“Oderus Mural” acrylic on drywall (aprox. 8ft wide)

Exclusive Interview with artist Martina Secondo Russo! 

Thanks for doing the interview Martina. Can you give the readers some background information about yourself?

I was born in Genova, Italy but moved to NYC when I was four. I've been married to my husband Frank for 14 years, but we've been together for 24! We are both artists, and we started MF Gallery together in 2003. It originally was in the Lower East Side, and we moved to Brooklyn in 2009. We also had a gallery in Italy from 2009 to 2014. We have two kids: a 6 year-old son (made "famous" by Fernando Carpaneda's "Baby Punk" sticker.) and a 3 year-old daughter. We currently live in Brooklyn, NY. 

When did you decide to become an artist?

I've always loved drawing and painting. I guess the real conscious decision came at the beginning of high school, when I decided to focus on more artistic classes (painting, life drawing, photography, etc...) as opposed to "academics".

How long have you been painting / drawing / etc?

Art was my favorite subject all the way back in kindergarten. My childhood room was plastered with all my drawings which ranged from unicorns and rainbows, to detailed depictions of my family's life, like trips to the zoo, Halloween, and Christmas day. 

Do you do a lot of shows?

I try to show my work as much as possible. Over the years, I have developed a relationship with a few galleries who consistently invite me to participate in their exhibitions. Shipping costs (especially international!) are becoming prohibitive, and having two kids now makes it more difficult to focus on showing. But now that the kids are getting bigger, I'm starting to have more time again to dedicate to making art and showing it in galleries. Having a deadline (for a show or a commission) really motivates me! I’ve been known to create more art in a month leading up to a show than I had in a year or more! I guess it comes in spurts...

What medium do you prefer to work in and how would you describe your artistic style?

I paint figures in a style that has an early renaissance feel, mixed with a bit of Pop Art. I like to juxtapose abject art elements with bright colors and beautiful images, so the art simultaneously draws you in and repels you. I mostly use acrylics and I like to paint on masonite because it's an extremely smooth surface, perfect for details! I love to use gold leaf in my art as well. I also paint on plywood, cut into the shape of human bodies or "hacked off" limbs, which I render and then cover in "tattoos". These works (especially the "limbs") are sometimes reminiscent of "ex voto" pieces from Catholic churches. I paint a lot of pin ups. I've done a series of Italian actresses from the 1950's-70's posing on beaches and shorelines from my native region of Liguria in Italy. Lately, I've been working on "darker" pin-up images, including lots of leather and S&M elements.

How did you come up with MF Gallery? and how did you select the work for MF?

I attended art school at The California Institute Of Art. Although the teachings there focused a bit too much on Conceptual Art for my tastes, one big thing I got out of it was the ability to organize and execute art exhibits, both of my own art and of my peers. While living in California, (1998-2002) Frank and I were also exposed to the burgeoning "Lowbrow" / "Pop Surrealist" movement, something that wasn't really big in NYC at the time. After moving back to New York, we wanted to open a space where we could show that kind of art which we loved; and give a place for emerging artists (our friends and others) to show alongside some of the bigger names in the up and coming movement. MF Gallery- although very underground- was really one of the first galleries in NYC to focus on this "new" art movement! For example, we were doing our annual Toy Show long before "designer toys" or "toy artists" were household concepts. Nowadays, there are so many galleries focused exclusively on "toy art", but back in 2003, we just came up with the idea because we loved collecting toys, and making toys, and we felt that this art form needed exposure in a gallery setting!

How do you find the artists for your curated exhibitions? 

We approach artists whose style we love and whose art inspires us. Nowadays, with instagram etc... it's so much easier to be exposed to new art than in the "old" days! We also get a lot of submissions from artists, which we keep on file until we have an exhibit that we feel suits their style.

What themes or requirements were a part of your selection process?

We do a lot of themed group shows (Zombies, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Halloween, Tattoo Art, Toy Shows, etc...) so we try to find artists whose work fits those themes. Other than that, we just select art that speaks to us- no matter how well known the artist is; if we love it, it's in!

How long does it take to plan an exhibition?

