What do salt, human ash, coffee, corn, gunpowder, rice, sugar, and cocaine have in common? All are related to the life and death of humans. But to make a point, all these elements have been materials in sculptures by Fernando Mastrangelo.
You’ve said, “Art should be consumable by the masses,” and have used unconventional materials from diamond dust to human ash to communicate social issues. What attracts you to certain materials to convey your message? I feel that materials are metaphors. I’m attracted to certain materials because they’re inherently loaded with content. If I’m making a sculpture about life and death, human ash inherently possesses that content—I don’t have to add any more layers of meaning to the work, it’s in the material itself.
Describe your workspace. Dirty! It has its own logic, and it changes from project to project, piece to piece. We leave the space open so that it can accommodate different pieces we’re building. I hate how dusty the space gets, and I’m fairly neurotic about keeping things clean, but that’s a battle I rarely win.
It’s a 2,000-square-foot warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn where we mold, cast, and engineer all of the works. I keep most everything in-house because of the casting methods we use. I’m looking to expand, so we might be moving early next year. If we do, we’re going to double in size.
Whatever became of Felix, the life-sized Columbian farmer constructed from $70,000 worth of cocaine? Felix has been laid to rest. I can’t really say too much more about that.
Salt is a storied natural substance; it has destroyed and created kingdoms. When working with salt, do you consider the power that has been historically bestowed upon it? For sure! Salt has a deep, interesting history, and it’s also a majestic material to cast. Of course it’s been used extensively in art, and by sculptors, but when I think of salt all I see is its preservation and destructive qualities. Salt kills and erodes most anything it comes in contact with, but it also preserves—it was used to preserve foods from bacteria, mold, etc. To me, salt also embodies the metaphor of life and death, and that’s really at the core of most of my ideas when it comes to sculpture.
Do you feel utility is critical for furniture design? Or can certain pieces be wholly decorative? Design is fairly new to me, so when we’re designing a piece of furniture, utility is a priority. With AMMA—my partner Samuel Amoia and I—we try to design objects that are visually stunning, which could just be decorative, but if need be, could be used just like any other side table, coffee table, or console.
Do you gravitate toward larger sculptures for any particular reason? Do you think it’s easier to translate your vision? The sculptures are large if the context for the sculpture requires the scale to be large. There are no random decisions when it comes to scale. I make things according to what they need to be. For example, the Aztec Calendar was scaled down ever so slightly from the original, but it was made according to Aztec principles of time and space. Also, sculpture is something people should relate to with their bodies, and so I make things at a scale that are relatable in that way. Then there are more obvious decisions like the Frank Stella painting I made into gunpowder sculptures; they are the exact scale of Stella’s original paintings.
If you were to give a clinic on a particular subject, what might it be and who would attend? If I were giving a clinic on a particular subject, I’d want it to revolve around letting go of one’s ego! Not to say that I’m good at this, but I’m in the conversation, and I would want Jean-Paul Sartre there, more for his insight than anything else. People that I would want to attend this clinic? Well, I’m not sure I can say publicly, but it would include a handful of artists that could definitely use a little ego check! People who know me know who I’m talking about.
The earliest artworks you created were what you’ve referred to as “comic book figures.” Were you creating characters or drawing known characters? Any in particular you remember? I did both. I drew Spider-Man, the Hulk (to learn anatomy), and then I made up a character called “Kugo.” It’s hilarious, I think my mom still has those drawings. Kugo was half-man, half-snake, and I can’t remember what his superpowers were, but he was a badass motherfucker!
Do you consider yourself an activist? Not at all. I’m too fucking jovial to retain the kind of passion you need to be an activist. Also, to be 100% honest, I’ve been attempting to let things go more and more in my life, to not see all the afflictions and systemic problems going on in the world. That’s why my work has become so much more minimal, more reductive, and much, much less political than it used to be. I found that no matter how hard my work screamed with a “point,” it never reached the people I wanted it to. So, at this point in my life, I’d rather just live in a manner which my beliefs are my own and the “activist” exists through my day-to-day attempts at being a decent, fair, and aware human being.
Would you say there are core identifiers of a piece of art by Fernando Mastrangelo? If so, what are they? Materials. Form and content working together to create simple visual pieces that are layered with art historical references, mixed with modern-man’s existential dilemmas.
Are you an aural, visual, verbal, or kinesthetic learner? Verbal, that then translates into visual.
How has your view of art and art culture evolved or devolved over time? It’s devolved over time, art and the art culture has become an arena of spectacle, there’s more hype about market and sales than anything else. I remember when artists used to talk more about ideas and changing the dialogue, and less about how “well someone is doing.” It feels hypocritical to say, because I fucking partake in the market dialogue, but I’m not angry about it, I’ve just adapted to what would otherwise drive me crazy—especially if I wasn’t in the market in any way. I like the design world right now. I think there’s room for some cool things to happen in that arena. I’ll float between the two worlds for now and hopefully not become jaded or too fucking obnoxious about my own sales record.