Paolo Girardi

Paolo Girardi

by Niklas Göransson

Italian painter and heavy metal gladiator Paolo Girardi has been fighting his entire life; from childhood domestic violence and wrestling-mat warfare to confronting the most bitter adversary of them all – himself.

This is an excerpt from the full article –  which is almost twice as long, significantly more in-depth, and published in Bardo Methodology #3.


– My days consist mostly of painting in the studio, which is also where I sleep at night. I prefer using my money for travelling and eating out, rather than paying rent to random strangers. Sometimes, I go for walks or help out a friend with farm-work but my life generally revolves around art. I live in a small, beautiful, ancient, and close-minded town – it’s been difficult remaining myself here where everyone is crushed by its mentality and culture. I love all of this though; you won’t develop a strong character without hurdles and complexity. Every experience elevates and enriches us, in my opinion.

As it happens, Paolo knows a fair bit about hardship. While toiling to develop his artistic skills, he often scraped by in relative poverty – even having to grow his own vegetables in order to save money.

– I had to wake up early every morning and go to my garden, Italy has hot weather so you’ll burn your plants if you water them after 8:30am, or before 8:00pm. Each period of life has its ups and downs: I was younger and poorer but also had higher energy – more reckless, instinctive, and fatalist… a dreamer warrior! Now that I’m financially stable and mature I’ve become more rational, calmer, and slower. Life goes on, I’m always happy. I’ve been a young man, I’m a man now.

While quality of life is certainly higher these days, Paolo says the lows reach deeper the older one grows. He was significantly more carefree in his younger years.

– I was full of infinite energies – my body and mind seemed eternal, juvenile passion made me a war machine in everything I did. That’s unthinkable now! My brain and body look sick to me, haha! But everyone keeps telling me I haven’t changed at all… I’m happy for that. Back when I was a fresco restorer, I used to work eleven-hour days. As the only male on staff, I often had to carry out the hardest tasks. Then hours of brutal wrestling practice afterwards and, following that, painting for one hour minimum. Considering also that I had to maintain my low weight for competition, I couldn’t even eat as much as I wanted to.

Sounds positively hellish.

– No, this was paradise to me! I love challenges. People are always telling me how big my balls are. I had no idea what my future might hold, of course, but I kept on doing many things simultaneously to leave open as many of the paths before me as I could. I’m sure the destiny that chose me, and was chosen by me, is the best I could ever have in my life.

Were you always certain that you were going to make it at some point?

– A dreamer, a fighter, a maker always knows unconsciously that he’ll succeed one day, sooner or later. But confidence is no excuse for not giving it your all. I never rested, no relaxation – I never quit my hopes and dreams. The Italian sun has taught me a lot; I’ve always believed in horizons beyond the huge dark abyss within me, I fly towards the open spaces even beyond death and pain.

Part of Paolo’s latter-year success is owed to his prolific social media presence. For instance, his Facebook page has about 16,000 followers, to whom he enthusiastically shows off recent artwork, his amazing fashion sense, as well as videos of himself rocking out to MANOWAR.

– After my BLASPHEMOPHAGHER artwork in 2011, I understood that something had changed. Instinctively, I bought my first-ever computer – a super-cheap ancient one. It was clear to me that I had to show myself and my stuff to the world. There was no choice but to succeed, I wanted to be someone! Not like most of my frustrated, miserable fellow citizens in the grey mass.


Paolo’s teenage years came to be strongly dominated by the classic sport of freestyle wrestling – a grappling discipline in which the practitioners’ foremost goal is pinning their opponent’s back to the ground.

– I remember with extreme pride and emotion my victories and losses on the mat. It’s the best foundational education a man can have – an archaic sport of sacrifice, glory, fear, pain, love, contest, hate, stubbornness, blood, trial, passion, passion, passion…

Having trained a bit of wrestling myself, I must say it’s quite possibly the most horribly gruelling and painful physical activity I’ve ever subjected myself to – hated every second of it. Reaching an internationally competitive level like Paolo did during his career must require mental fortitude and grit to an extent I could barely imagine.

– My father forced me into wrestling because it had a simple country ambience, contrary to all other sports which he considered too full of idiots. I was fifteen years old and my first days… well, my first year on the mat, it was absolutely traumatic. I considered wrestling a sport for homos, with all the touching and fondling each other. Meanwhile, my father used to beat me up at home… punches and kicks.

Paolo’s father came from the mountains, where this kind of ‘tough love’ was standard treatment for animals and children.

– Well, after growing increasingly tired of those punches I started taking wrestling seriously, hoping to claim revenge on my father one day. Each time I wrestled, every opponent, I felt my father’s hands on me – those secular hands of oppression, of humiliation. My pride could not stay silent.

Besides training to ward of his violent father, Paolo began seeing wrestling with very different eyes.

– It was turning into an aesthetically beautiful, classic, ancient, Olympic, primordial sport. It fully entered my soul and turned this slim, introverted, and shy boy into a man… a man with flaws, but always a man! I believe there was already a fighting soul dwelling in this weak boy – wrestling exposes your true character, your nature and real personality. It’s given me the gifts of self-sacrifice, stubbornness, dreams, love, and passion. Qualities that in my opinion are essential in every artistic expression.

