Raffaele De Rosas painting stems from a figurative experience learnt at the Scuola Labronica and quickly turned into a personal style that remained linked to reality but was filtered through a dreamlike perspective.
He gradually shifted towards his present language, which is partially based on fantasy and adventurous reading, both of the old classics, such as Ariosto, and Italo Calvino, especially in his guise as a scholar of folk tradition, but most importantly legends, particularly those of Lunigiana. That is where he grew up and where as a child he started developing his fantasy world, which later inspired some of his most important cycles such as La Crociata dei Fanciulli, Pomarino and Le Favole della Lunigiana.
In towns in the area that extends from Fosdinovo, Fivizzano and Pontremoli to the ancient town ofLuni, the culture of this child growing up in the countryside was influenced by church frescoes and, to equal degree, by the story-tellers at country festivals who narrated their exciting epic and romantic stories, illustrated on a board behind them that served as scenery.
De Rosa remembers that his imagination seized more readily on the characters and scenes as they poured forth from the narrator’s mouth than the illustrations. The fairy tales came to life as if on a theatre stage, just as occurs in his pictures, in each one of which he moves the main characters, as if in passing photo-frames, to compose works with a specific thread. This type of background, this style and this manner of representation on canvas guided the artist’s choice towards this vast theme that is so philologically linked to and blends so well with the stated direction of the Biennale’s title: Making Worlds.
Raffaele De Rosa, artistically and deliberately enclosed in a fantasy world parallel to that of everyday life, sets his works in a labyrinthine reality that is a mix of ancient legends, romantic poems and Pindaric architecture, almost a contemporary version of a Paolo Uccello or Piranesi.
You can neither find your way out nor reach the centre of the maze and, as well as by classical memories, De Rosa’s work is influenced by the descriptions of dreamlike feuds conjured up by Howard Philip Lovecraft, who described cities with architecture lost in unimaginable heights, like the legendary Kadar or the worlds created for Flash Gordon.
Looking at the this artist’s production in its entirety, your thoughts cannot but go to the stories told by the peoples of the desert about oases, ideas freely produced by the mind and driven by need and desire. These are the worlds of De Rosa, with an almost physical need for an existence in which human construction coexists and blends with the natural. His backgrounds, with that typical slanting light which somehow blurs the scene, are like the Morgan le Fay of the desert, a beautiful mirage and perhaps behind the stories that the Blue Men tell around the fire.
This multi-faceted Raffaele De Rosa is why not only art critics but anthropologists such as Pietro Clemente and Gastone Venturelli, poets such as Alfonso Gatto and Italianists such as Michele Feo have also written about him.
Pietro Clemente wrote “Here, De Rosa gives us significant examples of a by no means banal link between the imagery and the deep-rooted sustenance of a land. He shows us elements of a landscape loyalty that, relived in picture-form, reappears intact in many of the harsh views of his works; and he proposes both the dream and the adult transfiguration of childhood imagery, with which to return to the infant dimension using the tools of a mature and perhaps unpredicted language. The adult dream translates the boyhood dream into a cultured and refined version. Basically, he works a transformation that is also loyal to the roots of the inspiration.”
Raffaele De Rosa seems to repeat some subjects ad infinitum, as if, indeed, in a theatre performance in which the backdrop varies very slightly and the characters or fantasy monsters, hippogriffs and chimeras, angels, devils, fairies and dragons move about to create the story.
The artists link to the spoken tradition makes him state the same argument many times. We should not forget that Cinderella was also told and sought in countless versions – more than 350 have been published and this is typical of the fairy tale tradition.
De Rosa may well transfigure classical architecture that can be linked to that of Piranesi but he also definitely remains true to the graphic teachings of this master. De Rosas graphic output is less well-known but extremely interesting. He has produced engravings and lithographs such as the II Mito cycle and the Visione of the 1990s, creating them without a preparatory drawing but taking the painted picture as a model; the same applies to the preparation of etchings.
He does not see the drawing on paper as preparatory for an oil painting; if anything, it is a finished work that comes afterwards and is sometimes inspired by the oil painting. One example of this is the L’Oro del Millesimo Mattino cycle, which later served in the creation, together with a group of anthropologists, of the book based on the vigil.
Both his oil and acrylic paintings clearly reveal parts that seem drawn but are actually produced using a fine brush applied over the paint to make it more iconic.
For his participation in the 53rd Venice Biennale, the Natura e Sogni pavilion is hosting Raffaele De Rosa in an open space, one of constant transit in a university building. It is uncommon to place a painting outside but this decision, which involves special logistics, was taken to allow painting referring to fantasy and utopian architecture to coexist with the conformation of the city.
The university building is a modern space in Venice that has already undergone a change of function and fascinated an architect of the calibre of Le Corbusier, who designed a hospital in this former abattoir and had already produced the drawing.
De Rosas works are inserted in Plexiglas containers that allow the pictures to be viewed front and rear, where you can see the actual weave of the canvas. This is not a provocation but an exaltation of the object as if it had been born there and risen directly from the base, like a new and fantastic real construction.
by Gregorio Rossi