Master of Colour | Ray Piscopo

From his figurative paintings right through to his abstracts, Ray Piscopo is an artist whose command of colour can transport you into another world. Here, IGGY FENECH chats to the man behind the brush in the lead-up to his two-upcoming exhibitions

17 November 2015, 10:09am
The Glass Blower by Ray Piscopo
The Glass Blower by Ray Piscopo
An engineer by profession, Ray Piscopo first entered the world of art in the early 1970s when, as a student at the Junior Lyceum in Hamrun, he was tutored by one of Malta’s greatest, the late Antoine Camilleri.

Although Ray has studied various techniques under a myriad of artists since then, including the human figure under the supervision of Anton Calleja, and ceramics with George Muscat, Ray’s talent has been self-nurtured through trial-and-error.

“While I participated in various master-class workshops in Austria and Italy, and took multiple sessions of supervised, hands-on tuition under renowned instructors in mosaics, ceramics, life-drawing and painting, I have never followed any academic or artistic studies,” he explains.

“I believe myself to be a self-taught artist who experiments with colours and materials,” he continues. “I do, however, keep myself abreast of the global art scene through subscriptions to online magazines, studying art books, and by visiting foreign art museums.”

As we sip on our coffees at the Orange Grove Art Café within the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa, my eye wanders to the hanging sculptures that have been recently set up. Ray, you see, is also the official curator of the Orange Grove Art Café’s Artist of the Month series, which provides artists with a space to showcase and sell their work to both locals as well as visitors.

“It just happened!” he tells me, when I ask him about his role here. “But it’s been wonderful, and it’s also an exercise in choosing the right pieces to complement the place. See, I personally have no inhibitions about art themes to be exhibited, because I believe art expression should not be restricted or subdued, but I recognise that the Orange Grove Art Café is not an art gallery per se, but forms part of a prestigious hotel where all sorts of people stay at the hotel, and who can be adults or minors.

“This, for lack of a better word, forces me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, which is important both for curators and artists. Now it comes naturally that any art chosen for exhibition should respect the sensitivities of residents and visitors alike, and at the same time be complimentary to the cool ambiance at the Orange Grove.”

This sensitivity towards the audience is something that Ray exercises in all his work, however. Having known him for a good number of years, and as a proud owner of a Ray Piscopo, it is clear that Ray chooses his subjects – just like he chooses the pieces to go on display – in a way that inspires and prompts emotions without being shocking for no particular reason or just for the sake of it.

As we return to discussing his art, he cites the old masters as his ultimate inspiration, but reveals that it was the day-to-day life that became the focus for his two up-coming exhibitions as part of his Abstract Rhythms in Nature series.

“People and what they do in life can be so interesting,” he exclaims. “The Maltese Lace Maker, The Medieval Piper, The Busker Violinist, The Beggar Boy, The Clay Potter, The Pigeon Man… They all have a story and these paintings tell a part of it!”

 It has taken Ray about year to put together the main collection of figurative works, which add up to an incredible 29 large-format acrylic on canvas paintings. Ray, in fact, is a very hard-working artist, sometimes spending more than 18 hours a day of prepping and painting.

“I take pleasure in doing everything myself – except for the stretcher frames, which I order from a carpenter,” he tells me. “I then proceed to stretch the canvas by hand onto the stretcher frame and stapling it, apply a gesso primer and then the real work starts by sketching the areas where I need to go into detail and then apply acrylic paint using a variety of hand made tools.”

This process is used for all of Ray’s paintings, including the 10 abstract works, which are part of a sub-set of 30 works created over the past year. These too have made it into his final list of works to go on display in his two, highly-anticipated exhibitions.

Abstract Rhythms in Nature, which, as aforementioned, is the name of his new exhibition series, will open at the Banca Giuratale in Victoria, Gozo on December 7 and will run until December 28, while between December 12 till January 13 the second part will be on at the Cavalieri Art Hotel in St Julian’s.

Ray Piscopo
Ray Piscopo
Each exhibition will feature new works by Ray, and following the closure of the first part in Gozo, the artworks will be transferred to the Cavalier Art Hotel, to join their siblings in creating a complete image of Ray’s focus over the past year.

“Having said that, I would perhaps call all my recent works ‘abstracted-figurative’ or ‘abstract-figurism’, whereby I still retain the form and details of objects and persons but transform them into an abstracted painting,” he adds. “This, I believe, challenges the viewer to explore further the final work but, at the same time, the painting provides hints on what I wanted to portray… After all, sometimes the viewer can explore and discover things in the painting that are present by their absence.”

The first thing that will catch your attention as soon as you set your eyes on Ray’s art will definitely be his use of colour, however. As I always tell him, if his art were candy, it would a packet of Skittles: bright, fun and bursting with flavour. In fact, as good as his technique is – which is very – his rather unique use of colours is what sets him apart, and what elevates his status as an artist.

The first part of Abstract Rhythms in Nature will take place at the Banca Giuratale, Town Hall, Victoria, Gozo between December 7 and 28; the second will take place at the Cavalieri Art Hotel in St Julian’s between December 12 and January 13. For more information on Ray Piscopo’s art and career, log on to www.raypiscopo.com