Revealing the Animal in Us All

A Stark Reminder of Who We Really Are

Humans are truly strange creatures, obsessed with our own exceptionalism, both individually and as a species. But for all our culture, all our technology and all the hundreds of years of co-called civilisation, after all We Are All Animals. So reads the title of Otto D’Ambra’s arresting new exhibition at Curios Duke.

“The title intends to provoke a reflection on how strong our animal instincts still are in a modern society that wants people to believe that the world we live in is improved and our lives simplified, by progress, technology and development,” surmises Otto.

swordfish in love
“This system is in fact just an illusion that brings us, without our noticing, to be victims of our own instincts, to lose our singularity and individual thinking.” Otto’s work takes the understated aesthetics of simple etching, ensuring an immediacy which speaks to those subconscious instincts he speaks of, almost circumventing the thinking process.

But his fantastical, anthropomorphical imaginings also force you to engage the grey matter which sets you apart from most other animals, creating a delightful contradiction. “We find ourselves today needing things that allow us to not feel excluded from the group (pack/herd) and as a result we forgot who we really are,” he asserts.

We tried to see if we could get Otto’s inner animal to show itself as he prepares for his first solo show in the UK:

The Plus: Sum up your work in a few words.
Otto D’Ambra:
The critical vision of an animal world that became surreal by escaping our grasp

inside you
TP: Your work has a staid Victorian era aesthetic juxtaposed with the fantastical. What’s the significance here?
The technique of the classic etching illustration is the perfect connection between my surreal vision and the real world. Etching illustrations are realistic by nature, explanatory images with a clear didactic, descriptive aim.

My surreal actions on these to me is a representation of intervening on reality.In my works there are no direct conceptual or stylistic correlations to the Victorian style or historical period. In order to give more solidity and reality to my surreal visions I needed to find a language as a means to illustrate with clarity and synthesis my messages.

Therefore the choice of this style / technique was purely dictated by the need of an illustrative synthesis and of an immediacy and neatness of the image itself. This stylistic simplification allows for an immediate and clear perception of both the contrast and link between reality and surrealism.

love effect
TP: This is your first UK solo show, what’s it been like preparing for that?
Putting together a selection of works to best express the concept was not without challenges. I made it in the end, but with great sorrow I had to put a lot of ideas and sketches aside.

sometime life looks surreal
TP: What was the last art exhibition you went to that truly moved you, and why?
I recently went to Moscow and was quite strongly affected by the permanent exhibition of soviet, socialist art of the 20th century. Especially art works based on communist propaganda, collages and prints of the early 1900s (1922-37). I found an incredible strength in the rigid and neat graphics, patterns and geometric shapes that intersect each other in a static but solid balance. An incredible synthesis of communication.

I’ve been so positively influenced by such artists that I started introducing in my own works elements that relate back to those manifests. More than going to loads of exhibitions though, I have a soft spot for books, which I collect, and it is form them that I take most of my inspiration

TP: You’re a tattooist as well, can you tell us a bit about that?
I started tattooing 10 years ago for fun whilst still working as set designer in Milan and I discovered an art form I did not know existed. When we talk about tattoos even today people tend to think about sailors, anchors and swallows.

I consider and interpret tattoos as an expression/medium of contemporary art which I utilise to carry out my artworks on skin. I select my clients based on the subject or concept they want to represent and from there I interpret and develop the design.

This way the tattoo is a technique, just like oil paint, watercolour or sculpture. The instrument and base change, it is the creation of the artwork that is the only constant element. The creative process for an original ink drawing, etching or tattoo does not change, what changes is only the manner of execution.

TP: Any other hidden talents?
I’m a master in paper, scissors, stone!

The dreamer
b side
blind generation
We Are All Animals will be at Curios Duke Gallery from 4-27 June.