I must confess a few things before getting started here. One, I have no idea where Ernesto Pavone lives, other than to say he’s in a family-oriented neighborhood of Brooklyn. No, not one of the ones currently being infested by us young culture vultures (Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights); more the kind where few human beings are seen on the streets past 9pm. That’s when I arrived, recently, at this artist’s home.

I was driven there by a friend who was so busy warning me about Pavone’s strange persona, however, that I never bothered to watch the road to see where we were going. It might’ve been an omen, to be sure, though I pretty much assume that artists are strange birds wherever you greet them. My companion insisted that no one was stranger than Pavone, whom I’d agreed to meet after seeing just one work of his: the above posted image, which the artist made on his iPad using cut-outs from marble statues he’d digitally photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. (Cool concept.)

There are also swatches of primary colors in the piece, deployed as backgrounds and textures, which enhance the rhythm of an already rhythmically-erratic composition, all of which I was assured by Pavone prior to our visit was very simple for him to create.

The figures in the frame run the gamut of art historical tropes: from the outline of a classical-looking seated nude at the right center, to the flying pair of feet at the top, with surrealist lobster claw for a head, to the bent-over chimera at the left (also surrealist), with two arms, one leg, and what seems to be a bird’s head. I’m ahead of myself, I know, but it’s best to be prepared for what is yet to come: and by that I mean the total stimulation overload for which this artist excels. For Pavone is, indeed, as eccentric as the visual worlds he produces.

When my friend and I finally get to the house, Pavone is standing in the doorway, smoking a rolled cigarette. He has on navy blue sweatpants and a wife-beater undershirt, and is casting the kind of silently penetrating gaze that leaves me unsure whether he’s intending to shake my hand or tie my ankles and stuff a rag down my throat. (He chose the former.)

Then, all at once and quite suddenly, the silent broke. Pavone starts waving his hands around in typical Italian fashion (he’s from Naples originally), talking in cadences so rapid-fire and incoherent that they wouldn’t be out of place in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake! Except that Pavone’s accent is Italian accent and even more difficult to understand. Then again, it doesn’t seem to matter to him anyway, as he’s all energy and appears to subsist on it. There are already two spots of white buildup around the sides of his mouth at this point.


Ernesto Pavone, “Untitled,” digital collage, JPG.

We then walk into the house and it is filled thick with cigarette smoke, which must go on all day long. Pavone’s wife—a Japanese woman who wishes to remain anonymous (and whom I’ll refer to as Keiko for the purposes of this article)—is seated at a kitchen table, also smoking. She offers us wine.

Pavone is still talking about his art, as he’s been since the second we arrived, and by now, through the fog, I can notice that every square inch of his small cottage is filled with artworks, which I can only assume, based on the one piece seen prior to our visit, are all Pavone’s.

There are framed works—collages, paintings, drawings—and unframed ones. There are sculptures—whittled wood, clay, carved stone—which adorn the tables and wall cabinets. Pavone points to several images mounted to foam-core backings, which he says he printed from his iPad collages specially for my visit. They are leaned against the wall nearest the kitchen. I’m not lying when I tell you: I’ve been in this house five minutes and am already feeling dizzy and quite stoned.

Attempting to slow things down, I plop myself on the couch and accept Keiko’s offer of wine. Like any good art critic, I start by asking Pavone to discuss his process. Quite to my surprise, he grabs his iPad and proceeds to make a work of art right there in front of me.

Ernesto Pavone, "Untitled" sculptures in clay and wood.

Ernesto Pavone, “Untitled” sculptures in clay.

Onto a black background the artist begins by cutting and placing shapes with the flick of a finger: each one cut from close-up digital photographs of marble, which again come from a visit to the Met Museum, where I’ve now learned that Keiko is employed at.

There are a pair of legs, spread wide, with two floppy feet. There’s a set of arms, also cut quickly and simplified by a single long, crooked line, plus some notches at the ends indicating fingers. Another leg and foot; a curved line with a votive figure at the end, which Pavone turns into a second set of arms for his figure. Finally, the silhouette of a wolf’s head is moved to the top as Pavone pastes the shapes up in a matter of seconds and turns the iPad around to show me. “This is my process,” he says.

