born with one in the first place: we are our story and our decisions. The cycle of mystics was a tribute to the Sardinian matriarchal society which was the norm until recently. We have had women who through their knowledge of plants and humanity, have managed to maintain balance in their societies. Unfortunately, this knowledge gradually vanished in Italy for many reasons, but I am convinced that an alternative world could have been possible.
For example, the Accabadora – a woman who was responsible for bringing death to people of any age in the event that they were in conditions of illness, such as to lead family members or the victim themselves to request it – is a figure of the past which comes close to the contemporary ethical debate on euthanasia. She was a woman who took on this responsibility and burden, and today, we ignore it, even though is an important figure and feature of the past.
I always thought it was interesting that archaic societies were capable of similar flickers to maintain balance amongst people, and this often happened in matriarchal societies. I avoid creating an identity in my female subject because of that. The important thing is the story of these figures that I want to tell. If I erase the subject’s identity, I am spotlighting the what, not the who.
Pink, purple, and red birds nestle in the eyes of the woman in Kalós, éidos, scopéo, slowly sinking into her skin to form part of her body. It allows us to see how interconnected we are with the fauna. What purpose do animals serve in our spiritual path and individuality? How can they help us realise our foundation with nature? How does your art convey the wholeness of nature and humanity?
Animals and nature, in general, are useful to redefine us. We are not the species who rule the world but rather form part of it. Last year, we discovered what it means to stay caged but, hypocritically, we lock up animals and plants in a cage to have all the meat and vegetables we want in supermarkets.
I think we should understand that we are part of a system that is larger than us and that animals and plants have the same dignity as us, yet we often forget about it. I think we are connected with the fauna and flora, but we must restore order and act less arrogant. Art can talk about this being a model of and the society itself, and art’s role must express this world.
“Nature is beautiful but fragile, and to me, having the ability to draw fragile beauty creates perfect harmony.”
Catharsis may happen when we surrender. It may be detrimental or beneficial, but the release, the sensation of letting our worries and joys go, allows us to restart and be in touch with ourselves. In Euphoria and The Hell As An Empty Space, the women’s lips open to gasp for breath or respire to ground their emotions. Do emotions play a role in your art? How do you free your repressed emotions? How can art help us identify or deal with what we feel?
Emotion is an element that is not easy to represent and that is personally challenging. This is why I try to include it. The open mouth always represents the act of breathing, a moment of life, a perfect moment in which the flora, the fauna, and the human being create the perfect circle where everything is in balance. I think that perfect balance is as close to ecstasy as we can ever get.
Lately, I have been working on a bestiary to represent human emotions. Emotionality is almost always abstract and trying to give it a shape Helps me think of my own experience as well. There are human emotions such as overthinking that are hyper-contemporary; I instinctively try to visualise them in pictures and I try to recreate them.
Turning to your recent artworks, the shift from a dark to light background appears evident. The light hues of green, yellow, orange, and cream have finally become the protagonist of your artworks, accompanying motifs of flora and women. It signals the entrance of walking towards the light, the torch of gained wisdom and renewed identity. What does metamorphosis entail for you and your art? How does transformation occur and help us? Why did you decide to shift from a dark to light background?
When I was young, I needed the viewer to focus only on the subjects, and the black background helped me in this. Today I work while thinking that the subject should appear without drama. I have come to terms with this: if in the earlier years I was looking for impact, today I hope to observe from the viewer’s perspective of my work with more calmness, so I try not to put any element in the foreground.
This allows me to create something that the viewer must make an effort to understand. I think that time is the most precious thing a person can dedicate to you, so I try to give more reading plans through a drawing that asks you to stop and observe it. I have dedicated time to my work, so I ask you for your time to understand it.
I have been drawing for years now, and I need to express myself without raising my voice, without having to create something that is immediately recognisable.
Going through your Moleskine series, you have given your graphite-based fauna titles of reflections and personalities such as embarrassment, overthinking, and indecision. Why did you start this series? Why did you perceive these animals as having these personalities?
I have always used animals to represent human characteristics and traits as they depersonalise the subject, making it more general. When I want to show something delicate like anxiety or overthinking, I need to make the illustration as relatable and understandable as possible.
