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We meet with Italian Artist Antonio Natale, dedicated to make art on banknotes for more than 25 years. Along his career, Antonio’s extensive artistic style is globally recognised by several awards and prizes has been displayed in exhibitions around the world, entering major museums, contemporary art foundations, as well as private collections.

Create To Communicate

Going back to the beginning of his interest into the arts, Antonio recalls his childhood in Foggia, Italy:

“My first approach to art happened during my elementary school days at the age of six, when I understood that it was easier for me to communicate through my drawings than through writing. From that moment on, art became my life.”

Contemplating the path to an artistic career, Antonio attended the Liceo Artistico in Foggia, taking classes in Advertising, Poster and Fashion Design; whilst starting to work as an Advertising Designer and Press Illustrator for a popular newspaper in Puglia.

When, in 1984, Antonio moved to Rome to continue his studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, he also studied engraving at the Calcografia Nazionale, researched on the History of Myths connected to the modus operandi of the Italian Artistic Movement “Nuova Maniera”, and developed his professional experience as an Interior Decorator.

To Antonio inspiration firstly comes from Nature, the Gargano National Park’s mountains and ancient forests, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, where he became fascinated by the forces of the elements, the movements of the forest, the sea, the colours of the flowers and of the sky, and the animals that freely roam there.

He later travelled across Europe, which proved to be a critical step in his journey through the Arts, and the continuous pursuit of artistic inspiration and sources of influence. “After my graduation, I discovered the Northern Expressionists, and their impact was fundamental to me. The following 9 years were dedicated to new projects as well as new experiments on divers supports such as city maps and post stamps.”

Then in the 1990’s, during a trip to the United States, Antonio was captivated by the American Pop-Art movement and met with American Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein in New York. Reflecting on his artistic practice, Antonio acknowledges that: “As a matter of fact, even today, most of my artwork has the imprint of the American Pop Art movement.” Nowadays Antonio calmly confides he has a special place in Switzerland, dedicated to his art, and lives in Italy where life is good.

A Vehicle To Reach People

Back in 1997, Antonio recalls reading a written message, a phone number, on an Italian 1000 Lira banknote, it triggered the reasoning at the source of his chosen creative path:

If a banknote is able to transmit a message from hand to hand and travel, then why not use Art as the message to reach a maximum of people.”

Since then Antonio has painted, mostly with acrylic paint, exclusively on out-of-circulation banknotes from the world over. Art on banknotes became a means to help Antonio reach his own challenge: to impact as many people as possible, and explains how this goal is achieved by using banknotes as preferred support for his art: “Most possibly because the banknote has its own story already and when it interacts with my own personal story, the message communicated is magnified and becomes more potent.”

Pondering over the use of paper money as a vehicle of written and illustrated messages, which are destined to sublime and encourage exchanges and meetings, Antonio decided to make up his own original communicative, expressive, and artistic dossier.

“Art regenerates, renovates, restores, and strengthens the value and the individual function of the banknotes (and works of art), which stands as vehicles of communication and instruments of relationship between men, heritage, needs and dreams.”

A Fiat branded car, background horizontal collage of banknotes from various countries painted in red.
“Make Fiat, not war” | © Antonio Natale

“Above all, the out-of-circulation banknotes, which for those who see and listen are depositories of history, relationships, sensations and projects, are brought to life and tell their own story through my imagination. Here is the miracle of a simple piece of obsolete paper! Art once again sets it in motion, re-telling stories and events linked to people living elsewhere.”

Antonio describes himself as a globetrotting artist, who travels the world in search of precious goods essential for an artist’s’“hunger” for experiences, suggestions, languages, and innovative expressions from the real and imaginary world, retracing the many stories of history through his illustrations on the banknotes. Moving along a mysterious and fascinating road of art, of creativity and of invention, history is related to memory and discovery to how many of these stories have been in some way protagonists of far-away spectators in space and time.

Curiosity At First Sight

Looking back at how his art has been received since he started, Antonio declares: “At first sight people are very curious, and when they slowly approach my artwork theyenter inside the details and the stories I tell, and no one remains indifferent to my art.” Although not the first artist who has used banknotes to make art, Antonio reveals that the art world is interested in the fact that his career is made of using these supports in an exclusive manner for over 26 years.

An angel pointing his finger to the lips of a resting person on a blue background.
“Il sogno mattutino” | © Antonio Natale

“My inspiration never stops. The feedback has been positive from the beginning whether coming from Journalists, the public, or the art world, even if some people have been afraid at first of the power and message that Money projects behind my artwork. However, when they get into the why and find out about the stories I tell, they change totally and see them in a new light.”

Antonio reveals that a major part of his paintings has been made to denounce social injustices, such as human trafficking, child abuse, child spouses, violence against women, etc. It’s on these themes that Antonio has exhibited in NY University in 2007, and the European Parliament in 2018, where he told the stories of the immigrants coming to the United States.

“Denouncing what goes against human rights and values should be the mission of every true artist, since we carry the testimonies of our time through our art, otherwise every artwork would be nothing more than decoration.”

The Artistic Destiny Of Paper Money

Antonio Natale’s interpretation about Money Art is that cash money is not just a means to buy and sell, it can convey powerful messages and captivate a wide audience, evolving beyond its intended use.

Mona Lisa in green, white and red colors, with a blue lined landscape, background horizontal collage of banknotes from various countries
“My Money Lisa” | © Antonio Natale

“We live with the banknotes throughout our lives, but we are also connected with them in a more sinister way. Just like them, we work to bring food to our table and then, one day we are too obsolete to continue and retire. The good news though, is that there is hope for us because after retirement we can change our life and do what we please to make us happy until the end.
The banknotes, on the other hand have a better destiny than us as they achieve immortality by becoming works of art, thus, changing their destiny and meaning, getting their value back and more, and sharing their ongoing messages throughout eternity.”

Photograph of Italian artist Antonio Natale, background artworks "Mon(k)ey" and "Make Fiat Not War"

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