Playful puns and corrosive insights are key ingredients in the word salads concocted by artist Pierluca De Carlo. The LA-based Italian immigrant, and former long-time commercial director, is constantly inspired by his second language and his edgy wordplay informs his “Words in Progress” exhibition at downtown Los Angeles’ Backspace Gallery starting in late January.

The effusive De Carlo grasped the power of advertising through his varied and successful career in that same field where a young Andy Warhol cut his teeth. De Carlo worked closely with famed fashion photographer Herb Ritts and on numerous beauty product accounts and celebrity shoots.

“I’ve worked in advertising for the past 30 years, mastering the art of visual manipulation. I now want to use these acquired skills to advertise social issues with the same bright colors and cheerfulness of commercials. I can create my messages and show them without censorship, free to speak a language that responds to me only,” De Carlo emphasizes. The messages in his art confound and amuse like ad taglines laced in cognitive dissonance. A painting of Frida Kahlo bears dueling slogans: “Made in Mexico/MAID in USA.” Familiar phrases get tweaked into mordant, ironic social comment – such as “Life Off the Greed,” or “Weapons of Mass Distraction.” The historical term Dark Ages is re-configured as “Dark Cages.”

His word collisions often have bite and that’s intended. “I want to provoke, to hurt,” De Carlo insists. “I want to do a museum of contemporary hurt -- the MOCHI in a remote old city in the south of Italy inside an old mill from the 1500s.” Some of his work at the coming show eagerly steps over the line and won’t be previewed on social media, lest he become shamed in our current era of over sensitivity and purity tests -- an environment he finds confining and disturbing.

De Carlo prefers to be a moving target and he and his family usually relocate to a different city or even country every few years. This nomadic existence prevents boredom as De Carlo “needs a new landscape.”

De Carlo lived in Mexico for four years and maintains a residence there. That experience, and his concern over the current plight of immigrants, inform a piece that reconfigures a big sombrero as a spacecraft --- cheekily adding a new dimension to the term alien invasion.

That he’s wired for change made him unusually equipped to handle the total loss of his Malibu home during the devastating fires of 2017. His family currently resides in a mobile home community while they rebuild a guest house on their property that was somewhat spared.

De Carlo saw the disaster as transformative vs. tragic as it forced him to create new work. “The fire was liberating for me. It all burned all my work from two years and a bunch of very emotional old letters and photographs I wasn’t able to separate from,” he said. “I don’t have any more Pandora’s boxes,” he quipped.

While one of his favored topics is skewering hypocrisy, he readily and cheerfully concedes that we’re all hypocrites to some degree. Already, he’s looking ahead and hopes to dissect the world of beauty, which he knows inside out from his many of his previous commercial director assignments. “I want to do a new show called LOS AGELESS – plastic surgery, the fear of aging, the obsession of the body, the celebrities and the losers. This hypocrisy we all struggle with.”

Pierluca fondly remembers his years in advertising but insists “I’m not playing by those rules anymore because I stopped playing that game,” he says. “I’m not a provocateur; I let my words do that.”