TLO Member Interview: Andrea Bonazzi
Another new friend, at least for me, is tonight's gracious subject. A fellow of several enviable talents, Andrea has been kind enough to share part of his story, viewpoints, and ideas with us for this interview.
I can say I have only spoken to Andrea a few times, and much of the contents of this interview was revelatory to me. Nonetheless, I can tell from the few times I have associated with him in Chat that he is a polite and nice person, and I do enjoy the time spent speaking to him.
Continue on, then: there are some truly interesting facets here that may dazzle your eyes.
1. Obviously, you are an admirer of Thomas Ligotti’s works. So, how did you first come across his writing?
Until to the last year, TL was almost an unknown here in Italy. Few knew of him through Current 93’s music, and even fewer by reading in the English language. I was finding his name everywhere while reading about weird fiction in the 1990s, when he was already a leading figure in this branch of literature, and I was patiently waiting for some Italian translation… but nothing appeared.
Already I said, somewhere, that there is a strong aversion to anything that is “not realistic” in Italian culture: “horror books” are still viewed as mere popular entertainment, and only novels are usually considered for publication. Collections of short stories are quite rare, save for bestsellers like King’s, Barker’s or Lovecraft’s, or anthologies by various hands (preferably out of copyright). So, there were very few hopes of seeing an entire volume of Ligotti in Italy, and even now the only book published, I canti di un sognatore morto, is not distributed in bookstores.
Then I came eventually across some translations: “Alice’s Last Adventure” in Prime Evil (the first Italian Ligotti, in 1990) and only six other stories anthologized throughout the decade. I was very intrigued, and I wanted to read more of them… but I had a poor basic knowledge of English and no credit cards to purchase books from abroad, nor local bookstores supplied with foreign editions like those.
Well, it is probably also due to Thomas Ligotti if I have finally begun to read with regularity both literature and essays in the original language. I began in this century, and now I read more English than Italian stuff.
At first I read the Cold Spring Press’ edition of The Shadow at the Bottom of the World, and I was definitively conquered by Ligottian visions and thematics, and by the best prose that I found in weird fiction since Clark Ashton Smith’s. No translation can render it properly, even if I tried myself, as a fan, with a version of “Mrs. Rinaldi’s Angel” (published a year ago in the same magazine with my short essay on TL, the only merit of which is to be, till now, the only Italian essay about the author).
2. How long have you been a fan of weird fiction? Also, how were you first introduced to this genre?
I was not a strong reader in my childhood, but I loved science fiction because of my father, and heroic fantasy too when my older brother brought home Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I began to form my definite tastes at about fourteen or fifteen when, perhaps through the SF of Ray Bradbury, I started to read Edgar Allan Poe. From Poe, I discovered H.P. Lovecraft.
With them, I found the literary genre best suited to my mood and my world view. In those years I began to fall in a state of depression that neither I nor my family, at the time, had the capacity to recognize as such, and then to cure as a real disease. The cosmic pessimism of HPL, somewhat similar to Giacomo Leopardi’s own view but totally focused on the fantastic, and finally out from any anthropocentrism… The perception of the maddest weirdness beyond the veil of reality… The sense of futility of all the human things… All of this appealed to my spirit, and still I find in weird fiction’s ideas and speculations the same relief to the condemnation of life that others can find in philosophy.
HPL became an interest intended to last lifelong. From his works, letters and essays I know C.A. Smith, and then had an entire library of marvels and nightmares to discover.
3. If you were to choose, which Ligotti story is your absolute favorite, and why?
I cannot isolate a single title from the powerful effects of Ligotti’s entire corpus of works… I’ll may remember at first “Vastarien,” “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World,” “The Tsalal,” “The Bungalow House”… but all the other stories would cry out vengeance for their unjust exclusion. Nevertheless, I can indicate “The Last Feast of Harlequin” (it was published in Italy in 1992) as my very first “imprinting” to his narrative. To read this tale for the first time was my real discovery of his genius. I found in it a direct link between the best Lovecraft’s tradition and the new more intimate, nihilistic, philosophical and really original vein of Thomas Ligotti. Perhaps it’s not his very best story, but I am fond of it because of this happy, personal discovery.
