Mark Kostabi is a visual artist and composer who gained fame in the 1980s for a series of interviews he self-published about himself and his work which has since been mentioned in television series and films including “Miami Vice” and “American Psyche.” Mark now produces a weekly television show on cable and designs cover art for albums.

Most recently, Mark has gotten interested in film, and he will play himself in a film titled “My Italy” which is being released by Uncork’d Entertainment.

“My Italy” follows the adventures of a director and his assistant who are exploring Europe in hopes of securing financing for a movie about four artists--Mark among them.

Via a recent and exclusive interview, Mark discussed his experiences as an artist and his experiences as an artist and his hopes for the future about Movies and other projects.

Music, art, and Guns N Roses

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to become an artist and what painters inspired you?

Mark Kostabi (MK): I was naturally good at art as a kid, and at age six my parents, friends, and teachers all said I was a great artist and should be an artist. I agreed. As for inspiration, first, it was comic book artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Barry Smith and Bernie Wrightson. It was the Pre-Raphaelites like Dante Gabriel Rosetti and William Holman Hunt. Then when I got to art school, I was inspired by Warhol and Duchamp, more conceptually than visually.

My actual current visual art has more of a connection to De Chirico, Leger, and Dali.

MM: Did you ever get to meet Andy Warhol and was there a particular exhibit, museum or gallery that helped kick-start your career?

MK: Many times. He was very nice, encouraging and playful. Always smiling and amused. As for my career kick-start, it was probably that De Chirico show at MoMA in the early 1980s just after I moved to New York.

MM: You’ve done some work with Hollywood – for instance, Axl Rose on the covers for “Use Your Illusion” I and II. Is there any difference designing art for film and music productions than there is someone’s bedroom wall?

MK: Actually, a lot of my album covers were already paintings of mine that existed. In the case of Guns N’ Roses, I made one painting in 1990, inspired by a detail from “The School of Athens” by Raphael, using a combination of silk screening and oil paint.

I used red, yellow, black and white. When it was time to give the painting a title I asked my brother Paul Kostabi for a suggestion. He said, “Use Your Illusion.” Years later he told me he got the idea for the title because he saw me using illusions and exaggerations in order to get press for my art career. I sent the painting to Hanson Gallery in Beverly Hills where Axl Rose stumbled upon it and bought it. He recently confirmed the story to me that on the night before, he had written some lyrics which included “I bought me an illusion, and I put it on the wall.”

This incident inspired him to ask me if he could use my painting and title for the cover of his next album. The blue version, “Use Your Illusion II” was created by Axl and his people who simply changed the colors with something like the PhotoShop of the day.

MM: What do you consider your most precious piece of art?

MK: The portrait of my father that I did in 1979 as an art student. It’s not for sale, but I would give it away for free to an important museum who would devote a wing to my work.

Movies, film stars, and Italy

MM: How and when did “My Italy” come along?

MK: The director, Bruno Colella, showed up at some of my Rome parties and, strangely, got haircuts during the parties from another guest, Paola Marino. This ended up in the Italian gossip columns. Little by little, we became friends, and he said he wanted to make a film about me. We signed a contract and started, and then after a while, he said the famous Italian art critic Achille Bonito Oliva wanted to be in involved and wanted to add three more artists.

Sometimes I wonder if the other three artists experienced the same thing since it relates to the plot.

MM: Were you at all apprehensive about playing yourself in a movie and is the Mark in the movie an exact representation of the Mark in real life?

MK: No, starring in a role as myself is the easiest thing. Now I hope to play other roles! The film version is an exaggeration of my more abject side. I enjoyed working with the cast. The costume designer annoyed me at first, but we ended up becoming good friends.

MM: Have you seen the film and, if so, did you enjoy it?

MK: OMG. It’s a masterpiece. I’ve seen it sixteen times, and I can’t wait for the next time! It’s cool to see myself on screen. I feel like I matter.

If it didn’t happen on the silver screen, it didn’t happen.

MM: Do you get to Italy a lot these days and do you any advice for young up-and-comers?

MK: I divide my time equally between Rome and New York, so yes, I get back to Italy a lot, where I frequently relive moments seen in “My Italy.” As for advice to artists, I would say the following: Make great art, live in New York, circulate, be professional, have a story, and get other people to work for you. As for movie advice, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the film industry. I’m a hustling two-bit actor myself, despite my wealth and fame in the art world. But I do feel strongly about lighting. It’s all about the lighting.