Is there a title? “No title,” he quips. “I don’t have time to title my works.” What about the more involved collages? The paintings? The sculptures? How do those come about?

Pavone grabs a lump of clay, wets it, wets his hands, pushes into it a few times, twists his wrist and presses with the back of his hand. Another work finished. (“Fire the kiln!”)

We walk downstairs, to where Pavone has his painting studio. Once again every inch of wall space is filled with paintings: images of faces abound, most of them rendered in black and grey paint onto paper or canvas.

Ernesto Pavone, “Untitled” painting in acrylic on paper.

The artist grabs a large sheet of paper, a wide brush, and a few tubes of paint, which he squeezes onto a piece of cardboard. He looks at my face and begins to paint. A minute later he’s done. My look of bewilderment captured in simple, eccentric strokes—Pavone’s shorthand for catching lightening in a bottle.

The painting reminds me of an Art Brut piece by Jean Dubuffet from the nineteen-fifties, though I don’t sense, like Dubuffet, that Pavone has any interest in discovering the secrets of the untaught artisan, or of those with mental deficiencies. He’s simply trying to get what he sees down on paper before the moment passes. Or, maybe not what he sees, but rather a synthesis of what he quickly perceives—externally and internally—in a spontaneous burst of artistic reconstruction. In Pavone’s world, the moment is everything.

It all happens so fast—from eye to mind to hand to canvas—that it is difficult to see what is the dominant muscle being flexed here. And yet there is a signature to Pavone’s work: a method to his madness.

Again, I wouldn’t call this artist a keen observer, just as I wouldn’t call him a good listener; but that seems wholly besides the point. Getting a question or word in edgewise is near-impossible where Pavone is concerned. His energy is frankly more than I can handle, and after a few hours of this, I am pooped. Yet my sense, departing at around 11pm, is that Pavone is just getting stated. For him, everything is a potential artwork and he seems utterly incapable of turning it off.

Ernesto Pavone working on his iPad.

Ernesto Pavone working on his iPad.

Before we leave there is cake served. Each of the four of us is served a slice; though Pavone sits at his iPad pounding out more and more collages, and has another dozen finished before we finish our last bites.

Some are simple; others layered and wildly rhythmic, like a mix between Picasso’s Guernica, Matisse’s late cut-out works, and any number of tribal art pieces, or Keith Haring paintings. Pavone renders them all in seconds: copying-and-pasting previous cut-outs, re-sizing, making them smaller, bigger, layering, erasing, adding. All instantaneous.

Keiko says the iPad has saved them from having to stack any more physical works around the house, though Pavone says he’s already filled up one iPad and two laptops to boot.

Ernesto Pavone

Ernesto Pavone

Some artists talk about their art as an all-immersive lifestyle. I wonder how they’d feel about their work-ethic after a visit with Pavone?

Here stands an artist whose every waking breath it seems (and probably his dreams too) is filled with the need to make artistic marks. I can sit here and try to be sentimental about it: pitching Pavone as that special visionary for whom the creative spirit is the ultimate contemporary, secular religion; or I can romanticize him as a tragic figure. But the truth is, I know very little about this artist as a person, his motivations, dreams, or psychology.

I know only what he does with his art, and a small portion at that (though I perceive it to be vibrant, silly, witty, endlessly creative, simple, quirky, energetic, perhaps inimitable). In any case, this article is not written to criticize or make fun of Pavone, so if that is what the reader has gotten from it so far, then I as its writer have failed you.

For the record: I found Pavone also to be incredibly funny, when he wasn’t exhausting, as in the case of a series of collages where he placed images of pizza pies over the faces of Renaissance portraiture. One example was interesting; two quirky; forty pizza collages had us rolling on the floor.

What I hoped for this article was to devise a narrative that could match the experience I’d had with Pavone: an artist whose style, I believe, matches his personality to a “t.” That sounds cliche too, I know. But in this instance it’s true. Hopefully you get it. (Brian Chidester)

(All images photographed by Stefania Zamparelli, copyright 2017, all rights reserved.)

untitled 15 Photography by ernesto pavone

Ernesto IMG_5542

Ernesto IMG_5577

Ernesto Pavone