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In conversation: Gianni Piacentino, Andrea Bellini, and Ashley Heath
Arena Homme+
Spring/Summer 2015

Every Saturday morning, the 70_year-old artist Gianni Piacentino leaves his pristine Turin HQ and races exactly the same local route on his Aprilia performance motorbike. The same time and the same routine every Saturday.  A route carefully established to both test Piacentino to his limits and to avoid the carabinieri.

In 1968, a 23-year-old Piacentino walked out on the then nascent Arte Povera movement, a group of Turin-based artists who were soon to be written large in the annals of twentieth century art. Piacentino didn’t stop to look back or to ever repeat the work he had made for seminal early Arte Povera shows.

The two circumstances described above are not altogether unrelated. In ’68 Piacentino walked out on his artist colleagues and collaborators to focus solely on restoring a wonderful Indian 600 motorbike. It was where his uncompromising artistic muse led him. This event itself is now entering the annals of the contemporary art scene as the maverick Gianni Piacentino is being reconsidered and re-evaluated. Auction prices are shooting up. Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli has become a committed collector. The prestigious Michael Werner Gallery recently added Piacentino to a revitalised roster that orbits Picabia, Polke, Penck and other giants of European painting.

But the spirit that unites the artistic impulses of the Gianni Piacentino of the 1965 and of the 2015 is less well explored.

The artist has been comfortable to work diligently each day in his self-designed and customized live/work studios, each piece and every finish the result of his own labours and self-taught expertise.  The slick “GP” brochures that have accompanied his occasional shows are now designed and honed by Piacentino himself, this bike racing grandparent happy to hide behind an almost corporate façade he toys with via cutting-edge graphics technology.

Arena Homme+ commissioned the artist to design three inserts for this issue, before sitting down with him at home in Turin alongside the elegant Italian curator Andrea Bellini, a champion of Piacentino and the editor of a key 2013 monograph. Juergen Teller was invited to shoot portraits. Piacentino lives alone, preferring his long-time girlfriend to come and go. Their cat Leon, a gift from Piacentino’s partner, remains at all times however, an obsession and routine to co-exist alongside world-class toy and stamp collections.

The following edit of a much longer conversation sees Piacentino talk openly about subjects he prefers largely to remain silent upon. How late career attention and attendant ‘success’ will affect him, and his willingness to further discuss his muse, is a fascinating question not directly posed.

Andrea Bellini: So we could easily start from the 60s and those first Arte Povera shows, the beginning of the story? Or maybe we can start like this – look here [Andrea gestures across Gianni’s workshop space full of important pieces], you can see that they are all long works. For 50 years Piacentino has never produced a piece with volume, all the works are about a trajectory. They are about speed – even from the very beginning, even the minimalistic pieces. All of these works are ‘lines’, always about a path in space.

Gianni Piacentino: Uni-dimensional. And if not they are horizontal or vertical.

AB: Might we say, Gianni, that everything starts from speed for you? Your very first big passion is for motorbikes and for vehicles. In that sense you are like other renowned minimalists actually. The artist Steven Parrino traced the origins of minimalism far away from art history and to the Death Race after World War II. A Hot Rod is a car or motorcycle that has been strapped of all excess weight and parts. Maximum power with minimum weight. Often, the vehicle was painted black after all emblems were removed to make I.D. difficult for the police. Minimalism was born there… I love this Steven Parrino theory about Minimalism, it complements your work very well, Gianni. Minimalist artists, motorbikes and speed… Donald Judd used Harley Davidson custom paint for some of his metal boxes in the 60s… Larry Bell used aerospace and also Hot Rodder techniques to produce his work. Billy Al Bengston was a semi-professional motorcycle racer, again very like you Gianni…

GP: Yes. That is why I’d always like to start from ’68, when I decided that my work was too connected to art history and too much about the art world and not enough about my life.  At that time I was so bored by my friends’ behaviour; the other members of the so-called Arte Povera group were so obsessed by their own careers and I hated that so I stopped for a while. As you know I carefully restored an old motorbike and in doing so I discovered I could put what I really liked into my work.

AB: Your true passions. Are they also your father’s passions?

GP: I am from a generation were we didn’t have much of a relationship with our fathers. We never spoke about that, my father and I.

Ashley Heath: Your father was this fantastic gentleman racer, you included a picture of him in your inserts for the magazine. What’s your earliest memory of him and his passion for cars?

