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Color and Emotion in the Visual Music of Francesco Ruspoli

Unsettled Times, Paintings 30 x 20

ome of our most memorable and enduring artists are those who evolve succinct symbols for our common humanity: Jean Dubuffet’s Everymen; Willem de Kooning’s monstrous Amazons; Leger’s robotic steel workers; Francis Bacon’s cold meat couplers merging in protoplasmic blobs on beds as desolate of love as morgue slabs... 


    The contemporary painter Francesco Ruspoli appears destined to join their company, with his crowds in whose anxious faces “The Scream” of Edvard Munch echoes silently in living color. In past series Ruspoli has painted faceless lovers, their simplified anatomies entwined, the primary colors of their flesh reflecting primate heat. In public, the painter arms his personages with faces “to face the faces that you meet,” as Eliot put it in “Prufrock.” But these masklike faces rarely meet, as they mill among other alienated souls in city streets where neon signs swirl like van Gogh’s schizoid stars or form cathedral-like spires suggesting the ornate Towers of Mammon in Las Vegas.

    Color in Ruspoli’s paintings may signify raw emotion: “red with rage”; “green with envy”; “blue as can be”; or, it may symbolize a universal desire to transcend all limitations and fly over the rainbow into a new world of boundless aspiration and possibility. Ruspoli himself, concentrating, as all serious painters must, on the painterly process, rather than consciously plotting the possible meaning of his imagery, describes the experience of creating these compositions as feeling as if he is on “the dynamic frontier between abstraction and figuration,” while awash in what he calls “a music of colour.”

     On a strictly visual level, similar sensations are conveyed to the responsive viewer as well. Along with the considerable aesthetic appeal of Ruspoli’s sensuous surfaces, however, and his bold colors, often emphasized, like those of Georges Rouault, with thick black outlines, his work has a raw emotional impact which comes across intensely in the painting he calls “Divine Destiny.”

    In this vibrant oil on canvas the same cadmium red light hue that projects a sense of livid rage in the large, heavy-browed, glowering profile on the left foreground of the picture, reflects the warm glow of motherly love for the child cradled in the protective arms of the gently curved, golden yellow maternal figure on the right side of the composition, as other, smaller simplified figures rush about behind them with the scurrying obliviousness of the harried urban citizen, against the swiftly brushed impressionistic cityscape. Meanwhile, the timid, skeletal blue-faced figure caught in the middle, between the hugely glowering red profile and the mother protectively cradling her child, wears a woeful expression, as though, like the character in Munch’s famous painting, he is on the verge of letting out a primal scream.
    Indeed, like his famous Expressionist predecessor, Francesco Ruspoli comes across in this series as a maestro of human angst. This can be seen again in yet another powerful oil on canvas in which a crowd of huddled figures –– some with their heads lowered so that their features are hidden, others cloaked in blue veils through which only their eyes can be seen –– walk warily toward the viewer against a backdrop of brightly brushed domes and arches suggesting churches and mosques.

    In every respect, it is a painting as ominous as its title: “Unsettled Times.”
–– Marie R. Pagano     

Francesco Ruspoli, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, through Nov. 19, 2013. Reception: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 6 - 9 pm

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