Last year Journaux Troublès for Delcourt Soleil was published. It is a book written by Sebastien Perez with illustrations by yours truly. In the drawings, I tried to create an illustrated encyclopaedia of mental illnesses, a bestiary that represented the abstract world of mental disorders.
In ordinary medical encyclopaedias, the featured illustration always represents a tangible body part. However, for mental disorders, there is no image that is capable of giving a fair visual description of what a mental disorder is. I used animals because they allowed me to show the characteristics of each illness to a wider extent and had me working on all the facets of them. For example, the movement of fish allowed me to convey a more immediate understanding of social anxiety by symbolising the sense of escape typical of the disorder. This is a feature I would not have been able to gain by using human subjects.
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Could you elaborate on this?
I thought of dealing with these issues through drawing because, drawn from my experience, there is a generational gap when it comes to these topics. Anorexia, for instance, was treated quite superficially by people before the nineties, which means that this disorder is thoroughly understood only by those who have experienced it or by people under forty. I tried to show it so that it hopefully could become a relatable topic for everyone.
In Embarrassment, a school of fish looks startled as one of them has its head cut off, revealing its flesh inside. Once our deepest and darkest secrets surface, we start to care about what people think of us. We try to cover them up or shy away from them, attempting to tell others these secrets no longer identify who we are. How do you deal with embarrassment? How does embarrassment affect or change our personality and who we are? Why did you use fish as the imagery for this?
I can say I am not negative about feeling embarrassed anymore, but this depends on my age and the experiences I have had. At some point in my life, I understood that embarrassment is a survival instinct. If I feel embarrassed, it means that my mind and body are sending me signals of discomfort, which I have learnt to embrace and listen to.
I am a shy person, who rarely enjoys being around people, but I am not put off by this, since it has given me the opportunity to love my work, which entails dealing with long hours spent alone. I experience loneliness very positively, and I am happy to be embarrassed around people: my mind and personality have me naturally dedicating my life to something that does not force me to have too many human interactions.
Fish live in herds mostly; they move together following the currents, as humans abstractly do during social interaction. Selecting this animal allowed me to easily represent embarrassment within a social circle.
Mushrooms have grown on top of a chameleon’s head in Consciousness. The clever shapeshifter stays still on a branch, holding onto it for its dear life while being in the present. How do we nurture our consciousness? What does it provide to our philosophy and beliefs in life? Why did you combine the imagery of mushrooms and a chameleon for this artwork?
Consciousness is interesting, in my opinion, in a polarised world like this. It is the funnel that allows us to make choices: the wider our consciousness is, the better we make choices. I believe that our adaptability today has greatly decreased compared to the past, because, in my opinion, our general knowledge is much more polarised than the past generations.
The chameleon adapts to blend in. I have thought that the consciousness of things is what allows you to understand the world and to decide how to deal with everything. If I do something unconsciously, I do something that does not comply with my adaptability skills. The chameleon is perfect because it is aware of its environment, and this leads to the animal changing colours.
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A flock of birds, their bodiless selves hovering in the air, argues in Indecision as they chirp a variety of opinions about a certain topic. Like humans, the different insight we have over a certain subject may confuse us the more we continue down this path. How do we counter the practice of indecision? What can indecision bring to our lives? Why do birds reflect your interpretation of indecision?
Birds fly and live by instinct. Using them as a subject to represent indecision is more impactful as indecision could make them stop flying, therefore leading them to death. I experience indecision exactly like that. I am a very indecisive person and I do not enjoy this trait of my personality. It restrains me, and every time I become indecisive, I consider it a waste of precious time.
With age, I have come to realise that I would rather make a decision that turns bad for myself than being stuck in a limbo of what-ifs. I have realised that I am better off if I take responsibility for my mistakes rather than avoiding making choices at all.
Looking at the timeline of your artworks, there is a sense of consistency in your creations. How do you foresee your artistic pursuits in the near future?
I do not know. I work in a monomaniac way – if something piques my interest, I have to explore it ad nauseam. This leads me to work for a long time in cycles which then stops abruptly. When this happens, it always means I still do not know what I am going to do in the future, and the thrill of it somehow keeps me young inside.
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