Twisting context and character, artist Pixel Pancho blends pop-culture icons with a delicate sense of decay.
“In our legend, God created the human. Then the human destroyed God. Human created robots and technology to help us live well. Next, technology will probably destroy humans,” Pixel Pancho says, taking a drag off the joint pinched between his fingers. It’s the artist’s last night in Los Angeles before he returns to his native Italy to continue working in his studio. He was in town to exhibit at Soze Gallery — where he held his solo show “The Dead Heroes” — though his ultimate goal here is to have his work appear in the Museum of Contemporary Art.
It could happen. Pancho has enjoyed a meteoric rise since his days of scrawling graffiti and painting street murals as a teenager in his hometown of Turin, Italy, to having his paintings and mixed-media sculptures sold in galleries around the world for thousands of dollars — an amazing feat for an artist who is just shy of 30.
But Pancho is nonchalant about his success, bordering on uncomfortable. “I don’t show my face just for the point that I don’t want to be seen as part of my art,” he explains when asked why he won’t make a photo of himself available for this story. “A good part of artists are posers. I don’t want to build my artist reference in what I look like or if I’m cool or if I dress stylish or not. I want to build my career based on my work. I don’t give a shit about what I look like.”
Even calling himself an artist makes him uneasy. “I am a guy that paints a wall or a canvas, but I don’t know if I’m an artist,” he says. “I will define myself as an artist when I really define my work, probably when I die. People around me can call me what they want, I don’t give a shit. A real artist never feels good about their work.”
This type of conflicted relationship may ultimately be the definition of his work. Childhood superheroes in various stages of decay are a common subject, as are discarded robots and human-robot hybrids that speak to Pancho’s vision of the future when the singularity merges man and machine. Unfortunately for him (and maybe for us), this does not produce a happy ending for all parties involved: “Humans like robots because they like to feel like god. I’m not optimistic about human beings, so I’m not optimistic about robots since we’re in charge.”
A former Marxist, Pancho now considers himself apolitical as he finds issue with every major political party and platform in Europe and beyond. Instead, he devotes himself solely to his work, likening it to an “addiction,” while eschewing the possibility that it may serve as a catalyst for change. “When I was growing up, there was no festivals or other stuff, none of this international boom for street art,” he says. “There was just graffiti. It’s a good thing, but in another way, the new generation of street art has started growing and now there are millions of dollars in it. Now people want to do it because it’s cool. When I started painting, I did it because I liked it. It was an addiction and still is. But now some artists coming up want to paint a wall because it gives them more position.”
Pancho avoids adding too much interpretation to what he creates, figuring that viewers will come to their own conclusions, which he would never want to mar with his. “I don’t want people to think something specific because I don’t want to force anyone,” he states. “I guess my paintings just tell what’s on the inside of my mind.”
A child of the 1980s, Pancho grew up on a diet of Isaac Asimov and RoboCop before going on to learn four languages and study fine art in Valencia, Spain. At first, his interest in robots was strictly visual, with his preference leaning toward mechanical specimens over electronic ones. Then, he started to understand that robots really might take over the world and deliver on the prophecies of the science fiction he read. When asked if robots have souls, he replies, “[Scientists] are studying right now how to transfer our souls and our biological data in our brains that makes everything happen with us into robots, so they should know everything we do.” Pancho believes the robots’ self-actualization will occur soon after. And soon after that, we may all be in a world of hurt.
“I wish the apocalypse would happen — for a reset,” Pancho says. “When you think about it, there’s nothing you can do, it’s so complicated. We have six billion people and to change so many people is impossible. After reset, it’s rebuild. And afterwards, we put children in charge, because children are the hope. And maybe then it can become really something good, because the potential of a baby is always good.”