|Luigi Rocca.The hidden eye of the artist|
Interview by Arch. Veronica Balutto
A troubled, reserved spirit, sensitive and tireless: an artist who prefers to watch without being seen. A master of hyperrealism: recreating an image on the canvas with such maniac accuracy that it looks more real than reality itself.
Though your talent is known all over the world, you were born in Porpetto, in the province of Udine.What memories do you have of the region of Friuli? What do you miss most?
As the years have gone by, my childhood memories have tended to take on a rather rosy hue. I believe I have idealised the tranquillity and simplicity of relations between the people of Friuli, that vein of romanticism you find in a miniature compendium of the universe. I have now spent 40 years away from Friuli and, whenever I return, I find that, although the places may be recognisable, there is a real difference in the people. I remember people behaving more naturally towards their neighbours, but now I sense new forms of detachment, of the same kind that you find in big cities.
Your paintings hang in the homes of famous people and in celebrated hotels. Do you recall the name of any patron who made an impression on you?
Oh yes, I remember many of them. I had a personal relationship with Enzo Ferrari, whom I had the honour to meet three years before he died. My works have been acquired by other famous collectors, of course, but I am no name dropper myself: I prefer to respect their privacy. The international jet set would often browse through the gallery in Portofino where my paintings were on show for many years: I only succeeded in establishing a personal rapport with some of them. A client often steps into a gallery, buys a piece and then goes without leaving a trace. Everyone who takes a great interest in the Ghetto where it is situated passes in the gallery in Venice sooner or later and the relationships I have with clients there are far more heartfelt: many of them ask to meet me personally.
What influence, if any, have the trends of the past exerted on your style of painting?
I believe that my painting contains extensive reference to Impressionism, in the analysis of colour and the speed of representation. What I love about Impressionism is the sculptural effect and the violent physical relationship it crates with the canvas. My analysis of colour also has some affinities with hyperrealism: it is the imitation of the eye that scans, dismantles and catalogues colours.
What was the catalyst that triggered your move towards realism?
I suppose it came from a series of historical, political and social developments. From observing events taking place outside Italy at a time when there was a need to go against the flow, to provide an unconventional image that could not be attacked from a standpoint of technique. By reproducing photographs with absolute accuracy, I was actually transmitting nothing at all, so I decided to update myself and that is what led me into the arms of realism. The reason was that I needed to escape from the panic that afflicts the artist: the fact that nobody notices that being an artist is a hard work.
Which of the American hyperrealist artists do you esteem and admire most?
I have an affinity of photographic approach with Estes but am closer to Cloose in terms of technical portraits: there is a specific model for each form of representation. These American artists are forever competing to see who can do better, and I compete with them: of course, it may take a month longer to do a painting, but reality is objective and you cannot go any further than that.
What is the difference between you and the American hyperrealists?
I would say it is the mainly founded on the cultural and historical heritage we are given when we are born. We manage to transfer our souls onto canvas, we have that something extra that even the layman notices instinctively. If you compare an American to an Italian, there is no question about it: the American has tremendous skills, but is short on cultural content and often receives a sense of achievement from money and the market, rather than from sheer art.
"Art for art's sake", without any technological media. Tell me about the process of your painting and the function of photography.
For me, photography is anathema: I have never succeeded in taking a decent photograph on my own and always have to ask friends and professional photographers for help. I believe I have difficulty relating to things with immediacy. The airbrush meant I had to take certain obligatory steps, while contact with the matter is natural when I use a brush. At one time, I used to split the canvas up into squares and paint in reverse: we are gifted with a visual memory that conditions us. If I show you a lighter, then hide it, then ask you to draw it, you will draw a lighter that does not correspond perfectly with the one I showed you: stored away in our mental archives of images is the memory of something we have already seen in the past. If you reverse the image, the brain will take longer to recognise the object. As a result of the experience I have accumulated over the years, I now manage to keep the photo dominant in the colours: my eye is a high definition scanner that perceives the essence of variations. This reassures me: I suffer from the anxiety and insecurity of not managing to complete my work. I work twelve hours a day without taking a break, in a very demanding process: some colours even have to be repeated four times. Once I have completed the painting, I turn it round and must not look at it for several days.
What is the first impression you must get from a photograph that makes you decide to reproduce it on canvas?
It must be something commonplace, like a fire hydrant or garbage bags: I am convinced that there is more to painting than representing things that are beautiful. I have to be provocative.