Over time, Paolo realised his vengeance would be exerted not by returning physical violence but surpassing his father’s low expectations. As such, what he’s now accomplished with his life and career as a professional artist is the finest retribution imaginable.

– In 2007, my father told me something on his deathbed when he was dying from brain cancer: ‘You’ve never done anything good in your life and are an unsuccessful person!’ I thought, ‘Okay, I must win over him. I will take my revenge, I have to be the best! I’ll kick hard on haters and all people who never believed in me and send them back to the shitty holes they come from.’

Shortly after his father’s passing, Paolo went on to compete at the 2007 Freestyle Wrestling Nationals in Naples.

– I won the bronze medal despite already being thirty-three, an old athlete… in my head, I can still hear those burning words before his death. I’m an animal, can’t let him win – never, at any cost.

Paolo says that when seeing people with loving parents, his initial reaction is always a wish that he himself had grown up in a more supportive and caring environment.

– In the next moment, I always think: my life is my life, this is what’s made me. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud of my victories and defeats, it’s what makes for the person I am – what I’ve done, felt, lived, thought, and so on… and the best has yet to come. We have to be happy and fight for what we can change in the present. There’s so much to do in this short life already, there’s no room for regrets or useless thoughts or other wastes of precious energies. These days, I know a lot of supporting and loving people from all over the world; this is my real family! They give me warmth, love and comprehension. That’s one of the wonderful aspects of my job.

Grappling with a skilled wrester, especially one who’s at a significant strength disadvantage to oneself, can be a sensationally humbling experience. I’m thinking that Paolo’s projectile proclivity in combination with his hulkish frame must make him an absolute nightmare to deal with in a streetfight.

– Brawls haven’t happened that much, just sometimes. Sport gave me discipline and awareness of human limits. Asphalt is not soft like a mat, I could slam someone to the ground but both winner and loser would have injuries. Street is not sport – sport is more like a deep, patient, sharp chess game.


I imagine Paolo must have engaged in the process of cutting weight numerous times throughout his wrestling career. This is a common practice in combat sports, used by athletes to qualify for as low a weight class as possible while retaining the maximum amount of muscle mass. Brute strength can make all the difference when both contestants are equally skilled. A few days leading up to the contest, the competitor will eat and drink minimally while forcefully sweating out as much water as possible, often by sitting fully dressed in the sauna for hours on end.

– I have cut weight for every competition I’ve taken part in. My worst was eight kilos in six days, pure hell. I must also add that I didn’t have much body fat to begin with. After this infernal weight cut I bit our driver’s hand, wanting to eat his fat fingers because he tried to steal some of my chocolate. I hadn’t eaten in six days, more or less…

Sounds utterly abysmal.

– Well, I loved weight cut ‘cause it’s the first fight you have to win. The initial two days are a real battle but after that, our bodies and bellies get used to hunger and famine. In my experience – after three days, you ‘re no longer tired but become intelligent, sharp, and quick. You even start predicting the future! Strange but true. You turn into a perfect animal that reacts quickly and well to every stirring.

This sounds optimum for artistic creativity; did you ever try painting during a weight cut?

– Yes, I always painted while cutting weight, it was the same more or less. I used to be focused on my competitions, so in order to stay calm and concentrated I painted a bit less during those periods. Even after the third day when the crazed state came upon me, I tried to feel as usual – as if my normal life hadn’t changed. Remaining balanced inside and outside was the best solution before tournaments or championships.

One of the less glorious aspects of the experience is of an aromatic nature. The rapid expulsion of bodily fluids conjures up a spectacular array of the ghastliest odours imaginable.

– Mucus, catarrh, rot, smell of fear and defeat… that’s a trial. Everything changed when I began facing bad sensations with a smile, staying well-balanced on the inside. That’s when I started to win, both on the mat and against myself. I became a smiling steel robot unbothered by hunger and thirst. Sleepless nights for tension, I tried to smile in every moment.

Smiling triggers certain neurochemical processes that regulate health and happiness, it also releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin – hormones which can induce physical and mental relaxation, act as natural pain relievers, even alter heartrate and blood pressure. So while smirking under duress might sound a bit daft, there’s actually solid science behind it. As the saying goes: smile, and the world smiles back at you.

– After the competition, a millenary hunger – you eat every food in sight for two or three days. Exhausted, sleepy, more satisfied if you won, dizzy sometimes. However, painting has gradually taken more space in my days and brain during the last decade. I stopped competing in 2009, and don’t wrestle at all since two or three years back, I’ve already painted through various bigger and smaller injuries all my life, sometimes crying hard while painting.

It’s not only wrestling he’s sacrificed for the visual arts – Paolo says inhaling turpentine fumes with such intensity for long stretches of time has left him entirely bereft of olfactive function.

– I lost my sense of smell in 1999, when I started forcing myself to stay in my studio to learn painting by myself. Years of formal exercises with oils on canvas, never going out beyond wrestling training. Endless months of monastic life and discipline. I never had a strong sense of smell from birth though, so it hasn’t been a big passage… I have my eyes and my hands, they’ve always given me the most powerful sensations ever.


This is an excerpt from the full article –  which is almost twice as long, significantly more in-depth, and published in Bardo Methodology #3.