Artist Spotlight: Interview With Illustrator Mario Sughi

8 Nov

Illustrator Mario Sughi brilliantly captures light and shadow in his illustrations with the delicate application of eye-popping color reminiscent of vector art. His subjects are seemingly involved in everyday ordinary encounters, but this transforms into something much more intriguing upon further inspection. Whether it be a hint of “more to the picture than meets the eye” by placement of a subject or idea just far enough off the canvas to make you wonder, or subjects staring directly at you with a knowing look, you cannot help but to ponder “What are they thinking?”. His pieces are like a single page in a book, it gives just a hint of the story.

Fashionable lives: Foam (Laundrette)

Before moving to Dublin, Italian artist Mario Sugi (aka Nerosunero) he worked as a humorist for Italian satirical magazines II Male and Zut, in Rome, Italy at the end of the 1970′s. In the late 1980’s he moved to Dublin where he studied Medieval History and was awarded a PhD by Trinity College in 1995. We caught up with Mario and asked him some questions about his interests and about his artwork.

At what age did you desire to become an artist?

An artist? Maybe not.  If I have to define myself, I would say, as an illustrator (with an eye on painting), who does his work with passion, amusement and discipline.

Growing up, what served as an inspiration to you?  What inspires you now?

I started drawing when I was six years old in my father’s studio, a professional painter (see In earnest I wasn’t very successful with my first attempts. I wanted just to play with colours and brushes. But my father wasn’t very pleased with me messing up with his tools in the  studio. The message was immediately clear: if  I wanted to stay and have a go at it I had to be disciplined. Later on in life the message became: when you do something always do it properly.

What other creative outlets (if any) do you have?

I like photography. I take pictures, mainly pictures of people walking the streets of Dublin. I like the way people react to my camera. Some of those pictures are quite interesting and nice, though they remain distinctively strictly amatorial.

(You can see his Dublin pictures here on FLICKR.)

Describe your artistic process…do you work in silence, have music playing, etc…

I use a Wacom graphic tablet, and I spend hours drawing with it on my computer. The music is always an option but I rarely turn it on. On the other hand the white window in front of me is always open. Curtains always off, day and night. So the sky can enter this little room that is my illustrator-studio. Every hour or so I make some coffee (espresso) and I take few little breaks. In the afternoon I go for a walk. I live by the sea and I like the silence of the place.

The ever popular question which serves an interesting keyhole view into an artist’s mind is…who are your favorite artists and why?

I like many painters and some writers. Amongst the contemporaries, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and the novelist Milan Kundera are my favourites.

Bacon is the most intriguing one. He was very learned and you can easily see that his paintings are exquisitely beautiful. It is true (look at the way they are structured) that they seem almost simple. Then (and immediately) behind their great beauty we can’t fail to discover a very sophisticated  imagination. Undeniably  Bacon’s work is full of magic and mystery.

Of Hockney I admire his endless quest and search for some answers to some of the greatest problems in the fields of visual arts. What is an image, and how to recreate the illusion of space on a two dimensional surface? What is a dimension, and how many dimensions exist?  Also his paintings from the sixties to our days (his pools, his splashes, his big landscapes), are among the most elegant answers to those quests. Hockney: a pleasant elegant imagination.

Kundera’s books are about the condition of the individual taken in his environment. Existentialism in other words. His argument proceeds very clear thoughout the pages, dense (like a soup) and yet precise, extremely precise almost transparent indeed. And (this is quite unbelievable too) the more complex and serious the argument grows the more it becomes amusing! Ah, Kundera’s novels and his obstinate resistance to a universe where feelings are promoted to the rank of value and truth.

They are three tremendous gifted authors who produced rigours works without ever losing touch with all the most playful aspects of their arts.

Fashionable lives: Second hand shop

What made you decide to move to Dublin?

After my degree at the University in Rome I had an opportunity to do a PhD course in Trinity College Dublin, and I took that opportunity immediately. I never regretted it.

