Andy Picci has a reputation for defacing famous faces. Woody Cecilia sat down with the disarmingly charming artist to see what’s really under his mask.
In a time where famous faces, with no matter different from our own, are idolized – where images penetrate no further than the iris, but scatter our periphery – celebrity culture has begun to take the place of religion. Or perhaps hell.
Andy Picci marks the face of the devil in his celebrity skull pieces. Exploring and exploiting this, he urges us to escape the confines of our cell phone cells. Yet, despite the ghoulish exterior, there’s a child-like playfulness to Andy’s work – and Andy. He swiftly emerges, bouncing daintily around the Dalston Lane corner where we arrange to meet. Shades, ankle boots, beaten blazer with pocket-handkerchief on lock down. “Hello!” he bursts. His French accent is revealed immediately. “I’m Andy! Let’s get a beer, non?” I like him already.
CB: You seem quite extraordinary! You’re a musician, a painter, a cravat-wearing graffiti artist. So talk me through Andy Picci’s day-to-day life. What do you get up to? Is it full of the weird and wonderful, or do you live quite an ordinary life?
AP: Basically, I just think a lot. I try to have good ideas, and once I find a good idea that I think might be interesting, I try to find out the best way to express it, so sometimes it’s a song, or it can be photography, or a painting. I try to find the best way to do it to represent what I want to say.
CB: So you’re always creating?
AP: Yeah, I’m always making things everyday – there is no holiday.
CB: So what do you do to unwind? Is it a bubble bath and Aloe Vera face mask kind of deal, or is art therapeutic enough?
AP: (Laughs) Well, actually, I walk a lot. Just by walking, you see images, you smell different scents and you see colours. That’s what inspires me. My girlfriend is always killing me, saying, “all you do is hang out and read books!”
CB: The life of a true artist. What led you to take up art?
AP: I worked in an advertising agency in Paris. My BA is in visual communication and marketing, so when I finished, I worked there. But I was so bored of Photoshopping pizza! So a very good friend of mine was like, “you should just take a canvas and paint on it, you know? Because you’ve got the skills to do it.”
CB: So what did you do?
AP: So I finished my BA, and for 2 years I was just working by myself, just like doing exhibitions and paintings and songwriting and all that shit. And then I decided to do an MA, because I felt like I missed something still in fine art. I needed to evolve.
CB: So in those 2 years, you made quite a name for yourself. How do you juggle work, while staying in the public eye?
AP: I could not interrupt my career to do the studies, so I had to do both at the same time. My tutor was like, “you cannot keep going with all your exhibitions, and going to Paris for parties – you have to concentrate on the MA.” But at the same time, you can’t just concentrate on the Masters, else I will lose all of what I’ve done for my career so far.
CB: Is there a difference between your MA work and the pieces you exhibit?
AP: The art I do more publicly will be more commercial art, or street art. It’s about finding a way to express myself, but at the same time pleasing the audience. And what I’m doing with the MA is proper fine art. If you didn’t study it or take time to understand it, you cannot understand it, actually. It’s not accessible. Often it’s more of a process, and less about a finished art piece.
CB: You use Appropriation in your exhibited art a great deal. To what extent do you think artists should draw the line with reproducing works?
AP: I don’t think there’s any line. It just depends what you want to express. It’s more about questioning the value of the work, because if someone is able to do the exact same work, does it mean it has the same value? Or does it mean the original one has lost its value, you know? And if you try to add something to the picture, it’s going to be a totally new artwork.
CB: How do you pick your images to paint over?
AP: Well, I love old celebrities and fame. I think it’s very interesting. All the time, I just buy books always and hang out, so if I see something, I think, “this looks good. What could I do with it?” I’m not going to paint on it just to paint on it, but when I see a picture, I know I can do something with it, I will.
CB: When you told me you were into your icons, you listed Elvis and Sid Vicious as your favourites. Do you think there’s a romanticism to death, and that this is why they stand out as creative geniuses, having died at the peak of their careers?
AP: Obviously. But for most of the artists, I think it’s made by the industry, because if they die it means there are no new albums, so how can they keep making music? And that’s the thing: Elvis didn’t invent Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Sid Vicious didn’t invent Punk. They were just the only ones that started making it commercial. That’s what I love about it.
CB: You wrote on your website: “We live in a world full of images; each person sees around 3’500 images per day, and 99% of them have no impact.” Is this a big theme in your art?
AP: Because there are so many images, I don’t feel the need to create something totally new – we have enough. I think it’s more interesting to take from the madness and make it interesting.
CB: When you select your images, are you commenting on today’s society and its relationship with the media?
AP: Advertising is part of it. I love to play with brands, because it just changes the way we interact with objects. I did a series where I took prints of old paintings and hand-painted brand’s logos.
CB: Can you give us an example of a piece?
AP: Like the Volkswagen, with the old car. You used to need a car, because you needed to move: you didn’t want to walk two days to get to Notting Hill, you know what I mean? Ha ha! And now, it’s not just about having a car – it’s about having the right car, and the car that sticks with your image. It changes your perception of utility. We don’t need anything – we just want it.
CB: With an image like that, it must be quite easy to become nostalgic.
AP: Yeah, well I’ve been reading a lot of notes about Metamodernism, which is a new artistic movement that is emerging now, and they’re saying our generation are nostalgic futurists. We want to go back to the past, but we use so much new technology. We are the first generation that has this balance, and we can just glide between the past and the future.
CB: That’s a good place to be though. The best of both worlds?
AP: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s brilliant. I’m painting, because I prefer to have something hand-made, but at the same time I can post it on Instagram. So you know, that’s fabulous!
