Our love affair with wallpaper shows no sign of fading, and now it’s starting to evolve. Step forward the painterly mural: the antithesis of off-the-shelf designs, it’s a rather more bespoke and luxurious affair. One of its foremost exponents is Swiss-born,Paris-based artist Roberto Ruspoli, who’s breathing new life into this ancient art form.
After growing up in Rome and studying painting in New York, Ruspoli performed on stage with legendary choreographer Pina Bausch in her 1999 production of Dido – an experience that had a major impact on his style. Today, he takes on a variety of commissions – these have included a ceiling for architect Fabrizio Casiraghi’s apartment, and a project for the new Soho House hotel in Paris, which opens next year. ‘Penelope’ an exhibition of his murals and drawings is currently on display at Alex Eagle’s London studio.
Ruspoli’s aesthetic embraces the figurative, with faces shown in graceful classical profile and bodies draped in flowing robes. This reflects his many years studying human anatomy, as well as his love of historical art. ‘I’m chiefly inspired by the ancient world, such as the vases and frescoes in Pompeii and Herculaneum,’ he says. ‘The human form is the starting point of any art, as you can see from looking at the earliest cave paintings. But I’m also influenced by modern artists – Picasso for his freedom, Jean Cocteau for his use of line and his magical universe, and even Rothko for his sense of space and vibrant colours.’
There’s a wonderful fluidity about Ruspoli’s work that reflects the nature of fresco, which requires artists to operate deftly on wet plaster before it dries. But this belies a painstaking preparatory process; before picking up his brush, Ruspoli sketches on to paper and carefully studies his surface to get a sense of scale. ‘Then I draw and paint directly onto the wall – I love the spontaneity and freshness of it,’ he explains. ‘It’s like meditation; it makes me feel free and in the moment.’ He uses various materials, such as charcoal, gouache and mineral pigments to achieve different effects, with background washes of jewel-bright colour that give a modern, monochromatic look.
Ruspoli is acutely sensitive to the way his works relate to interior design. ‘The reason I draw on walls is because I like the idea of living with art, of it surrounding our everyday lives just as it did in Ancient Greece and Rome,’ he muses. ‘Art should be a part of the space we live in, not separate from it.’ The message is clear: lose the picture frame, and free your imagination.
This feature appeared in ELLE Decoration October 2019
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