4. Ligotti aside, what are some of your other favorite authors in this genre?
Can I make dozens and dozens of names?!...
HPL, C.A. Smith, Poe, Blackwood, Machen, M.R. James, W.H. Hodgson, Dunsany, Bierce, Jean Ray, Shirley Jackson, Fritz Leiber, T.E.D. Klein, Ramsey Campbell, D. Wandrei, Robert Aickman, Le Fanu, Fitz James O’Brien, Gustav Meyrink, H.H. Ewers, some of R.W. Chambers and Walter de la Mare, the old Weird Tales’ stuff (even the worst!)… and a lot of others, including gothic novels and old and modern ghost stories. I have read or reread many of them in English during the last years.
I’m aware that there are many and more recent or contemporary authors, still unknown in Italy, who I have yet to read. I’ve a lot of lost ground to recover.
5. And which stories most influenced you? At a young age (dependent on your answer to question two), and as your tastes changed with age?
I can remember The Martian Chronicles, and some other stories from Bradbury’s collections, as an early influence toward all the nuances of modern “fantastic” (maybe “fantasy” is the right – or most common – English term, but I find it not too appropriate to indicate all the currents of non-realistic literature, in which fantasy is only one of the aspects). Under the cover of Bradbury’s science fiction, I found fantasy, sense of wonder, weird horror… and the addresses to visit Mr. Poe & Mr. Lovecraft at their own old New England’s homes.
My first HPL’s tales had however the strongest impact on my tastes and views: “The Music of Erich Zann” is still one of my favourites. And “The Call of Cthulhu”.
My literary tastes are a little expanded but, since then, unchanged. (Ok… someone might say that even my mental age is still arrested at fourteen.)
6. Are there are any movies/TV programs that have significance for you?
2001: A Space Odyssey is the movie of my life. I saw it with my father when I was, maybe, six or seven years old, in a gorgeous cinemascope and in an almost empty and impressive opera theater… It was like a psychedelic trip in the realms of cosmic vastness, straight in my head through my own eyes, totally immersed in the Sense of Wonder.
Now, I like very much all the movies of John Carpenter and Guillermo Del Toro, some Andrej Tarkovskij (Solaris, Stalker) and Werner Herzog, and too many others to make a list. I love old silent fantastic movies from Méličs to German expressionism, and the horror/SF cinema from the Universal classic monsters to the b-movies till the 70s… the Hammer’s stuff, Corman, Mario Bava…
As a child, I was fond of British TV series like Gerry Anderson’s UFO, and so on until the last Space:1999. I was also really fascinated by The Prisoner, even if I can’t understand all of its implications, not till to review it a few years later. But that threatening, floating white ball… wow!
I no longer have maintained close interest for TV: I liked the supernatural and mystery episodes of X-Files, but I was rather bored by their “alien conspiracy” plot.
Now, I can see the televisor, but I cannot bear more of television. I preferably don’t switch it: the blank screen is today the best and most enjoyable stuff to see in all the Italian TV.
7. Okay, departing from this genre, what else do you like to read? Favorite literary piece from other genres, and why is it so?
I’m a monomaniac. Almost ever I read has something to do with fantastic themes in arts and literature (well, perhaps not the Yellow Pages, or the “warnings and contraindications” of the medicines. But I somehow doubt even on the realism of these).
Quoting Borges from one of his stories, “metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature.” So, religion, mythology end even the history of occultism and magic are among my interests as a reader. Also I love epic literature of all the ages, and medieval literature; the Celtic and Arthurian cycles; the “Matičre de Bretagne” and the late romances of chivalry. Probably, I have entered into this “Selva Oscura” in search of the first origins of heroic fantasy, and I have lost myself inside of it, with the author of Beowulf as my Virgil between the shades of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory, Ludovico Ariosto and Cervantes.
For all the rest, my bookshelves are filled by classics, SF, fantasy, artbooks, and a lot of essays. A brief list of my preferences could include Bruno Schulz (a recent discovery), Dino Buzzati, J.L. Borges, Italo Calvino, Mike Moorcock, Mervyn Peake, P.K. Dick, R.E. Howard, K.E. Wagner, Tolkien, Emilio Salgari…
8. And aside from reading, what sort of activities do you enjoy?
Interests for art, illustration and sculpture are among those recreational activities: I’ve no hopes, nor ambitions, to make more than a few cents from them.
