The miscellany of bright, contrasting, pure colours. The manifest extroversion of decor.
In Araldica, Federico Pepe sends us a creative message that not only defines the aesthetics of a new “interior psychedelia” but also investigates unusual formulae for perceptive interaction between decorated ceramics and the individual. On the vast scale of large ceramic wall covering slabs, Pepe’s visual textures acquire the hypnotic, fascinating configuration of a variegated mixture of colours, inspired by those of traditional marbled papers.
Some of Pepe’s designs juxtapose two different graphic linear motifs, geometrically centred on the slab: a “coat-of-arms” – a crest rather like a composite shield, alluding to the imagery of heraldry – and an “hourglass” shape, consisting of two opposing isosceles triangles.
Paolo Ferrarini: "Federico Pepe and the discipline of ideas"
“Once upon a time, there was a Roman emperor who lived on a huge splinter in space, a spaceship of multi-coloured marble, where techno music played incessantly. That day he left his spaceship to go to dinner at the Sun King’s home, riding his sinuous golden dragon with blood-red eyes."
If there were a book with these opening words, Federico Pepe would have designed its cover. And if the book were made into a film, he would definitely be its writer and director. Federico is not an author, director or screenwriter, but this does not prevent him from drawing on his natural ability to create stories through flashes of imagination.
Federico Pepe’s career started in advertising, a family tradition, which he gradually transformed and built into many other things, in a constant, inevitable investigation of creativity in all its possible forms. He very soon understood that commission work was not enough for him, and he began to explore further afield. The first of these other fields was art, but the consolidated mechanisms on which galleries and gallery owners operate soon became a new limit from which he had to break free: this apparently expanding horizon turned out to be a restrictive cage, more a defining label than an infinite learning opportunity. And definitions are one of the things which least describe Federico: anyone trying to distil his work into two words would find its essence disappearing before their own eyes. He has occupied many roles and engaged in many professions to give shape to his ideas, and in all of them he has excelled, created and led teams, and won awards. Adman, creative director, graphic designer, printer, gallery owner, publisher, curator, performer, painter, designer, director: Pepe does, rather than is, all these.
He works, builds and makes things happen because he is not led by instinct alone and does not succumb to idle whim; he does not rush aimlessly around and does not simply await the inspiration or idea of the century. Quite the opposite. His work comes about and produces results only thanks to strict self-discipline, a design method made up of constant verification, the precise sharing of tasks and roles, the compulsive exploration of unknown contexts, daily physical exercise, the carefully measured use of social media, and occasional spells of isolation in the mountains he loves. It is no coincidence that he created Le Dictateur, a dual-faced entity which may be both his child and his spiritual guide, both friend and boss, part madness and part dictator. Le Dictateur is not Federico’s alter ego: it is his superpower. It is not a mask, since in it he actually transforms himself into an artistic project. Le Dictateur is both result and origin of Federico Pepe’s work. “I think ideas are born from predisposition,” Federico explained to me in 2014. “Not in the sense that ‘we are born predisposed,’ but for daily preparation. In this domain I believe that discipline is pivotal. The real talents today are very rigorous people, those who work hard, exchange a lot, think a lot, and know how to apply and balance many different things.” An approach which has made him the best-kept secret on the Italian creative scene, a fact well known not only to Pierpaolo Ferrari, Maurizio Cattelan, Nico Vascellari, Jacopo Benassi and Patricia Urquiola, but also to the companies, both large and small, which have turned to him over the years. He has worked and continues to work with them all, designing by laying the foundations of designs naturally expressed in episodes, in a serial pattern which not only gradually builds up Federico’s own creative story, but also offers his clients designs so special that they would be virtually impossible without him.
This self-discipline generates heat and energy in such quantities that – if it were not imprisoned within the geometrical grids of graphic design – it might generate a thermonuclear reaction. The blood running through the veins of his images is black as ink, red as sealing-wax, white as plaster and golden as lava. But there is more, too. His crystal-clear visions are able to break down the slender membrane which separates analogue from digital. He sees matter as absolutely central, but he makes it vibrate with an unusual two-dimensional quality. This can be seen in the way he carves marble with coloured squiggles, recollections of faces briefly sketched as vectors. It is discovered in the skill with which he invades plates and bowls of the finest, monitor-shiny porcelain with geometrical patterns. It becomes tangible in the love with which he brings to life the paper of his publishing projects, peopled with highly elegant, powerfully symmetrical, often kaleidoscopic graphics. It can be admired in the precision with which a metallic factory flooring becomes fabric on an ancient loom, after its resolution is decreased from 300 dpi to 8 bits. It is enjoyed in the hyperbolic repetition of faces and hands in acrylic on canvas in his painting studio, in which every work conserves copy and paste reminders of its predecessor. It amazes in the doors of exquisite metal sideboards, profane glass panels, hand-made but born through the glass of a screen.
A career which has led almost naturally to an encounter with CEDIT, with whom he has created an aesthetically courageous collection, part punk and part aristocratic austerity. The Araldica project’s very name evokes strength and nobility, and it is grounded in a past whose weight does not drag it backwards but rather catapults it forwards into the future. Here, Federico’s digital geometries become the most solid of materials, taking shape in a graphic object, condensing stories and images into three or two dimensions. In Pepe’s and CEDIT’s space, Euclidean geometrical forms encounter the marble of Phidias, the intricate patterns of the floor of Milan Cathedral merge into the Baroque images of the marbles found in Roman art galleries, and private space opens out to the infinite space of a thousand possible universal histories.
Federico Pepe is a multi-faceted artist who views communication as a cultural platform created by the mingling of disciplines. With an education that enables him to move freely between different fields, over the years he has built up a very personal body of work intended to break down the conceptual separations between art, advertising and design, assuming a fluid identity which appears to escape definition, as he could equally well be described as an artist, publisher, cultural figure, designer, or simply creator tout court.In 2006 he opened the publishing product and associated exhibition space Le Dictateur, now viewed as one of the most interesting cultural projects on the contemporary Italian artistic scene.