GP: I remember he had a motorcycle accident when he was very young. And then he raced cars because he got rich very young. He could make calculations faster than the adding machines of that time. During that period he made use of that and produced calculations for many industries. When he was 21 he owned a foundry and I remember he often spoke of a nice lifestyle in the Cote d’Azur. Then his fortune was destroyed by the war. I remember a very hard period after the war when I was born [1945] when he worked for two years in Africa with a company that built roads in Nigeria. After that he worked with a company that traded with foundries and paper mills in Russia. This company was formed by three very intellectual brothers. One was one of the founders of the radical party, at that time a true intellectual elite here. My father certainly had a lot of respect for freedom and my freedoms. He proved it when I left the Università after only two years of studying philosophy.

AB: Was anything from these studies important to you?

GP: I remember those studies as being pretty boring, especially when in aesthetics we always referred to something written and never something concrete in art. I remember that Vattimo, the professor of aesthetics, made a special workshop about manifestos in avant-garde art. I brought Manifesto Blanco by Lucio Fontana – the original in Spanish from 1946 – and nobody knew anything about it. I had enough. From 16 I had independently studied a lot about Modern art, I knew quite everything.  When I was 15 I studied all Paul Klee’s texts.

AB: Klee was very important for you. It initiated your interest in colours, correct?

GP: I tried to organize Klee’s colours with accurate descriptions. This came from my passion for collecting stamps, because in the stamp catalogues there is a very sophisticated – in some ways technical – way of describing color. And this did initiate my idea to paint and make art. But I also remember that when I was very young I prepared canvases by myself, with glue, Blanc de Meudon, etc.

AH: Were your mother and father interested in art?

GP: No not at all, although one of the men who worked with my father was a painter and poet. Also my professor of philosophy when I was in secondary school was a pretty famous painter in Italy named Albino Galvano. My father was always ok with me becoming an artist. When I stopped University and everyone told me I was crazy it was my father who said, “you do what you want, for me it’s ok”. I took my first studio when I was 18.

AB: And then…?

GP: Well, I met [Aldo] Mondino at a sort of gallery-bookshop  – Libreria Stampatori – where I was always trying to get art magazines without paying [laughs]. And then I met Galvano this professor and painter. And I discovered [Michelangelo] Pistoletto in the very beginning; he was making paintings sort of like Bacon then. It was ’61 when I first met Pistoletto. He started his mirrors a couple of years later in ’63. I was at that first show of mirror paintings.

AH: You recognized that he was an important artist?

GP: In the beginning I was not sure, but after spending quite a lot of time together every day for a couple of years I felt he was very interesting, for sure. He began making the mirrors at first with figures beautifully painted on very soft paper prepared with the enamel. I was very impressed by them. And we were very friendly during that period until my own first show.

AH: What in particular brought you and Pistoletto together?

GP: Just a friendship. He offered me a lot of help because it was right after my father had suddenly passed away and I had to prepare my first show at the same time. But then I was very disappointed when Pistoletto changed his work because his gallerist had told him to. “Your signature work is the mirror,” said the gallerist. So that’s what he did from then on. The idea of following what a dealer says was just incredible for me. And I saw the pattern emerging and I was always disappointed by it. Sometimes it happened that [Gian Enzo] Sperone asked all the Arte Povera artists, “please guys on Saturday Ileana Sonnabend is coming here, so everybody come with their projects…”

AH: How did you respond to a dealer asking for that?

GP: I replied, “you are crazy, on Saturday I will ride my motorcycle…” I do not have my projects proposed to me, I will do my works and if you don’t like them that is fine anyway.

AB: But Gianni, this is a very, very interesting moment because you didn’t study in an art academy at all, and you started hanging out with this group…

GP: I didn’t study in an art school but I did study all of the important books about all the important techniques, I knew almost everything.

AB: Of course, but you are a self-taught artist…

GP: Sure, sure. From the beginning I was the material expert for all my friends, I helped them all. I made industrial painting for [Giovanni] Anselmo, [Alighiero] Boetti, [Giulio] Paolini…

AB: This first moment when you started hanging out with the Arte Povera artists is interesting from a personal point of view, because you were the youngest one, right? In ’64 you were 19 and hanging out a lot with Michelangelo Pistoletto, right?

GP: Yes. And the first Arte Povera show was in June 1966. My first solo show was December ’66.

AB: It would be interesting for the readers to know how you came up with those first minimalist structures.

GP: The idea was to produce a geometric line of color in real space.

AB: You were sharing a studio with Arte Povera’s Giulio Paolini?

