For a website encouraging interdisciplinary discussion, the array of inspirations channeled by artist Iker Spozio position him as an exemplarily interviewee. Growing up, he would draw as his father read him passages of The Odyssey. Reflecting on these memories, Spozio's collection of surreal illustrations (also titled The Odyssey) poignantly balances themes of the epic and the personal. Energised by an adoration for Master and Margarita, Spozio also produced a series of engraved panels corresponding to the first fifteen chapters of the book, with the collection exhibiting at the Bulgakov museum in Moscow. Most recently, he has designed album sleeves and concert posters for musicians and labels including Colleen, Dirty Projectors, Fat Cat Records and Leaf Label.
Across his diverse portfolio, Spozio expertly reinterprets tonal and structural conceits within a visual framework, whilst maintaining and developing a unique and vibrant aesthetic. The Italian artist side steps digital composition in favour of traditional techniques such as collage, watercolour, engraving and illustration. As a result, his work achieves a timeless feel whilst paradoxically retaining traces of the contemporary.
We were thrilled to talk with Iker about his recommendation, the twentieth century Italian writer Tommaso Landolfi.
When did you first come across Landolfi's work?
I discovered Tommaso Landolfi thanks to a comic book version of one of his short stories, "Il mar delle blatte" by Filippo Scozzari, which appeared in the pages of legendary Italian underground magazine Frigidaire. Mind you, I didn't particularly like the comic book, but I was intrigued by the story, which was outrageously strange. I learnt, then, that Landolfi's family legally threatened both Frigidaire and Scozzari because they felt that the graphic version betrayed the writer's original work, so my curiosity grew even more. I decided to check out Landolfi's version myself, adored "Il mar delle blatte" and completely fell in love with all of his other books.
From the short stories I've read, his style seems completely distinct. What makes his writing so special for you?
First of all, I love the fact Landolfi always put a lot of himself into his work. Even when his stories aren't autobiographical, one gets the feeling of his presence. He isn't the kind of author who goes for blank and impersonal writing; his essence, including all his numerous idiosyncrasies, always shines through the pages of his books. It's mostly a dark light that shines, though: Landolfi was a solitary man, haunted by a sense of doom, death and decay. But that feeling is always tempered by humour and a playfulness with words which are absolutely exquisite. Landolfi was obsessed with games of chance: he played with words as much as he did in his everyday life at the roulette table!
Talking of roulette, I must add that Landolfi was a great Slavist and translated several classic Russian writers who were also passionate about games. I think that the influence of the likes of Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and especially Gogol is clearly noticeable in Landolfi's work.
Why isn’t his work more widely discussed?
There's a decent amount of critical studies on Landolfi's work in Italy. Nothing comparable, though, to the attention received by Calvino or Buzzati; two writers that are not so distant from Landolfi both in spirit and style, but who are much more renowed both in Italy and worldwide. I guess that Landolfi is more demanding to the public than the aformentioned writers; his prose is more complex, and the fact he often used refined and disused words may put off the casual reader and make the translator's work pretty tough.
Also, usually a writer specialized in short stories is less well-considered than an author of novels. Even Chekhov, a master of short stories, owed his initial fame to his theatrical pieces and the rest of his work was overlooked.
In any case, I must point out the wonderful work publisher Adelphi is currently doing in Italy, putting out Landolfi's entire oeuvre, including his crtitical essays and his diaries.
How did you go about visualising his work for your monotype series?
My idea was to translate into images the essence and, especially, the mystery of Landolfi's writing. In order to do that I consciously avoided a figurative approach, which I felt would hold little interest. I think, or at least I hope, that a devoted reader of Landolfi will recognize in my illustrations some elements existing in the short stories I took inspiration from.
In composing the artwork I also turned to mathematics and aleatory combination, since Landolfi himself speculated a lot on the concepts of chance and probability.
Finally, which specific works would you recommend?
I can definitely suggest personal favorites. Please keep in mind that Landolfi mostly wrote short stories and poetry (which, as far as I know, is still unpublished in English).
'La moglie di Gogol' ('Gogol's Wife') tells a (completely fictional) secret in Gogol's life: he built himself a sort of robot wife in order to fulfill his emotional and sexual needs.
'll racconto del lupo mannaro' ('The werewolf's tale') is a surreal and lyrical story which tells how two friends steal the moon from the sky.
'Le due zittelle' ('Two old maids') one of Landolfi's most famous -and longest- stories. Two old maids live with a pet monkey which runs away from his cage every night and gradually becomes a threat to the bigoted and hypocritical life the two old maids lead.
'Lettere dalla provincia' ('Letters from the province') is based on a series of letters from an aristocratic young woman who leaves the capital and retreats into a small town, in order to find peace and restore her strained nerves. She slowly discovers, though, that, with the change of seasons, gradually everyone there goes into hibernation.
'Cancroregina' ('Cancerqueen') is kind of a philosophical tale told as a science fiction story. It starts in a descriptive vein, almost mimicking a gothic tale in the style of Poe or Mary Shelley, but finally bursts into a frantic and delirious surrealistic nightmare.