Surroundings usually effect the style of an artist’s work, how has your move to Dublin affected your style, if at all?

Of course it does. Dublin has very positive effects on me and my work. This must be always the case when you like the place where you live.

Afternoon walking in Temple Bar

How would you describe your style to someone who has never seen your work?

It’s never easy to say something about your own style. So let me quote from Graphichug Magazine:

Mr. Sughi is an Italian Illustrator and Artist who is taking an interesting twist on the whole “vector-illustration” style. I am digging the absurdity.” Written by Graphichug, Netherlands, April 2010.

What is your favorite piece of artwork that you have created?

Political party with leader and campaigners” is one of my recent favourites.

We wanted to show you this specific piece however, Mario said: The problems with retracing my work is that sometimes I change their titles. (It must have been Francis Bacon who said “Titles are not so important, it’s the only thing you can change”).  Mario was joking, but we can’t argue this.

As far as his foray into political humorist cartooning Mario states: I was a cartoonist in Rome at the age of 16/17. My first publications were cartoons. In those days I draw cartoons for pure pleasure, when I want purely to enjoy myself, or when I am asked to do some political cartoons (like the ones on Mr. Berlusconi (seen below).  But I really love cartoons and I am part of the Donquichotte Committe for Donquichotte Magazine, a group of international cartoonists based in Germany.

Berlusconi’s Last Joke

Name your favorite piece of art by another artist.

Clearly impossible. They are far too many. But let’s say Simone Martini’s The Annunciation and Two Saints(1333), Gallerie degli Uffizi Firenze.

If you could sit down with any artist (living or deceased) who would it be and why? What would you hope to gain from the encounter?

You see Kundera and Hockney are two great favourites of mine, and they are still alive, so I could easily answer the two of them; or I could say Nina Hagen and Siousie Sioux (two of my favourite rock stars). But  I learned to know them only through their songs, their books and paintings. I never met them in person (I have seen Nina and Siousie acting on stage though). What I mean is that what I know and like about my “artists” is their works, and their works only. After all a person is not his own work. An author could be even the opposite of his/her own work. Maybe Siouxsie is not so pleasant as a person as she is as a singer. Who knows?

How do you think your artwork has changed from when you first started out till now?

I think that when you are in the business of creating images it’s quite natural to try to enjoy the work. One way to achieve this is by looking for new ways to express what you are trying to say; and this has the beautiful effect of transforming the appearance of your work in the course of the years.

Do you think art is received differently in the U.S. than it is in Europe? Or is it the same across the board?

Apparently there is a different perception over there. And possibly it’s true that as somebody suggested the Americans illustrators are more academic than their European colleagues. However when I surf the internet I am not always able to say if an artwork was created by an American or European illustrator/artist. There are times when I need to go and read the author’s name.

What drew you to studying Medieval History?

When I was studying history at the University in Rome my main research areas were the Heresies of the 15th and 16th century in Central Europe. So I read about Jan Huss, Luther,  Calvin and Melantone (I was attending Modern History courses in other words).  When I finished my degree and I went for some Post Grad course in TCD, Dublin, first, and Queens, Belfast, then (for some post doctoral course), I felt that in order to understand Modern History I had to study Medieval History first; and this is what I did. History is one of the most interesting disciplines, but past is endless and it escapes us.

What project are you currently working on?

Right now I am finishing some new works for SAG (Sexy Art Gallery), the gallery that represents me in Amsterdam ( So I spent all the last week or so trying to draw some beautiful  erotic, colourful women.

What gives you hope in the world?

The hard works of both the ordinary and less ordinary people.

Here are some of Mario’s pieces:

A desire of belonging: Quite afternoons

A desire of belonging: Two friends (waiting room)

A desire for belonging: Mardi Gras

Lürzer’s Archive included Mario Sughi in their compilitation of 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide for 2009.  Visit Mario’s website Nerosunero to see more of his work.

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