Saturno Buttò was born in 1957, May 14th, in Portogruaro (Province of Venice).
Between 1970 and 1980 he moved to Venice to attend first the High School of Art and then the Fine Arts Academy. The High School initiated him into the classical drawing - that will be perfected throughout the years -, whereas the vocational experiences at the Academy were mainly about non-traditional way of expressions. After graduation his artistic personality was already strong, but he did not single out his own original style yet. So he decided to segregate himself in his studio to start an elaboration that would lead soon to a kind of unique painting, owing nothing to any past or contemporary artist, and being immediately recognizable in the current international outline as well. Since 1983 he has been owner of a
studio - gallery located in a byroad of Bibione, a seaside resort in the province of Venice; that place is conceived as almost unnoticed to the passengers: this choice reflects the artist’s lone temperament and discretion. Could these two qualities make us think, as the ancient used to say, that a man’s name can actually affect his nature? Nomen est omen? For sure we know that his name is the reference of the peculiar ideographs that stand as his signature on the works: indeed they are personal variations of the symbol that represents planet Saturn in the septenarius.
A man must dream a long time in order to act with grandeur, and dreaming is nursed in darkness." - Jean Genet, "The Miracle of the Rose"
"Your paintings contain several references to the world of medicine: medical tools such as syringes, forceps, needles are not only employed as an adornment of the body, but also suggest a deeper connection to the sphere of the sacred. What is the connection between your work and the world of medicine? When did start including a medical imagery in your work, and why?
I am simply fascinated by the feeling of unease that the medical/surgical universe is capable of evoking in me. I am both repelled and attracted by these, they affect me strongly, and I try to represent this with my work, in my paintings. Also, the decorative aspect remains a very important element, and the medical tools I include in my paintings definitely work very well in that respect. Since the nineties I started including in my paintings objects like enema pumps, vaginal douches, dental tools, collars and iron constrictions of various kind employing them as ornamental components. I think there is a subtle pleasure in mixing metal and flesh, as I both hear the echoes of long lost times, while on the other hand I feel the need to emphasize the function of the body in order for it to overcome death.
Your work seems to be connected to the sphere of mysticism, to Christianity and to an imagery somehow related to suffering, with frequent references to martyrdom and crucifixion: what is it that makes you so interested in the wounded body, in the pain of the flesh and, in general, in an imagery relating to suffering?
I am not interested in pain per se, but rather I am fascinated by the evocative force it assumes within the boundaries of popular culture. The iconographic imagery characterizing Western Catholic culture offers plenty of examples of images related to pain and suffering. This nearly appears as a compulsory step in a path towards catharsis, as for saints and martyrs; and similarly, some of the erotic/sexual rituals involving pain introduce in my opinion a movement towards the ubersinnlich (a form of pleasure overcoming mere sexuality), which is nothing but a mystic/ecstatic dimension.The images you portray in your paintings appear to me to live suspended in time. Inside of your works, one finds element somehow contemporary alongside a very classical composition of the image. Who are your main influences in terms of style? Do you think you could mention any contemporary artist whose work you find stimulating and, to an extent, inspiring or do you think your influences (if these are somehow identificable) should be sought in previous epoques?
I have never really been inspired by a single artist during the course of my career, but at the same time I have always looked at the whole history of art for inspiration, without considering only the medium of painting. The main reason to do this was, on the one side, to be as personal as possible in developing my own pictorial style, make the best use of the precious heritage art has left us throughout the centuries. I wish for my paintings to be completely contemporary, and therefore devoid of citations or anachronistic references, and I am hoping to achieve this.
Obviously, there are several personalities whose work I follow with interest, but that I wouldn't consider 'inspirational' to my own work. If I really have to mention names then I will say Joel Peter Witkin and Andres Serrano, or Francis Bacon as far as painting is concerned.Several contemporary artists, although each one in a peculiar (when not opposite) way, employ quotations of elements coming from the medical universe resembling the ones you make use of; indeed, with increasing frequence, I find the names of these artists associated directly to yours in interviews and articles, as if you were all part of a well-defined and identifiable artistic movement. I am referring, for example, to people such as Romain Slocombe, Trevor Brown, Helnwein, and other; I would now like to ask you how it feels for an artist to be compared to others: do you find it stimulating or limiting? Do you think it makes sense to put your name next to some of those I mentioned above or do you think all the references to 'medical art' or 'medical fetishism' are redundant and, at the end of the day, lacking a real purpose?
I don't consider myself a painter who can be linked to any artistic movement, and even less if the movement we are talking about is one related to 'medical art' or 'medical fetishism'. However, it doesn't bother me when I am mentioned in relation to other artists, as most times there must be a reason for this comparison in the end. However I also think these comparisons are only partially true, at the end of the day what I do is creating portraits and this is the only real common element linking together each work of mine, so that both the medical references, the fetish ones, the inclusion of surgical tools are nothing but elements capable of defining only temporarily what I am doing. And my focus on portraits is precisely what distinguishes my work from illustration.
It's impossible to overlook the several references to the world of S/M which populate your paintings. If the body is the absolute protagonist of your paintings, what role does sex recover in them instead?
Nowadays, S/M iconography has acquired a value that goes well beyond a mere erotic or sexual component, as many S/M accessories have become part of contemporary culture. Personally I make use of them because I find them to be the perfect complimentary element to the representation of the human body, as they actually underline its beauty and its relation to the contemporary world. Sexuality, religion and death are recurring thoughts (and I would say 'obsessive' thoughts) and the greatest mysteries characterizing our existence. And as Camille Paglia used to say: "Art is contemplation and conceptualization, the ritual exhibitionism of primal mysteries".
Many paintings of yours have visceral or grotesque images as their subjects. Do you think you are particularly fascinated by what is excessive, deformed or by the monstruous? Do you look for any particular physical feature in those who model for you?
I always liked excess. But I am not interested in the monstrous or the grotesque at any cost. The subjects of my works, of course, may appear grotesque at times, especially in relation to male models, but this is nothing but the result of me not being particularly keen on any 'ideal beauty' of sort, and what interests me the most in humans is, with a few exceptions, their psychological character.
The biography of yours available on your own website mentions some attempts you made at working through mediums other than painting. Would you like to discuss this briefly? Are these to be considered merely a thing of the past? Do you think that at this stage of your career painting represents a 'medium of choice' for you, or do you still think there is room for you to express yourself and experiemnt by means of different media?
When I was a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti I never painted. During those years I was more interested in photography, cinema, in conceptual art when mixed with body-art and land-art. I was convinced that, in order to create art, it was necessary to employ the most current media available; I was also really fascinated by the above artistic movements, and by some of the personalities involved in them, like Gina Pane. All these are experiences of the past, but essential ones in terms of the development of my career, just as much as for drawing during high school. Right now, painting absorbs my time completely, sometimes it is draining but I still manage to enjoy myself when I paint. I don't rule out the possibility of experimenting with different techniques or media in the future, digital photography in particular is tempting. "
Saturno Buttó Interviewed by Albert Hofer for Channel 83 here