Interview with Lucio Giuliodori

Talking to poet, writer and professor of art Lucio Giuliodori, I learned why he is not a fan of Dali, what kind of art is the most philosophical and how book covers made him interested in painting.

You can read Russian version here.

Why have you chosen surrealism for your studies?

When I did my thesis for my PhD*, I studied the Russian philosopher Pavel Florensky. I’ve written a thesis about his metaphysics and his aesthetics. And then after the PhD, studying by myself, reading, researching, I ended up, also, in surrealism. Why? Because, first of all, I’m a surrealist too since I dream a lot every night! (Laughing) And the next day I wake up and I remember what I dream. My first book was called “I dream therefore I am”, and it’s a collection of dreams; dreams I have had and I have written down. So, let’s say that I have a strong connection with the world of dreams, and surrealism is the kind of art that investigates dreams. For this reason mainly, and also because I like art and philosophy… and surrealism is, in my opinion, the most philosophical kind of art. The deepest kind of art.

*PhD – Doctor of Philosophy

Цитата, Лучо ДжулиодориKate: Now the most popular surrealist is Dali, but some people think that he is just a “soap bubble”, kind of empty inside somehow… What do you think about him?

Lucio: I don’t like Dali very much, I’ve never liked him. And after I read one of his books which was called “La droga sono io” (In English “I’m the drug”)… I started to like him even less. I’m really not fond of him. I didn’t like the book at all.

It’s strange, because when I say that I’m interested in surrealism and so on, people immediately say: “Ah, do you like Dali?” – because he’s the most famous. No! Because surrealism is not only Dali! It didn’t die with him but continued growing and nowadays it’s very alive, there’re so many contemporary surrealist painters around the world! And something exciting always is going on: a lot of exhibitions, a lot of conferences. It’s a really cool and big scene. If you’re inside this world, you can sense it’s a great community.

Kate: I see. What was wrong with the book?

Lucio: I found it very… first of all, very “simple”. There was nothing deep in it. He wanted to be provocative, but he wasn’t, he wanted to be cool, but he didn’t pull it off. In one statement, he said that he’d read the complete work of Nietzsche in a few days and he dismissed him out of hand… how can anyone say that?!

It is one thing for him to be eccentric in his appearance and his paintings and that’s great but I don’t think this eccentricity transferred well to writing, at least in that book – which is the only one I have read.

Kate: There is a conviction that surrealism is not just an art movement of the XXth century, but a style which you can find in many artists’ works. What is your opinion? Who was the first surrealist?

Lucio: It was Bosch. Definitely. Five hundred years ago. But he didn’t know it! And nobody knew. But he was the first. Why? Because he painted very weird creatures in dream-like scenarios and that was very surrealistic, especially for that time. He was a genius, he was ahead of his time. He was doing something that only arrived five hundred years later. He was the first. So of course, I agree with you: surrealism somehow was born long before.

Kate: And after Bosch? Were there some other surrealists before the XXth century?

Lucio: Well, some people say, there is “some surrealism” in Giorgio de Chirico’s metafisica. His paintings are rather oneiric as well but we’re talking about the XIXth century already…

If I think about the XVIIth or XVIIIth centuries, it’s difficult to find something like Bosch, probably only William Blake is worth to be mentioned but still something different anyway.

Kate: What other movements in art do you like besides surrealism?

Lucio: To be honest, I’m very focused on surrealism. I can appreciate some other stuff, but it’s nothing more than just appreciation. I’m fascinated by surrealism and more precisely figurative surrealism. This is a quite strong connection, something I can’t even explain… I’m a surrealist to the core! (Laughing). However… I could say I find Edward Hopper awe inspiring. I also like some other contemporary artists like Marina Abramovic for example, but still my strong passion is only for surrealism.

Kate: Any names?

Lucio: Well, I don’t even start! The list would be infinite and I’ll definitely forget someone! It’s practically impossible to make a list… really… as I find new painters almost every day on facebook. But you can have a look at the artists featured in my books for example and then: Dino Valls, Michael Pearce, Steven Kenny, Renata Palubinskas, Madeline Von Foerster, Pamela Wilson, Scott Hess, Neil Moore, Patricia Watwood, Jolanda Richter, Rodney Wood, Simona Bramati, Alessandro Bulgarini, Ilaria del Monte, Saturno Buttò, Michel Ogier, Brigid Marlin, Jeremy Lipking, Jaroslaw Kukowski, Daniela Montanari, Aron Wiesenfeld, Alexandra Manukyan, Aleah Chapin, Shinji Asano, Ray  Caesar, Alex Kanevsky, George Marshennikov, Caleb Brown, Michael Borremans, Harry Holland, Melissa Hartley, John Hunn, Timothy Cummings, Shinij Asano, Fred Einaudi, Rose Freymuth-Frazier, Caitlin Karolczak, Heather Nevay, Shoji Tanaka, Caroline Westerhout etc. etc. etc.!!! Ah and of course Alejandro Jodorowsky and Franco Battiato!

