Attilio Tono | Interview
“Nothing is forever, everything is in the moment, and everything is always changing.”
Attilio Tono enters into a dialogue with the natural materials he uses. Situated somewhere
between rational thinking and natural transformation, his sculptures and drawings speak to
all our senses. You feel touched by their presence, smell their constituents and wonder
about the spaces they conjure. We meet Attilio Tono at L’espace de l’espèce, where he is
setting up his first solo show in Berlin opening Sunday September 11th, 2016. “Time
shapes” his pieces. The strong scent of red wine is lingering in the air.
People looking at the flyer and poster for your upcoming show might expect minimalist
highly conceptual art pieces. They might not expect that the main subject for you is the vital
exchange and interaction with the natural materials you use.
“I believe in the power of nature more than in ideologies, religions or traditions. The materials I
work with figure as a medium between nature and myself. That is why I choose to work only with
natural products. The connection to nature is a somewhat spiritual connection to me. I realize and
know that wine, especially for Christians, and even my works in general could be related to
something that invokes the circle of life or stands in the traditions of religious rituals. But to be
honest my approach is maybe more that of a craftsman.
My first step is to understand what the material can give me. Then I try to push the material in
using its characteristics, and qualities in my own way. But I can’t push it too far; there are certain
limits I need to respect. Natural material is wonderful and I try to find the best shape for the
material’s peculiarity. In the end, it is a process of finding the right balance. Already if you simply
watch the marble in its original state, you can imagine looking at it for days and still you could
experience every moment a new element within it. It makes you start thinking about the amount of
different kind of marbles there are in the world. You will reflect upon the history it tells, because you
instantly know once you find it, it has been there for ages. Beeswax on the other hand somehow
represents a shorter history even though it tells the story of animals that for centuries have been
doing the same work.”
So it is more an admiration of nature and its products? How humans have transformed and
made use of them within specific cultural contexts doesn’t influence you?
“We always produce within the context of human progress; while at the same time, in our short
lives, we grow from the experience we have of nature. This is something I cannot avoid. It is part of
our history, part of the evolution of the world, of nature as a while. Nowadays the relation
towards nature is more rational than it was in the past and this kind of rational approach
comes out in the shape of my sculptures, in the way I try to represent the material, the
space and the volume. My art pieces are the result of the interaction between my own rationality
and my passion towards the material in relation to nature.”
The materials that you employ to support your sculptures: the plaster, wax and paper, are
materials sculptors would primarily use to start when ‘sketching out’ a sculpture. Together
with the other elements you use - perhaps except for the marble - they offer a lot of
flexibility in the way you can treat, form or shape them. Flexibility is also the central factor
which lets them react to each other. Would you say that one means to enable the dialogue
between you and the materials is to confront this flexibility or softness and let them react to
the geometrical shapes?
“For me, it is one way to say that myself as a human being, I want to be part of a bigger circle. I
could also simply prevent the elements from interacting, I could decide what and when it is the
perfect shape or sculpture, could claim it to be a masterpiece or something like that. This somehow
feels arbitrary, it is variable at will. I prefer for example that the oil finds its shape by itself. Me,
I give the beginning to its development on the paper. I can start from a certain point but I cannot
decide where the last point of this shape is going to reach.”
Your art pieces have a continuum. They are a work in progress that evolves and you just
cause the start of its development?
“Yes, that is it. Even with the plaster and wine sculptures it is the same. I can only decide some of
the elements: the basic idea of the shape, the wine and the plaster. But in the end the final product
is not something that I can really think or imagine of beforehand. In my sculptures and drawings I
raise the basic question of human life: How can we really be sure about what awaits us in the end?
Maybe in a biological laboratory you can reach a level of reliability because you isolate your
experiment from every external factor that could possibly influence it. But this doesn't reflect
ordinary life. What I try to express in my sculpture is this basic human condition: ordinary
life. It should reach out to the spectators' own experiences. I even don’t think too much about
philosophical meanings. This to me can be a second step; one which I don't have to take. I have to
go deeper in the direct relation with the material, with myself, my body; the way all of them react in
relation to weather for instance. All those small experiences that I feel, I try to feed into the
sculpture and my art. Otherwise it is just a vision of what I have in my mind and to be honest, I
don’t have such great ideas in it. What I sure have is a level of sensitivity for what is happening
Would you go as far as saying, that your work as an artist is a little ironic like the sentence
“life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”?
“If you look at my latest sculptures, the first aspect that you will notice is that they don't have the
same dimension or volume you would expect them to have. I play with illusion. It is an
axonometric design. It is a concept of space. I don't imitate a real view. It is just space, a
volume. As a spectator you cannot even decide what the right position is to look at it.
Another main aspect that might be confusing is that I put the marble and beeswax in the same
shape. One tends to think that wax is really soft, that it is rather fragile, and that marble is strong.
This is not really true in the end because marble is quite fragile like wax when it is really thin or
when the angles are not really strong. It is heavier for sure but somehow even the concept of
their fragility depends on your point of view.”
Beeswax is often used to shape or create copper sculptures and bronzes. How did you get
the idea of using wax and marble together?
“I got inspired by artists like Medardo Rosso, from the post impressionist period, who started to
create sculptures with wax. He thought of sculpture as something that is not fixed but something
that evolves and goes on with time. From him you can see sculptures that are just a shape or
shadow of something, an impression of a body. The idea of things shaped in time by
impressions connects all the pieces I have done until now.
With marble I worked since the beginning but I always had my difficulties as I couldn't leave the art
historian tradition behind me. At the end of last year I decided to use it again and there was this
pile of wax in my studio and it made me start thinking about the possibility to use marble with wax
in the same way I use plaster and wine.”
The idea came maybe also from the drawings you made with oil and wine? Where it seems
somehow they are fighting against each other for the space on the paper?
“Yes the drawings have been very important to me. I work a lot thinking about the space inside the
sheet. The axonometric perspective is a drawing method. It gives an idea of volume or shape of
something. Trying to put this in a sculpture was a way to say I am drawing in the space and
at the same time giving an illusion of something more. I just want to play with materials and
say we can go over it; surpass and overcome them by using and digesting them.”
Interview between Attilio Tono and Kerstin Godschalk
Foto: Jörn Rädisch