Wanted in Rome put a series of questions to Roman artist Mauro Pallotta, better known as Maupal, about his Pope Francis murals which have generated headlines around the world.
You recently created a mural in Rome's Borgo Pio, near the Vatican, depicting Pope Francis playing noughts and crosses with peace symbols – following your Super-Pope mural in 2014 – are these works designed to promote a positive image of Francis in particular?
Naturally, artistic representations of the Holy Father will receive special attention but my artistic research focuses on an approach that everyone can understand. I try to address social-political-religious issues, also depicting other figures and often heads of state, political or religious. I'm not the artist who draws only the pope...but I think in this particular historical period, the whole of humanity must consider itself lucky for the fact that we have Pope Francis as pontiff, so for me he is a soggetto fatale!
What was your reaction to the immediate cancellation by city authorities of your most recent Pope Francis mural?
Such a sudden removal created discontent among both the curious (passers-by, tourists, religious, lay people) as well as the inhabitants of the Borgo district. The work was deemed "political" therefore the police decided to remove it immediately. To me the image was a clear message of peace, and peace cancels out politics.
Were you surprised with the international headlines generated by your Pope Francis murals?
Drawing the pope in public inevitably generates enormous attention, but also exposes you to a huge amount of risk. Creating something that is aesthetically pleasing, that allows you to give a clear message, that is not left open to ambiguous interpretations, that has no negative impact to the person concerned and is not judged as an endorsement but merely as a graphic summary of a widely-held thought – I assure you that is very difficult.
Can you tell us about your meeting with Rome's mayor following the removal of your Pope Francis mural?
This is the second time I've been summoned to the City Hall in the last two years. My first experience was with the Marino administration and now I have met with mayor Virginia Raggi and her culture councillor Luca Bergamo. The meeting was quite pleasant and constructive but I would like to be kept out of any political exploitation so I prefer to say nothing more on the subject.
How long have you been a street artist?
I have been painting on streets for less than three years. My first work was in January 2014, when I also drew Pope Francis, however I have worked as an artist for 20 years, exhibiting my works in galleries and museums.
Do you also paint and illustrate, and do you focus on other themes aside from your celebrated Pope Francis imagery?
I paint mostly portraits or faces of animals using a personal technique that I have experimented with over the years. I create faces by colouring with glazes and spray paint on canvas or wooden panels whose surfaces I prepare in advance using steel wool. In some ways it is a transition from painting to sculpture.
What do you think of your title in the media as "the Banksy of Italy"?
I don't like it very much and I think the comparison is exaggerated. Bansky has built up his reputation by creating magnificent and brilliant works for decades, I'm on the scene for only two and a half years. However it would be very satisfying if one day a young artist were to be hailed the "new Maupal".
Where in Rome can people see your work?
I often work on paper which I then paste on to walls, so my works disappear quickly, although you can find something in Roman suburbs such as Quadraro, Pigneto or Primavalle.