Each installment features a writer, artist, or curator discussing an underrated artist, artwork, movement, or museum.
Today we’re with Jorge Cortell, an entrepreneur, lecturer, and curator, in discussion of the work of Claudio Zirotti. Jorge first brought up Zirotti as an example of an artist who employed “art hidden within art”, and a brief glance at Zirotti’s oeuvre shows why this is the case. In each one, you get the impression you aren’t viewing a single work but a collection. How did you first come upon his work?
I met Claudio when he was working as Creative Director for a large advertising agency. He had been painting for decades, but decided not to exhibit his work. I convinced him that such an amazing body of work needed to see the light. Eventually he started exhibiting internationally, and as his career took off, he left his work in advertising to dedicate himself completely to his art.
What about him did you find meaningful, striking, relevant?
He is not afraid. He embraces change, and is always evolving. He explores, with the curiosity of a child, and the hunger of a student. He defies narrowing attempts to restrict him into an easy categorization. In his work you see many references, influences, and messages. There is always a narrative, a back story playing on top of another one, which is itself layered on top of another one…
How would you describe his work to someone who’s never seen it?
I would describe most of his work as “seriously playful”. His earlier works were very conceptual. Then he let the influence of “graphic” permeate his work: graphic design, graphic dialogue, graphical elements like drawings, lettering, and icons. It is with and through that graphic influence that he seeks to have fun and enjoy, to make you have fun and enjoy. While there is a generally subtle element of social and political commentary and compromise, that is not his primary objective. His works are not presumptuous. He genuinely just wants to play with his characters and icons.
Who do you believe are his influences? Who do you think he has influenced?
His influence is the artistic culture he has always cultivated. He constantly reads and visits museums and galleries wherever he goes. As I mentioned before, he understands art as a constant evolution, and exposure is absolutely necessary for that. You can see the wider influences of Giotto, Bosch, Pollock, Twombly, Penck, and many more in his works. As in who he might have he influenced, that is harder to answer for two reasons: his work is constantly evolving, therefore leaving a more diffuse influence trace than those who abide to a specific style throughout their career; and his work has not (yet) received enough exposure to be able to measure his influence, although I do know a number of young artists that are already following his steps.
Why do you think Zirotti’s been underrepresented? Do you feel similarly about the entirety of “art hidden within art”, stenographic works? Is there perhaps a geographic boundary of such work?
As I mentioned, for decades he refused to be “part of the circuit”. He was too focused on creating art, and exploring. He felt any activity outside creating and exploring would take away precious energy from him. So he was a hidden gem that you could only get exposed to if you happened to meet him personally, as I did.
Once he decided to exhibit, everyone, from museums to dealers, approached him. But I believe he is still very underrepresented, and has a truly huge potential ahead. Art hidden within art, on the other hand, is by nature and definition, hidden. It requires a particular effort, tools and instructions to “decode” it. It is part of the game, and even the message. Sometimes out of necessity (to avoid censorship), sometimes out of pure playfulness. I get a particular kick out of discovering or deciphering one. Like finding a treasure or getting an “inside joke”. Geography might have played a part in it before the XXI century. But now, with globalization, digitalization, and the Internet, geographical boundaries are becoming less and less relevant.