Through a love of history and the lessons of our artistic forebears, Davide Schileo (aka Tabulae) is one printmaker on a mission to keep the old ways of intaglio printmaking alive with his medievil & macabre woodcut prints.
When you look at the prints of Tabulae, stories and characters reminiscent of the past come at you thick and fast. His narrative style looks like it’s been delivered straight off a Guttenberg Press and that you feel you should be turning the velum pages of a heavy religious text, but having grown up surrounded by history and a visual artistic heritage that runs deep through the Northern Italian landscape, Davide also combines modern means to get his work out there and reach new audiences.
“My interest towards ancient art came quickly, especially because I previously attended a classical lyceum, in which I studied a lot of ancient Latin & Greek culture and history. This cultural background was very important for me and probably dragged me into Medieval orbit. As a matter of fact, during the Middle Ages the works of Latin and Greek authors constantly lead and inspired artists like Durer and most of the woodcutters of the German Renaissance. I think that a similar process happened to me.”
Whilst catching up with Davide, we had to start by asking where his artists name, Tabulae, came from? “Tabulae is the Latin word for “tables” and alludes to the woodblocks I use for carving. In a few words my raw material.”
To anyone who has visited Drawcutinkpress before it doesn’t take long to notice a strong leaning towards the use of linoleum as a material for creating print blocks for relief prints, although we’ve experimented with some alternative wooden materials to see what the difference is like when carving and printing. At first I thought that Davide was also a fan of linocut, but he quickly points out “I use mdf, an industrial material which is similar to wood in rigidity and consistency. It is more difficult to cut than the linoleum, but for my works I think it is the best solution because I want to give to the woodblock a sort of monumentality and importance.”
“I also like other printing techniques, especially etching, which makes me print totally different works that are more detailed and realistic subjects. With this technique I also won the Young Prize at the International Biennale of Contemporary Etching and Graphic Arts of Acqui Terme in 2019. My last etching work was entitled “Tentazioni di Sant’Antonio” (Temptations of Saint Anthony) and I hope to make new works like it soon.”
Having started out attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, where he could pursue his love of drawing with a course in Printmaking and Engraving, he began printmaking “very simple works which were more similar to Expressionism than to my actual works. Medievalish inspiration came later, when I had more experience with this printing technique.”
And whilst that inspiration is part of the cultural heritage across Europe (and is particularly engrained in Italian art, architecture and cultural heritage) it’s not just big names from art history that get his juices flowing and drive him to pick up his pencil, there are plenty of anonymous artists whose works adorn buildings, monuments and manuscripts that light up Davide, “I’m inspired by several pieces of medieval art, like illuminated manuscripts, frescos and more. I love in particular the woodcuts and engravings of the masters of German Renaissance like Durer, Urs Graf, Hans Lutzelburger, Lucas Cranach and more. I like to give a personal interpretation of several aspects and subjects of Middle Ages and my favourite one is the macabre art of old paintings and prints.”
“I feel a strong connection with the macabre. I don’t explore this theme just for an aesthetic reason, but because I like to study its history and meanings. My last degree was about this theme in Medieval and Renaissance Graphic arts and made my way of thinking change completely. Now I often imagine myself like a man from the past who tries to get involved in the modern world with different tools but with the same spirit of his ancient time.”
So with such a strong connection with all things macabre it’s no surprise where you might find him if he’s looking for fresh air and renewed inspiration. “My favourite place to go to find inspiration is the church of Saint George in San Polo di Piave, which is situated a few kilometres from home. It was built in XV century and it is a singular place for two main reasons: first at all its wonderful medieval frescoes which represent various saints and a Last Supper, strong symbols of my culture; on the other hand, the church is surrounded by an old and little graveyard. I love walking among its decaying tombstones before and after visiting the church frescos because it makes me think about the resilience of art and the shortness of human life.”
Like many lovers of the relief printing artform, Davide is able to work from home when creating his prints, “I consider myself lucky because I have enough space for carving or to place woodblocks. The only bad thing for the moment is that I have to go to specialized laboratories if I need to print my works, but I hope one day to get a new space in which I can put several presses and teach at workshops.”
We know that having the right conditions for creativity is a very personal part of the creative process for most artists and printmakers, and when we asked Davide what he switches on in the background to sink into his process his answer didn’t disappoint! “I listen to a lot of music which is possibly connected with my work. When I’m drawing I often listen to ambient music and Dungeon Synth, which is perfect for many situations. Things are different when I’m carving because I constantly need to receive energy and strength, so on these occasions I usually listen to Black Metal, especially with medieval/folk influences.”…. Of course you do! (I need not have asked that one)
Once the ambience is set and the inspiration is flowing Davide settles into the business of planning his work. He’s a thinker that likes to consider his compositions, “I think a lot before drawing and I do a great number of adjustments and versions. It is also very important for me to study history and ancient art to give meaning to my works. I don’t like too much to work casually.” and it was this slower process of careful consideration that helped his style develop, “My style developed slowly, my medieval-ish style was born when I was studying Byzanthine religious icons. I fell in love with the bidimensional representation of subjects and I started considering how very important the composition of the various elements in an image is. The next stop was an increasing interest towards Renaissance woodcuts, especially dealing with the Memento Mori theme. In my latest works I’m trying to be more realistic and historically accurate.”
“Color is really important for my work, sometimes it makes it seem better and more readable for people. I also love illuminated manuscripts, as I said before, so sometimes I want to make my works more similar to medieval handmade book paintings. Moreover, in ancient times it was a normal thing to paint prints, especially with watercolors, so I feel more motivated on thinking that way.” and once the work is completed, “I usually use etching presses and book presses for printing good copies of my works. In historical reenactments I use a wooden spoon and other tricks instead of modern instruments.”
It’s great that his passion for history not only comes through in his style, but also as a piece of living history that can be demonstrated at historical re-enactment events. This commitment isn’t something you’d typically expect from a printer today, but Davide is an artist with one eye on the future and one respectfully looking back to the past; “I work very much online, because social media channels like Instagram or Facebook give an artist a lot of opportunities to be seen. Other places where someone could see my prints are comic book events and collective exhibitions with other colleagues and various artists with different techniques. But in my opinion one of the best contexts where I can show my works are medieval reenactment events, because they provide to me the perfect environment and atmosphere.”
“Woodcut is my world and I know I will carve for all my life. I also try to earn money from my prints not only because I have to pay for tools, papers and inks, but also because I consider woodcut like another job I have to do to survive. Carving wood makes me feel good and it is an opportunity to keep in contact with my interests in History and Art. I can’t be restricted to only reading or seeing documentaries: my creativity needs to manifest itself.”
It was a pleasure getting to know Davides’ process and all about his passion for the past and how that influences his work. To wrap up the session we still had a few burning questions to ask…
Who is your favourite fellow printmaker? Are there any artists that really stand out for you?
I know a few lino/woodcutters I like very much, for example Tomas Hijo, Rocco Lombardi, Marianna Boi, Clarissa Bebber (aka Bekla) and Leonardo Marenghi. I think every one of them has a strong personality which makes them stand out and make particular subjects.
What is the part of the process you relish the most? Draw? Cut? Ink? or Press? (& can you explain why?)
I love drawing, because I very much like designing an image. It is an introspective work and like the act of planning I think it is the basis of everything in Graphic and printing art.
Were there any lessons you learnt while you developed your linocutting technique that you think feel were real milestone moments for you?
Nothing in particular, but I can tell you about my mistakes. Every time my tools escaped from my command and I carved too much and every time I saw some defects on my prints I said to myself that I had to improve my skills and my ability. It is necessary for everyone to learn from his own errors.
What’s the favourite piece of work you’ve produced? and why do you think you like it so much?
My favourite piece of work is “Le mort avec le foliot” (=the dead with the foliot). It is a work in which I have spent a lot of time thinking and looking for a perfect connection of meanings. It is a mix between a Memento mori and a Ecce Homo representation, because the dead poses like a condemned Jesus and holds a medieval clock called “foliot”, which represents the shortness of human life. It was also difficult to cut, because as you can see it is surrounded by a scroll with a gothic latin writing, which is one of the most difficult subjects for carving. The same writing (translated: There are three things that make me really cry: the first one is very hard, because I know I will die; I truly mourn the second one, because I will die and I don’t know when; I regret the third one instead, because I don’t know where I will remain) is the most important element of the piece work because it is the lament of a man who was afraid of death and every time I think about it I feel a strong connection and empathy as I said before.
What’s next? Do you have exciting plans ahead?
I have a lot of exciting plans I hope to do. I want to deepen Renaissance woodcut style and find a way to join it with the history of the place where I live. I don’t feel like telling more because I think my next woodcut will speak more efficiently than I can do.
What would be your dream project?
My dream project is creating a Renaissance like printing house, with a lot of students and coworkers whilst travelling around Italy and Europe with this project. It is a little ambitious, but I hope to realize it.
Portrait or Landscape?
Portrait mostly, I have to do more practice in landscapes.
Narrative Scene or Abstract?
Narrative Scene, I know I am a concrete person, sometimes even a bit materialistic. In my whole life I’ve never been able to understand abstract art, it is the opposite of my personality.
What’s your go to tool/paper/ink in your artists toolbox?
In my toolbox woodcut knives, printing paper and oil based black ink are strictly necessary.
Where do you go to top up on your supplies? We get readers from all around the world so local art supply stores or websites you can order from are always welcome
In Italy I usually buy all my tools and supplies from Mondo Artista and Amicucci. Sometimes I have a look towards websites abroad.
Most readers always check out my blogs on exercises for beginners. If you had any tips you’d give away what would you say to help readers? What’s your top tip?
My tips for everyone is to be patient and tenacious. Woodcut practice gives a lot of satisfaction but also great difficulties and needs to constantly rethink. The most important things are your mood and your clarity: when these elements are good, you can do everything you want.
In a digital world, what is it about printmaking that means people still love it?
I think it is the fact that people are able to touch materials and be really responsible for the print’s result. Everyone knows how to print images from a personal computer and this makes images a common part of everyday life. You can get a totally different sensation with printmaking because you actively take part in the print and carving process, so images get a real value.