(Editor’s Note: Augusto Di Stefano was the very first artist that NeoAztlán interviewed. The interview first appeared here in 2007)
By Kate Green
San Antonio-based Augusto Di Stefano uses deliberate marks on canvas and paper to create images that express emotional and physical boundaries. Each painting is sprayed with moody shades of ochre or black before the strategic application of thick impasto marks. The effect suggests, but does not create, untethered, isolated place. His drawings are similarly minimal and haunting. In them one impossibly small pencil stroke builds upon the next to form architectural fragments floating, alone, in fields of white.
Kate Green: Was there an event or person seminal to your becoming an artist?
Augusto Di Stefano: I don’t know if there is any one person or event that I can point to. When I was young, my father was really into music, mostly West Coast and Latin Jazz. He took it very seriously and his critiques could be pretty abrasive. He was my first introduction to thinking critically about music and other things.
Growing up in New York City was a rich experience. Just as formative was the difficult transition from there to a small town north of San Antonio at eleven years old. I had trouble sleeping for the first year and half. It was not until much later that I realized that it was the silence that was keeping me awake.
KG: Do you approach painting and drawing equally?
AD: Yes, both are equally important for my work. A few years ago I started focusing more on drawing to see where it would go. It is interesting to see how works can start to cross breed paintings deal with drawing issues, drawings depict sculptural models, etc.
KG: Can you discuss the increased narrative impulse in your otherwise minimal work, such as the appearance of a pipe and tree?
AD: A number of my recent drawings have depicted buildings, storage facilities, empty shelving, and borders in anonymous settings. There is a dialogue between the structures and their space, and, if there is more than one building, a dialogue between them. In “housing (model one)” (2006) I added a pipe and tree to the roof of a large building to introduce some notion of reality to an otherwise bleak landscape. With this work I paired the fantastic with the plausible to address some of the problems associated with reality or fact and to deal with the function of memory and experience.
KG: Can you talk about where the tree and pipe come from?
AD: It is common in urban landscapes to see pipes, air conditioner units, and other mechanical equipment on the tops of buildings. A tree coming through the roof may be more unusual. When I was very young, my grandmother was given a small tree which she kept in her apartment, the top-floor of a walk-up on Mott Street in NYC. Each time we visited the tree was taller. Eventually it touched the ceiling. My grandmother wanted to cut a hole in the ceiling to allow the tree to grow. My grandfather and my parents tried to discourage her. She was insistent, even asking the building’s maintenance man to do it and he agreed. Ultimately, a hole was not cut and I do not know what became of the tree.
The pipe is just a pipe. It lends credibility to the landscape of an urban rooftop.
KG: Do you observe people’s reaction to your work?
AD: Sometimes I do, yes. Most of the time I would rather just get back to work. I remember once seeing a small boy coming around a corner, finding a large painting of mine in sight, and suddenly, all of him running towards the painting. I was transfixed. His guardian with longer legs caught up with him.
KG: What artworks do you react to?
AD: A piece that comes to mind is The Temptation of Christ on a Mountain by Duccio di Buoninsegna at The Frick Collection in New York. Jackson Pollock’s Number 1A at the Museum of Modern Art. Marcel Duchamp’s Box in a Valise is something I go back to. I respond to drawings by self-taught artist Martín Ramírez. Also, Michelangelo Antonionia’s film La Avventura. All of these works are rich. They operate on numerous levels and continue to hold my interest.
KG: What exhibitions have you recently enjoyed or reacted strongly against?
AD: I was in Los Angeles recently and saw work by Martin Kippenberger, John McCracken, Mariko Mori, and a number of other artists that live and work in the LA area. I also saw some interesting Japanese ink scrolls. This was the first time I saw these artists’ works in person, and it was a good opportunity to look at them directly. Also, a few months ago in San Antonio, I had a chance to see musicians Tetuzi Akiyama and Alan Licht performing live. It was a unique experience and a very good performance.
KG: What is on the horizon?
AD: I hope to travel more in the next few years, perhaps Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In regards to my work, about a year ago I worked with a printmaker to produce a color digital image. Later I added to the piece by drawing with graphite on the paper. I am excited at the prospect of exploring this and other methods for making work.