All Articles
All Articles
CULTURE

Interview: Le Dictateur's Federico Pepe

CULTURE

Interview: Le Dictateur's Federico Pepe

The rarely interviewed Italian creative director speaks on art, advertising and the power of hard work

by Paolo Ferrarini
on 10 June 2014

Federico Pepe is a slightly peculiar figure in Italy's arts and cultural landscape. Advertiser, artist, graphic designer, video-maker, typographer—over the years his hybrid interests have seen him collaborate with celebrated artists like Maurizio Cattelan, Pierpaolo Ferrari, Nico Vascellari and many others on a diverse range of projects.

“I started my career doing advertising. Not long after, I realized that commissioned work did not give me the opportunity to express everything that I wanted to express and do everything that I wanted to do,” Pepe explains. The most well-known of these projects is certainly Le Dictateur, a unique e-commerce and editorial platform (and now also an exhibition space in Milan). Conceived as a sophisticated art magazine, Le Dictateur is synonymous with high-quality content and is equally worshipped by graphic designers and typography enthusiasts for the subversive design aesthetic found across its printed pages.

Preferring to express his creativity rather than talk about it, Pepe recently sat down with us for a rare interview at the office of DLV BBDO agency, where he's the Executive Creative Director. We discussed his creative origins, his longterm research project and recent exhibition, "I Am Wasting My Time"—and the importance of working hard.

How was Le Dictateur born?

I started working as an art director, but then I realized that I wanted to do other things. I came into contact with some gallery owners and I collaborated on a number of projects and exhibitions. Things began to work well, but I was earning a living doing something else, so I was willing to accommodate only a few requests.

At first it was certainly not my concern to consider if you could sell or not sell—I was totally focused on other aspects of the creative processes, so at some point I disconnected from that world because I did not like how research is made in the art galleries. It was the early 2000s and I produced so much. This has always been my way to work, it turns out well when I follow many different things together. That’s my way to feel free. For this reason, I tried to build a mechanism that would go in the opposite direction with respect to the existing ones, and I invented Le Dictateur. I brought it forward immediately with Pierpaolo Ferrari, my partner in this adventure.

The first Le Dictateur was born between 2005 and 2006 as an editorial project. To start, I put together all my work, and since it’s very heterogeneous, it might seem like the work of many different people. I sent a mockup to a number of artists, trying to invite them to participate in the project, without saying who made the works. When the works of other artists started arriving, I removed mine and put theirs. Eventually I also left a number of my own works. So at first it was mainly a process of curatorship.

Would you say that you created a model that didn't exist yet?

Exactly. In addition, each piece had to be specifically made on purpose. I wanted Le Dictateur to become a tool for all participants to create very sophisticated editorial work. After a few years, Pierpaolo and I have also began to share a studio. [But] we never used it because at the end of the day we were working in other places, so we said, “We pay the rent and don't use it. Either we return it, or we invent something else.” So we decided to organize an opening, but we wanted it to be different from what we were used to seeing, with boring exhibitions, few people, silence, heaviness. So we thought of a formula with live music, alcohol and one-night exhibits.

All the invited artists have always perceived Le Dictateur as a space of freedom, where they can open a parenthesis and pull out the things that otherwise, when they work in their galleries, they can not pull off. We do not follow a schedule and do not even have strict programming.

The magazine also doesn't adhere to deadlines or a regular editorial schedule?

No, definitely not. The original Le Dictateur, the magazine, is now in its fourth issue. The latest was produced on the occasion of a series of exhibitions that we did at the Palais de Tokyo. But we also realized many other publications, projects such as Void, Maurizio Has Left the Building, we edited the series Toilet Paper and projects related to single openings.

How important is the concept of quality for Le Dictateur?

From a production point of view we are not keen to a concept of “underground fanzine” style. Le Dictateur must comply with high standards. Fast things are not always the coolest. There can be speed, but only when it represents a real advantage.

How many years of work are in the current embodiment of "I Am Wasting My Time"?

I would say three years. During this period there have been two exhibitions when I showed extracts, one at the Von Holden Studio of Palermo (a double solo that I did with a talented photographer, my friend Jacopo Benassi) and at the Maison Rouge in Paris. And then it was time to present in Milan. From the beginning the idea on which I wanted to work was a sensation. While preparing this work, I always tried to imagine the reaction of people to the publication or to the works in place. I wanted the reaction to be, “How can you do such a thing?” Like when you meet those who do marathons and you wonder how they can do it, it seems physically impossible, and yet it is not. It’s just a matter of will. The result may be sick, but extremely lucid.

Since you embody both souls, from your point of view what is the difference between the work of an art director and that of an artist?

The art director is a trainer and a selector. Theoretically, the art director may not even know how to do anything. You need awareness and must be able to make other people work, must be a motivator.

There may be many points of contact with a specific figure of artist that has emerged more and more in recent years, that of the “I see, I understand, I do not do, but I make others do it.” For this reason figures like Maurizio Cattelan have often been addressed as being art directors rather than artists. Why so? Because he is the brains of many things, not physically doing anything with his own hands, but making others do things instead of him.

Probably being the art director of an advertising agency is a more difficult role because you need to be truly “schizophrenic” and must be able to move in a thousand different directions, both from a mental point of view and from the point of view of style. Stylistically you must be very open, while the artist instead needs to have a style, a style so clear it gives continuity to its work.

Is your art more local or more international?

Honestly I never pursued these goals. Mimmo Paladino has always said, “If you want to be international, you must belong to a place.” What can bring Italy or an Italian artist to the international level? If we all become the same, honestly, who cares? I do not expect and do not like homologation. I'd rather prefer to discuss an “international provincialism.” Ai Weiwei is Ai Weiwei because he is Chinese and lives in China. He would not be arrested and would not say the things he says if it he was not there.

I strongly believe in applying oneself… If you work hard and have talent, certainly big things happen, there’s no doubt.
How do ideas arise? Is there a unique process?

I think ideas are born from predisposition. Not in the sense that “we are born predisposed,” but for daily preparation. In this domain I believe that discipline is pivotal. The real talents today are very rigorous people, those who work hard, exchange a lot, think a lot, and know how to apply and balance many different things. Being physically in good shape prepares a certain type of activity, also the activities of thought. Commissioned ideas arise from technique: you have a brief, you know what you are asked, then you apply yourself, knowing already the boundaries. Then ideas can come in so many other ways, because you’re working on a space, an image, a color, an object. I very often record things, the thoughts that I have, I let them settle and sometimes resume and reconsider.

I strongly believe in applying oneself, and it is something that I always say to the kids when they begin working at the agency. If you work hard and have talent, certainly big things happen, there’s no doubt. I see so many people full of talent but lacking will.

You frequently say that you follow many projects at the same time. If it doesn't happen spontaneously, do you create this situation?

It simply happens all the time. For so many years I took care of many things and there is not a moment when I don’t have a good deal of things to carry out. I often have moments when I have to do extremely important things and logic would dictate that I should only work on those. But then I’m going to accomplish one thing extremely less important, but because I need—even for a limited time—to pull off something else. This calibrates me anew and when I get back, everything gets more focused.

Additional reporting by Luisa Aschiero. Performance image courtesy of Federico Pepe, all others by Paolo Ferrarini

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like
Loading More...