Sometimes (like with our annual Halloween and Toy Shows) we plan up to a year ahead of time. Other times we put shows together more spontaneously. Lately, we've also been co-curating shows with outside curators, which has been an interesting way to introduce new artists and patrons to the gallery.

What is most challenging about what you do?

As far as the gallery, the most challenging thing is wrangling all the artists when we do group shows. As far as being an artist, the most challenging thing is self-promotion! 

Can you tell us about working with Dave "Oderus Urungus" Brockie? 

I had been a huge fan of the band GWAR, ever since Frank turned me on to them in high school. I got to meet my idol (Dave Brockie, AKA Oderus Urungus) by going to his shows, and I found that he was not only extremely approachable, but also very supportive of young artists! A few years later, once we had the gallery, I asked him if he would be interested in showing his art at MF. He was obviously very well known for his music and art with the band, but he hadn't really shown his "personal" art (paintings, drawings, comics etc...) in a gallery setting. In 2004, we organized a retrospective of his work, which also featured a few special performances at the opening. He showed with us many more times throughout the years. Dave became a very close friend of ours and of the gallery; always available to chat or give advice. Frank and I also worked for GWAR a bit, helping create some of their iconic stage props. In 2010 and 2011 we hosted GWAR’s “Crack-A-Thon", which was Dave's brainchild: a "telethon" style show where he performed for 5 hours straight in front of an audience in the gallery, and people could also watch a live steam online and call in to donate money for Oderus' "crack habit"! Along with stand up routines, musical numbers and crazy antics, Oderus interviewed many artists from the art and music worlds. Dave's last email to me expressed his desire to release DVD's of the Crack-A-Thon performances, but sadly, legal disputes among the band after his passing might make this highly unlikely. 

How has MF brought together its own community of artists?

Since opening MF Gallery in 2003, we have created a nice little underground community and made many close friends in the process. It’s so inspiring to see everyone’s artistic path take new turns and branch out in unexpected ways! 

What did you like / dislike about the galleries / exhibitions?

I love bringing together artists from all over the world, with such different styles and mediums, but who somehow all have a common thread / feeling that unites them. Opening boxes of art that come to the gallery is like Christmas morning! I love putting it all together and the feeling of seeing a new show installed is fantastic! It's also a nice feeling to meet new people at the gallery who are happy to be there, and tell us they love what we do! The worst part is having to take it all down at the end of the show.

What do you dislike about the art world?

I dislike the schmoozing and ass-kissing aspect of it! I don't like to be fake and that's probably why I'm so bad at self-promotion, haha! 

What inspires you (in general)?

I am inspired by people who strive to do better for themselves and for the community/ world around them. People who take chances- artistically or otherwise. I believe in doing what you like and not giving a fuck what society or other people think you should be doing! Artistically, I am inspired by renaissance and liberty style art, but also underground Pop Art. I like vintage pin-up photography. I love old toys and cartoons, horror movies and traditional style tattoos.

What are you currently working on?

One of my current projects is painting card back art for Frank's "Musculoids" action figure line. The characters are these over the top super duper muscular barbaric warlords... It's quite a departure from my usual work, but it's been really fun interpreting these characters through my paintings, and any opportunity to work with Frank on a project is always welcome! I’m also working on a poster for a public art project which will be installed “guerrilla style” at bus stops around NYC. 

What role does the artist have in society?

Artists are here to inspire society. Seeing a great work of art should make you want to go out and do something- whether that may be creating your own art, doing something crazy, or making the world a slightly better / more interesting place in other ways.

How do you balance your art with other obligations: mate, children, job?

It's all a balancing act! Somehow we have made it work so far... 

Is there a town or place in the world you consider inspiring?

Going back to my native home in Italy is always very inspiring. Obviously I love all the art and ancient architecture, but also the towns themselves and the landscapes - ranging from beautiful shorelines to high snowy mountains. There is such a history for me there, I feel very connected when I am fortunate enough to be able to go back! Also being by the beach/ ocean is very inspiring to me. 

Can you give the readers your Website and facebook addresses so they can check you out…

The gallery website is: www.MFgallery.net and I am on instagram: @martinasecondorusso 

Anything you’d like to add?

I think I’ve rambled long enough! Thank you so much for featuring me- we love what you are doing with Carpazine!