Monday, June 7, 2010

Carlo Sampietro

While examining the East Village I walked past a gallery that had a number of  plastic newspaper boxes in the front window display. (Except there weren't any newspapers to be seen.) I continued walking and thought, that's weird, then stopped, and went back where I met Carlo, who explained that he had converted the newspaper boxes into things that could be of better use to us, like a dishwasher, a wine cooler, an aquarium, and a miniature green house. Carlo also went about creating in a right brained manner when he fashioned chairs out of Nyc Dots and tables out of police barricades and glass. Do I want to know how he was able to secure these materials? Nope.

Carlo is Carlo Sampietro
Carlo is an Italian from Lake Como
Who periodically resides in the East Village (Nyc)
In 2002 he won the green card lottery -- Which is big luck when you aren't a citizen
Carlo doesn't read or write in any language very well
But the man has taught himself how to speak English, Portuguese, and Spanish by listening to it on the streets
Shall we?

How were you able to make these appliances? Are you also a electrician? "Ah no, you know, you grow up in a village that is like eight hundred people. Where I grew up, this is a huge jump, but you know the people in Cuba? It's the same thing when you grow up in a mountain, or Lake Como, or in a village, everyone has some manual skills.

I'll give you some example...So the father of a friend of mine was an electrician, so I spend like a summer with him. We used to play with engines and things like that...Every summer I was doing something else. Another summer a friend of mine was a carpenter, so I spent a summer building up a house, and throwing down roof, and things like that. So, little by little, no?"

Can you tell me what it was like growing up in Lake Como? "Ah okay so when I was young the third year of the school I didn't do. I was in the hospital for one year and a half." Why? "I get ah leukemia." What? "Leukemia..." Yeah, I know what it is. (Emotions) "So when I get out of that one I don't go out too much without other people because it was still a little bit dangerous. So I spent time with the fathers of friends of mine. The electrician one, another one with the computer, things like that.

Contributed: For the first two years of secondary school I went to a school two miles north from Lake Como, but I punched a priest in the face, I send him to the hospital, so I need to change schools." Okay? "So they send me to Verona. But even there they arrest me one night, and I have to change schools again." Wait, for what? "They arrest me because I drove like ah a bike that was stolen. No, I didn't steal it, it was stolen in 1972, I wasn't even born. But ah they discovered that I was under 18, so they take me to the school with the police car. They were not so happy at the college. (From left to right, the dishwasher, the wine cooler, and green house.)

Then I finished up the last two years in Milan. Then August I started to do assistant work in advertising. August you normally don't work in Italy, but then and there I start. I worked 10 years in Italy, more or less. Every December and January I took off to South America." What were you doing there? "Traveling, I would take the bus and do ten thousand kilometers and see everything that I could."

Of all these places, which is your favorite or favorites? "The three places that I'm always going back are Cuba, ah Kenya, and Brazil...To live?...In Brazil." Really, why? "If you go in a place like this in Brazil (Esperanto) there will probably be live music like this, there is my grandfather that is ninety years old and my kid that is one month old. These family things don't happen so much in other places."

When did you move to New York? "I won the green card in 2003 and moved to Nyc in 2004."

How was your Nyc beginning? "I had a little bit of savings for a couple of things. If things were gonna be bad, I'm gonna end up washing dishes, or something like that.  In the beginning was very good. I did freelance for advertising, they paid me very well.  And then for a period of nine months I didn't work, everything went down. And I took this loft where I am right now in the East Village, very expensive, and I need to go to Puetro Rico like five days to make the rent. So with my holiday to Puerto Rico I paid the rent." I have no idea what you just said. "I need to pay the rent." Okay. "So to pay the rent I was renting my place for five days to a tourist. You know people that come and stay instead of a hotel they stay in an apartment? So I pay the rent. And they pay me to stay in Puerto Rico for a week, and I still have some money left." (A close up of the aquarium.)

