Meet the Renaissance Master of Instagram
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he's bringing classic sculpture to the modern age.
By Anna Volpicelli
- Sculptor Jacopo Cardillo, known as Jago, is producing strikingly lifelike art that reflects the despair of the pandemic.
- Jago has been compared to Renaissance masters, while bringing the public into his process via Instagram.
“People who called me the new Michelangelo were probably drunk,” says Jacopo Cardillo, 33, a promising Italian sculptor better known as Jago. While he is working on his version of Michelangelo’s Pietà in his studio at the Church of Sant’Aspreno ai Crociferi in Naples, a woman from Sri Lanka, captured by the rituality of the artist’s gestures and by the sacredness of this artwork, makes a sign of the cross. “My work has no religious meaning. Everyone sees what they want. I leave the viewer free to his interpretation.”
Yet it seems that the ecclesiastical world has recognized his abilities. In 2012, he received the Medal of the Pontificate from the pope, following the construction of a marble bust depicting Pope Benedict XVI covered in the papal robe. In 2019 he completed The Veiled Son during his art residency in New York, where he lived for two years, as a sequel to Giuseppe Sammartino 18th century The Veiled Christ. While in New York, Jago had the chance to participate in the prestigious Armory Show where he presented Donald, a sculpture that portrays the outgoing president of the United States as a child playing with legos
Now back in Naples, Jago’s artwork is an object of worship, in places both sacred and profane. In Piazza del Plebiscito, the city’s main square, on the night of Nov. 5, dressed in black and with the help of a team of trusted collaborators, Jago placed his latest sculpture, Look Down. A naked child curled up on the ground, abandoned, almost lifeless, has a chain at his navel, a symbol of a grave and painful bond with the mother who left him. The artwork is a loud invitation to observe the condition of our present, transformed by the pandemic — though Jago is going to let you figure it out from there. “This work wants to become a springboard for any interpretation and not a closed door,” he says. “Hence my choice not to explain or comment [on] it.”
Jago grew up in the hilly Central Italian town of Anagni, not far from Rome, where his parents encouraged him to pursue his passion. An art prodigy, Jago quit the Academy of Fine Art in Frosinone at age 20 because he was fed up with the rules and the academic dogma. His big break came at age 24, when the famous Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi invited him to the Venice Biennale.
Thanks to the sculpture, I have learned that those who do not make mistakes are not good, but those who know how to make mistakes are good.
A burgeoning “artrepreneur,” as Jago quips, his artistic research is also focused on questioning himself about the true meaning of being an artist today. “I think that the entrepreneur is one of the most creative people in the world — he has to invent something that wasn’t there before, and this is the height of creativity,” Jago says. “He does something that benefits not only himself, but also and above all, others.”
At the beginning of his career, with little money in his pocket, he scoured the rivers of the Anagni area for different-size stones to work with. Now, he can seek out his materials. To create The Veiled Son, for example, Jago used Danby marble from Vermont because, according to the artist, it was more suited to his intent.
“Sculpture allows me to be myself and only with myself. Every blow I give is the last one I will give. I can never go back. And this is a great responsibility. It taught me how to get out of my comfort zone,” he says. “Thanks to the sculpture, I have learned that those who do not make mistakes are not good, but those who know how to make mistakes are good. I have learned to make mistakes better and better and continuously. And I like it because it is the only way to learn. That’s the path.”
Despite his job’s loneliness, which often pushes him to be a hermit, Jago comes off as easygoing and friendly. “He is as you see it. He has no filters and is very direct. He is a sincere and very generous person,” says Tommaso Zijno, Jago’s friend and project manager who quit his job at a digital marketing company during the pandemic “to dedicate myself to Jago.” Similar to the greats of Italy’s past, Jago puts himself forward to the public directly, Zijno points out, without “mediators.”
The modern-day version means Jago shares his entire work process with his 184,000 Instagram followers.
“Jago’s artistic skills, both from a technical and relational point of view, are impeccable. What, in my opinion, are more questionable are the channels chosen to communicate them,” says Valerio Veneruso, visual artist, art curator and collaborator for the online magazine Art Tribune. Veneruso calls Jago’s social media approach “somewhat artificial.” He adds: “Even with the same name, Jago is a logo.”
Despite the criticisms, Jago’s communicative commitment has a definite intention. And even if he doesn’t want to be the next Michelangelo, he is happy to deploy a comparison to another Renaissance master. “My desire would have been to see Leonardo da Vinci’s videos while painting,” Jago says. “Because in observing the making process, there is real learning. Today, thanks to the new means of communication and social networks, all this is possible. I share my process because maybe in 10 years, someone will benefit from it.”
- Anna Volpicelli, OZY Author Contact Anna Volpicelli