Those of you who are familiar with my work know that it's all about masks and being masked. However, if this is the first time you're coming in contact with my artwork, let me tell you where I am coming from.
I spent decades drawing from live models, until I reached the point when I had to decide what direction to go in. I knew I was not going to be a portraitist. I've never really been interested in reproducing reality, but then what should my focus be? I saw a picture of the Venice Carnival and that intrigued me immediately. I told my wife, my partner then, about it and she said to me: “Just go. If you have an itch, scratch it.” When I got to Venice, I knew right away that I had found my subject matter - masked figures. This was in 1993. I have not missed a Venice Carnival since then. So you could say that the complexity of human emotions and mystery and intrigue of the Venice Carnival have set me on the course I am following today as an artist.
Many of you may think that artists repeat the same subject over and over again, but I believe that what artists do is build layer upon layer until a new level is reached. The result is a more complex work than the previous one or, at least, I think that's what good artists do. We are visual artists, but we are also writers on canvas. So many ideas and concepts go into creating a painting that I believe the best time to ask an artist what the piece is all about would be just when she or he is creating it, but most artists work by themselves and in many cases there is no opportunity to exhibit the work right away. So some of the ideas that go into making that work stay locked within it, and even the creator forgets some of the ideas behind it. I always wonder when critics tell you with confidence what a work is about. I always wonder about that - if that is really what the artist had in mind. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you know the meaning of a painting. What matters is that you find some connection to it - it inspires you, it moves you, it elevates you, it helps you cope. You give it an added meaning. And no matter what we are led to believe – the best way to experience a work of art is the direct line from the solitude of the artist’s studio to you, who gets the chance to stand in front of it with your own thoughts. A luxury that is not always afforded us as we navigate through a crowded exhibit.
What I can do is take on the role of narrator of my own work and tell you some of the characteristics and developments that make these paintings mine - the work of Rossella BLUE Mocerino and of no other artist. At the beginning, masks were simply actual masks covering faces, but as my work has progressed, I have noticed that in most cases the masks have become part of the faces. As critic Lawrence Downes said - he had a hunch that my cast of characters were always in costume, that they never took off their masks. And even if you were to take off the mask, there is no guarantee that you wouldn’t find a painted face underneath, another form of masking. What you can never mask, though, are the eyes, and those may tell you another story.
I have never thought of my masked figures as scary. I am at the core of my essence an individualist. Whereas many people rush to eliminate what makes them unique from others, I believe we should nurture these qualities. Hence the mask becomes a means of protection. Most of my paintings represent one figure or two, very rarely a group. Groups tend to shape people from the same mold. An acquaintance of mine once said that she saw my paintings populated by people with integrity. To this day, this is one of the best comments I have gotten about my work. I realize that the people in my paintings would be somewhat unsettling if they actually came alive and walked among us; however, after the initial shock, you would find that they are a passionate, thoughtful, caring, highly principled cast of characters and as they look at you, they are telling you: ”Go after what you are passionate about. Do it now!” The space around the figures is an integral part of the painting, never filler. Not only do we each have a right to a certain amount of space but the aura around us is an extension of ourselves.
In 2015 I had the great opportunity to create four different shows for four different libraries here in Manhattan and, then, at the beginning of 2016, I exhibited at the Luna Baglioni Hotel, a luxury hotel in Venice. After these shows, it was time to pause. It was time to meditate. Where did I want my work to go? Where did I want to exhibit? I had accomplished my goal of moving away from a gallery setting and bringing my work to a more public audience, but what now? If I was finding myself at a point of reflection, then why not reflect this state of mind in my art, hence MEDITATION IN THE CATACOMBS was born. The exhibition space at Jefferson Market lends itself to meditation – the winding down staircase, the low loggias. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine the space turned into monks’ cells or to picture monks working on illustrating manuscripts. Incidentally, all the works in the show, minus two, were created specifically for this show.
Meditation, contemplation, praying are all cerebral but physical acts too. We use our hands to express gratitude, to petition for a better future, to talk to a higher authority, to calm us down. Hands could in their own right tell their own story, yet I knew in these paintings there had to be a balance and unity between the eyes and hands. When I visited Rembrandt’s paintings at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I noticed how often the hands in his paintings are left unfinished or downplayed, if you like. Composition in a painting is about featuring some aspects and toning down others, a system of checks and balances. I knew that in the paintings I was preparing for this meditation show hands had to be prominent.
In the last few years, I have started a painting by dividing the canvas in two halves. The right side and left side of the painting get painted different colors; then, the colors get blended together. In these new paintings, I decided to leave the right side a different color from the color on the left. As we progress through a day, we go from color to color, from emotion to emotion, from light to darkness, from darkness to light. And this brings me to another important point – how a painting is lit. Critic Nicola Eremita recently pointed out that my later work is featuring “light within color”. In other words, light doesn’t come from an external source but it stems from within the color. I could add that light stems from within us.
This art talk was given at the opening of Meditation in the Catacombs Art Show December 11, 2016 Jefferson Market Library Photos by Sherry Fyman