GP: No, that’s not correct. I never shared my studio with another artist. Paolini’s first studio became my studio when he moved to another one. I had been studying ways of transforming the stretcher [of the painting], exploring Paolini’s idea more deeply to analyse the canvas. I focused on the stretcher. After some monochromes of different colours I used the stretcher to make my very first sculptures. Nobody at that time knew anything about minimal art here. When the dealer Ileana Sonnabend – who was totally involved in Pop Art at the time – visited my old studio with Sperone, she told him “take particular care of this guy because there’s something strange like this coming out of the US next too…”

AH: You really hadn't seen anything?

GP: I hadn’t. And when those artists began coming to Turin, because then, new artists from the US always came here, they often particularly liked my work. I remember Walter de Maria and Sol Lewitt here, I was very friendly with both. Later, when I quit with Sperone and the so-called Arte Povera, he spread some negative politics towards me and the visits stopped.

AB: Let’s clear up those negative politics. Why exactly?

GP: Honestly? They were jealous because I was a motorcycle racer and I really had a lot of girlfriends.

AB and AH: [Riotous laughter)

GP: It really was that. But I also had an important German dealer. There was this sort of apartheid here in Italy with the art scene, but I never complained. It’s not my style. My natural behaviour is sort of English.

AH: So tell me about the actual moment when you decided to leave Arte Povera. I read that you just went off, you decided it was enough...

GP: There was a sort of permanent show here in Turin run by artists. It was called Deposito d’Arte Presente. With Sperone, a collector called Levi had made a show space for artists, inviting various people to finance it. It was the start of “Arte Povera” and in the beginning most works were as big as this [he holds up his hands], maximum, and my work was huge. I had two pieces in particular that were huge. One was a table, which was more than 3 metres wide and very tall. The other was a sort of fake marble structure, also more than 3 metres. So anytime I gave them these work to display I would establish a position, but then I’d find the works subsequently moved very far from the original position. I’d end up close to the wall, partly I guess because in effect you couldn’t see the other works so well with my huge works in front. But it happened two or three times, my works would end up at the back, so I got upset of course and said, “that’s it, I’m finished.” Bye.

AB: And you haven’t spoken to any of them until now right?

GP: I was always very friendly with Paolini but he was not in that particular group show.

AB: But since then, you didn’t speak to Germano Celant [the art historian/curator who coined the term ‘Arte Povera’] for 30 or 40 years?

GP: For 30 years. Now he’s returned to me.

AH: Come back to something you said, Gianni, you were talking about colour in three dimensions. How that was your original impulse as an artist, to put lines of colour into three dimensions?

GP: Yes. It was solid lines into the space of the studio or gallery.

AB: An important moment is Gianni’s relationship with Giulio Paolini. They were hanging out a lot, talking about art and about projects. Giulio was working on this idea of going beyond painting through a conceptual approach. Gianni was trying to get behind painting more physically, he was deconstructing the canvas. As he says he was looking at the stretchers and working on the very structure of the painting. The first works – like D.S.O. of 1965 – are working on the frame, putting colours on the wooden structure of the stretcher. And then Gianni was like, okay, I have an object, painted, and it is a really good painting but now I can go beyond that. I can just go into the space of the studio, I can construct lines in the space and put the colours into the space.

GP: That's correct.

AB: On the occasion of the first exhibition Gianni did at Galleria Sperone with Michelangelo Pistoletto and Piero Gilardi in 1966, the title was Arte Abitabile. He calculated the distance from the wall of the gallery to its centre and he made the “L” structure based on that. This is the truth behind his beginnings.

GP: Gordon [VeneKlasen, Michael Werner’s business partner] told me that when he first saw my work, he’d never particularly liked minimalism but that he liked my early work.

AB: From my perspective too, Piacentino’s minimalism is very different ideologically from the East Coast minimalism of the same era. Unlike his American counterparts, Piacentino was not interested in exploring primary form as organised in open structures and serial sequences. Nor did he ‘farm out’ his works to industrial processes in order to make them. Instead his pieces are all the result of extraordinary manual skill and his advanced craftsmanship.

AH: Do you think that makes these pieces date ‘better’ somehow?

AB: Well, in contrast to East Coast minimalism, it is impossible to say what materials Piacentino used to make his pieces. His sophisticated coatings conceal the underlying material, thus transforming his sculptures into engaging pictorial elements arranged in space, measuring and including the space as part of the work itself. Now Gianni’s use of colour, the manual element, and his obsessive attention to finish and surface treatment all suggest a link between him and the West Coast minimalism, people like John McCracken, and Larry Bell. And here we also encounter the Los Angeles custom cars culture, the “finish fetish” as we call it...

