Mario Minichiello lives in the present. He makes a careful cup of coffee, not only for himself but for his guests. He takes his time, asks how you like it made.
It appears to not only be an appreciation for coffee and the process, but for the guests who will sip it with him.
He's conscious of what's growing in his courtyard garden in Broadmeadow, even admitting his star zucchini plant wasn't planted by him or his wife - illustrator Liz Anelli - but that it came out of an existing compost mound.
Of course, he was born in Italy. In Avellino, in the Campagnia region, a short distance east of Naples in the southern part of the country.
It was post-World War II and his family had been hit hard by the war. They left when he was a small child and he was raised, surrounded by Italians, in London.
His father worked as a steel erector in Venezuela at first, "building bridges and building cities" as Minichiello describes it, before returning to England and eventually working in plant nurseries and the horse industry. The family eventually moved to Newmarket, in Suffolk, north of London.
He has an appreciation for food, and conversation, and food and conversation together. And music. And wine.
Minichiello was head-hunted by the University of Newcastle in 2012, where he is now professor of design in the School of Creative Industries.
Despite the changing academic landscape, he still plays a key role in his area of specialty at the university.
And then, there's this person who comes back and reflects on the experiences of life - the challenges, and the big questions and the small questions - and I do that, on the whole, in the privacy of my studio.Mario Minichiello
Now, for the first time in Australia, Minichiello is putting on an exhibition of his own artwork. He's scheduled to show about 40 works, from March 1 to 7, at Duckrabbit gallery in Redfern, Sydney. He estimates about half of the work will be new - that is, 'new' as in 'made in Australia'.
It's a modest debut, for an artist of such talent.
But Minichiello is used to doing things his own way.
After graduating from university in the UK, Minichiello worked as a designer, illustrator, and artist for more than 15 years, including seven years for BBC Newsnight as a reportage illustrator making drawings for events such as the Spycatcher trial, and pre-television coverage of the House of Commons including the Guildford Four appeals and Beirut hostage releases.
He also worked for TheGuardian, FT, Amnesty International, the Terence Higgins Trust, BBC Enterprises, Longmans, TheTimes of London, and ITN News, carving out a reputation for hard-hitting political commentary using linocuts, drawings and other art forms.
While Minichiello has not shown work in Australia, he has been creating plenty.
His studio is full of works, old and new, with the new including sketchbooks from frequent travels around Australia, which he will eventually turn into individual pieces.
For most people, a full academic load would be challenging enough. Or, the lure of full-time work as an artist might seem more appealing than the hard-edge of education, especially in these economically difficult times. But that's not the case for Minichiello.
"I felt that, being the person I was - making art, being interested in ideas, interested in people, in the broader humanity - it seems to me that the mix of the roles I have is bringing together all the sides that I probably am," he says.
"Perhaps that is who I am. I am this curious person that likes to deal with ideas, that likes to be part of forming other people's careers. That's the professor and the teacher. And then, there's this person who comes back and reflects on the experiences of life - the challenges, and the big questions and the small questions - and I do that, on the whole, in the privacy of my studio."
Plus, the combination of the two interests keeps his mind busy: "If I could do just one thing," he says, "I'd die of boredom."
Interesting is an understatement. Which way to look; it's a feast for the eyes in every direction inside his studio.
Minichiello says he's always had four or five works on the go at once, part of the hustling days from being a young freelance political artist; you chase work.
There's a work in progress of pencil sketches of Prince Phillip and the Queen visiting Australia over a length of time: "I'm still working that out, really," he says, "How strange the Queen might be."
Another artwork - Dopehead, chasing the dragon - features an alluring naked woman blowing a string of endless smoke: "I got somebody to pose for me," he says. "I knew what I wanted. She is somebody who smokes dope. I adapted it around the idea I had."
The sketchbooks show scenes from trips to Lightning Ridge and Woolgoolga: "This is Lightning Ridge," he says, "The Australian landscape, which I'm kind of getting my head around - the way things are. The Ridge was amazing. This red earth, then this white clay. An amazing place."
