Sometimes we just get lucky. Being commissioned by Mike Jeter and The Black Harbor to interview my now good friend and collaborator Luca Dipierro qualifies for me.
Emmet Gowin once wrote, “I feel that all sincere and serious [creative] workers become spiritual and intellectual allies through this process.” This connection was obvious with Luca the moment his front door opened. For three days we chased thick coffee with clementines and explored the themes of his work.
BH: When did it first dawn on you that stop motion animation was a medium that you could use?
LD: Okay so basically, I started to make art way before I started to make animation and I, you know, since I was a kid, I used to draw so I made a lot of drawings and when I was, I’d say in my mid-twenties, I was part of the punk rock scene and I would draw a bunch of flyers for bands, you know, do artwork for bands. So, you know, I was the person that had to do that kind of stuff but for some reason, I never thought of myself as an artist. I was just drawing. I don’t know why — maybe because it was too close to the Sistine Chapel. You don’t think of yourself as an artist if you’re not really good.
But what happened is about 7 or 8 years ago, I started to evolve my art and I decided to cut out my drawings and to glue them on the back of other surfaces and to play with them so I’d do something one day and do something else another day and then, I would just put these drawings from different times in the same piece so sometimes these pieces were drawn in different ways in different styles, and I liked the fact that they were totally different but belonged to the same place. I like, the sort of, you know, awkwardness of that process. I really never messed with collage; I’ve always been interested in collage but I never really liked to make them and this was sort of like, a way to make a self-collage, a collage of my own artwork. So, you know, I started more and more to work with cutouts until everything I was doing was cut out. So, if i would do a leaf, like leaves on a tree, I would first draw and cut out the tree. Draw the leaves and then cut out the leaves and glue them on top of the tree. So I needed, my brain needs to go through this process of fragmenting everything into pieces. I like the idea of everything being in pieces.
One day, five years ago, a friend of mine in a band that I used to be in asked me to make a video for him because I started to play with video and film. I decided well, I’m gonna try to do stop action in my drawings and it came really natural and it was so great, the experience, that I started to do that over and over until I couldn’t do without and now, that’s what I do mainly. And in a way, animation reflects my process of making art because when I build an illustration or a piece, what I’m looking for are relationships between different characters or objects or drawings on the surface and I move them around until I find a placement that I like and often, these placements are unusual or weird or odd and I like the ambiguity of that. It’s sort of, like, a narrative form but its really ambiguous, you know, many things could happen in the piece and so, its more suggesting different possible stories. In a way, cut-out animation comes from my work as an animator and vice versa. And often, I create these little characters to make an animated film and then at the end of the film, I have all these pieces of chairs, horses, hands and I just use them to make a piece. It’s sort of, like, art documents animation and animation documents art.
One of the main influences is puppet-theater. I like the awkwardness and clunkiness in puppet-theater. I like how simple movements are. I love the fact that in puppet-theater, the puppets have a limited range of movements that they can do and a limited range of emotions. In a way, the deadpan quality of the faces of a puppet always interests me, fascinates me. I like, you know, a puppet can go through different things, can be killed or anything can happen to him, he’s gonna always have the same expression and I love that. That’s what I look for, that sort of deadpan quality. So my characters in my illustrations and my films, all kinds of things happen to them. Sometimes they’re decapitated but their face is always the same and I feel that the latest thing that I’ve discovered about my work is that what I look for is a certain kind of melancholy in expression of the characters. In a way, it’s kind of a sadness and also is an acceptance of their destiny. And that’s what I look for, and often that’s what I really care about, so I draw a face until I find that emotion in it. And its weird to talk about emotions because my work is busy with sort of, cartoons, odd cartoons. We’re all cartoons, badly drawn cartoons. I would say but ultimately that’s what I look for. I look for like, to kind of, draw my own face because that’s how I feel. It’s kind of like, I’m really curious about everything but also there’s a part of sadness in me because, you know, things decay and you know, life is not always happy but at the same time, its not sadness, it’s melancholy. It’s a real disposition, it’s in between moods, so to speak. That’s what the characters are, but I think I answered more than the question. I just had it in my mind and I had to get it out.