AH: McCracken seems an important parallel.

AB: Yes, I’d like to talk about that. I organised the first big retrospective of John McCracken in Europe in 2011, so I know for certain that he started doing his very first minimal pieces like the planks in 1965. Now Piacentino was 20 years old and was living in Turin right then. He really didn’t know anything about L.A. artists! So this is very interesting for me and an area of the so called Arte Povera that’s been less explored. We are talking about cultural syncretism. That is, literally, artists starting to work on similar things at the same time without knowing each other... Another thought: consider that East Coast minimalists were reacting to Abstract Expressionism, they hated colours and the whole idea of painting. Meanwhile Piacentino starts from painting and considers himself a painter because colour always remains very important to his work. Right from his first minimalist sculptures it’s always about the beauty of particular colours.

GP: Yes, very special colours. I had a sample of the colour Mother of Pearl in 1968, for example. I was also exploring changing colour reflections: I made Matt Metal Flake in ‘67, ‘68, which is now very fashionable.

AH: All those colours like Metal Flake, the colours I’d seen as a kid being used by Porsche etc. Help me out, Gianni, when were they introduced?

GP: In industry, Metal Flake is actually from the 30s but the Matt Metal Flake was discovered by the industry in the 90s when Mercedes first used it for bumpers. My Matt Metal Flake was very fragile - it couldn’t be used for a car. it was a nitro enamel and not 2K acrylic like they have now. But then I did use it for my bike and you can see it a lot now on bikes and cars. I was there first, trust me. And when something becomes fashionable I escape from it.

AH: Just to rewind a little bit, how important was and is Fontana and his manifesto for you.

GP: Fontana was the first important person to buy a work from me and also from Paolini. But his work was sort of ‘old work’ for our taste. Now for Paolini, Manzoni was a more interesting artist. But not for me. For me, aesthetics is too important even in avant-garde or conceptual art.

AH: Why do you think that is?

GP: Because I will always remember the moment when I saw a Raphael at the Louvre. Right then I knew you could never forget beauty in art.

AB: You may like or dislike Gianni’s work but there is one definite truth: when you look at his early pieces from the mid-60s, his work is really brand new, it’s not derivative. Manzoni, Paolini and all the Arte Povera artists are not a reference for Piacentino…

GP: Arte Povera was not a group born by artists’ ideas. I was there. It was just the group of artists around the Sperone Gallery of Turin.

AB: Maybe we should talk about this at the most basic level. Arte Povera artists were working on rough materials, on the idea of the matter and its transformation. Meanwhile, in their midst, there is Piacentino with his minimalist sculptures. And they are not poor at all. Indeed, they are “finish fetish” as we said. That’s why he didn’t and doesn’t feel comfortable in this kind of context...

AH: Gianni, forgive me, but do you think you were sometimes being rebellious and destructive with your art world standing back then because you were just at that age? That's not to disrespect your actions, but to ask regarding their motives.

GP: In a way my reputation was not great with dealers and people like that because I was always very straight with my work and how I spoke regarding my work. Destructive? Before my first work I made a rectangle of colour paper on canvas – coming from the back... Not destructive but constructive on a whole new idea of painting space.

AB: When Gianni decided to leave the Arte Povera group in 1968 and stop doing the minimalist pieces, his work remains deeply coherent in fact. It continues to be all about handcraft, his big passion, and creating truly impressive things. And colours of course remain important. There's no radical change, no radical statement or shift.

GP: And then my early shapes and forms reemerged in another way.

AB: No matter what piece or period, Piacentino is always about handcraft and colour and, perhaps crucially speed. His works are in this sense really beautiful. And let's remember that to talk about beauty was something almost forbidden at the time, the end of the 60s and early 70s. Conceptual art was dominating during this period, beauty was a reactionary word and not a neo avant-garde concept. No one dared to speak about “beauty” at the time. Like what? A work of art could only be interesting, not beautiful.

GP: Better than that, I was talking about beauty and also decoration!

AB: Decoration, yes! This was even something heretic since modernism... Think about Adolf Loos Ornament and Crime.

AH: Did you feel you were in a dialogue or even in competition with only the greats, Gianni? And who were they? Who are the Masters for you?