Holy chocolate bars, back to art....What prompted you to make these pieces? "Everything with the advertising company was pretty fun until last year in May when it collapsed. So, I went to Israel, Berlin, Italy, London." What were you doing? "Holiday." Traveling? "Yeah, traveling.  All the money goes to traveling. And savings. So then I come back here in May. Everything started because the loft was empty, so I need ideas to come up with furniture things.. That's why I started with the police table, and then I did the wine cooler because I like wine, and then everything came together."

How did the gallery come about? "Everyone was coming to my apartment to see what beautiful things I made. So I say, you know what? I took the artistic one that I don't sell, and I decided to present it to the International Contemporary Art Fair at the Javit Center in May. So, one day before I open the ICFF booth I open the gallery."

Have you always been an artist? "They say in some way I've always been, but I donno. I call myself unemployed, there they call me artist....There was a time in New York when I was tired of saying where I live and things like that. Everyone, they ask, 'What do you do? Where do you live?' It's a typical question. Let me see if they can make some connection. What they have money wise, things like that, no? So I started to say unemployed. And after awhile I would say that, I come up with a better story. So when they asked me about what I was doing, I say to them, I'm a dildo maker. If you say to someone you're a dildo maker, if they're really interested in you, to go deeper and ask more questions, you have to have balls. So that was a good thing.  For a month I did that. It was fun, very fun. It was funny to see the reaction." How could you possibly go around saying you're a dildo maker? "So people don't bother me too much, you know?"

As an artist or an unemployed person do you have an idea that you're trying to put across?  "I don't believe in art by itself, art must be functional for me. That's why I don't go to the Metropolitan for example. For Picasso and things like, yes I see, I understand the time and the work and the meaning of that one, but it's not for me. For me I like to make people see the culture aspect of life. The project that I did about New York is a commentary of New York.....One day I was walking along the Williams bridge with someone, and I ask that person, what do you see? They say, 'a car, I see a bridge.' I don't see that. No-one creates anything, everything has already been created. It's just the interpretation of the new life that you're gonna give to something that's gonna make you think. It must be functional in a way that makes you think,  it's so simple, but how come I didn't think of it?"  (The glass police table.)

Onto the reoccuring theme. What thoughts or words come to mind when you think New York? "What do I think about New York? I think it's really true that if you want to make it, you can make it. But I can see the limits. You can make it successfully as a business man, but it would be very very hard to be successful with a private life. There are too many distractions. There's no family life in New York, there is like a lonely life. There's a work life, there's an artist's life.....But after you live here, it would be hard to live in another city because they offer so much here. There are so many commodities here that it would be very difficult to adapt somewhere else."
Do you like it here? "I love it, but I can't have complete peace. I would like to move and have a base here, and come here two times a year." (The inside of the dishwasher.) 

Any unusual experiences in New York?  "Unusual experiences in New York? Everyone has an unusual experience in New York.. I have a thousand unusual experiences from New York. From the people that you meet, to dates that you have, to how many girlfriends you can have, from how lonely you can be. You can be sick and no-one will bring you anything, you can do a party and you have like fifty people that you don't know. You think that you go out with your girlfriend and you discover that your girlfriend is going out with another two people. Or you have a girlfriend and you go out with other people. The social system in New York City is completely fucked up......But after awhile you live here you consider New York as a village, so you have your reference, and you don't get distracted by other things. Then you're gonna start to be educated. But for the first four years, five years, you're gonna be in a car without a map."  

Are you happy?  "Am I happy? Every single day. Don't you feel it?" A little bit. "A little bit? You know, I haven't worked for one year, and I'm kind of a little more happy then I was when I was working. Work will come, now it's about enjoying the life."

Carlo's last statement: "See the positive side."

Are you lying about any of this? "Yes, all of it."

If you’re looking for a piece of furniture or an appliance that will start up conversations when persons come for a visit, check out Carlo’s website at