Italian Artist Ruffo Caselli Dedicates Paintings to the NYPD

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Ruffo Caselli, one of the most original Italian painters, never left Italy where he lives and works. His art is known in Hollywood, in Dubai, and in New York.

I have sold two paintings that I shipped to Beverly Hills and they led to other requests from Hollywood. I’ve even sold large canvasses that ended up in the home of a sheik in Dubai and the person who came here to buy them has asked for more. They say that I respect moral values and don’t offend religious principals.

His work can be found adorning the walls of sumptuous Hollywood homes and as far afield as Dubai.

Born in Florence and raised in Milan, home is now a fifth floor apartment in a 17th century building in Ovada, Piedmont, where he spends his days painting and tending to his canvases much as a museum curator would.

Ruffo Caselli, a “Master” who has earned a reputation abroad as one of Italy’s most original contemporary artists, tells me how he has been painting non-stop for as long as he can remember and describes his style as either “abstract figurative” or “figurative abstract”.

Ovada is a small town inhabited by one-time small holders turned shop-keepers or business-men who now enjoy an extremely good standard of living. In fact a clerk at the local private bank told me that there is a millionaire living behind every front door. Even so, few of them spend their money on Ruffo’s works of art, preferring instead to buy “a painting of the local bell-tower, or perhaps a nude.”

“My life is not unlike that of a Franciscan monk,” says Ruffo “I like simple food, sometimes all I eat is onions for days at a time, or occasionally the deli around the corner, in exchange for a portrait that the owners have commissioned, gives me something ready-cooked like a roast chicken.”

His is a life dedicated to his art; now aged 74, he has been painting since he was four. His parents used to give him albums that he colored in with pastels and he loved to copy Van Gogh’s sunflowers. When they could afford to, relatives would buy some of his colored albums although he never saw any money himself because his parents needed it all. His father worked as a messenger, his mother as an embroiderer and as a youngster, he would deliver the items she had finished, running as quickly as he could through the streets of Milan so as to save the tram fare and buy an illustrated book of some kind.

He tells of one time when he was rushing to deliver some of his mother’s embroidery and bombs began to fall. “After 9/11,” he continues, obviously deeply saddened by the tragedy, “I did several paintings that showed the destruction of the twin towers. Two Americans, here by chance, saw them and started to cry saying “Somebody loves us!” Having lived through WWII when by miracle I survived the bombing of my school and also witnessed executions by firing squad, it is easy for me to relate to the pain Americans feel and I wanted show my solidarity by presenting them with a painting I am sending three paintings commemorating 9/11 to the New York Police Department, where many are of Italian descent".

It is the Americans who, in recent years, have really begun to appreciate Ruffo Caselli’s art.

“I have sold two paintings that I shipped to Beverly Hills and they led to other requests from Hollywood. I’ve even sold large canvasses that ended up in the home of a sheik in Dubai and the person who came here to buy them has asked for more. They say that I respect moral values and don’t offend religious principals.”

In his home town however, as picturesque and charming as it is, Ruffo Caselli feels like a prisoner and is not shy about saying why.

He says that on market day, the bars, streets and squares are full of people gossiping about each other: tittle-tattle, licentious tales of unfaithful spouses, love affairs, petty griping and envious neighbors with grudges that have lasted a lifetime or even down the generations.

It is typical of the small town mentality of those who positively relish talking about other people’s weaknesses in a never-ending game of Chinese whispers that takes place regularly every Saturday and Wednesday each time the market comes to town.

“I have never exhibited my best works here,” says the artist, “because no-one would understand them.” He takes refuge in his apartment and with great artistry gives life to tiny elegant figures which, like moon-shadows, come and go for moments at a time, often reappearing in a different color. His characters are mysterious and poetic, sometimes even ironic. Fragments of daily life are revealed, emerging from graceful forms that seem to be watching and judging what they see. It is the unexpected that proves the rule, reveling in how it flouts the boundaries of convention and familiarity to seek out the funny side of even the most serious aspects of reality.

Sometimes he paints groups of female figures reminiscent of the chorus in a Greek tragedy about to make an important announcement. All who spend time looking at these figures end up seeing themselves and memories of their own past. Despite a troubled, somewhat complicated life with its share of family drama, Ruffo Caselli manages to transmit - and with great artistry at that - his own inner rebellion, transforming his pain and loneliness into what must be one of the most singular and dramatic expressions of contemporary art.

In this artistic world of his, where ancient and modern walk hand in hand, man is always the focus of his work. Time and time again he throws his ideas and beliefs into the arena, each new canvas an insight into his inquiring mind. His is the pursuit of an impossible dream, namely that the world should adopt a more open way of communicating, and as he holds on to his own spiritual values and expresses his own relationship with the world he sees and the one he cannot, his defiance of that small-town mentality never waivers. Microchips often feature in his paintings, “integrated circuits” that seem to be suspended in the personal space surrounding his figures. “In other words,” he explains, “transistors with silicone hearts that provide massive amounts of information in a limited amount of space.” At a recent exhibition of his works in Milan, he presented a series of paintings that contained real integrated circuits able to communicate with each other.

“Why is it,” he wonders out loud, “that in America and Dubai, places I have never even visited, they love my paintings? No one is a prophet … in his own land? Not long ago I underwent heart surgery. My doctors have been completely honest with me and I know I don’t have long to live. I just wish that all these paintings leave here before I do. I would love all of them to do what I have never been able to do: cross the ocean.”

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Carmen Gallo
Italian American Network, Inc
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