GP: Piero della Francesca. The first and the main one. My first monochrome started after a particular tour with Paolini and Luciano Pistoi of Galleria Notizie and Corrado Levi who was a rich and intelligent collector. We went to the Fontana studio in Milan and then to Arezzo to see Piero della Francesca. When I got back I thought everything was clear. I made my different monochromes. That was 1965. Klee was my ideal teacher in some ways but it was always disappointing when I saw his work because it was very small. But that was my real school because when I started to make paintings the battle between image and abstraction was very important. Klee’s work was certainly the right size to afford both. And I always loved action painting, I liked both Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell a lot.

AH: And your feelings on your Italian peers?

GP: In the beginning and only in the beginning, until around ‘65, I liked Pistoletto, Paolini and [Luciano) Fabro. And then after that period, the art world kept going, going, going. And to me everything seems to have been done. To me contemporary art is now largely just a Western business in the Western world. And now China too...

AH: Do you have any regrets Gianni? Professionally speaking.

GP: Absolutely not.

AB: Look, the guy is happy. He has been able to make money doing his own shit, having more than enough money to always buy motorbikes and look after girlfriends. He's totally happy with that. No regrets. Gianni, am I wrong?

GP: Sure, it's okay. On the contrary I am very happy when I think about how I refused to compromise. People told me many times that I was crazy not to conform or do what I was being advised; that it would all end my career.

AB: I do think it's time that people should stop talking about one art history... It simply doesn't exist. There is not one narrative. Art history is increasingly a much more complex thing than the one we know from art books. A figure – an artist – like Gianni is testament to that.

AH: When I've looked at Gianni's artistic evolution, it's occurred to me that one of the reasons he's perhaps been isolated at times in the art world is that his work and practice doesn't slot into theoretical niches comfortably. Moreover, when we're considering a time that saw the dominance of pop art, of minimalism, of conceptual art, there are potent elements of all these historical ‘movements’ in Piacentino.

AB: Well I do think Gianni is very autonomous. It is a very special almost ‘isolated’ case... But remember when you mention conceptual art, that is a defined and understood term in art.

GP: Andrea, someone told me that the particular way I add my signature to my works was conceptual.

AH: And your GP logos are also very Pop... Maybe it takes a certain amount of time in history for people, and for guys like you Andrea, to say enough with the theory, look at this guy who is beyond all that. The key pieces of every important moment in twentieth century art have been identified, discussed, bought up and resold a couple of times at auction, literally rinsed. There must be something beyond all that. And that's one of the first things when I looked at Gianni's work a year or so ago that I felt. It's Pop in some respects but of course it's not a part of “Pop”. It's an Italian minimalism of course, but it stands outside of “Minimalism”. Maybe this speed freak Saturday motorbike ritual that Gianni has upheld is part of some conceptual story that is yet to fully unfold... Who knows? Gianni is clear that despite his understanding of art history, he wanted out from art world ‘rules’. Maybe the art world increasingly wants out from its own rules too?

AB: Gianni preferred to remain alone and free. And you are totally right It's a subjectivity. It's one guy, a true artist, doing his stuff... He invented an Italian minimalism. He also anticipated the Neo Geo, that is to say the 80s love for the object and the whole finish fetish...

GP: I always knew I had to wait for younger people to appreciate my work. Because of my age, there were only a few very important people – Onnasch, Marcello Levi – and I had those people on-side already.

AH: Was it, at any point, a financial struggle for you to continue as an artist?

GP: No not too much. By the 70s I started to live off my work. I had ups and downs like everybody, but also by then I knew many skills for many jobs. So, for example, I could do car body repairs if I needed some cash quickly. People were offering me a lot of money here in Turin to spray paint metal. I was turning all that down. I always had a few key people who appreciated the work. And there was one dealer from Milan, Gianni Schubert from Galleria Arte Borgogna, who also bought a great part of my work, which he displayed in his shows. He normally did business with very classic stuff like Picasso or Matta.

AH: Have you always constantly made art? You've never taken some months off to travel or think about other things?

AB: Gianni does not like travelling! He's a particular type of obsessive, as are many great artists. Upstairs the stamps are all laid out in these perfect pages with four stamps per page. The toy cars are all kept in rows in special drawers. He loves cutting-edge technology and he's brave enough to say modern art is only western and male. You have to be brave and crazy to say something like that. But that's Gianni Piacentino. That's the stuff he has been doing. He's honest about all of that.

GP: I did have a little rest when I was professionally racing motorcycles. Only because it was very time consuming: you had to prepare machines, deal with sponsors etc.

AH: Could you talk a bit about the evolution of the work from 1968 to now, Gianni. What are the key steps for you?

