Interview with Antonio Conte and Lucia Longo.
You might remember him as The Artist of People featured on Napulitanamente issue from August 31st 2020. He is also the author of the painting published on last issue’s magazine cover. Beside his activity as an artist he does many other things like managing a business, organizing art exhibitions, planning events. Most of all, what he does is sharing and experimenting. The artist I am talking about is Antonio Conte, who as a man as well as an artist always put together people, energies, forms of art and emotions to give birth to beauty.
AC:”Contamination is participation as well as exchange. Painting without all these elements would have no sense to me. Art is communication and communication happens with at least two people. So what’s the point of not participating. The fact that most of these events are art events depends on the fact that my way of speaking passes through color above all. Together it’s more beautiful, I thought it before, Today I’m sure and I’ll never stop saying it. Only together we have a hope to change things.”
Antonio is constantly inspired and among his projects we have found a beautiful work realizad by himself with poet Lucia Longo. It is a book entitled “Contaminarsi” and I want to share this journey of emotions by first introducing the book, then letting you meet the artists and their high spirit.
The whole concept contained in the “Contaminarsi” is precisely the concept itself. In fact, “Contaminarsi” is not just “a book” nor just “the book”. “Contaminarsi” is a sharing experience that the artists, and authors, Antonio Conte and Lucia Longo carry around, often accompanying the reading of poems and images with music or performance art. In the South, at least before the pandemic, often the event was enriched by the ritual of a good glass of wine and hugs. The two artists with a similar approach toward art transformed their desire of communication and their friendship in something to enjoy and to share.
“Contaminarsi” is a collection of poems and paintings where poetry and images are not a trivial addition of works of art but they are a generous mutual abandonmen to art. The poems are written by Lucia and the paintings are Antonio’s drawings . The common threads are emotion and the desire to communicate through a multiple language made up of images and verses. All this in order to express that intimate needs and to give shape and expression to the fire of art . When the mouth loses the words, the strokes of the brush come to the aid to say what is missing and vice versa. Both in the play of poetry and images the desire for themselves explodes and it cannot be repressed, nor recognized. It can only be experienced. The book “Contaminarsi” was born thanks to the publisher Eretica, a publishing house in the province of Salerno, who since the beginning believed in their work.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
AC:”Who is Antonio Conte? I don’t know yet, but we can find out together! (smile)
I am a painter and I am also a mail artist, who for me is very close to painting. I don’t find big differences, if not in the format above all. I make artistic postcards that we exchange continuously with thousands of other artists around the world. But I also like to give and give. My postcards,are all hand painted and are unique pieces that find space among friends and acquaintances. I love that people have a piece of me to carry in their hearts. Like the child on the swing, do you know what I mean? My self-portrait in the making, that’s what I call it. Because just like that child I would like to fly over problems and situations lightly. Problems are always there what changes is our approach, our way of looking at things. Here is that child, I would like everyone to have him, because I’m sure he carries well. He transmits positive energies. Often I give it away, other times I exchange it. I really like bartering. I feel it very suitable to me. After all the money is only needed to buy other things that we want and that can come in handy. If we already have them and we can exchange them, isn’t it better? Everything would be easier for all, in spite of the unbridled consumerism to which we are used to, they make us believe that it is the only possible way and instead it is not. However I try to do things that I like, things that are good for me, even when they are bad. I am constantly on work in progress, without any particular point of reference, nor safe harbor nor home to return to. I paint out of desire and passion and I paint out of necessity and work.”
Antonio has never made a choice in regard to a specific form of art. He also makes sculptures, installations but he loves color, and he paints above all.
AC:”Everything happens through the color. Coloring is a liberating act. I express myself like this often, without mincing words, reaching straight to the heart. At least that’s what I like to think.”
He often includes words in his works or sometimes in support of them. You find him writing or glueing a piece of paper on his works. The use of the words he makes in his creations does’t want to explain reasons. Antonio uses words, as he says, in order to seal emotions.
LL:” Lucia is a poet. Everything else is a ploy. I am a proud, passionate woman from the South and I thank my land for the fire and warmth with which it tempered me.”
Lucia’s thought as a poet is that being “read” gives her the awareness of being a poet which is for her is essential. She experiences poetry as something that has to be “poured out” and she means this both literally and metaphorically. In fact in order to accomplish the miracle of artistic communication hypothetical interlocutors and the sense of existence are both necessary. It is just like the action of pouring wine. When you pour wine it is assumed that there is a glass ready to receive it.
Beside her passion for writing, as she needed to communicate her hunger for existence through multiple languages Lucia leaded herself toward visual art. That is why she paints her poems. Painting is her ploy to draw on her written word, so that it does not remain in the niche of a few readers. Her visual poems are romantically written in ink and the nib, perhaps due to the deformation of her previous studies.