Kate: What do you think about the future of surrealism?Quote, Lucio Diuliodori

Lucio: I think the future is bright, because you know… What do surrealists do? They try to paint the unconscious and we don’t know what the unconscious is… When we go to sleep, we don’t know what’s going on… where are we going?!

Science hasn’t conquered the unconscious yet. We don’t even know what it is exactly, I mean “scientifically” … But what if in the future science eventually uncovers its secretes? Surrealism and science will have an unbreakable connection and surrealism will be very useful in the understanding of ourselves –it already is somehow, even now…

Kate: So it’s the art of the future? Because at the moment the majority of people can’t really frame this movement… Do you think science eventually will provide the understanding of it?

Lucio: I don’t know if I can say that it’s the art of the future. But there will be a greater connection between science and art. Maybe it will be more mainstream in society, it will be more important than it is now.

Kate: Who is your favorite artist?

Lucio: Dino Valls. He’s a Spanish contemporary “surrealist” — somehow… too long to explain now… Anyway, he graduated in medicine, he’s a surgeon. He never worked as a doctor and he turned to painting after graduation. He’s a self-taught painter and, above all,  a genius… his paintings are really amazing. Usually he paints “patients” (or what can be referred to as patients) and mainly adolescents. These figures he paints are androgynous, and it’s difficult to determine their age. He plays with opposites: female-male, old-young, healthy-sick… I’ll be talking about it tomorrow, ‘cause tomorrow there is a conference about childhood in surrealism and I’ll be discussing Dino Valls as well. I’ll say that, ultimately, the figures he paints represent his soul. He doesn’t use real models, he uses a “meditative” technique of Karl Gustav Jung called “active imagination” through which figures emerge from his unconscious… these later will be painted.

So he’s very interesting as he’s a deep painter, his paintings feature a lot of quotations from literature, philosophy and culture. Needless to say, in my opinion he’s much, much better than Dali, just another level, much higher! Valls doesn’t need to be provocative to be original, he already is original and, last but not least, he’s much more educated than Dali.

Through his paintings, he sets in motion a real psychological and philosophical process. What he does is not only “art”… He literally  investigates the unconscious: that’s what makes him unique and utterly fascinating. And he’s a doctor, so he’s got a scientific background which, coupled with his artistic talent, make him a very peculiar figure, an extremely interesting artist.

Kate: Have you ever tried to paint?

Lucio: You know, it’s strange: I was thinking about it today, when I was preparing the speech for the conference. When I was little, I used to paint, like every kid does at school, and then I gave up. Later, I started singing and playing guitar, I was in music for many years during my adolescence, that’s how I started to write…

I never started to paint seriously. I even don’t want to. Perhaps I’m so fascinated by painting itself as it’s something very far from me.

When I see some paintings like Dino Valls’s which are very detailed, it scares me! (Laughing).  It seems so unachievable and that is what intrigues me… I could never be a painter I guess!

Kate: Do you want to have your own art collection of surrealist pictures some day?

Lucio: Yeah! Definitely! The first on my list is The Chemical Wedding by Madeline Von Foerster which is the cover of one of my books: Arte Regia, a collection of esoteric novels.

Chemical Wedding
Madeline Von Foerster, The Chemical Wedding

But anyway, you know why I started to be really interested in surrealism? Because I wanted to find covers for my books about ten years ago and I started to search on the Internet. One day I ended up on some surrealist websites. That’s how I discovered many painters and, literally, fell in love with them. The next step was trying to get in contact with them.

Kate: Was it complicated to get in contact with painters?

Lucio: Very easy!

Kate: Everyone has an account on facebook?

Lucio: Yeah, and especially painters, because they advertise themselves. For painters the internet is something amazing, anyone can see their works immediately, it’s a kind of art which is very easy advertised. If I write something, if I write a book, I can’t post my book on facebook, you have to read it, it takes days, maybe a month… For painters, you post your work and everybody sees it. That’s it! Awesome! (Laughing).

Kate: And what about literature? I know you’re a poet, so tell me please about the poetry in your life.

Lucio: I started to write poetry long ago, when I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty… When I had fun being a singer, I needed to write the lyrics… And my lyrics always were a bit poetic. That’s how I started. My second book is called “Musica Dentro” (“The Inner Music”) – it’s a collection of songs (poems) I made.

But then, when I met surrealists for the first time, that was something different…. Something higher, much more philosophical, much more “alchemical”…  Presented with pictures I liked I would instinctively begin to write something.  It was, and it still is, a very, very direct process, a real stream of consciousness, a very irrational process, that’s why purely surrealist I should say!  It’s as if I’m “reading” paintings, if I find their (or mine?) language… decoding mysteries, because paintings are full of them…  And this is what I’ve done with this book (in front of him just now: “Spiriti Volano — A Flight of Spirits”).

