Riccardo asks Riccardo - Questions and Answers to better understand the artist.
What part of the process of creating art do you like best? The best part of creating art is to explore the accidental effects whilst creating the works. It’s the pushing around of the paint on the surface. For example, if I’m working on a monoprint, I love it when I accidently drop too much ink onto the glass surface. The ink creates a splash mark or beads way too much. Then when I put my clean sheet of paper over it and add pressure to get a print, the ink bleeds and creates a mark which is even surprising to me ! Also, sometimes a whole painting can change just because of an accidental addition of a brushstroke which doesn’t fit the composition. When that happens, it can be a stroke of fortune. It marks the beginning of a shift in approach or style too. Progress is great and welcomed.
What is your working environment like? I work from home in a bedroom come studio. I used to work for many years in my garage. Light is ample and the space enough to draw and paint. I have one very strong 300watt light bulb and in the day, I have a huge glass sliding door leading to the yard. I always leave the light on anyway. I have two trestles set up against the walls and an easel in between. On one trestle I have my oil paints and large palette (which is just a piece of laminated masonite) and my mediums. On the other trestle is where I work on all my monotypes and monoprints. I like to use perspex (clear plastic) as the surface. It lies flat on a white sheet of paper. To one side I have my inks, brushes and always a roll of toilet paper. Toilet paper I my opinion, to all those creating monoprints, is the best for wiping away ink for the perspex. It doesn’t steak as much and picks up the ink really quickly. Also, I like to wet it with saliva and clean more detailed parts of the ink composition on the perspex just before applying the paper and creating the unique print. I’m lucky to have a space in which to make art at home. It would be difficult to keep travelling to a studio and paying a lot more for it too. I guess I just make do with what I have. If I had a bigger space I may create bigger works or maybe tackle a sculpture too. We shall see in the future.
What kind of (formal & informal) art training have you had? At the age of 16, I bought my first oil paints from a local supermarket called K-Mart here in Australia. They were really crappy quality which I was none the wiser at the time. Medium I didn’t even know existed ! And to top it off instead of using turpentine to wash or dilute the paint and rinse the brush, I used methylated spirits ! The brush stiffened up and I couldn’t even spread the paint. Disaster ! My first painting was of a still life – vase with flowers. Not painted from life, but from memory. I end up giving it to my aunty and she hung it with pride in her house for years. Funny thing is that many years later I convinced her that she should give it back to me and swap it for another masterpiece. As soon as I got it back I cut it up into little pieces and made it disappear completely ! It was the crappiest painting ever !
So, the best thing was to realize that I really needed to learn how to draw and paint in a formal way. I enrolled in a local art class being tutored by an amazing artist. Joan Lane was her name. She basically taught me from the word go. She would have been in her late sixties at the time. She began her career as a portrait artist in Melbourne and then had to give up creating art for a couple of decades to take care and bring up her children. But after that she ran art classes and did numerous commissions in oil paints and pastels. She was an active member of The Victorian Artist’s Society and the Twenty Melbourne Painters if I’m not mistaken. She knew just about everything there was to know about art and artists. She was an intelligent person who was clever with words and good with people.
She taught me how to draw and use pastels with confidence. As a pastelist, she was one of the best you will see. When I used to see her portrait commissions from time to time, I was so inspired to be as good as her. The art classes where run every Saturday morning and I attended every week for two years. She bought me along to life drawing class mid-week too towards the end. I trained with her from 1991 to 1992. My highlight was interviewing her for a high school project in 1992. I recorded the interview on cassette and was horrified when I learned the about 45 minutes of it was missing because I forgot to press the record button when I flipped the tape over. And let me tell you that I was the best of the interview. It was Joan telling it how it was in Melbourne, being around now famous artists and her take on it all. I will transcribe it one day. Her family would like to read it too I’m sure.
After that I attended two years pre-university and about six months at RMIT University from 1993-1995. I can’t say much about that experience worth noting. I practiced a hell of a lot there and really got to play around with materials. It was a confusing time in my life and the style of that formal education didn’t much suit me. I did rub shoulders with great artists who tutored there. I’ll have to save that story for another time.
How has your art training affected the kind of art you produce? My art training had a massive impact on all aspects of the art I have produced and will produce into the future I can confidently say. In terms of materials, it still affects me even today. For instance, I love working with pastels. This is because of my art classes with Joan Lane on Saturday mornings. My monotypes I produce were introduced to me by her too. My painting colours I choose to use and my style is so probably because of her too. I say that because I remember seeing some of her paintings in Art shows and my colours where very similar. The blues, the violets and turquoise was similar I think. Also, she was a very hands on teacher. She actually showed the students how to do something she was explaining. Many early pastels had corrections done by her hand. So, it’s logical that later on, a colour combination or approach should seem intuitive, but really is a repeat of an old art class session many years ago. Such an evolution is what progression borrows from the past.
University was a great place to be to draw the human figure. We did a lot of life drawing and I would say that affects my ability to capture a moment or movement. Life drawing is still with me even when I do something unrelated to it. It’s a translation of an attitude or approach that matters. Capturing a moment very quickly as if the idea is about to change pose. Great lessons and I loved them. I haven’t done life drawing for years, but always hope to organize myself when the time comes knocking.
Name some important influences and inspirations in your art career. An important early influence and an inspiration to me was Max Ernst very early on. I was greatly interested in the Dada movement and Surrealism. Reading wise I was into Sigmund Freud’s Dream Theory. Also at about the same time in the early nineties, the Australian artist Brett Whitely captured my imagination and I emulated his style. Henri Matisse was an inspiration as too was Wasily Kandinsky. Kandinsky I emulated. I was recently saying to my brother that I can see Matisse in a lot of my works. I’ll just name the following influences as I remember them randomly. One day I will explain in more detail how they inspired me.
So here goes – Picasso, Jacques Luis David, David Casper Friedrich, Gustave Courbet, Salvador Dali, Georges Seurat, Charles Blackman, Afro, Karel Appel and the Cobra group, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Peter Walsh, Vincent Van Gogh and the list goes on.
It’s so wonderful to be inspired by any artist. It’s what I look forward to. There was a time in my practice where I really tried hard to be as original as I could and not be too influenced, but as time went on I just found my way back to wanting to be derivative. I like to pay homage to anyone who inspires me. Renior is on my mind today and the style is a homage to Peter Walsh from Australia. Peter Walsh is a contemporary inspiration. I consider him to be a great Australian master. His time has not come yet, but soon he will be celebrated more widely. I was lucky to have met him briefly a couple of times before he passed away. Influences and inspirations is a topic that needs to be re-visited often. To do it any justice, I would need to go through sketchbook notes and exhibition notes of things that I’ve seen. As years go by, that would just be impossible. But I’ll give it a crack whenever I have to.
Have there been major turning points in your art career? I really think that once I started making monoprints and monotypes, that was a major turning point. 2004 was when I began to seriously devote more of my studio time to that method of practice. The monotype for me is a way to explore what art is in terms of how an evolution of an image morphs into visual ideas and more ideas. It illustrates a racing creative mind and shows all marks which cannot be erased once printed. A kind of honest, worts and all approach. Art for me is just a process to produce artworks. Art for someone else might be deep and meaningful. For me I need the practice more than I need to fill my head full of concepts and research. I find it hard to concentrate for long periods and thinking too much for me is a negative way to spend my time.