In the last years I began to write some articles and essays on my favorite (or monomaniacal) literary themes. Even without a perfect knowledge of English (but I have a certain presumption to know at least enough Italian), I tried to do some translation. To render into Italian the weird poetry of Smith, Wandrei or Park Barnitz, is a challenge no less exciting and rewarding than to do extreme sports like free climbing. I’m not inclined to sports, and a failure in translation would be far preferable, and much less traumatic, than one in any although healthy sport activity. Better climb on my computer keyboard.
9. Do you have a personal philosophy, an outlook on life, as it were?
I was a “cosmic pessimist” at fourteen, and still I’m a pessimist at forty. Maybe a little more disillusioned, and a lot more nihilistic. I can not find any certainty in anything, even if I can build some artificial certainty for a daily use.
“The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind,” I agree with good old Grandpa Theo. Nevertheless, a sort of sense of humor is my only tool to keep away the wolves of reality and everyday survival. To say it with Mark Twain, in a feast of abused quotations: “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive”.
10. Would you describe yourself as a believer in the possibility of the supernatural, or a skeptic?
I’m a skeptic, even if I do my best to keep me as an open minded skeptic. There are too many things unexplained, or still inexplicable, but I can’t consider nothing of “super-natural”.
11. What is your greatest fear? Your greatest wish or inspiration?
My greatest fear, I think, is to lose the control of my mind. I don’t like even more to get drunk or to take drugs. I've my trouble to keep away the depression (at least Poe had his “ups” and “downs” – I have the “downs” only), but in my family there was more than one case of Alzheimer’s disease, and I saw (and lived) them closely.
I have also a little bit of arachnophobia. So, don’t post too many pictures of spiders without notice.
No great wishes, apart to continue what I’m doing. To avoid wherever possible the suffering. Maybe, sometimes, to smoke tobacco pipe despite the chronic tonsillitis… That’s all.
Perhaps I would like to be able to write fiction. But we have already too many very bad writers here in Italy, and would not be a good idea to increase their ranks.
12. Would you mind relating the way in which Clark Ashton Smith indirectly influenced your sculptures?
I made some attempt to “art” since 1988. In those years I was frustrated because, without the internet nor the original American books at hand, I could not see the sculptures of Clark Ashton Smith, of which I was reading. So, I began to make my own self-taught sculpting, trying to imagine how CAS’ pieces could be (rather different, as I later saw).
I made a lot of Lovecraftian “alien idols” in cheap plaster modelling paste, with insertions of various stuff from glasses to printed circuits, and then – later – some carving on sandstones and slate stones, and briar tobacco pipes. After the sculptures, also I made a little of scenography, once even for TV many years ago.
Without this unsatisfied curiosity towards the C.A. Smith’s artworks, who knows if I would have anyway started to do all this? Or, at least, to do so in the same way…
13. Might we hear about your illustrations? You have made some interesting contributions, and have been honored for them, as well.
I made a bit of illustration “photoshopping” my own sculptures with portraits of weird and fantasy authors, mainly published on magazines and in some books. My “portrait” of Machen is now in The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. But, collaborating with Machenalia, the newsletter of “The Friends of Arthur Machen,” it seems now that the man in the original photo was not really the Welsh author!
Putting my works online, even if in low-resolution files, I’ve lost almost any control on their use – or abuse. Recently, I have found one of my HPL’s montages in an expensive hardback published in Spain by Valdemar in 2007, Narrativa completa, volume II in a set of the complete Lovecraft’s fiction. I was unaware of it. But the only thing that matters to me, is the lack of any sort of credit. A picture on the same position in vol. I is properly attributed to its author JK Potter, but nothing for mine in vol. II. At least, my name is still readable in the internal little watermark on the picture itself.
Among the few exhibitions that I made, I had my works displayed in an “on-screen art show” during the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in 2003. But I did not have enough money to travel to Portland… so I have not seen it.
