Pietro Ruffo’s Layerings – Part I

War and Freedom

Pietro Ruffo is an artist from Rome whose layering working process is influenced by the millenary history of his birth’s city.
Rome, not casually called ‘Eternal City’, had indeed a leading role in far and different periods: it was Caput Mundi in the age of the Roman Empire, headquarter of catholic Christianity since the Middle Ages, home of great Italian families in Baroque age, and Italy’s capital city since 1871. All of this is visible in the coexistence of different architectural and urbanistic styles.

Pietro Ruffo transposed this stylistic layering on paper both drawing on non-empty backgrounds and raising parts of his artworks at different heights.
This second method is detailed and almost surgical because the artist firstly carves a sheet of paper, then he arranges each cut-out with pins on the edges and finally he raises them at different heights with the help of a tweezer. The results are layered compositions in which each layer has its own visual reading.

A series where this layering also has the aim of recreating the real conformation of an arboreal area is De Hortus. The title comes from Amsterdam’s botanical garden where Dutch Indies’ Companies planted exotic species brought from their colonial dominions.
In the Netherlands, as in all other colonist countries, the introduction of new plants in homeland was a symbol of power on subdued populations and on nature too which could survive in greenhouses even if far from its habitat.

Pietro Ruffo sets his circular compositions under glasses to hint at greenhouses and at vegetation inside them. In this way he subtly shows how human being claims the right to control not only his similar but also the natural world which he shows and protects as a rare trophy even if he destroys it every day.

De Hortus series’ texture was applied by the artist to his SPAD SVII because it reminds camouflaged patterns used in warfare. The artwork is indeed a 1:1 scale replica of the same-named French fighter airplane used during WWI. However, this plane of Ruffo has nothing to do with military world if not the reference to its historical use. His plane is purposely made by wood and framed paper to ‘lighten’ it of its factual and symbolical weight and to make it light as freedom to fly.

In Youth of the Hills the artist recreated in real dimensions another military vehicle: a German tank from WWII.
The structure is covered by sheets with Jewish prayers from which he obtained an insect, the stag beetle.
Ruffo had to use kirigami technique to create those beetles because, for Jewish people, prayers are sacred and thus their media cannot be destroyed. This technique allowed him to carve sheets folding the pieces without detaching them and so modelling his 3D shapes.

There are many meanings in this artwork: the opposition between Nazi’s army and Jewish population or between tank’s destructiveness and paper’s fragility; and the symbolism of the stag beetle which refers to layering into territory1.

Artist’s approach to war is never direct because he hasn’t experienced it on his own skin and, also when he addresses contemporary issues as Arab Spring, he abstracts them from their specificity considering only general aspects.

In Arab Spring series he extracted single words from posters of protest’s movements by involved Arab nations. Words like blood, fight, unite and freedom are written inside a geometrical decoration coming from a floor of Granada’s Alhambra. That ornamental pattern seems a web that contains words isolating and, at the meantime, linking them each other. This choice, added to the placing of the decoration on geographical maps, represents the global spread of universal messages through a virtual web as Internet which can induce different peoples, cultures, and believes to communication.

It is precisely in Arab Spring series that fight’s subject is bound with freedom’s one, freedom to protest.

Pietro Ruffo explores this topic in Soyez realiste demandez l’impossible2 and in Tidal Wave3 too.
In the first artwork there are references to French Revolution of 1848 and to May 68 while in the second one a demonstration against climate changing is shown.

The concept of freedom is relevant in Isaiah Berlin and the Six Enemies of Human Liberty artwork.
It is a portraits’ series of six philosophers from 1700s and of a contemporary one who analysed their thoughts defining them “enemies of human liberty”. This philosopher was Isaiah Berlin, the theorist of two concepts of freedom: the negative one (freedom from something or someone) and the positive one (freedom of choice and of self-government).
Both freedoms come, for him, from valid theories applied in a wrong way even leading to totalitarian regimes or dictatorships.

Pietro Ruffo carved each portrait with shapes of dragonflies raised and folded three-dimensionally.
These animals are a symbol of freedom but, the choice to attach them with pins as an entomologist would have done, for the artist means constraints and the will of classification.

The concept of freedom can’t be uniquely defined, so Ruffo made Atlas of the Various Freedoms installation in which the portraits of forty thinkers are drawn on a world map. Each portrait is paired with the audio playback of the interview the artist did with each philosopher on that subject.

Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, in The prophet, assumes that the first freedom to pursue is the inner one; thus, in his Liberty House, Pietro Ruffo placed mirrors to let viewers reflect both on Gibran’s words on walls and on themselves looking at their reflection on the ceiling.

In his artworks the artist addresses also other contemporary issues so, if the artworks described in this article have intrigued you, don’t miss the second part to be published on 24th May.

Useful links: artist’s website
artist’s Instagram page

Photo courtesy by the artist


1 The stag beetle is an insect which mainly lives under a layer of sand to protect itself from heat in the Middle East area.

2 In Soyez realiste demandez l’impossible the artist overlaps May 68’s propaganda posters in a raised position compared to the portraits of characters of Rossini’s opera Il viaggio a Reims. The rose window (similar to the one of Reims cathedral of Rossini’s opera) is made by images from May 68’s posters too.
While the reference to French Revolution of 1848 has to be found in the opera’s history: it was originally composed with a celebrative aim for Charles X’s crowning as king of France, but it was later modified and played precisely in 1848 to celebrate the revolutionary barricades.

3 This artwork is a part of Azulejos series, and it shows on three walls scenes linked to water and its bound with contemporary issues. The protest against climate change is on the third wall.

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