She is an artist. She was born and raised in Verticelli, (Cosenza) a very beautiful place in which converge joys and contradictions, the same contraddictions that are related to the whole South. In despite of the social difficulties linked to her hometown she is attached to her culture and she feels an ancestral belonging to it as well as to the land. She graduated in Latin Paleontology. Lucia has been writing poetry since her childhood and she never stopped. Later in her life it happened as she says, by chance and for a series of coincidences, that she casually got herself in painting.
She also works as a teacher in a Primary school. Teaching is for her another beautiful form of art. Before the pandemic she has been many time in Napoli. She calls it her second home.
She went back and forward between Verticelli and Napoli, to participate to artistic events linked to her collaboration with Antonio Conte and to “Contaminarsi”.
LL:“Napoli is the city that I love most of all because Antonio Conte, my classmate (that’s how we call each other), lives in Napoli. .
For these reasons my relationship with Napoli is one of great love. I miss it very much.”
Antonio has as well a deep love relationship with Calabria. He calls it his refuge. When he was born he always cried and never sleeped. The onl place where he found serenity on the Sila mountains. His participation in an artist residency in Cosenza, mentioned in the last issue, kept him in the city for a month. A month he enjoyed a lot. It is Lucia ‘s hometown. Antonio also loves Cosenza, Reggio Calabria, Riace, both Ionian and Tyrrhenian coast. He is very attached to Calabria for emotional reasons. Especially a location called La Fossa, a small town near Rossano, represents for him the place of the heart and soul, where he would like to return and hopefully achieve something great. Antonio has in the past been hired to draw murals there.This was the umpteenth opportunity for aggregation and contamination not to be missed and in fact Antonio also involved other artists in the area. His memories are so vivid and filled of enthusiasm as all the artists spent wonderful days together. Lucia was there too. Antonio save in his heart another memory which is about a festival in Placanica, where he spent and enjoyed days painting “Baby on a Swing”.
Before realizing the book “Contaminarsi” Lucia Longo and Antonio Conte had previous sharings. Indeed they have been daily contaminating each other in an intertwining of words and images and of thoughts and emotions. They started by exchange postcards, as mail artists, then, at an exhibition of postal art in Pontedera(Pisa), she met him but, as she tells, he didn’t noticed her yet. In that occasion Lucia was very impressed by Antonio’s installation. It was a work entitled “The Secret Life of Two Goldfishes”, from whose title came the first nickname she gave him which was “the goldfish artist”. Today she calls him “classmate”. Going back to their official meeting, the contemporary artist Enzo Correnti invited her at a IAC meeting that was organized by Antonio Conte. They finally shook hands. From their first contact on social media the contamination between Lucia Longo and Antonio Conte happens in a trustuful abandonment to art without limits, without filters nor barriers.
Antonio remembers Lucia reading her poems when they first officially met at the Neapolitan IAC.
AC:“I remember she was all excited and her voice trembled. At that time she confessed to me that it was her first time in public. That’s all. Since then we never moved away. Many collaborations were born, plus, this year, we have been even on vacation together. We are friends in heart and soul. We only miss some jazz concerts and a live show of the band Afterhours.”
Antonio and Lucia are both part of an international movement of artists who create little masterpieces such as art postcards, artist’s books, postage stamps and small-format works that enlight both the eyes and the heart. For many years Lucia and Antonio have both participated in a meeting of contemporary artists called IAC.
AC:” “Contaminarsi” is also the son of the IAC. The IAC has changed some of my perspectives. It is a way of life, it is not just art. When I meet artists who have participated in the IAC it is always a big party, maybe one day I’ll tell you everything about it. Contaminarsi are two people who discover and contaminate each other, first with words and colors, then with facts, with respect and mutual trust. It is a complete reliance on the other. Lucia can manipulate my works at her will and I can do the same with her words, this is letting go without hesitation. It all happened a little at a time and this took us very far. With our Contamination we have participated in some festivals around Italy, from Turin to Noto, passing through Tolfa, Napoli and Cosenza. We made a lot of presentations and every time it was a party. It was a riot of emotions, an exhibition that was also a reading and a live performance. We have never given ourselves limits and this I believe has always been perceived. I miss that period a lot and I believe that sooner or later we will make a new book. For now we are carrying out a side project linked to “Contaminarsi” that should bring us back to the streets soon. We will see what will happens.”
A WAY TO SPREAD ART
AC:”Good or bad I am currently doing it mostly through social networks. Tomorrow museums and galleries will close again, so we cannot organize anything yet and who knows for how long it will be so. I post on facebook and instagram because I like to accompany the images of my studio, especially the settings that I change constantly with stories about the works; about how they were born; the anecdotes that accompany them and the diary of the moment.”
