DICÒ is a Roman artist who is already widely known, both in Italy and in the United States. At a certain point in his life and professional career, he developed and forged a new and highly distinctive style. He creates portraits of well-known people enveloped in plastic sheets which are then burnt and folded, consequently imbuing the works with a new, three-dimensional perspective.
In his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin illustrated the theoretical prerequisites for a style of art that would later lead Andy Warhol to be the first – and the best – to express seriality, the art form which is most responsive to the context of the era. DICÒ, on the other hand, accomplished the diametric opposite to Warhol.
Warhol’s art focused on multiplying the unique worth of a legend, recognized as such by the masses – from Marilyn to Liz Taylor, and from Mo to Campbell’s Soup – in order to give it a serigraphic form which could be reproduced ad libitum. From uniqueness to multiplicity.
DICÒ, on the other hand, makes use of legends who have already lost their individuality thanks to the media and transforms them, making them new and unique again thanks to combustion. Fire, therefore, becomes the medium through which a work of art once again attains the aura that it had lost through excessive reproduction. From multiplicity to uniqueness.
In Western cultural history, Prometheus is the Titan who robs Zeus of fire to give it to humankind, and for this he is punished by being bound in chains. He has remained a symbol of rebellion and defiance against authorities and their orders. His story is also a metaphor for thought, an archetype for knowledge unbound by the chains of myth falsification and ideology.
today, historians studying prehistoric times and anthropologists no longer talk about the discovery of fire, but the mastery of fire.
DICÒ, therefore, does not use fire in a destructive or iconoclastic manner, but in a way that is revitalizing and almost graceful. Even the use of neon is handled delicately in his works – neon is, in fact, a noble gas – and while it is admittedly transformed by the world of advertising, it may also be used to tame myths by distancing them from hagiographic rhetoric.
Besides the famous people who have already made the headlines and are the icons of their time – from Marilyn to the Mona Lisa, from Gandhi to Fidel Castro, and from Muhammad Ali through to Gianni Agnelli – DICÒ also portrays iconic monuments and architecture, from the Eiffel Tower to the Twin Tower, in order to represent an aesthetic universe based on symbols and their transfiguration.
His decision to depict, in his own imaginative Pantheon, monuments and buildings that are symbols for the very same public figures is a fitting insight, given that in the 15th century Angelo Poliziano had already attributed undeniable advantages to open-air buildings and monuments over other forms of art: that of reception in distraction. Poliziano states that the farmer who leaves the countryside in his cart to visit Florence and go to market knows nothing about art, but as he is surrounded by it, beauty inevitably enters and enriches him, against his will.
These famous personalities, or VIPs, if one likes – including the renowned monuments that soar thus to the level of living, vibrant personalities – in truth, they stand for and serve a specific purpose: to burn in order to recreate, to destroy and idealize at the same time. More to the point: can that which is idealized and mythicized be burned, twisted, distorted and recreated? This is the acid test – or the litmus test, if one prefers – for the icons of our time.
It is also true that there are echoes of Burri’s famous combustions in DICÒ’s works.
However, even in this case DICÒ follows an inverse process, introducing an element that diverges from the paragon: the figurative element of the background portraits.
Burri worked in the abstract. DICÒ, meanwhile, turns genuine, real personalities into plastic and burns them. It is life itself – by means of its most celebrated exponents – that comes to be distorted and transmuted into something else. In this sense, DICÒ’s portraits verge on being cinematographic close-ups.
It is no coincidence that there are so many movie stars who have requested a portrait by DICÒ – from Keanu Reeves to Morgan Freeman, from Javier Bardem to Penelope Cruz, and from Luisa Ranieri to Antonio Banderas, to name just a few.
This is how the close-ups capture the transformation of a specific instant, alerting us as they do so that a moment later, things won’t be as they were before. It is the crystallization of a process in action. It is a photogram with a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. It is a unique portrait precisely because it has many iterations, but only one is the historicized dimension of the soul. It changes moment by moment. DICÒ captures just an instant. The here and now. Afterwards, who knows?
Finally, in DICÒ’s work there is something that is both magical and infantile at the same time. The subjects of his portraits are universally recognized. His creations, thanks to the transfiguration caused by combustion, are unique even when they are repeated.
And yet, when we stand before one of his works, only one feeling takes over – astonishment. And we almost want to ask him to make more beyond the one we have just seen. Even identical ones.
It’s commonly known that children’s emotions are absolute: the goodness in them in as absolute as their badness; their generosity is as absolute as their self-centeredness; the good and the bad; the beautiful and the ugly are always total, absolute. In children we find pure absolutism. And it is like this because it is never lessened by repetition, by seriality. Indeed, it is almost amplified and confirmed. “More!” is one of the most recurrent words in their vocabularies. They want to see a movie again, they want to listen to a song or a story again, and they want it tens or hundreds of times, without ever diminishing the emotion of their first time. Well, that same pure absolutism is behind – or even within, I would say – the works of DICÒ.
In Pop Art, a legend’s uniqueness becomes seriality. But seriality in the work of DICÒ becomes unique again, each and every time.