GP: The aesthetic of techniques. That is the base of all my work. Until the 50s the old technical stuff of vehicles had a lot of aesthetics. There was a lot of invention. I collect images of old cars, I have a lot of collections because they're ideas for my work. And right now I love polished metal. Sometimes when a very new motorcycle has launched ignorant journalists will say something like, ‘we are looking at modern sculpture.’ I laugh about that. But sure, there is some relationship to my idea of art. Something technical.

AB: I think Gianni has consistently been doing the same kind of work with the same passion for technical skills and hand craft. But he's added ideas of flight, of racing...

AH: Some of your inspiration seems to be cutting edge technology and some of the inspiration seems to be nostalgia. For example your affection for the Wright Brothers, that seems to be totally nostalgic.

GP: Why not. Sometimes nostalgia is good, because the technical stuff was very inventive. I made a lot of very big paintings about the Wright Brothers’ great plane.

AB: Gianni, you once told me that there is a golden age of industry. And this was when engineers and technicians were like artisans. The era of handcraft. The invention of machines and craftspeople being able to do it all with their own hands.

GP: It is clear to me that the best Ferraris are from the 50s. Mechanical technicians made them. Not designers.

AB: So you're nostalgic about this golden age but using new technological tools to make brand new pieces. But, yes, you’re nostalgic about this idea of a golden age.

GP: It's not that I’m totally nostalgic and stuck in that. My motorcycle is new. But I like the idea that artisanal mechanical technicians had the opportunity once to invent something. Now you look at cars and they're all the same.

AH: Essentially you have more respect for the engineers and designers of the 20th century than for the great artists?

AB: Certainly for the great engineers. For sure. He's declared it. [Gianni nods in agreement.) I do not agree with him but this is certainly what he says. Gianni would say that his motorbikes are higher and more important than any other artworks of the 20th century. Am I right?

GP: For me, sure.

AB: Like technology is more brilliant and interesting than any other artwork.

AH: Duchamp marvelled at the beauty of an early aeroplane's steel propeller and said painting couldn't match it. And his anointed successor Richard Hamilton famously said that the industrial products of Dieter Rams for Braun were akin to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel...

AB: The same spirit...

AH: I see a lot of similarities between the work of Gianni and that of Hamilton. The borrowing of industrial design; the chrome (as mirror); the self-portrait via industrial product; the use of Metal Flake and automobile finishes; the faux corporate logo of the artist's name…

GP: The GP logo was born because I hated how the signature was in classical painting. Because it had nothing to do with the paint. So I thought the industrial way was the best way to integrate my signature into the work.

AB: I do think they share many things, it's true. But Hamilton used a larger, shared visual culture: the Toaster, the Guggenheim etc. Gianni is really obsessive about his things... And that is really his world. He doesn't give a shit about anything else. You have to kill him for him to move from his own space and passions and his vision of things. Hamilton was playing and reacting to his time's visual culture, Gianni has been following his own not the ones of his society...

GP: I liked the way there were always sexy women with Hamilton.

AH: You’re right! What about Hamilton’s obsession with the notion of the ‘epiphany’? My thought is that during your Saturday morning ritual rides you then manage to get in touch with the wider universe somehow. You have your epiphany through speed. Almost like orgasm...

GP: I’m in touch with the throttle! [laughs) Sure last Saturday I was not great because I hadn’t ridden in a month because of bad weather. It’s important for me, I don't know why. I compare my ride and my time every week. Because I’m a maniac. It's a ritual. Or something. Maybe I will change!

AB: No, don’t change!

AH: You don’t feel closer to any ‘out-there’ sense of an order and beauty in the universe?

GP: I know I feel better if I can do a lot of speed on a Saturday morning. For me it’s the way not to be old too early. Every evening I do exercises before dinner because to drive that motorcycle you need to be strong and I'm pretty old... [laughs].

AB: On that issue of the creative epiphany, John McCracken thought his shapes and colours were sent to him by UFOs and that’s how he was in touch with the wider universe and all those metaphysical things.

GP: I’m pretty sure that’s all bullshit.

AB: UFOs? This is not Gianni's way...

GP: So one last question – how many girlfriends?

GP: I stopped counting at about 430 and that was in 1995. Maybe not girlfriends but stories, you know, one shot stories... In the seventies I had a friend who once said to me: “Why don’t we exchange our address books?” And when we did we realised half were exactly the same! What was it that happened in the Seventies?...

AB: You see, Ashley. It’s not really about the universe!