14. Writers aside, any other heroes/idols, so to speak, be they fictional (Eibon of Hyperborea, for instance) or actual?
No heroes, thanks! There are many people who I admire for their works and lives, even fictional people. As a joke, sometimes I declare Richard Upton Pickman as my idol in the arts. But I don’t have any specific figures that I feel as a model to inspire me.
15. Do you have any interesting folks hiding in your family tree? If so, what did they do, what are they known for?
I know very little about my family. From mother’s side, my great-grandfather with his brother and their families emigrated to the U.S.A. in the beginning of the last century. My grandmother Mary was born in Pittsburgh, PA. But after the WWI my great-grandpa (who was about to become a priest, before deciding to marry and have six children) chose to come back to Italy, leaving his brother in New York. I think that I have some very distant relatives among the surnames “Luti” in America.
What is most curious, is that I still don’t know who really was my maternal grandfather. He was a sailor from southern Italy. A group photo on the deck of a ship is all that remains of him.
16. Musically speaking, what are your tastes? A few of your favorite performers?
I am a disordered listener, with a superficial knowledge in several fields of music. I like classic and folk/ethnic; celtic music like that of The Chieftains and Alan Stivell; movie scores’ composers as Morricone, Poledouris, Nyman. Some metal as the old Metallica. And then Hawkwind, Bowie, Popol Vuh, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits… A lot of apparently unrelated artists.
I’m an everlasting fan of the late Fabrizio De André. He collaborated with extraordinary composers and musicians, like Nicola Piovani and Mauro Pagani, and the lyrics of his songs are the closest to real poetry expressed in the all the Italian music.
17. More importantly, in what ways has music influenced you, if at all?
My influences are visual and written rather than musical, but music can get me the right mood to work on certain subjects and things.
Unless I have to work on stones. Not even the worst trash metal music can compete with the deafening noise produced by a drill with a diamonded grinding-wheel on a slab of slatestone.
18. As a sculptor and illustrator, you must be fan of the arts. Discuss, if you will, a few of your favorite styles and artists.
As a self-taught craftsman, I lack of studies and a real artistic preparation. I have always been fascinated by fantastic illustration, since childhood without making too much distinction between Artists – with the capital “A” – and illustrators like those of the science fiction paperbacks that I saw in the newsstands: why the magnificent paintings by Karel Thole, on the covers of the magazine Urania, did not have the same regards and respect of a painting by Ernst or Dali?!... Really, Thole was one of the best surrealists of all times, even putting his brush at the service of the “genre fiction”.
Like many others, then, I was overwhelmed by the graphic visual cyclone of HR Giger’s biomechanoids. And then, again, I was bewitched by the photographic enchantments of KJ Potter, many years before the digital photo manipulation that made so more easy my clumsy, pale tentatives to emulate some of his magic.
Now even more I like Surrealism, and the many possibilities afforded by digital art in combination with other more traditional techniques.
19. Do you have a vivid recall of your dreams? Are your dreams astounding, or pedestrian?
I rarely remember my dreams, and more rarely they have something of astounding, or worthy of being remembered. However, I have some dreams that recur throughout the years.
In my dream, I am alone in some almost empty city, I don’t know why I’m there, nor if I’m looking for something. It’s always a new city, and always has something familiar, something known but profoundly different. The proportions are not the “correct,” many structures are “too large.” The architectural styles are strangely mixed, sometimes in exotic combinations, up to be almost incomprehensible. Nothing happens, and I walk through the city, without a destination.
In another recurrent but less frequent dream, I know I’m asleep, and can slow the heartbeat… more and more slowly, until I can stop it. When I have the illusion of being free, I wake up.
It is not a nightmare: to wake up every time, that is the real nightmare.
20. Anything you would like to add, perhaps something I didn’t think to ask that you feel I should have?
I don’t know the question, but the answer is certainly “42”.
(Sorry, I could not resist the temptation to quote Douglas Adams.)
Seriously, I have to thank Jimmy, and the whole community of Thomas Ligotti Online: a source of ideas and stimuli, of continue discoveries and learned exchanges of views which, from years, keeps my mind open and “switched on.” I would like that a forum like this could exist in Italy. Thanks!