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Paolo Pedroni pop surrealism and tattoos with a dark twist

By Marco Cresci
6 min read

Paolo Pedroni is one of the spokesmen of Italian Pop Realism, a style which very popular abroad thanks to famous painters such as Mark Ryden, Ray Caesar and Robert Williams. Are you familiar with that hyper-colored fairy tale looking kind of world that actually hides something disturbing? Lewis Carroll may have been the founder of this genre, and was then followed by director Tim Burton and writer Neil Gaiman, just to name a few. In addition to painting, Paolo is also a tattoo artist who has developed his own technique. He puts aside the technicolor world of his paintings and draws only with a dashed black, so much so that they look like pencil-made. We interviewed him:

You are a painter and a tattoo artist which of the two passions was born first?

Paolo Pedroni: «My true passion is drawing. I have had pencils and sheets around me since I was a child. As I grew up, drawing became painting and only three years ago I started tattooing».

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Funny Girls

Is it true that if you have talent you can draw with any tool? Because painting on canvas and tattooing are two very different things…

Paolo Pedroni: «Absolutely. I learned to paint at Art School, one of the subjects was oil painting, but I used that technique again after several years. I had to learn it again a bit but I had the basics and it wasn’t difficult. As far as tattooing is concerned, it’s safe to say that it is a unique technique. There’s a huge quantity of variables compared to painting on canvas. The skin is alive and everyone has their own, and the same body may have different types of skin. It was quite difficult to learn how to tattoo, but then I found my technique. I basically work without lines, I just do shading and refer to what could be a pencil hatching, but I translate it with the tattoo machine».

Do you feel responsible for your work when tattooing?

Paolo Pedroni: «Performance anxiety! You experience it a lot at the beginning, at the end of the first tattoos I was drenched in sweat. But I’m anxious about improving, I want to surpass myself each time».

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Your paintings are typical of pop-surrealism, they are hyper-colored but there’s something dark about them, while your tattoos are strictly black and white, is it a way to keep these two arts separate?

Paolo Pedroni: «Tattooing and painting are two completely different ways of expression. As far as tattooing is concerned, the more I gained experience the more comfortable I became in expressing myself only with black and white. Ass I told you, my style is reminiscent of pencil drawing which I like very much and which I can’t put in paintings. In my paintings I need to create atmosphere, a painting changes completely if you use warm or cold tones. To express a concept by means of painting I need to a color palette, while tattooing is more essential».

What inspires these paintings that always have a dark twist? I’m referring to your latest works such as the “Sick Wishes” series which represents teddy bears with many or just one eye, so something lovely but creepy-looking. It’s almost as if you felt the need to hide something behind the appearance, is that right?

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Paolo Pedroni: «Let’s just say that I’ve always felt divided in terms of artistic expression. When I was younger and inexperienced I would either draw something super cheerful, very graceful and comforting, or I would draw something creepy, and super gore and I didn’t know how to combine those two aspects of myself. A world opened up to me when I discovered pop surrealism, I said to myself, here I can do both, it was like having an epiphany and I united the two spheres that made up my world».

Who is the artist of pop surrealism that has influenced you the most?

Paolo Pedroni: «Definitely Mark Ryden».

Your paintings are populated by hyper-colored but melancholic female creatures with a vacant look, why?

Paolo Pedroni: «First of all because female figures are more graceful and interesting than male ones, so it’s an aesthetic choice. As for the lost and sad look, I think it is the result of my subconscious. I’ll tell you an anecdote. I was about to prepare the sketches for my last exhibition “Full of Emptiness“, which was held last year in Rome, and I sent the draft of the largest painting (that gave the title to the exhibition) to the gallery owner. It has as its subjects a man and a woman and she told me: “I like everything but I would make the characters a little more cheerful“.

Paolo Pedroni
Full of Emptiness

But I had already changed the expression many times and the one you see in the painting is the most cheerful one I could represent. I don’t do it on purpose, it’s my natural trait, a bit like when you are told: “you never smile in photos”».

Your paintings are so precise and real that a distracted eye might think they are computer-made, but they are actually paintings, how long does it take you to make one?

Paolo Pedroni: «It depends, since we have just mentioned it, it took me a year to create Full of Emptyness which is 60×70. That’s because I get lost in details, I can’t just do sketches, if I start something I have to define it, and I think it is precisely for this reason that my painting may seem like you said computer-made, because it is meticulously detailed. But it can also be because before taking up oil painting again I had begun to develop these ideas digitally».

What inspires your paintings the most?

Paolo Pedroni: «Sometimes a stupid thing like a color palette is enough to make me think and lead me to the realization of the painting, other times this process is a little less instinctive and I can see the concept while I’m working on it, then there’s a spark and I build the whole world. The last series we mentioned before is inspired by social media fiction, I disguised it in a cute and colorful kawaii style but that’s the concept behind it».

Paolo Pedroni
Sick Wishes

Are you working on something new?

Paolo Pedroni: «Not at the moment, but I’m waiting for my gallery owner to confirm my participation in a collective exhibition of Italian artists that will take place next year in Tokyo. On that occasion I will make new works even if I think I will explore the style of “Full of Emptyness” further».

Is your art inspired by journeys you’ve made in your life?

Paolo Pedroni: «I don’t think so, it’s more inspired by future destinations. I grew up with Japanese Anime, I’ve always been fascinated by that kind of imagery and aesthetics and their folklore».

What music do you listen to while working?

Paolo Pedroni: «If I have to paint I have to put a pleasant background music that does not distract me, nothing demanding. When I tattoo in the studio I don’t decide, music ranges from death metal to 90s hip hop».

Paolo Pedroni

Can you tell us where you work?

Paolo Pedroni: «I work for is the Dorothy Circus Gallery which is based in Rome and London. While as far as tattoos are concerned, I work in Brescia in the Memorink Tattoo Studio».

6 min read


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