Between the sacred and the profane - Pax Vaira interview

Pax Vaira, sculptor
© paxvaira.com
I met Pax (Pasquale) Vaira in London’s Soho a few months ago in a rather noisy and lively evening opening for another art exhibition, where we were able to discuss some of his artwork. The spark of curiosity in his eyes, his intelligence and playful personality made it a delight to have a conversation with him at any level and learn about his work.

Pax is a re-invented artist, starting from his name Pax from the Latin word for Peace, which he has found to be a more beautiful name and much more representative of his personality than Pasquale.

Pax lived for many years in London where he had a successful career working for one of the most prestigious law firms in the City, something you can instantly tell from his smart and cohesive way of addressing any question. At some point few a years ago, he decided to leave everything behind and dedicate his life to his true passion and purpose, being a full time artist, a brave decision to follow his destiny which led him to a new phase in his life and to the creation of extraordinary sculptures in prolific series, using an unusual variety of stones, following themes often related to the exploration of human nature, and the relationship between humans and nature. Pax artworks convey a connection with the timeless through the use of stones, raw and hard materials, which are sensually crafted to deliver exquisite pieces that stimulate the fantasy and the senses of the viewers.

His art career is at full speed now and Pax has participated in over a dozen of successful exhibitions in London and Italy over the last three years. We learn more about this unique artist and his work in this interview.

You come from a legal professional background which seems very far away from the artistic world, how did you become an artist?

Wassily Kandinsky, pioneer of abstract art, was a lawyer who turned artist. Art has been unstoppable for me ever since I discovered my love for marble, like a stream that turned into a mighty river and I could not go against this current. It took quite a few years and lots of resources and courage to leave a comfortable job in the City of London, but after a few good exhibitions and sales, I was ready to live my life as an artist.

Having lived in different cities and countries, where do you think your main artistic influences come from?

Classical education is heavy in my CV and I was a museum guide (Brera Museum, Milan) during my university years, but you have to look deep in what I do to find classical traces. I aim for the balance between the matter and the shape, symbols that have ancient meanings or new ones, communication across time and space where memory opens possible connections and evolution. I have worked with the master artisans in places like India, Vietnam, Italy and Canada and those experiences also resonate through my work.

Have you found that choosing sculpture as your main medium is an added difficulty versus painting for instance, where materials are much more widely available?

Stone sculpture is the Cinderella of the Arts today, it is the heaviest and hardest artwork and it’s little understood. To give you an example, I had a nice studio in Elephant and Castle from 2009 to 2011 and I had to leave it because the ceramist next door made a big fuss about my noise and dust. Everything I do requires careful planning and movement, it’s quite dangerous actually, but it’s all worthwhile because when the dialogue with the material begins I feel complete.

Many of our readers may not know about Pietrasanta, why did you choose to live there instead of London?

Pietrasanta is an art town in Tuscany where many sculptors live and work. It’s arguably the European capital for stone carving and metal casting. Botero can still be seen strolling around and Mitoraj was buried there the year I moved in. It was the best place to work comfortably, to access materials and knowledge. However, as it often happens, tourism is booming and artists are moving out, including me.

The sacred and profane are a theme for some of your sculptures and I suppose being Italian this is almost unavoidable, what role does religion play in your artworks?

Religion is actually not that relevant, but I am curious of all spiritual traditions, the many ways in which different cultures answer to similar instincts. With the exhibition ‘Sacred and Profane’, I am showing nuggets of spiritual knowledge from different cultures, just enough to make one curious. I believe true evolution is through knowledge even though violence and fear are so much easier to embrace.

In opposition to the religious element, is sexuality also an important source of inspiration?

Sexuality is still a taboo! I had a teacher telling me they could not bring their students to my exhibition because of a bronze phallus on show. It’s 2019 and we still are afraid of our body. Every culture has its profane, like, or maybe because, it has its sacred, and the profane statues I placed next to the sacred ones are symbols whose meaning has changed over time, which really means that the profane is relative and the malicious look is in the eye of the beholder.

Performing ‘live sculpture’ in stone is a very original and difficult art manifestation. How do you manage to set up these performances and what is the audience reaction?

Safety comes first in these performances. Most people have never seen a chisel in their life and to show them the ways of Michelangelo is always a thrilling experience for all. I mix it with live music, so I work to the rhythm, or I write on a slab messages from the audience which I call ‘Messages to the Future’ and we then leave it somewhere for future generations to discover. I am, together with the audience, making conscious archeology, trying to pass on advices, because one thing is certain: stone will pass the test of time.

What are your favourite stone materials to work with and why?

I work with a different stone almost every time I make a statue and I have made statues with a number of stones not normally used for this purpose. So far some stones have spoken to me more than others: Indian soapstone, opal from Zimbabwe, pink quartz and onyx. Stones are the bones of the planet, their beauty, their messages and their presence are a reminder of our duty to care for this planet, and so I work each piece as if it were the last one, I remove as little as I can and recycle my waste. Usually I work directly, without models or drawings, letting the stone inspire me and guide me.

Sculpture offers the opportunity to create a complex interaction with the audience via the surrounding light and space, the distance and the texture. How do you play with those elements in your work?

Most of my statues are small in size but monumental in vision and so the use of space and light is essential to give each piece its resonance, to allow every person to have an intimate interaction with the single piece as well as with the ensemble. As much as I enjoy playing with the movement of the chiaroscuro, lately I focused more on the experience of touch in my exhibition because so many told me they want to touch.

After using very expensive materials in previous collections, why did you decide to create your eco collection which somehow goes in the opposite direction?

Eco art is about the fun of recycling and the beauty of nature mixed with painting and sculpture. This is where I can experiment and connect with different materials. It is a form of art that was always with me, ever since I discovered I could turn a cable into a snake. I kept somewhat quiet about it because, well, it seems so poor next to precious stones but the time is ripe.

What projects are you working on at the moment and what do you plan for the future?

The pipeline is quite busy now, with ongoing collaboration with a gallery in Pietrasanta, IntrecciArte, a new cooperation with a Paris gallery in autumn and a solo show in the museum of Foggia, Apulia, in winter. These experiences are still based mostly on old work while I have been developing a whole new style and message, experimenting ever more as I evolve in this queer artistic life.

To find out more about the artist’s work, please visit paxvaira.com

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