An interview with our artist Francesco Ruspoli

Please describe your artwork style
The painting is called : INCONSOLABLE, 36×48 inches, 2020. It is oil on canvas and I would describe my style as “Expressionist”.
The subject is inspired from the human feeling related to the aftermath of the world pandemic.

What’s your background?
I have studied art at the university of Central Saint Martin in London , UK.

How long have you been an artist?
40 years.

Who or what are your biggest influences?
Genuine artists are born an artist, and this comes with a compulsion that pushes you to find and express yourself in the medium that truly manifests your vision. For me, I found painting with oil and canvas, and it found me! I love the rich texture of oil paint, and the way it can be blended to create wonderful effects without drying instantly. It is like sculpting with paint: you can rework it many times until you are satisfied with how every nuance of expression has been moulded into form and colour. The creative process itself is alive, fluid and plastic; oils reflect this essential character. For me, painting on canvas is the noblest of all art forms, summoning creation directly from the soul.

My first passion was surrealism. I was captivated by how Dali, Magritte and their peers created an imaginary world that challenges our sometimes unthought sense of truth and reality. Then I discovered the power of colours, their capacity to express feelings, transform moods and heal the mind. slowly moved me towards abstraction with the full use of shapes and volumes. This phase was inspired by Kokoschka and Matisse, who worked in the city of my upbringing – Nice. After this, I found my own artistic voice.

My mature work integrates this artistic voyage by combining figuration with a twist of abstraction. I am pushing this boundary even further by creating an effect similar to stained-glass windows, which inspire the worshippers in churches to meditate, pray, reflect and to grow in spiritual awareness. They represent a window into another world, a deeper sense of reality, where emotions and the soul are no longer excluded. These recent paintings endeavour to put this vision into practice so viewers can feel the painting speaking directly to them, and at the same time moves them profoundly. It is my hope that they will feel uplifted and inspired by this.

How have you developed your career?
By doing group shows in Salons and Art Fairs around the world.

Which current art world trends are you following?
I’m not following any current art trend, which make my work very unique and strong.

Where do you do your work?
I work mainly from my studio in Cardiff where I create a painting on paper from my researches and then transfer it on canvas.
Ultimately, I am inspired by human interaction; the initial spark that ignites the fire of my creativity has many diverse sources. It can be a scene from a play, contemporary or classical dance, artworks ranging across the entire spectrum from the ancient to the contemporary, a moment from everyday life, or an old photograph. It is the energy generated by human bodies in proximity with each other that interests me above all else. I call this a relational configuration.

After I have discovered a particular relational configuration, I then engage in a lengthy process of research and development. I refine and crystallise the essence of my initial idea by a lengthy process of pencil sketches until I arrive at the final image. A musician once pointed out to me that this is how Beethoven worked with the development of his musical themes, so this would mean that I am in good company! This sometimes requires an austere Zen-like mental discipline, where I can get myself out of the way so my art can create itself. Although laborious, it is the only way I have found so far to achieve the authenticity I seek in my paintings.

Once the final image has manifested itself, I reproduce it on canvas with charcoal. Then more of the spirit of Van Gogh takes over. I work directly with palette knife, applying oil paint texturally, sensitively and with a precise degree of tonal gradation to express the emotional nuances of the individual figures that comprise the groups.

Sometimes I know the colours for each of the figures when I start, but much of the time this is intuitive. Just as in life, each individual figure has their own story to tell.

What do you feel is the role of the artist in society?
For me, we live in an increasingly desensitised world. This has already gone so far, much of what we see and hear is actually intentionally insensitive and even cruel. We see this all the time from social media all the way up to leading politicians. In these times, I feel that as an artist I have a responsibility to address these issues and try to restore some balance. In a small way, it is a mission to help heal the unprecedented wounds inflicted by contemporary society.