Looking at the Woolgoolga book, he says, "I can't get over the quality of the light. The lights are bright, the darks are dark. Somebody's just turned everything up here.
"Why the first British settlers turned up here and painted everything like you were Constable [John Constable], it's ridiculous.
"These are the colours here. This is a man barking at a dog and the dog doesn't bark back. This is Woolgoolga. But they are moving through all this colour."
The spread of works covers a wide variety of subjects. There are two matching colour works of an older couple - Minichiello says they are his Italian neighbours who helped raise him as a child.
There's a large drawing of dancers in an Amsterdam sex club. And an assortment of works he did during the 2007 APEC meeting in Sydney. Is there a favourite? No way.
"They're all so intense," he says, "At the time you're making them, they're such intense things. And afterwards, they're out - they're done."
While the pieces are not a unified body of work, like a person might make for a show, they are all reflective of the thought process that Minichiello goes through.
"It's a mix of commissions and things that, at this time of my life, I actually want to do," he says. "Which is to show how drawing actually works. It isn't a static thing. It's a malleable thing. It's a way of writing.
"For me, drawing - the things I do - really is akin to using the medium of writing because I tend to be quite fluid with it. Whereas, people tend to be static with it; they copy a photograph, they copy a stuffed bird.
"I feel it's much more fluid."
In that way, it feels like this is the work Minichiello was born to do. His art is a reflection of how he sees the world.
Breaking his process down to the simplest form, Minichiello says it's like this: "I always thought of myself as a picture maker, and the thing about pictures is that's how we tell who we are; that's how we learn about our lives. Everything's in pictures. Everything's in narrative."
Here is a guy who has taken chances. As a political artist in Britain, he laid it down like he saw it. That's art that cannot be edited.
"What I do is expansive. I go out and say, 'this is what humanity looks like'," he says of those heady times when Margaret Thatcher was clamping down on government expenditure and people were struggling big-time.
"This is what it looks like now you have made people so poor they have to dance naked in some f - - - ing club in Amsterdam in front of a bunch of people off their heads. I know some of these girls. Trust me, they did not want to do it. But that's what they had to do.
"It's a really interesting thing to get yourself out of your studio sometimes. I mean, you bring everything back into your studio. Because it's in your head. It's in your head.
"You know, this thing is not digital, it is organic.
"In art, humans have this amazing ability to imagine and, in that way, imagine something that doesn't even exist. No other species can do that.
"The other thing no other species can do is you can talk to me about things you found difficult in life - the pains that you've had - and I can empathise and imagine putting myself in your shoes. No one else can do that."
Minichiello's academic (and historic) machinations are never far away. The subject darts in and out of past work and politics, to present day (he's never drawn Trump, and doesn't plan on it), to references to Plato and U2.
"We are now becoming so hypnotised by machine thinking, especially at the university. My school and my university, partly with my suggestion, moved to becoming more human-centric, and less concerned with machines, because we've got to do something about understanding ourselves better.
"I think art and design, particularly art, is the best way of doing that. You know, it is actually a fingerprint of our insides out."
The conversation digresses to coffee, and bicycles, and COVID. Mario's father, Pasquale, died last year in England from COVID. He grieves at not being able to be there at the time.
One of the works in progress is roughly titled 'Losing Friends', a tribute to lives lost during the pandemic.
Back to the art, we talk about the leap of faith from what an artist sets out to convey in his work, and what the audience gets from it.
"You go and take all this on the premise of what you can see," he says of his direct, often political, style. "Like the old form of science, the observation, you're a social scientist in some ways. You're an ethnographer, you walk in, but your tools are not writing. Your tools are capturing and creating these visual compositions, these pictures that are really more.
"Photography is the stealing of time. This is actually a wash, because you are looking back and forth from your drawing.
