Revisiting the classics

Art critic Marta Lock reviews Ray Piscopo, which approached classic masterpieces with a Cubist and Expressionist lens.
La Pietà, by Ray Piscopo.

Very often, contemporary art seems to somehow want to distance itself from classicism, that creative and executive tradition through which the masters of past centuries left evidence of their interpretation of an academic style strongly linked to aesthetic research, where subjects had clear references to predominantly religious or mythological themes, far removed from today’s artistic orientation.

Yet, despite this prevailing attitude, there are some authors who feel the need not only to remember that past but also to reinterpret it by virtue of the subjective lens and creative experience succeeded by study, analysis, and deepening of all creative paths preceding that of the present.

Today’s protagonist, artist Ray Piscopo, moves along this expressive line, giving in some canvases his personal vision of artworks that belong to the history of art but that, with his painterly touch, show different aspects and above all modernize while maintaining their narrative solemnity.

Expressionism has also undergone a metamorphosis from its early days, losing the intense chromatic character typical of the French Fauves, which was also taken up by northern European exponents, and moving toward greater intimism, a deeper attention to the sensations of the human being of which Egon Schiele was the master, who left a fundamental legacy to the later exponents of the London School, including the celebrated Lucian Freud. In the following years, those of the mid-20th century began to emerge artistic currents that aimed to go even more outside the box, but above all, they understood the importance of experimentation, of mixing previous artistic experiences to give rise to completely different artistic characteristics in which the guidelines were united.

This was the case of Pop Art in which Andy Warhol, its founder, decided to have an irreverent approach to icons of the cinema but also to figures of world politics by portraying them immersed in his vivid and full colors, inspired by early Expressionism. From that moment on, art lost its rigidity, there were no longer movements but rather individual authors who decided to give their own interpretation to styles, fruit of their studies, or simply the courage to let their creativity flow freely.


Exactly as the Maltese artist Ray Piscopo did, and continues to do. Piscopo is an engineer by profession and an artist by true and inalienable vocation, who after having deepened and attended various courses taught by the major European masters of recent years, decides to elaborate an unusual pictorial figure, fascinating precisely because it is somehow indefinable and unable to fit within a single scheme also because he himself chooses to move along different lines of production of which today we are going to explore the one that has led him to be inspired by and in some cases to take up paintings by the great interpreters of the art of the past while infusing them with his innovative touch.

Piscopo starts from two fundamental principles: that of the renunciation of perspective, depth, and chromatic realism, elements characteristic of Expressionism, and that of the decomposition of the image that expands in form by drawing on the graphic sign and at the same time creating small geometric shapes that cannot help but lead back to Cubism.

Through this ability to shape his artistic approach based on his feeling, his inclination to reproduce those facets of emotions that belong to his curious and multifaceted nature, decides to give a new version of paintings or sculptures that have literally marked the history of art, allowing the viewer to understand how important tradition is even in the present if looked at with an open-minded approach, but also to find the more current side even in something seemingly too traditional to be considered in step with the contemporary.

Ray Piscopo disrupts this mistaken belief by almost reinterpreting in a Pop key a sculpture such as The Pieta, by Michelangelo, which through his creative lens, his idea of the impossibility of dwelling on staticity, becomes a means of finding a new perspective, one in which plastic perfection gives way to a new reading, as if somehow Christ should correspond to all the sufferings that even in the present afflict contemporary man.

Moving With The Times

The starting line of execution is impeccable, but then the artist seems to want to detach himself from a perfection that would make it too ethereal and distant from current feeling, transforming the image through the intersection of lines through which to create small geometric figures that fragment but at the same time highlight, as in the case of the beam of light coming from the left side of the canvas.

In The Conversion of Saul, Ray Piscopo seems to want to merge the different versions that have been given of it in the past, starting with Michelangelo and ending with Raphael via Luca Giordano, and redesigns its structure giving it a perhaps even more solemn aspect, exactly thanks to those geometric lines, to that sense of unreality that distinguishes the artist’s pictorial structure in which the graphic stroke prevails over the chromatic part, because after all, what really matters is the essential.

The figure of the saint dominates the scene while the characters on the ground appear confused, at times undefined, as if they were there solely and only to emphasize the solemnity of the moment of conversion by Saul, St. Paul, who from that moment transforms and completely consecrates his life to devotion to the Lord.

In Urban Jesus, the only work in this selection executed in watercolor and gold leaf on paper, Ray Piscopo once again shows his aptitude for wanting to immerse himself in the contemporary, to show the viewer how much everything changes while sometimes remaining unchanged, or perhaps it would be better to say, how certain values and truths survive and are handed down in spite of changing times and the passing of the years.

Here, Jesus seems to emerge from a metropolitan context, where man seems to have drifted away from the divine, from faith, and yet he continues to keep watch, to make sure that individuals remain somehow connected, however feebly, to a spirituality that can be a decidedly deeper and more engaging cue than the material goods toward which the individual tends, represented in this painting by the big car placed at the bottom of the canvas.

Behind the image of Christ, the artist places graffiti, that unique expressive voice of the last of societies, of those communicators of feelings who have not gone the necessary route to be noticed by the art system and so express themselves on city walls, on underpass cars, on the underpasses that people walk through every day. Somehow, a reassurance emerges from that central figure, as if he is there to remind man to continue to be human, not to forget those in need, and to pursue not only materialistic goals but also inner ones.

Ray Piscopo has to his credit participation in many exhibitions in Malta and also abroad, and his artworks are part of private collections in Malta, Italy, Ireland, England, France, Norway, Australia, and the United States. His works can be viewed here.

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