CB: If you could live in any era, what would it be?
AP: I’d love to mix it up. I’d love to live in the 1800s and the ‘20s in Paris and maybe the ‘40s and ‘50s in New York and the ‘70s in London, obviously. And now, where is the place to be? We don’t know – but we’ll know in 20 years! Most of all, I’d like to take what I prefer from each generation, and for that to create my persona now.
CB: Us British girls are often trying to perfect that Parisian chic look. What makes Parisian fashion so charming?
AP: I think each city has got its own style, you know, and it’s good to keep it up. But the two cities have always been connected. Like, Parisian boys and girls want to be English, and English boys want to be Parisian. Because in Paris, we see The Rolling Stones and Oscar Wilde and all that stuff, so we want to be like this. And that’s why the two styles are quite exclusive. Because here, its English style, but with French influences, and in Paris its French style with English influences.
CB: You posted a message online saying: “Stop looking at your smartphone, and keep looking at the sky.” Is that something you believe strongly in?
AP: I feel like we’re always on Instagram, or watching TV shows and we’re giving credit to all of the celebrities. People should start to get their own goals, try to do their own lives. Keep dreaming, you know?
CB: Would you say the advancement of technology is affecting creativity?
AP: It’s totally affecting us. I think it’s fabulous. It’s just evolution. Take it and make it the best you can of it.
CB: It seems to be good for the availably of new bands and music too. If you’ve got a laptop, you’re a bedroom Beatle sort of deal.
AP: Yeah, I use Garage Band and I just plug into the computer all the instruments.It’s a good thing, but now to create something new, people are starting to put electronic instruments in their compositions. I’m not comfortable with it. I mean, I can appreciate it, but I will always prefer to like sit and listen to artists like Frank Sinatra. I’ve got this image of Frank Sinatra with like a full orchestra behind him, and that’s so much better. But [computers are] a new instrument, you know?
CB: What other music do you listen to?
AP: What I enjoy the most is vintage Italian and French music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. That’s my pleasure. And I’m friends with all the rock bands, because I love Rock ‘n’ Roll and I don’t think there’s anything as honest as rock. But then, I love Katy Perry and I think Justin Bieber is brilliant too. I don’t have any limits, is what I’m trying to say.
CB: I understand you’ve met Peter Doherty a few times through being friends with Thomas Baignères and Miki Beavis, amongst others. Are you close, and is his personality the same as how it’s portrayed by the press?
AP: We’ve got a lot of friends in common. I’m friends with the friends of Peter in Paris and I’m friends with the friends of Peter in London, so we’ve crossed paths a couple times. Miki told me he called me his Mini Me, because everybody thinks we look so similar. Ha ha! And from how I met him, he’s a very nice guy actually. I wasn’t expecting that when I first met him. I was like “okay, let’s see how it goes,” you know? And then he was so friendly. Like I had my fur coat, and he was like, “this is amazing – can I try it? Take my hat.” And he gave me his hat and he took the fur, and then he started hugging me, and then we went down and were jamming at the Torriano. After, I was like “well yeah but he was quite drunk…” But then the second time I saw him, he was like, “ohh, Andy! How are you doing?” And actually, he is a very nice guy, and not at all as fucked up as the media try to picture him. A little bit lost, but I mean he was a drug addict and now he’s resolved that, so.
CB: It’s sometimes assumed that creative people are introverted and narcissistic. Would you agree?
AP: Yeah, in some ways. I think it’s good to be narcissistic. When I was younger I had to see a therapist. I had three sessions with the therapist, and the third time he told me, “your problem is you’re too shy. So basically you just want to stay by yourself. But once you’re surrounded by people, you become this extroverted person, like totally narcissistic and showing off, because it’s your way of avoiding your shyness.” So I think it’s totally true – or it is for me, at least. But it’s a good balance, you know?
CB: So what do you prefer to do? Stay in by yourself, or go out?
AP: I don’t know, I like both. I love watching movies all night long with my girlfriend. I love cinema. But at the same time, I need to go out because when I go out and I drink, I can relax and stop thinking. When I’m watching a movie, I’m not just looking at the story – I’m looking at how they frame the picture, the colour they use, the light they use, because it’s all part of my job too. So it’s still working. But then when I go out I go to private views for exhibitions and magazine launches, it’s still working. So it’s both the same actually.
CB: You should tell your girlfriend that!
AP: Well yeah, she’s always joking at me, because she came home and I said, “oh, I’m exhausted.” And she’s like, “you didn’t do anything!” And I’m like, “yeah but thinking is working.” Ha ha!
CB: Being a creative means you’re often immediately judged: whether it’s in the way you’re dressed, or through judgment of your works. Do you think that builds a certain type of person?
AP: Yeah, absolutely! That’s what I’m doing now in my MA project. It’s about creating characters. I think what is missing now is these artists that are kind of superstar artists. You know, back in the day it was Picasso, Dali and Warhol, who were always going to parties. They were rock stars, you know? And now we’ve lost it, because art is becoming more and more elitist. It’s good to create a character, you know? It’s a performance in itself, isn’t it? In the end, I’m a performance artist who is doing commercial art to survive. That would be the best way to put it.
CB: So when you go home, do you switch the performance side of you off, or are you always Andy Picci?
AP: No, I’m full character! Ha ha ha! [He beams].
Just like that, Picci has won me over. He artfully swindles the jewels from each European city he has lived – of which there are many. Passionate, charming, refreshingly cultured, honest. He’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll bohemian. A futurist romantic.
See Andy’s Picci work at his Central Saint Martins degree show on 27th May 2015 at CSM, Granary Square, King’s Cross.