Ax Aler is a fantastic, Italian artist who lives in Rome.  He works in various genres that include photography and drawing and his work captures the graphic nature of advertising, marketing and journalistic documentaries.  What inspires him?  Here’s our cool chat …

MICHAEL: Ax, I absolutely love your work! You use different media together to create these satirical paintings and/or photographs that are full of social commentary. You must spend a lot of time observing society and watching television. No?

AX: Hi Michael, Thanks, Just internet, no television. Actually, I pick the news from CNN, local online newspapers, portals like Huffington Post, socials like Facebook. Television is too boring and hypnotizing to me. When I had a television, I could watch indifferently breaking news, variety, advertising, grand prix, wrestling, movies, cultural programs, serials, everything that was in motion, so I decided some decades ago to throw away my TV. Literally, it went into a garbage bin. I decided to be updated about the world in a different way and to dedicate my time to more focused interests.

MICHAEL: And so, you interpret current events and the things that you see. You're never going to run out of material. However, our society is all about change, motion and being mobile. How do you convey motion in static photographs and paintings? It seems to me that video would be perfect for what you do.

AX: There’s a difference between agitation and movement. I think that much of the change of contemporary society is caused by pure excitement and decorativism, due to the disappearance of strong references, historically marked by the end of ideologies and ideals. The change itself becomes the goal to be achieved continuously. Be fashionable, be up to date, be marvelous. All this is also positive because it avoids the mistakes of the past and the tragic misunderstandings that in some parts of the world still survive, as we see these days in Gaza. At the same time, it creates a vacuum in which everything is important but may be replaced by anything else because actually nothing is critical. I try to create my work with a potentiality that can be put either in a two-dimensional work or in a video. I pursue the potential to create an inner movement in the viewer, something that will make people think about their vision of the world and about what is important in life.

MICHAEL: I love your “Murder I” piece. What was the inspiration behind that?

AX: Murder is part of a series of shootings that simulate advertising campaigns for different products: a perfume, a new collection, accessories and leather goods, eyewear, etc. Two main themes behind the work: fashion system and male violence. Both are taken to the extreme consequence, in terms of assassination and use of the crime scene for advertising purposes. The work simulates where the fashion industry has not yet come, to increase sales, just because it would not be "politically correct" and it could be counterproductive. At the same time, it is a destruction of the boundary between true and false of the two systems of art and fashion, within the global system of communication.  And I also realized here, vicariously, the dream of ordinary people to be a famous designer or the owner of a famous fashion house …

MICHAEL: I also love Iran 2. It's such a poignant juxtaposition of photography and drawing. Why do you do this?

AX: I must say, first of all, because of the cruelty of the subject and the death of five men as a show of warning and as a greedy occasion for tourists. I bought the rights to use this image from Associated Press and deleted the hanged men that I redid in pencil. It is not a collage. When I draw an image from a photograph, it means to me that the drawing has a greater capacity for communication than the photo, which often just refers to the fact that is shown. In this case, it happens that the audience watches a show standing before a work of art, such as in front of a large drawing in a museum and actually attends a real hanging. The ambivalence always imposes a stop and leads to consideration.

MICHAEL: Tell me about Milan. It's a dream for me to visit there. Are you from Milan? Do people there have a greater appreciation for contemporary art than in other parts of Italy and Europe?

AX: I lived eight years in Milan. Now I live in Rome, near the Vatican Museums. Milan is a great city and very much alive, especially for events and fashion. The art is affected by the economic crisis and galleries tend to show artists of the last century. Berlin seems now the European city that offers more possibilities. Rome is a magnificent city (as everyone knows); wherever you go, you can find wonderful pieces of art and architecture. This is also very dangerous because it does not let you go. My visits to Iran, Egypt, Brazil, USA, etc., have been healthy. Contemporary art in Rome is quite neglected. Except for two museums, all other spaces offer exhibitions such as Rodin, Frida Kahlo, Warhol, etc., that give an economic return. No risk, and no real, new proposal. And everyone, artists and galleries, aspire to New York or the great fairs of the East.

MICHAEL: Because contemporary art is struggling, how are you surviving as an artist? Do you also work in advertising or marketing? What can we do to get more people to support contemporary art?

AX: Once or twice a year, I make the communication for some museums. I am fortunate to be a friend of their managers. In Italy, independent work is still found through family and friends. For the rest, we need to limit expenses. While the ancient art is considered a heritage, contemporary art seems to be a superfluous luxury of society. Paradoxically, it is capable of producing in the sphere of galleries, exhibitions, museums, with the support of critics and curators, a huge turnover that makes it become vital and indispensable for its operators. Its existence, confined within its own system, is disseminated through the media and visibly affects communication and lifestyles of the masses. It is therefore self-supported, but only at the high level. At the middle level and at the level of research, the support becomes almost non-existent and there is not much to do except try to get into the empyrean. The policy is not interested in a cultural change that supports the arts. The culture is formed mainly by the media now. It seems that we can only act in our circle of acquaintances, spreading the quality and the knowledge through the means available, personal, real and virtual.

MICHAEL: When you were a kid growing up, did you dream of becoming an artist? How did you become an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?

AX: I remember I always drew. The drawing is natural for me. I have no difficulty to draw anything. I had crisis and stops, I had ascetic calls, I believed for a moment that I had to do something more useful for others, but looking back, wanting to be an artist is the leitmotif key of my life. The only constant, together with love and sex. I do not come from a family of artists. I studied sculpture at the Art Institute and the Academy of Fine Arts of Carrara. But the marble is not for me. I am comfortable with the sign and the image. And the more the years pass, the more increases the awareness that this is the only thing I have to do in life, the one that corresponds to me.

MICHAEL: I noticed that you mentioned art in the same category as love and sex. Not air, food and water. We cannot live without air, food and water, but we can live without art, No? Isn't art more of a desire and luxury?

AX: The history of mankind, from the caves of Lascaux to Haring's t-shirts, has shown that, outside of satisfied basic needs, you still cannot live without art. Humanity without art is unthinkable - it does not correspond to any human idea. Its practical uselessness, opposite to that of practical goods, is its strong point, its condition of indispensability. Today, more than ever, with the democratization of art and its spread through advertising, art is spasmodically sought by everyone, everywhere, at various levels of consciousness and critical thinking skills, even in the choosing a sofa or a plate, or clothing, on a visit to a museum or buying the cover of a smartphone. The problem is that we cannot live without art, but as with every other thing today, we want it for free, we are not willing to pay any price for it, neither public nor private. We demand it as the default and standard accessory in everything. In addition, people have a vague aesthetic conception of art based on their tastes, but rarely a thorough knowledge of art history. This causes a contradictory situation, a contemporary attribution and denial of value, delivering the art in the hands of those who know how to use it better for advertising and promotional purposes.

MICHAEL: Finally Ax, when people look at your work, what do you want them to see? Is there a message in your work?

AX: I want that when people look at my work, they see something that concerns themselves, that makes them recognize who they are, that makes them understand what is important in their life. Also, suggesting what they should not give importance to and what on the other hand should be considered sacred and indispensable. With this, I do not want to say I own the truth; you do not have to be a great sage to suggest that we have respect for each other, to believe that every person is sacred and untouchable or to think that power is an illusion destined to end, and so on. But you have to reach a particular illumination to understand, finally, that the gaze of a person you love and who loves you is the only real wealth and that art, in an aesthetic-philosophical sense, should permeate all human activities and that everything else is just a big distraction.

MICHAEL: Thanks Ax, great chat and I love your work.

AX: Thanks to you. I had pleasure to do it. Yes, let's keep in touch.

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