Pietro Ruffo’s Layerings – Part II

Human being and his relation with space

As you saw from the title, this article is the second part of the analysis of Pietro Ruffo’s artistic path. If you missed the first part, here‘s the link.

Pietro Ruffo (1978) has a specific academic background thanks to which he developed an interest in geographical maps: “When you are a student of Architecture, and then an architect, the first thing you do when you have to project is to take a planimetry or other mapping kinds of the area. So, the project starts right from geographic map, from territory“.

However, geographical maps are not objective tools because, depending on who drew them or commissioned them, they contain some information rather than others. The example the artist made me during our interview perfectly clarifies this concept: “If I am the French ambassador and I gift to Japanese emperor a geographic map, France will surely be big in the centre of the world and, in some way, I will enhance how important it is globally“.

It might seem strange, but this feature is still present now because, in common geographical maps, Europe is shown in a central position and it seems much bigger than it actually is. The projection usually used, the one of Mercator, indeed doesn’t show respective proportions between territories as could do, for example, Peters’ projection.

The problem of a precise Earth’s reproduction on a plain surface, always pushed cartographers to find ways that could best limit unavoidable deformations. Thus, over the centuries, maps with strange shapes like the star, the fan, or a circle with two holes have been projected.

Pietro Ruffo chose some of them for his Migrations series in which he drew world’s populations as they were represented and catalogued in the past. He raised, with his layering technique, countries’ borders.
There’s also a flying birds’ flock as a hint to the migration of people drawn with blue ink on a white background.

The choice of drawing populations resuming the distinctive typing of Nineteenth-century’s iconography, can be also found in other series of the artist as the one of Atlases.

An artwork, in particular, shows different ethnicities in the ring around the geographical projection used in the past to calculate sea routes. But The Colours of Cultural Map is not a simple map because it also allows to discover how, a basic element as the colour, can be interpreted differently depending on culture.

Inspired by McCandless’ chromatic circle1, Ruffo quotes the coloured sections pinning and raising them.
In this way, he shows a very current subject like multiculturality and he invites to connect people searching affinities that bring them together rather than differences that divide them.
For example, we can discover that African, Chinese, and East European all associate red to luck!

Geographic maps are constantly present in the work of the artist who says: “They thrill us because, with just a gaze, we can dominate on huge surfaces and we have the impression to raise us. They also allow to locate us inside the world because the first thing that, for example, we do on Google Maps is to check if there’s our home, as to say: If there is, then I exist!”.

It’s only since Ruffo visited the Mappamondo (Globe) room2 at Farnese palace in Caprarola (Lazio, Italy) that he introduced sky maps along with the geographic ones. He says indeed: “Raising my head there was another map which contained ships and whales’ drawings, so, my first reaction was almost a mockery because, compared to a territory’s map, that seemed to me more like a Wunderkammer’s divertissement. While not at all! It had the same worthiness of a terrestrial map because they are both based on codes invented by us and there aren’t codes more truth than others, just codes more shared.

Despite being bound to the myth and thus being in a certain way scientifically incorrect, sky maps are permanent because they are the only ones that, since ancient Greeks till now, have never changed (even now, in Astronomy, celestial vault is divided in 88 parts called with constellations’ names).
I am passioned about this difference between two types of cartography: the terrestrial one, very precise but unreliable because it changes depending on political changings, and the celestial one, unaltered.
So, paradoxically, and provocatively, the second one becomes almost more affordable than the first one.”.

All these reflections led to the creation of Constellations series in which sky maps are drawn on terrestrial maps and then they are carved and raised.

The shapes obtained by ancients joining ‘the bright spots’ of faraway stars were related to fantastic animals and to mythologic figures.

In the tapestries3 series, Sky walkers, these shapes are the background of single wonderers’ figures also visible in the dark because they are made by a reflective lining. Migrants are here defined ‘sky walkers’ because, often, during their long paths towards a better future, they use stars to orientate at night in the desert or in the sea.

Whereas, in Moon walk series real sky walkers are shown: the astronauts. It’s a project about the Sixties and how the desire of landing the Moon was communicated in that period.
The artist used as backgrounds scientific magazines’ covers of those years in which there were ‘landscape’ visions of Moon’s surface before men reached it and could take a shot of it.

Superimposed to those fictional shots, there are, in a raised position, space race’s propaganda posters. The main countries involved represented the missions in a different way depending on their political believes: in Soviet posters the focus is on the man who shows his greatness and strength throwing rockets to the Moon with his own hands; in the American ones the focus is on technology and science, human presence is insignificant; in the Chinese ones there are patriotic symbols as the flag or the Great Wall.

Whether it’s a topic like war and freedom, as in the first part of the article, or like man and his relation with space (both earthly and cosmic), as in this second part, Pietro Ruffo always succeeds to transmit his diversified knowledge and passions, and his sensitivity as an artist and as a man.

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

Photo courtesy by the artist


1 The coordinates to read this anthropo-psychologic map are: letters from A to J in the diameter for world’s areas, and numbers from 1 to 84 along the circumference for abstract concepts (like peace, happiness…).

2 Countries, continents, and a planisphere (it lacks Australia and New Zealand, and Greenland is connected to North America) are shown on the walls while in the sky map on the ceiling there are the zodiac signs and mythological animals from ancient Astronomy.

3 Actually, they are not proper tapestries because there’s not a loom with threads but a carved PVC fabric behind which there’s a reflective lining.

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