Meet our next ‘WOW’ aka MAI Wonder of the World – east London-based illustrator, Sebaldo Pietrovito. A fan of staring out into the distance constantly trying to work something out, whose best friend would describe him as very “confused” and who at one point in his life became obsessed with finding Jesus’ face in toast! Confused? Find out more in our special MAI interview…
Hi Sebaldo, you have Italian heritage and were born and grew up in Yorkshire in the UK. What was growing up in Yorkshire like?
The funny thing about being partly from a foreign family is that because they are not in their home country they sort of over compensate and kind of become a caricature of themselves and their country of origin. I remember as a kid thinking that my dad and his friends might be part of the Mafia. They’d call each other at like 11pm as I was just finishing my homework and they’d go to the casino until the early hours of the morning. They’d wear leather Jackets and open their collars wide to display their chest hair and gold chains and go around to each others houses for coffee and call them meetings, even though really they were just gong to visit their friends for a catch up. It was a highly masculine environment and I never really felt masculine enough to fit in with them but I was very interested in these characters, I found them quite scary but as I got older I also found them hilarious!
Another notable thing that happens when you grow up in a small town in Yorkshire is that you get to see some really crazy characters. Like, there was a guy my family knew called Ben Boothman, who used to be a chimney sweep/ bouncer and a part time wrestler on Television. Strangely he was so obsessed with being Italian that he legally changed his name to Benito Primavera and now he speaks with an Italian accent. But I love the characters that I grew up with and they feature a lot in my work. Also, growing up with what I feel was a warped view on masculinity, I try and address this in my work so a lot of my male characters have a vulnerable side. The landscape of Yorkshire also has effected me a lot. The rolling hills and low grey skies can turn into quite a melancholic place and a lot of the time I felt like I was living in an episode of The Moomins or something. That and the feeling of solidarity is something that I tend to express a lot in my work – I don’t like to draw expressions on my characters faces, as I like them to look like they are constantly looking out into the distance trying to work something out. This is probably because that’s how I perpetually am feeling.
How would your best friend describe you?
My best friend would probably describe me as very confused.
What’s been inspiring your work recently?
At the moment I’m sort of being inspired by myself, really… I think I’ve reached a point in life where I feel a bit disconnected from my past and I’m trying to find out who I am. But this is actually quite a good place for me to be in at the moment as it means that I can take a step back from it all and actually see things for what they are. It’s a bit like I’m up in the attic of my brain searching through the boxes looking at all of the things I’ve stored there over the years. I’m finding things and analyzing them. Like, for example there’s been a character in my head I’ve obsessed with for years who has a mussel for a head, he is a mussel from space who has taken over a humans head.
Haha ok I’ll try…
So as I mentioned earlier I have recently been exploring the idea of male masculinity as it is something that I have never really felt comfortable with growing up. Anyway, so this image is two men trying to show plutonic compassion for each other whilst expressing their feelings. But basically their perception of themselves as men won’t let them do this – the long noses represent the lies that I feel I was told as a child about what it meant to be a man and how it’s all a load of bullshit, really. I think this stops a lot of men from expressing their true feelings and emotions. The fat stomachs represent again the ideas of masculinity which made me think that men were greedy, fat and drank too much beer. It sounds crazy to say it but that was actually my perception of men and myself. Anyway, all of these things to me really contribute to the problem that I think a lot of men have, which is finding it really hard to show their true feelings and express themselves freely…
I chose to use Austrian mountain men as I wanted to show a setting where you would expect very traditional values to be taking place. I suppose I could have drawn them as cowboys or lumberjacks but I actually wanted to choose these guys because I imagined that they had just finished a lovely session of yodelling and I always expect Austrian mountain men to be really friendly. Plus, I’d like to hang out with them.
We read somewhere that you used to work on film sets, how did you come to illustration?
Yes I used to work on film sets at a time when I thought that I wanted to work in the art department or as a prop maker because I loved making things and painting. But I soon realized that I really didn’t like working in the film industry, as it didn’t feel like enough of a creative environment for me. I don’t really like working around lots of people but it was cool sometimes spending the day surrounded by a film set. It’s like being in a different world.
I actually studied creative advertising at university which was a big mistake but I also was never encouraged to carry out a fine art carrier like I wanted. So I ended up choosing the wrong thing. I always carried on making my own work since I was a teenager though, so when I finished university I threw all my advertising pieces in the bin and started to create my own work again.
I really just chose illustration/animation because I had all these ideas that I wanted to create in real life (live action). But they were too expensive to make happen and you always seemed to need other peoples help. That is until one day I realised that I got just as much satisfaction from drawing and animating my ideas and I didn’t need anyone else’s help to do it.
Tell us more about the obsession you used to have with finding Jesus’ face in food when you were younger?
Haha well when I was a kid I just remember there was a big obsession with people finding Jesus’ face in food, especially in toast and crisps. It used to be on the TV and in the newspaper. I grew up a little religious too so I think a part of me actually believed that if I found Jesus’ face in a piece of toast it would be proof that God existed. I’d like to believe in things like god but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
What’s one weird or defining thing that only where you live has?
So this isn’t in London but there is one breakfast place in Yorkshire that I go to with my dad which is kind of like a strange village hall for lorry drivers and tradesmen to go and eat. We have a mug of Tea and a fried spam (Tinned Process gross ham) and egg sandwich which is well English!
What are you streaming right now?
I spend most of my time watching cooking programs. I love an english TV chef called Rick Stein and two guys called the Hairy Bikers. There’s a joke in my studio that I can’t start a piece of work without first watching an episode of the Hairy Bikers.
Also, I love watching videos online of live Nick Cave performances. He’s my favourite.