I could easily barrel ahead into a long-winded, artsy-academic analysis about how Roberto Ferri’s traditionally-rooted, virtuosic oil skills rival history’s most revelatory painters. I don’t want anyone to lapse into a coma on my watch, though. The internationally renowned Ferri’s exquisite brush-wielding gift would probably be crystal clear to an eye-patch wearing Captain Obvious with a cataract inconveniently located smack dab in the middle of his or her sole “gazing peeper”. We’re all on the same page, I’m sure.
Robert Ferri, who throws his entire mind, body and soul into the pursuit of exemplary, old world-caliber figure painting, is patently answering his life’s call. The global achievements that he’s already racked up as a photo-realistic artist who is merely in his early 40s gives credence to the notion that being self-propelled and absolutely exacting in one’s chosen craft truly can result in real-world greatness.
Read Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’s in-depth interview with Roberto Ferri in Issue 026 | September 2019.
It’s tempting, however, to jazz up this page with high-falutin’ art world terminology because today feels like a special occasion. The opportunity to wax poetic about an artist who will undoubtedly be regarded as one of civilization’s all-time greats doesn’t happen very often. Roberto Ferri possesses that degree of creative artistry. He has the type of mad genius that compels any writer worth their weight in art-speak salt to cram pretentious buzzwords such as oeuvre, relational aesthetics, synecdoche and peripatetic into their prose. Metanarrative seems like a pretty good one, too. Who knows what any of those words actually mean, but still. You don’t show up to a black tie event wearing Birkenstocks and a potato chip grease-stained Hootie and the Blowfish t-shirt. Anyway, your eyeballs are not going to be abused with artsy-fartsy snootiness, so by all means, relax!
In fact, let’s dispense with the formalities and the pinky-lifting altogether so that we can have a real chat about a really cool guy named Roberto Ferri. Despite his pedigree as one of the twenty first century’s truly great artists – who, at just 36 years of age, was commissioned by the Vatican to create not just one but two rather dapper portraits of Pope Francis!! – Ferri has no time nor does he even possess the desire to entertain society’s white noise. Trivial distractions, such as who is following whom or our culture’s compulsion to offer unsolicited opinions about every little silly thing, seem utterly meaningless when they are held up to the unwavering commitment that he has to his craft. Rather than allow the pop culture web to ensnare him, the Sutri-based painter instead favors a quiet existence in the historically-rich, nature-laden Rome suburb that nourishes his painterly imaginings.
While portraiture in and of itself will likely always stand the test of time, the banality of commercial art is not for Ferri. Instead, he sets out to elevate the intrinsic value of figure painting with cerebrally-stimulating substance. Employing unexpected thematic jolts of imagination with flawlessly executed old-world composition and painting techniques has set him far apart from the majority of his contemporaries. His works are quite a heartbeat-thumping sight to behold. I bet that if Ferri’s most esteemed artistic heroes (such as William Adolphe Bouguereau, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio) bore witness to his vast body of scintillating work, they’d succumb to fierce artistic inferiority complexes.
Ferri, like all of those who revel in the splendor of the creative domain, experiences validation, joy and the sense that his work has significance when people actually like it. He’s human, after all. His motivation, however, is not to announce to the world, “Look at what I can do!” but rather to ask beholders of his paintings, “Does this artwork make electricity surge throughout your body?” Given his penchant for painting luminously lit, how-on-earth-is-this-NOT-real flesh?!? that is occasionally impaled or appears to agonizingly give birth to foreign object parasites, I’d say that he’s definitely achieving his goal. The devil seems to be in Roberto Ferri’s details, which maniacal cackle in red-horned revelry when you cast a high powered magnifying glass upon his canvases. As all-you-can eat figure painting smorgasbords go, this one is quite the toothsome delight if you like your meal slathered with surrealistically subversive sauce.
Our chef de cuisine clearly didn’t receive his formal training from a three hour Bob Ross workshop. Happy little trees are not a part of the Italian painter’s theatrically secular mythology, however angry little gnarly roots and dominatrix-like botanicals certainly are. They gruesomely heave from chest cavities or sprout from sacred lady bits like Ridley Scott’s hostile Alien, conquering their mortal prey while leaving some of them in what distinctly appears to be an unnervingly rapturous state. As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks. One thing is abundantly clear, though. The central figures in many of Roberto Ferri’s other compositions don’t seem to be enjoying their fates nearly as much.
Glimpses of sanguine-tinged plant matter drawing impossibly elastic flesh fibers away from the body (à la Katherine Helmond’s cosmetic surgery-obsessed socialite from the Terry Gilliam-helmed film “Brazil”) are just as heeby-jeeby inducing as bound limbs undergoing a calciferous fusion process. The serpentine tail of a disembodied griffin restrains its human prisoner with an anaconda-like bicep chokehold. Meanwhile, a headless specter cloaked in a modified mauve hijabi is in the process of snapping the neck of a ginger maiden – or wait! – is that all-powerful-being simply just stabilizing the lovely lass during her animalistic metamorphosis? Augmenting a scene with a skeleton-like entity that either appears to be spooning or dare I say caressing its sacrificial human lamb is all in a day’s work for Ferri.
