A life-changing memory lapse

Italian artist Paolo Troilo exhibits brushless black-and-white paintings of the male figure as symbols for extreme emotion, at the Presler Private Museum.

Paolo Troilo (photo credit: Courtesy)
Paolo Troilo
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Artists often talk about having a palpable sense of their creative process.
In that respect Paolo Troilo is the definitive artist. The 41-year-old Italian was here a couple of weeks ago, to attend the opening of his show, curated by Daniella Talmor, at the Presler Private Museum in Tel Aviv.
The exhibition goes simply by the name of “Troilo” and it is as direct and dynamic as its creator. The one sculpture and all the paintings on the walls are monochrome, yet anything but one-dimensional. There is a powerful photo-realistic element to all the items, which is a reflection of the practical way in which Troilo goes about his business.
Despite the seemingly “here-andnow” ethos exuded by his work, there is nothing conventional about the Italian, or about his art. It took a while for him to get around to getting his artistic credo out there, becoming a bona fide artist only when he was well into his thirties. Mind you, he had plenty of groundwork to build on.
Troilo is a self-taught artist who began with intriguing pencil drawings at the tender age of four. As an adult, he spent 12 years working for several top-line advertising agencies, such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Arnold Worldwide, using his creative talents to get the message out there for the benefit of others. By all accounts he did well in that line of work, rising to the position of creative director and winning prestigious international awards in the process.
However, Troilo eventually had enough of overseeing the work of large creative advertising teams and trying to get the public to spend its hard earned cash on all manner of consumer-friendly products, and decided to spread the word about his own creations.
A POTENTIALLY annoying momentary lapse of concentration led to a life-changing decision for Troilo. “I went to the store to buy artist stuff – paints and things – but when I got back home I saw I had forgotten the brushes at the store,” he recalls. Instead of rushing back to pick up the missed, seemingly crucial basic work tool, he decided he could dispense with the brushes and simply started painting with his hands.
Despite following a semi-realistic avenue to portraying his creative ideas, Troilo wants us to meet him halfway. Even though all his paintings are in black and white, the artist says the full color range is there for all to see.
All we have to do is to complete the hue discrepancy ourselves.
“When you read a book you see the colors in the story. You use your imagination.”
The artist’s previous professional life also features strongly in his aesthetic mind-set.
“It is absolutely intentional [for the viewer to compensate for the apparent lack of color] because I can say that my past is very important in this,” he explains. “I worked in advertising for 15 years and I was in the middle of the colorful world of advertising – too colorful.
You know, the sky is always blue and the grass is always super-green. There was always sun in the advertisements, unless I had to show how, say, a car manages well in rain. The colorful life of advertising gave me a shock.
I was not only always under the pressure of marketing but also not free to express my own creativity.”
So, when he eventually got around to doing his own thing, Troilo eschewed the colorful overload ethos and went for the monochromic approach. In truth, he says, he is offering us a non-realistic view of the world.
“Black and white doesn’t really exist, only through a camera or some other filter. But colors are simply the reaction of the light, the refraction. That why, for example, we get a rainbow. So everything starts from black and white.”
That back-to-basics concept is also apparent in Troilo’s omnipresent figurative theme. All his works are based on the masculine body.
In fact, the recurrent form is Troilo’s attempt at getting us to delve into the inner fabric of his work, rather than make do with a cursory glance at the shapes on display.
“In advertising you pay much attention to the people, and the people are supposed to be like you and me, so we identify with them and buy the product. I use the same figure almost the whole time in my work because I am trying to erase the subject so you don’t pay attention to who he is. The figure is not a real person. [It] is a symbol of something.”
The torso in question is, in fact, the artist’s well-honed physique.
“I use myself, not as a self-portrait, but simply because I have the luck to be in shape, and to have the proportion of a classical Greek body. I use it as an icon, even though I am not so oriented to the pop side of the art world.”
Once again, Troilo’s commercial past comes into the exploratory fray. “I don’t want to give you, the spectator, someone you can recognize, or identify with. I want to give you a classical shape which you can detach yourself from your mirror image, and start thinking about someone with feelings.”
There is certainly plenty of emotion on show in “Troilo.” One painting, for example, depicts a couple of sinewy men – who, naturally, look like twins – apparently hell-bent on dispatching each other to the nearest emergency room.
Considering his escape from the PC-controlled constraints of the advertising world, it is not surprising that Troilo has some personal spleen venting to do.
“My goal is to give you a ‘fix’ of the exact moment in which you are feeling something extreme,” he posits. “The rules of life are to be quiet and good sheep. Being provocative is another reaction to the calm, beautiful world of usual communication. It is a rebellion, in good and a bad way. In any case, you can definitely see that something powerful is happening.”
That is a recurrent theme throughout Troilo’s oeuvre.
The decision to use his own hands and fingers to put his ideas into corporeal form was ultimately a brave one. He dips his nimble fingers into acrylic and – literally – manually works the textures. Sometimes the creative process includes flicking the paint on to the canvas in a seeming freestyle fashion.
“That, I suppose, gives me less control over what comes out but, you know, in art you have to take chances,” muses Troilo. “It is the same in life,” he adds with a smile.

“Troilo” closes on May 27.