Music is a huge part of the mood set in your pieces. Other than in music videos how do you choose the right music for your pieces?
I listen to music all the time as a very important part of my life. Its sort, of like, an oxygen. I consume music continuously throughout the whole day while I work. I listen to a bunch of different music, but the music that I use for my animations is mostly music that has cinematic quality, so it’s music that is less structured as a song and it contains more visuals. In a way, I like music for its visual content. In this way, I don’t really listen to music. I look at music more because I’m not a musician. You know, I used to play in bands. I really played bad drums and I was always interested in the visual content. I’m not talking about people with masks on or makeup on. That too, but mostly, I listened to something that made me see, and in a way, I look for a certain slowness in music. All the music I like for my work is slow because I feel when the music is slow, I can slow down the movements of my characters and I like when the movements of my characters are slower than normal. For example, when somebody flies – I want this character, this bird, to fly really slowly. I just love to see that. I don’t know what it is, but I love to see that. So it’s sort of like, there’s a particular cadence that I look for in music so it could be any kind of sound. It could be a mandolin or electronic, whatever, but has to have that sort of slow cadence and that’s how I choose it.
Most of the time I work with two different bands that are my really good friends. One is Sin Ropas. They’re based out of North Carolina and they’re an amazing band. They’re really cool. And the other band is called Father Murphy, like the Irish priest of the sitcom but its not related, and they’re based out of Italy. They’re almost like monks singing really twisted hymns to Satan or something. It’s really beautiful music. It’s has some rock elements, some experimental elements and also some really ancient old, sort of like, Italian European elements or something like, magical music in it and I really like their stuff.
I don’t steal any music. If I need to use a piece that was not made on purpose for one of my shorts, I ask the composer and if I can’t reach the composer, I don’t use it because I think its wrong and very important to respect that.
I think the time of your pieces is actually a musical time versus the linear time that we experience as people. It’s almost like your work exists in the musical staff and time. And music, for example, notes, can occupy different durations of time, stretching the measure of that duration longer or speeding it up.
Yep, I like that idea. I was always told, “Why don’t you edit a little faster.” No, sorry I don’t want to do that. I like them slow, you know. And I like, sometimes, something happens to a character, let’s say, a bird comes out of the hat of one of the characters. I like, after that happens, to stay in the character for like, two seconds at least because I want to see the face of the characters not changing expression after that happens. It’s like a scholastic comedy where a lot of misfortunes happen to a character and then he keeps the same face. It’s kind of like what Buster Keaton was doing in a way, you know, keeping the same expression.
Like an endurance of the character regardless of circumstance?
Yes, yes, yes. There’s something surreal about it, you know. I think sometimes being really strong, it’s kind of like, it’s absurd, you know. Like, sometimes being really brave and strong and being really cool, it’s kind of like, a surreal quality that some people have. Maybe it comes from there. I like that.
How often do you draw?
Everyday. Really. Regardless of good and bad art, it’s a physical need. It’s just great to move your hand on a blank surface and to make lines appear that are hands, faces, whatever. I mostly draw faces all the time and most of that stuff is really not good. But in a way, if its something that I like, I have to do a lot of mistakes and do a lot of things that I don’t like. Almost as if I have to warm up my hand and I’m not ready, I don’t really draw. I’m not really great at drawing. I just find my own way to draw certain things and the way I want to see them and that’s what I’m happy about. I don’t care about drawing things as they are. I don’t need them to be perfect. Often, there’s little mistakes and imperfections and I leave them. And I like that. I like, you know, dirt. A little bit of dirt, if that makes sense.
And why do you draw?
That’s a really tough question. I don’t know. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and you know, then the decision to actually make that into art came later for me. In a way, I feel like drawing and, if its fine print art drawing, or whatever, it has always something to do with reducing the complexity of the world with simple lines. So in a way, drawing is kind of dealing with the world. The world is like a complex place. Often, it’s too confusing. There are too many things in front of you. And in a way I sort of reduce it to a simple figure, and I reduce it to what I really care about, like people having big hands because it’s what I care about. I care about what you can do with your hands. It’s a really important thing to me. People have big eyes because I look at people’s eyes and you know, the way I take in the world is through my eyes and that’s what I care about so those are the things I feel are important in my work. It’s just a way to purify my experience with the world into, you know, like, I see all of this right now. I see you, the land, the street but in fact, there’s only a few things that I care about and when I draw, I put those down on paper, or at least, I try. Not necessarily am I able to do what I want.