What, pray tell, is Roberto Ferri sprinkling on his morning bowl of Wheaties to trigger such mythically-apocalyptic atonement visions? He summons all manner of good versus evil imagery in his works, from gorgeously enticing expressions of passion and tenderness to desperation, possession, various forms of faith-triggered penance, and a hopeless descent into the depths of hell. But that’s just my personal interpretation, which is precisely what Ferri is going for. Rather than be swayed by what art critics claim is the underlying message emanating from his works, Ferri WANTS people like me and you to make up our own minds.
Just for fun, allow your gaze to creep ever so slowly across each of his works. Really savor the details materializing before your eyes. In doing so, religious symbology may leap to the forefront…or perhaps Dionysian elements. A psychological tug of war may seem identifiable to you. Or chronic isolation. Implied, imagined, or hovering somewhere between the lines, your emotional reaction to Roberto Ferri’s paintings is and should be entirely personal. If you end up being swept away to another dimension, what a wonderful treat, but that place doesn’t have to be all warm and fuzzy, either. Feeling something – even if it straddles the inky black realms of your worst nightmare – is still life-validating. That diverse spectrum of interpretation is part of his ongoing quest to push hard against the artistic current.
Ferri is just as adept at delivering studies of the human figure that are entirely free of theatrics, metaphors and Baroquian subtext. Quite like his masterful forefathers of the classical art world who managed to imbue their subjects of antiquity with a preternatural sense of life, Ferri’s contemporary versions look so remarkably human that detecting any signs of breath with a mirror seems like an absolute must. They radiate in dappled shades of marble, some buttery alabaster, others pearlescent apricot. Ferri’s expertly wielded paint brush innately knows how to transform a flat canvas into a soulfully three dimensional representation of their breath, blood, heart and hope, all judiciously tempered with dancing light and ominous shadow.
Whether male or female, the vast majority of Roberto Ferri’s sinewy subjects reflect modern society’s perception of the flawless, ‘carb-free’ form. He strays from this formula on occasion, but the fact that he finds his very contemporary looking models on the streets of Rome plays into his painterly celebration of the flesh. (Just for the record, eager volunteers seek him out, as well.) While the stars of his artworks are indeed Italian, they sure don’t seem to be eating any pasta or semolina bread. Dietary choices notwithstanding, Ferri makes a point of immortalizing individuals upon his canvases who are visually intriguing. The result of his scouting? A feast of chiseled, Adonis-like gentlemen who could easily take down Goliath with the flick of a finger. His bevy of breast-fully endowed, six-pack-tabulous ladies are just as fetching. Some of them, while seemingly vulnerable, would never ever be victimized during a back alley mugging attempt.
Skill like his evolves over time, through extreme dedication, practice and study. Roberto Ferri’s early childhood interest in painting was encouraged and enthusiastically supported by his parents, which is exactly how dreams take flight! The pursuit of art soon became his life’s purpose, resulting in his graduation from Liceo Artistico “Lisippo” of Taranto and then a self-propelled analysis of late 16th century to 19th century master artworks. Ferri enrolled in The Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, which was established in the late 1500s. It is the very same institution where acclaimed Italian artists such as Postminimal sculptor Pino Pascali, abstract painter/sculptor Marco Tirelli, Scuola Romana art movement founder Mario Mafai, and Arte Poverta doyen Jannis Kounellis received their formal training.
Attending The Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma’s set design program (and ultimately graduating with honors) was fortuitous for Roberto Ferri in many ways. One of his instructors – noted art critic and historian Robertomaria Siena – was instrumental in helping Ferri take his talent to stratospheric levels. The teacher was such a staunch believer in Ferri’s gift that he advised the young painter how to chart a course for success, beginning with the ritualistic sketching of historical artworks at local museums. Ferri analyzed and emulated the techniques of civilization’s most venerated artistic masters with extreme dedication, marveling in the way that brushstrokes can capture the poetry of one’s creative essence.
Ferri’s craft-honing process made him feel as though the masters of yesteryear stepped through a window in space and time to deliver the most impactful artistic instruction of his life. Today, those lessons are fully rooted in Roberto Ferri’s formidable artistic magnum opus, which sings out in exultation. Ferri’s reverence for the creative spirits of the past flickers just as brightly on his canvases as the passion that he has for the sheer act of creation. He is an artist for the ages – one who can easily teach all of us a lesson or two about what really matters most in this life. Not likes. Not followers. Definitely not trends. Rather, identifying your purpose and resolutely galloping like a champion thoroughbred racehorse toward real world manifestation!