Il Mio Salotto meets the italian painter Raffaella Bruzzi, known for her abstract canvases where much attention is paid to the surface and the different materials she uses to get them.
Hi Raffaella, could you introduce yourself to our readers? What do you do in life? When and how did your interest in art come about?
I am a self-taught artist, mother of three, environmental engineer (Polytechnic of Milan) with a PhD in Life Sciences (Faculty of Medicine and Biology, Lausanne), currently employed in a bank. I was born in Milan and lived my youth in Novara. I came to live in Lausanne, the first time for an exchange year with an Erasmus project, at the Ecole Polytechnique (EPFL); the second time, after two years for my undergraduate thesis; the third time for my doctoral thesis.
I always wanted to paint, but it wasn't until after the birth of my first child, between my career in the Bank and my job as a mother, that I armed myself with brushes and paints and painted, somewhat on a dare, my first canvas. I immediately felt at ease and found in painting a space for myself, a moment of escape, but I would say also meditation. From the earliest beginnings I approached abstractionism, fascinated by the material and driven by the need to manipulate shapes and colors without conditioning.
I had my first exhibition in the ninth month of pregnancy. It was a stroke of luck, I remember the gallerist had called me two weeks before the vernissage telling me that an artist who was scheduled had given up exhibiting and that if I wanted to I could show a few paintings. I wasn't ready, it wasn't on the schedule, but I agreed. I could attend the vernissage and finissage, as Leonardo was born on time a few hours after the exhibition closed.
The following years were very intense. I often painted in the evening/night, having a very demanding job and the children still small. I felt that I could paint for hours without feeling hungry or sleepy. Since 2017, having obtained part-time work, art came more prominently into my life. Since then I have been painting more regularly (two days a week, plus the bonuses of nights or weekends that I can take) and try to exhibit two or three times a year.
Painting for me is now a necessity.
Have you always realized abstract figures? How does your vision come about when you start painting?
I started with figurative, I painted maybe three or four canvases, which obviously no longer exist.
Abstract allowed me to paint without any conditioning of the real world, to express in full freedom my feelings, my mental states, associated with a need for expression of my identity, a need for freedom and peace. When I paint, I try to give matter to immaterial reality, associate a form and color with what is a perception, give corporeality to a thought or emotion.
Who are, or have been, the artists who have inspired you or you currently like?
Good question! There are so many of them. The first ones that come to mind: Rothko, Soulages, Ryman, Burri.
When I started I think I was more inspired by the classics of Impressionism, the master of light Monet with his Water Lilies series or Amedeo Modigliani with his unbridled passion for women.
One element that definitely jumps out when looking at your work is the complexity of the surfaces, sometimes the paintings look almost like bas-reliefs. How do you achieve these effects? Are they time-consuming processes?
I like to continually experiment with different techniques and discover the effects that arise from mixing different types of material and color together.
I have developed several series: I started with the "METAMORMOSI" (I would say perhaps the most materic) in blue and red: in which I develop imaginary shapes of an intense color and covered with resin (vitrified effect), carved into a material, as if it were a bark or a crust of the earth. These are quite intense works. The form emerges from the painting almost naturally, spontaneously without premeditation, the process is long and evolves by layers of matter and color in a succession of moments of frustration and exhilaration.
I later developed other themes: "MATERIA" in which it is matter that dominates over color; the paintings in this case are mainly mono- or bichromatic, "COLOURS" in which it is color that dominates matter, it follows that more colors are also used, and more recently "I PAESAGGI DELL'ANIMA" and the series "IL MIO MARE," trying my hand at oil painting.
Do you use special colors or tools for your surfaces?
I mainly use chalk, marble dust, ashes (the one from the fireplace), sand (the one from the beach), string, wood or iron dust (which I rust), gold foil, and whatever comes my way. Apart from all this, I can still add: enamels, paints, resins, inks, wax crayons, tar, cement and the special mediums found in the market to give more brilliance or transparency to the color. For the past few years I have been integrating oil paint (how wonderful!) and natural pigments, thus beginning to paint abstract landscapes, preferably sea (this series is titled "IL MIO MARE") or deserted expanses (this series is titled "I PAESAGGI DELL’ANIMA").
When you start painting, do you already have the entire work in your head or does the painting grow and evolve as you go along, especially in terms of relief and surface texture?
Painting for me is like deciding to set off on an aimless journey. Sometimes I think I have arrived and I stop for a while until I decide to start again. All my works are susceptible to change. The starting point is an idea, a state of mind, an encounter ... then the journey begins, through colors and matter in search of balance, trying to give form and color to an immaterial reality.
Do you always paint with the canvas vertically, or do you also position it horizontally on the plane to make these surfaces?
I think I have collected about ten stands; they are all in the storage cellar. I mainly paint on the floor or fix the unframed canvas to a wall and paint vertically.
I often find "metallic" colors in your work, including gold and silver. How do you choose the colors to use, which ones do you prefer?
My favorite color at present is blue, with its derivatives: indigo and ultramarine oil.
Metallic colors I use on material works, and I mainly use powders to make them. I prefer the use of bronze because I find it a very interesting color, less glittery than gold, deeper and less cold than silver; I also love to use copper with its pinkish hues.
Even in your figurative series "Montagne" and "Sagome Umane" the figures are always very stylized and hinted at, are there other subjects you would like to "treat" and interpret in your style?
I abandoned figurative art a few years ago and I think it will be difficult to return to this form of expression, despite some explicit requests from two or three clients.
That said, nothing is unlikely.
You are a successful painter with exhibitions and publications to your credit, what advice would you give to those who want to approach the world of abstract art? When did you realize you "made it" to enter this world?
I thank you for your definition "successful artist," I don't know if I would call myself that. For me, being an artist is first of all a way of being and contemplating the world around me with its wonders. Then, an immense passion comes from the depths of my soul. It is certainly a great satisfaction to know that I can exhibit my works and generate deep emotions in the viewer.
In each of my works I try to convey my essence, to communicate a part of me, but the viewer observes with his own eyes what he wants or rather what he feels at that moment and subjectively interprets the work that may (or may not) provide intimate feelings. It is the work itself that becomes a ground for encounter, exchange, dialogue, the beginning of a journey. To enter with a painting directly into the soul of another person, without needing to speak or to know each other: an indescribable joy. There is no greater satisfaction for an artist than being able to connect to another person's soul through one of his or her works, regardless of whether the work was later bought by the person himself or herself. This represents another kind of satisfaction, more material and less spiritual, and fortunately that is not why I paint. One of the episodes that greatly encouraged me was when, a few years ago, I made my first sale overseas, in Chile to be precise, to an unknown client who contacted me on Instagram.
A piece of advice to give to those approaching the world of abstract art: "dream, plan, do!" and above all, never let frustration get you down, because it is precisely from those moments that the most successful works are then born.
What are your future plans? Could we see your work in Italy in the future?
Painting, painting and painting. I have several exhibitions scheduled until the summer of 2024 between Lausanne and Geneva.
In Italy? I participated earlier this year in the Vercelli Biennial and in the past in a few other group exhibitions. For the moment I don't have anything scheduled in Italy, but why not?
And it would be a huge pleasure for us to be able to visit one of your exhibitions and to be able to meet you in person, to get involved with your works and go on a journey, as you say, looking at your exciting surfaces. On behalf of all the staff of IlMioSalotto, a big thank you to Raffaella, again congratulations on your art, with the sincere wish that you can continue in your activity always with the same engaging passion.