And things that you don’t draw are also a signs of significance?
Yeah, I could name a lot of things I don’t draw but I cant think of any right now. See, I cant even think about that because they’re so out of my…… but yea, like, I don’t draw, I have no idea. I want to draw a lot of things that I havn’t drawn yet but…I guess all my characters, and I love it, their sex is ambiguous. I love to draw women that look like men and men that look like women. It’s really hard to say what they are and I love that. I think art shouldn’t be male or female. You know in life, you’re sort of like, nailed down to be male or female or whatever it is, kind of like, its part of what life brings to you but in art, you can keep yourself really free to just draw whatever you want and I love that. I love that Idea. Sometimes I draw a character and in my mind, I want to draw a woman and then for some reason, it doesn’t come out that well and it comes out like a man. Well, I enhance that and I keep drawing her more and more like a man. I like to charge women with men. I recently drew a little story where this woman had huge biceps and I find that extremely interesting.
How do you define the supernatural power that exists in your drawings?
Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s the freedom of a world made of paper. You know, it’s just paper so things can happen that have happened in real life and I like that. So it’s like a little escape from the law of physics and I don’t ever want people to forget that what they look at is paper and it’s moving and I think its really hard to forget because I don’t make any effort to make things look perfect so that supernatural power, its sort of like, this is not reality, its a different dimension and I love that. And most of what is supernatural that happens in my work is people flying. People just fly all the time and I mean, that has been done a thousand times before me. Some guy named Marshall did it probably better than me (laughs) but what I mean is, like, I just love that image. I love that I can do that. If I feel new to the camera unless I use CGI, I can’t make you fly. You’re never gonna fly unless you throw yourself off from a bridge and die but you know, I can do that on paper. It’s great. It’s weird to give life to these little pieces of scrap paper. I work mostly with scrap paper. I hate to buy new paper. Whenever people have paper that they want to throw away, I ask them to give it to me and I use it. And the same thing happens with the surface that I do my illustrations on which are discarded book covers. I love the idea of using that was meant to be something else but then there’s a strange proximity to that because you know, a lot of things from me in my life have come from books, always has been the main influence on me, the main escape from reality, the way to make sense of reality. Books have always been a lot for me.
Have you ever been driven to the brink of madness with a concept until you got it out and finished?
No. I have to say no. I have a lot of ideas and most of these ideas are bad ideas and I just work on the good ones. I keep going. I’m the kind of person that just keeps making art and whatever, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s important to just get it out.
How’d you get into book trailer and why do you think your style works so well for them?
I’m not sure it works well. The answer may sound cynical because it was one of the few ways I could get paid to make an animation and I mean, it was kind of challenging sometimes because I made trailers for books that had nothing in common with my aesthetic and my own work but in reading, and reading, and reading, I could actually always find something that could sort of fit with my aesthetic so it was always kind of a challenge. I bet I could find a scene I could animate well and it kind of always happened, like there was something, even in the more business aesthetic, there was always something that could be close to me. So that’s why I did it and I also like the idea of commercial work. I think you can find great art in a lot of commercial work. My two heroes, in a sense, were filmmakers and designers and artists, they did everything. They were doing these short commercial films about anything. They did a film to sell the chair they just designed and it’s a good film. It’s a really beautiful piece of art because it’s playing with forms, with shapes, color. So I like the idea of getting out of the purity of art. I really don’t believe in that you can see.
I have a DVD of French animated commercials for cigarettes in the ’50′s. Some are my favorite movies. There’s one where, I mean I don’t like to publicize cigarettes but there’s one of the movies where there’s a little pig and cigarette who start to dance and they just dance in the air. A pig and a cigarette, I mean, I don’t know. Honestly, I’ve only seen only a few things that are more beautiful than that to me. I’m going to show it to you if you have time.
…From the front porch, M. Evans & L.Dipierro.
More artwork and drawings from Luca’s notebook in the slideshow below: