Italian painter, illustrator and photographer Tom Porta has allowed his artistic skills to evolve alongside his subject matter, creating a rich and emotionally complex portfolio of work. From quirky pin-up to multi-faceted mask portrayals to a new exploration of the Japanese Tokkotai pilots, Porta dives deep into superficial perception to emerge with an intense, unique view of our own misunderstandings.
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Sez G: You did a great "Late-X" illustration series on masks which offers manifold views of the latex garments. Some eyes seem pained, some apathetic, some pleasured, some imprisoned, some liberated... How did your interest in the many faces of a mask develop, and how did your exploration lead you to this series?
Tom Porta: Masks are the final chapter of my exploration through the body and the emotions filtered by artificial garments. I started this journey some 12 years ago with illustration and photography; now, my final development is in paintings. I experimented with being in and viewing masks, both in artwork and reality...
EZ: Tell me about your first groundbreaking book, Fetish Files.
TP: I really didn't plan it. The shots? Most of them are junk, snapshots
I used as references for illustrations. My editor at that time decided to
print a "behind the scenes" of my work, and it sold out. It was the first
and (to this day) the only photobook with fetish themes published in Italy
done by an Italian.
EZ: When did you begin doing photography, and how often do you shoot?
TP: Apart from motorsports in general (which I still shoot), I started shooting pin-ups in '95 to use as images to draw. Photography later become a language unto itself for me. I don't shoot pin-ups anymore though; I've been painting exclusively since 2003.
EZ: That was when you completed a very creative series illustrating kinky versions of Gil Elvgren's pin-up art. How has Elvgren influenced your work, and what was the evolution of your series? Have you had any response from Elvgren fans?
TP: Elvgren was the greatest back then. I had a lot of fun doing these pieces, and I would keep on going, if I only had the time to... The response was quite good, but to be honest, I never checked the single sales. I have a very efficient agent for that.
EZ: I hear you're into comic books. How much of your illustrative
style is influenced by comics?
TP: Much, I think. I remember Sorayama (a good friend) used to tell me that my comic renderings inspired him so much...quite crazy. Comic as influence was more of an appeal than a real mark on my style, though.
EZ: In addition to your illustrations, you also do photography, including a series with exquisite Italian actress Ambra Angiolini. How did this collaboration develop and what is your relationship with her today?
TP: She's a famous TV star who is married and with kids now. All I'll say is that we had a feeling and decided to play with costumes and such. We don't see each other much anymore, but we have the same birthday, so that's always a good excuse...
EZ: Who's Marla?
TP: She was the single most amazing thing that happened in my life. A true larger-than-life kinda love, and the most intense five years I really had. Too wonderful to sustain the test of time, though.
EZ: You recently decided to stop creating fetish art and focus more on your Tokkotai work. What's the distinction between Tokkotai and kamikaze, and how were you drawn to this subject matter?
TP: Japan and Japanese culture are very popular today, from feng
shui houses to ideograms, to food and art. We western people call a "kamikaze"
a suicide terrorist just because they die doing it. The real Tokkotai (kamikaze)
phenomenon during WWII was much more than all that and carried a deep emotional
status. I try to give to the viewer a glance on the Tokkotai phenomenon
through images, symbols, writings and objects and hope to make people think
of how they use their words.
EZ: Does this mean you won't be doing any more work for Skin Two, Marquis, Maxim, Playboy, Leg Show, etc?
TP: That's it, I'm done at the moment. The relationship (in terms of business) between me and the magazines is no longer possible due to the politics of unpaid pictures for advertising. The magazines will sacrifice quality, vital juices, and creativity from authors, in favor of free stuff done by people with the illusion that they'll become somebody just because they got published. If you don't want to pay for my work, then that's the value you give to it.
But besides that, I ended certain collaborations because I didn't want my personal relationship with editors deteriorate.
EZ: So what's next for you?
TP: The Tokkotai Project has been quite successful in Milan's art scene (a surprise, I must admit), so I'll continue to work on that for a while. Late-X will take a farewell tour through a few countries. I'll be in Detroit in February and then Chicago, where some of my painting are at the moment. I have other painting projects that I'll be developing one by one. My site will be updated regularly.
To learn more about Tom Porta, visit TomPorta.com and TomPortaPaintings.com.
Tom Porta - by Sez G.