Artist Mark Guglielmo grew up in a large, blue collar Italian American family in New York. Guglielmo spent years immersed in the hip-hop community as both a rapper and producer. He later transitioned from music into the visual arts and moved to western Massachusetts. 

Guglielmo’s work consists of large-scale photo collages that explore his Italian heritage, and his latest exhibition is currently on display at the Vermont Center for Photography in Brattleboro. 

Producer Dave Fraser met with the artist recently and brings us his story.   

Mark Guglielmo shares more about how he got involved with the NYC hip-hop scene in an digital exclusive interview. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Western Mass-based artist Mark Guglielmo’s upbringing was in a large, blue collar Italian American family in New York, and he spent years as a rapper and a producer immersed in the hip-hop community before transitioning to visual art.

His current work of photo collages explores his Italian heritage and culture and hangs in the Vermont Center for Photography in Brattleboro. Producer Dave Fraser brings us his story.

Mark Guglielmo, Visual Artist: You know, art has been the part of my life where I have been forced to allow myself to imagine who I really am and to have the courage to be that.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: From his Northampton Studio, New York native Mark Guglielmo makes large scale painted photo collages, mixed media portraits, and landscapes that explore race, class, immigration, fragmentation, memory, and identity.

Mark Guglielmo: I got into art through photography. I had a great high school photography teacher. We had a darkroom in my public high school. And she kind of…just planted the seed of — of what it was to make images.

I was looking through an art book that the teacher had, and I happened to cross this photo collage that David Hockney did. My eyes recognized this image is somehow very different than any other image I’ve created.

And so, I knew immediately when I saw that image, I have to try that.

Dave Fraser: Using a tactile, old-fashioned approach by putting his fingers on his work, Guglielmo does not use a computer or Photoshop to create his collages. He says his process is so simple,  a child could do it: just scissors, tape, and four by six-inch photos.

Mark Guglielmo: You take one photo, you put another photo, and you’re like, “Mmmm…okay, yeah.” And you put a little piece of tape. Then you take another photo, “Okay, okay, yeah. Right there.” Intuitive — it’s all intuitive and eye. Boom! Piece of tape.

And then you just build out organically.

Dave Fraser: In 2015, Guglielmo traveled to Cuba for the first time. Once there, he took salsa classes, walked the streets, connected with the people, and got to know the island.

Mark Guglielmo: Cuba is — people are so friendly that I was able to do portraits and have conversations with them and do interviews. So, all the pieces from Cuba are portraits with sort of wherever they are, whether they’re in the city, in their home, in a landscape.

Dave Fraser: For his recent installation, currently on display at the Vermont Center for Photography, Guglielmo traveled to Sicily, Italy, the land of his ancestors, to explore and imagine what their life must have been like.

Entitled “Spirits in the Land,” this body of work addresses intersecting themes of memory, vulnerability, immigration, identity, and the imprinted legacies of his ancestors on the land they inhabited and the people that followed.

Mark Guglielmo: As an Italian American, I think of, “Okay, how are my people represented in popular media and culture?”

And it’s like you got The Sopranos, you got Goodfellas, you got The Godfather, you got Jersey Shore. What else you got? It’s like, okay, so there’s — there’s that aspect of us — which is a part of us — but it’s 1%.

And so, for me, it’s like, I want to portray who my grandmother was, you know, because she was none of those things. She was a lot more.

Dave Fraser: Each mosaic is made up of hundreds of snapshots taken by the artist. Wide shots and close ups from various angles captured the minute details that would be lost in a single image.

Using his skills as an artist, Guglielmo returns people to their homeland by superimposing their images over the collage.

Mark Guglielmo: The work is alive to me, you know, when I make these pieces, they’re alive to me. When I love them, when they come out good, I love them. So, I wanted to bring these peoples who whose stories are not heard, whose faces are not seen, who’ve been invisible.

And so, for me, it’s like bringing my people to the table in a way that feels like honoring them and — and kind of making space at the table for everyone.