"These are a layering of time, layering of events, and then you start bringing in your understanding of your events."
Minichiello is well-informed. I almost get the feeling he misses the emotional thrust of those BBC days. He mentions that he was "removed" from BBC at one point at the request of the governor.
("I'm not a cartoonist, none of this is funny," he says at one point.)
Minichiello is proud of his own education, paying respect to the vast amount of time spent drawing the human form (with his future wife, Liz Anelli, also taking the same course). Every piece, every shade, every aspect of his work, has an intention.
"Liz and I would be drawing the figure in different situations," he says. "For a whole year, that's all we did. I remember going into the life room, and the cleaner said 'this is a fire hazard'. I put my drawings in the bin, then realised they were valuable. The cleaners, the cooks, came and took my drawings out of the bin ..."
For someone who spends so much time drawing figures and creating mood and emotion, what is the hardest thing to fight off when making your art?
"I think we are living in a time of great anger," he says. "To me, anger is the thing that I try and fight off. It doesn't mean I'm not focused on things I would like to see change. But nobody likes to be preached to."
The Amsterdam scene commands attention in the studio, not only due to its size, and probably its position in the room, but I admit the aroused nipple on the main figure in the drawing cannot be ignored. So we swing into the subject, where do you start a work like this?
"To me, you've got a window on the world, a canvas or a piece of paper. And a photographer has a particular window on the world they peep through. And it's actually bounded by the edges," he says. "So first of all, what is it that you're after? This is artificial; this is not natural. This is design.
"I'm very much a traditionally trained person. I was literally trained by people who can go back in art history
"First thing, I'm writing this visual narrative: what are the big things I really want to say in here? What are the things that are really pertinent? And they can't all be screaming at the highest volume. Some things need to sit in the background, literally sit in the shadows.
"As you start to realise, the first thing you want to do is compose the piece so that people can walk through it, or be confronted by it. What affect does this scene need to render in order to make the mediation of this shareable with an audience?
"They might not get everything I get, but what I do find, people who bought my work find something new in it. And years later, they are still finding stuff. Using shadow to become a menacing thing that populates light, that causes distance.
"I am someone who will see something and it will stick. A person moving with light behind them, what an amazing shape. I use it to drag the eye back. Someone off their trolley; a completely plasticised boob. These are things I actually saw and thought about.
"And little things; that is a hand that's strong and works hard. That is someone who has to work bloody hard."
For Minichiello, it's all comes back to simple processes.
"Learning to draw is learning to look," he says. "Learning to look is what we've lost the most of. Which has made us divorced from who we really are. And I think that's why we are so bloody angry all the time."
Minichiello became an Australian citizen and has a good network of mates here. Newcastle suits him. He's given thought to what this country means to him.
"The light and the colour is extraordinary," he says, a point not lost on British artists who've been here before. "I was always used to using shadow and darks."
"The other extraordinary thing here, intellectually, Australians are still working out their narrative. How do we include the Aboriginals who have been largely dispossessed? How do we include the original Scottish and Irish settlers back into this? How do we see people playing on the football pitch playing crucial roles, but playing with each other? I don't see any politician dealing with that. They appeal to separate groups, but they don't think about how we bring all of this together. Team Australia is just a line.
"I see this vibrant country with huge potential and lovely, good-natured human beings, very kind."
It's hard to say Minichiello has hit a golden patch; he's never stopping making art. But his recent sketchbooks of Australian places certainly point to a new focus. And he's always been prolific, with no sign of slowing down. So, it may not surprise if his new work feels political at some point. He's never been afraid to contribute a vision.
"How do I start forming the visual narrative about who we are, in a way that's meaningful but also perhaps not representative of every individual entity, but where we are going and how we might get there?" he says. "I think that's a hopeful thing, compared to what politicians offer, which is not very hopeful."
For Minichiello, his sense of humour is never far away: "Let's start with turning right in Newcastle. And putting up a sign on where the hospital is. You gotta laugh."