Monday, February 23, 2009

Roberto Banfi Rossi and the Rembrandt Syndrome

Cribbed Klimt

Bogus Bacon Holy Bird
Borrowed Dalì Fires

Walking toward the scala mobile to go to the center of Perugia, my eye has been regularly drawn to a shop on Via Masi just across from the Sangallo Palace Hotel. The two stories of Lemmi Sartoria are devoted to selling beautiful silk ties, scarves, and accessories, but what caught my eye is a painting in the main display window. The painting is a surreal landscape of warriors, brides, markets, horses, mountains and architectural fragments, sometimes transparent and glowing with color. I've tried to photograph it but as you can see, the reflections of the the outdoors complicate the scene more than it is already.

Recently, while meandering around the center of Perugia, I came upon the Artemisia Gallery in Via Alessi. Its sleek well-lit interior contrasts cheerfully with some of the forlorn neighboring shops. Piero Dorazio paintings on the walls inside invited a closer look. Dorazio was perhaps Todi's best known painter, with an international reputation derived from his teaching in New York and his distinctive, colorful, minimalist op art style. I enjoy his work and consider his fame and success well-deserved. Still, op art and minimalist abstraction have never stirred deep enthusiasm in me. Proceeding further into the gallery past works of other excellent artists, I unexpectedly found myself in front of other images clearly from the same mystical imagination as the painting in the Lemmi shop. The painter is Roberto Banfi Rossi. He lives and works in Perugia and he should be better known.

I have painted for most of my life and my paintings have been influenced by artists that I've admired, from Dalì in my youth, through impressionists to George Grosz, Francis Bacon, Aubrey Beardsley, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt to Duccio di Siena and other medieval icon painters. I've tried to copy or borrow elements from all of them. The painter at the top of my personal Olympus has always been Rembrandt. Seeing reproductions of his work in school I wondered what the fuss was all about, but upon finally seeing his paintings "live", I finally understood, and I've been blown away by them ever since. Unlike my other favorites, rather than being an inspiration, Rembrandt's work stopped me cold and induced long pauses in my painting activity. I can imagine Miles Davis having a similar effect on on young trumpet players, just as surely as hearing John Coltrane got more tenor players to quit than to start mastering the tenor saxophone. When the mountain ahead looms too high, sometimes it's hard to take that first step forward.

I can only hope that some of the elements that come together in the work of Banfi Rossi, from the brilliant color to the historic memory, incisive brush strokes, luminous glazes and above all, the fertile imagination, can find their way into my own work. At the least, may Banfi Rossi not inflict the curse of the Rembrandt effect. If you have any money for art, go buy a Banfi Rossi. They're way underpriced.

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