That is why my current exhibition is called Embodied encounters. The viewer is invited into a relationship with the painting that is as important as those depicted in the work. The aim of this exhibition is to gently ‘shock’ the viewer back into conscious embodied living, rather than the externalised existence contemporary society has to offer. What I mean by this is that there is so much pressure to look a certain way, to own particular possessions and to desire something that is always and intentionally out of reach – like Tantalus. In some ways, we live in a tantalising age in the service of late capitalism. I would like to bring people back to themselves, to the experience of their own bodies which house their souls. It is here within us that meaning is made, not in something that will always remain outside of you.

What techniques / mediums do you use?
I use oil on canvas as a medium and mainly use a palette knife and some brushes to paint.
Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed?
Of course the subject of each painting is the most important part of the process of creativity for me

How do you feel when you are letting your emotions loose on the canvas?
My art on the canvas is meant to re-invigorate and re-inspire the emotional and spiritual dimensions of human life, which is in direct conflict with much of what we see around us in our world now. It has taken me many years to find my creative voice, and a large part of this has been a struggle against such commercial forces. They are very powerful and insidious, and institutionally dismiss or ignore what they cannot appreciate.

The relational concern of my work is intended to embrace all viewers, so their interpretations are equally meaningful. The act of viewing is to enter into a relationship: a mutual encounter of the painting and the viewer. This is why the figures in my work are placed so viscerally in relation to each other, and why this stimulates a reflection on relatedness which encompasses the viewer.
A vital part of interpretation is our emotional response, which incidentally is not solely the preserve of a ‘refined’ academic elite. The experience of viewing and relating is the true essence of my paintings, so I hope my work is able to offer that precise experience to the viewer. You could say my message, theme and vision is to co-create an experience of emotional connection – whatever it might be – on that precise moment of that particular day, with this unique person in this specific space.

What project are you working on now?
I am currently engaged with several highly successful and exciting international projects. This enacts my wish to reach out to different cultures to share a message universal to all human beings over the world. These build on my long and strongly established reputation in Europe, where my work continues to be shown across the continent.

I am also starting work on producing a top-quality coffee-table book which contains my important works alongside a critical commentary of my artistic development. It will sum up my life’s work so far and it represents a milestone in my evolving artistic profile.

In addition to these projects as a practising international artist, I have wider ethical and humanitarian commitments. I have a long-nurtured ambition to set up a foundation to support and promote artists from deprived backgrounds. I am also seeking ways to use my art to help with homelessness, with people who are excluded and lonely, and with animal welfare.

Where do you find your ideas for your work?
For me, art expresses a fundamental part of what it means to be human. It is through art that the conflicts of life can be brought to the surface, explored, better understood and put into new relationships with each other. I believe we are living in an unprecedented time of breakdown in human relationships and interactions. This is happening from the individual and personal level to the opposite geopolitical end of the spectrum. We tend to think of interactivity in terms of technology these days rather than human feeling and connection.

I am fascinated by the entire spectrum of human interaction; this includes the viewer, the painting and me. I am also intrigued by the way contemporary society is evolving so I reflect on social environments, familial cells and social classes. The emphasis is on relating rather than individualism, so the characters do not have faces. The sensibility for each individual is created and expressed by the position of the human shape connected with others. This way, the viewer brings their life experience and it projects onto the painting in a unique and special way.
My work seeks to reconnect people and make us more aware of what I call ‘relational space’ – the shared space where our relationships with other people play out. Vivid colours stand for powerful emotional states and the dance-like expressive postures of the figures enact the complex tensions and interdependency of human interaction. All of these aspects coalesce into an exploration of relational space and its shifting possibilities in contemporary society.

Each of my paintings invites the viewer to reflect on what they might be projecting onto the image, and to contemplate the emotional experience of what it means to be human in 2020.

How do you know when a work is finished?
For me a painting is finished when it speaks to yourself and your can read it as a book too.

To see more of Francesco’s work, visit: https://www.francescoruspoliart.com

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