“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter,” wrote the Victorian novelist Charlotte Brontë, “- often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.” Perhaps that’s why portrait painters and animators – from the makers of Japanese manga to the creators of Disney princesses – so purposefully enhance the eyes of their characters. To render them more soulful. Large, expressive eyes were also a distinctive feature of the “Fayum mummy portraits” – paintings on wooden boards attached to mummies – that were popular across Egypt in the Coptic period (roughly 3rd to 7th centuries), named after an oasis near Cairo.
Irene Raspollini (Facebook, Twitter, Google+), a self-taught artist from Siena, Italy, is a painter who is dedicated to exploring and displaying the drama of the human gaze. Her figures often look frozen in time but to show that they are emotionally sensitive beings, she daubs their cheeks with red – much in the manner of the medieval Italian fresco on the left. The brighter the shade, the more involved is the character in their situation. They could be either disturbed or entranced by their present realities. Through these simple hacks of big, deep eyes and flushed faces, Irene projects humans as more than just flesh and bone. She exposes – what could be called – their incorporeal component.
Most of Irene’s works are self-contained narratives. Each painting tells a tale. She invites the viewer to make sense of her works, to guess what must be happening behind the scenes, to complete the script.
The paintings on the left form a series called “Searching for Changes” that investigates the complex relationship between education and freedom. It depicts the dark aspect of school life. The viewer gets a glimpse of a world where neatness, discipline and dutifulness are essential elements. Where penalty is exacted for “improper” conduct. But here all pupils and teachers are exactly the same. The air is dominated by an unsettling, suffocating uniformity. A dull and chilling monotony. There is no place for originality or inventiveness or critical thinking or personal opinion. You are indoctrinated with creeds that you cannot question, that you must accept without the slightest resistance.
And finally, the series “Briganti (Michelina, Marianna, Carmine)”. These three little portraits on the right are inspired by protagonists of the so-called “brigantaggio” (brigandage), an activity which became popular in southern Italy especially after 1861 against the larger historical backdrop of the Italian unification (1815-1871). This was a period of great social and political upheaval during which the different states on the Italian peninsula were consolidated into what finally became the Kingdom of Italy. The “briganti” (bandits) fought the Sabaudian state after the conquest of the Kingdom of Two Sicillies (in southern Italy) by the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1861. They were mostly poor people revolting against the imposition of high taxes.
For her triptych, Irene chooses three characters” Michelina, Marianna and Carmine. “Michelina” is inspired by Michelina di Cesare (1841-1868), a beautiful and fierce peasant who joined the brigante Guerra and become his wife. She was killed by the Sabaudian soldiers in 1868. “Marianna” is based on Marianna Petrulli, fiancée of the brigante Paolo Serravalle. “Carmine” is Carmine Crocco. Born in a small village in Basilicata, Crocco was extremely intelligent and many of his strategic solutions were admired even by his enemies. He spent the last 40 years of his life in jail.
Irene Raspollini is based in Siena and is Art Director at Casa Là Farm Gallery, a free exhibition space for underground artists. You can find more information about her on her official website (http://ireneraspollini.wix.com/irene-raspollini-art), on Saatchi Art (http://www.saatchiart.com/ireneraspollini), Artfinder (https://www.artfinder.com/irene-raspollini) and on Fine Art America (http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/irene-raspollini.html).