Gustavo Rasso’s Painterly Approach to the Digital Print

Shhh, Digital, 85 x 87.5

The more one sees of digital art the clearer it becomes that some of its most impressive practitioners are those who were trained in drawing and painting before they took up the new medium. One excellent example of this can be seen in the work of Gustavo Rasso, an artist born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, whose digital works are on view in “Altered States of Reality: an Exhibition of Analog and Digital Photography, at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from April 16 through May 7. (Reception: Thursday, April 22, from 6 to 8 PM.)
    Rasso studied with the well known Argentinean artists Francisco Travieso and Néstor Cruz, and that traditional training, along with his study of Byzantine iconography,  makes itself known in the strong compositional and coloristic qualities that distinguish his digital prints. Indeed, he exhibited his paintings at the French Alliance and the National Congress of Buenos Aires before beginning to work with computers in 2005, and moving on to his present works, of which he says, “My digital paintings are the result of a classical vision of painting wrapped in an infinity of possibilities that only the digital universe can provide.”
    Rasso also cites his experiences as a child actor for theater, television and film from age six to sixteen as an experience that “marked my sensibility and gave me a versatility of expression that later appeared in my paintings.” And one can certainly see how he applies this theatrical sensibility to his new medium in his digital print, “Self-Portrait with Maria Callas’ Eyes.”
    Here, the dark, distinctively slanted, almost feline eyes of the great opera diva are indeed superimposed over the artist’s face. Since Rasso himself is a striking-looking man, with a shaven head and distinctive bone structure, the composite image, in which the eyes appear slightly enlarged, is undeniably dramatic. The visual impact of the composition is further enhanced with translucent, fluorescent geometric color areas superimposed over the imaginative portrait, which also has virtual textures created with an infrared effect introduced into the oranges and greens in the background, as well as into the pale blue and darker purple hues on the figure’s bare shoulder.
    All of Rasso’s prints are iconic, a throwback  to his fascination with Byzantine motifs; yet there is also a kinship with Warhol in Rasso’s use of color, which he seems to acknowledge when he refers to himself as “a pop artist whose voice is characterized by a multiplicity of themes.” Perhaps the latter kinship is most apparent in “Shostakovic,” a digital print in which the Russian composer’s face and distinctive round eyeglasses are multiplied and layered with brilliant red green and yellow hues. However, Rasso goes further than his pop predecessor, making those strident colors break up into an abstract composition of fractured neocubistic planes that actually deconstruct the image, suggesting how the composer’s musical experimentation departed radically from the tenets of Soviet Realism.
    Much to his credit, Rasso himself makes each new theme an occasion for experiment. In “Winnie (Sir Winston Churchill),” for example, he forgoes strident color and sets an image of the British Prime Minister as a child against a background of steely swirls that seem nothing less than the motors of destiny gathering force to determine this seemingly innocuous young boy’s future role in history.

Marie R. Pagano

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