Spiriti Volano, book

The image cover is by a painter from Austria, Jolanda Richter. She is one of my favourite surrealists. Her paintings speak a lot to me: when I saw them the first time, I started writing. I adore this idea of a dialogue between arts, like painting and poetry for example, which in my case takes shape.

Kate: Do you find your inspiration only in art?

Lucio: Art and Knowledge, the latter is crucial in my Weltanschauung: the most precious thing I have.

Kate: Thank you very much! Good luck with all your endeavours!

Lucio: Cheers! Thank you!

Lucio Giuliodori’s website:

14 Comments Добавьте свой

  1. Very interesting. Bosch was a predecessor of surrealism, without a question, but what he knew or didn’t know we have no way of knowing, and how he knew what he knew is also a great unknown. Where did he see a giraffe, for instance? How did he know what a uterus looked like? I think the surrealistic vision of the world and subsequent representation of this vision in art springs not only from dreams but from the subconscious that generates those dreams to begin with.

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    1. Yes, of course the subconscious is one of the most important things in surrealism, you’re right! Lucio says about it also.
      As for Bosch… There were some «scientific» works about animals and other stuff, even with illustrations, so he could see them. Even in Russia there was such book. As I remember, it’s name was «Бчела» («пчела») — «The bee».

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      1. Fascinating. In 15th century? On second thought, the printing press already existed, so why not. I am constantly impressed by the depth of your knowledge.

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        1. Thank you =) I’m not sure about the century of this Russian book, may be it’s 16th — we’re a bit in late behind Europe in such questions)

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          1. You are right — the first Russian printed books appeared in 16th century, according to Vernadsky; however, the first secular books were not printed until about two hundred years later, with the exception of royal «ukazy.» «Пчела» was a translation from Greek that compiled holy and wise quotes from Byzantine church fathers, as well as great kings of antiquity and Greek philosophers. It appeared probably at the end of 16th — beginning of 17th century, but it was not a scientific book about animals, and the illustrations were scenes from the Bible or Ancient Greek history. In Europe, however, books with illustrations depicting exotic beasts existed much earlier, which makes sense — after all, crusaders traipsed all over Middle East and North of Africa. However, the first drawing of a giraffe appears after Bosch’s death, and it doesn’t much look like a giraffe, and certainly not like his giraffe. But let’s leave the beast alone for a moment. Bosch belonged to an extremely restrictive, almost fanatical religious organization. Somehow I doubt that he, like Michelangelo or Leonardo, dissected corpses at night to learn anatomy, and even they, from what I read (although I might be mistaken) never dissected females. How would Bosch know what a uterus looked like?

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            1. Then I’ve mixed up the things, I’ll try to find the name of this Russian book)
              Yes, it’s really the big question! But may be some anatomic worcs by surgeons existed, I don’t know))

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              1. They certainly did, but dissections were forbidden for a few hundred years by the papal edict, and anyway, female bodies were not dissected and not described. Some truly amusing facts are found here

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            2. Finally I’ve found it)) It’s not Russian, but it was translated in Russian language and was popular: This is description of real animals, but also some mythic beasts are described. The Russian version of the article, here it’s told about Russian translation also:

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              1. I feel like I am wasting your time and effort on this discussion, and I apologize. This is my academic background speaking; it makes me to be a stickler for details. Both of these sources support my point: there is no giraffe in Physiologus, the Russian translation appeared in 17th century, and translations into European languages even later, in 18th century. If you are bored or annoyed with this dialogue, please feel free to drop it, and believe me, I won’t be offended! I admire your work and enjoy every one of your posts in both languages!

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                1. Noo, definitely it’s not boring, to the contrary — very interesting) I don’t know about giraffes, there’s nothing in artical about them. But the centuries are others:
                  «На Западе Европы «Физиолог» пользовался большой популярностью; в XIII веке он был переведен с латинского на национальные языки Европы и вошёл в состав средневековых энциклопедий».
                  And: «Физиолог» пользовался авторитетом в Московской Руси даже в XVII веке. Славянские переводы «Физиолога» сохранились только в русских списках. Язык древнейшей редакции указывает на болгарское происхождение перевода (до XIII века).

                  It isn’t said that it appeared in XVII century, it’s said that it was popular even in XVII century. And in Europe it’s XIII century))
                  I think the other books could exist in Europe, I know nothing about them)

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                  1. I got my dates from wikipedia, which only shows how inaccurate wikipedia is, as if anyone doubted it. However, this entry has a table of content of the book itself, so you can which animals are described. It also says in the same article that all later Bestiaried, or books about animals, were based on the Physiologist. Again, if one could believe Wikipedia.
                    The point I was making, though, which might have been lost in the «giraffe» discussion, was Bosch’s representation of imagery that he, perhaps, had no knowledge of and could only access in dreams dictated by subconscious. And that would take us a step closer to Jung’s notion of collective subconscious.


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