LL:”I spread my art in many ways. Social media are of great importance because they are the fastest way to have international contacts and visibility but I also collaborate with literary magazines such as Il Filorosso that is also my current publisher. I write my poems on postcards that I send around the world. The mailart was and is for me a unique and unrepeatable experience. I started pulling my poems out of the drawer and writing them on postcards. I has been magical the meeting with the Venezuelan artist _guroga who invited me to a postal art event ten years ago. I had never painted or drawn before and since then have never stopped. I opened my diaries and let them fly away passing away from the written word to the visual one, finding more eyes that, reading me and looking at me, sent me back to existence. As Fernando Pessoa writes “Death is the curve of the road. To die is just not to be seen ”. I receive and send hundreds of postcards from all over the world every year. This is my best form of dissemination.I have an anarchic vision of art, I do not compromise to promote myself and I do not participate in events that are not in tune with my non-intellectual but profoundly free way of life.”
AC:”Are you talking to the person or to the artist? It’s a complicated question, like the first one. (smile) Who I am? am I an emotion? Maybe too much at times, but at the same time I think I’m still very close. Really, I do not know. What I can tell you, for example, with respect to my artistic process is that I sometimes prefer that emotions speak up, when I realize that I am describing too much, or when I realize that I am telling more than I should, I take a step back, I delete, I leave out. I prefer not to say and let it be imagined so. I don’t want to become didactic, I want to leave free interpretation. Hitting the heart, the belly, more than the head.”
LL:”More than a difficult, painful question. Emotions are everything to me. Even the emptyness they leave when they run out of life. In this swing of fullness and emptiness my poetry floats in a kaleidoscope of colors that write verses they paint images.”
AC:”While I am answering to your questions I am on the sofa, with the Cure in the background, Mr Fantastic (the dog) sleeping next to me, a glass of wine and a crazy sun outside. From tomorrow we will return to the orange zone and a girl is waiting for my call. Tonight I am going to see some friends I haven’t seen from since a long time. I don’t know if this can help you describe my state of mind. I believe that sometimes images are worth much more than many words. Now I try with words. I am calm, quite calm. I have happy thoughts that make me smile when I think about them and I have projects in a drawer that I don’t want to close, I threw the key away. I wish I had more time but at the end I’m fine. I’m not even particularly restless in this period and trust me when I tell you that this is for me new. It is weird but I like it. I am discovering so many new things, inside and outside of me!”
LL:”Now that everything is in stand-by above all art is very penalized. Without exhibitions, without live music, without theater and art in general social life is death and our culture is death.”
Lucia says that during this hard time of pandemic, some times she feels in the dark some others she feels like a wound that is just hard to heal. Though, about this, she better communicates her feelings through the following verses :
it is sharper more
of the splendor ”
“The antidote to desolation
Just so a wound
it is a loophole.
In the squeeze
of that opening
panoramas never seen before “Lucia Longo
è nitido più
“L’antidoto alla desolazione
è la creatività.
Solo così una ferita
panorami mai visti”.
AC:”At this particular moment I am tied to these verses: “you don’t always need to fly, sometimes you just need to dream about it.”
Maybe because they represented me for a long time. Now that dreaming it is no longer enough for me I feel these verses even more mine. They are sewn on me. It is like when you move away from something because you grow and you change. Life takes you elsewhere and you really understand the meaning and you carry those verses with you.”
ANTONIO’S PORTRAIT OF LUCIA
AC:”Some time ago during a presentation at Tolfarte I made a portrait of her that I particularly like. It has been hers ever since. There is also a dedication behind the portrait, I don’t even know if she knows about the portrait. I like it because it is explosive and volcanic in my opinion, careful and delicate at the same time. Just like Lucia.”
LL:”A book would not be enough to describe Antonio … maybe one day I will write it.
However, I would like to leave you with some verses written years ago that still move me today when I read them …”
LUCIA’S PORTRAIT OF ANTONIO
Avevi le mani gelate.
Aghi di pino sulle guance
non sentivo freddo.
Non ho mai freddo quando
sono con te.
Ecco, Antonio è l’estate…”anche quando sono fuggiti i giorni estivi”.
In Winter … Summer
Your hands were frozen.
Pine needles on the cheeks
But I …
I didn’t feel cold.
I never get cold when
I’m with you.
Here he is. Antonio is the Summer … “even when the Summer days have fled”.
WHAT IS NEXT
Beside her activity, until before the pandemic, Lucia used to organize jazz festivals and events in her hometown. Now that everything is closed she is waiting for the emergency to finish in order to get back to her activities. She wishes to return soon to Napoli and around Italy, presenting her collections and reading her poems. Antonio has recently inaugurated his new art studio where he exhibits his works and creates wonders. He has been living for a few months now with a nice dog, Mr. Fantastic. He said he recently met a person who taught him how to make jam and now he paints and he prepares jars of jam. When everything will reopen and life will resumes, a mail art festival, a book dedicated to Napoli, a love story and much more are scheduled from both artists, projects which I hope to share soon!