Dean Russo - Conversations with Artists


What inspires your painting?

I'm heavily influenced by the past - whether it's art, architecture, music - as far as I'm concerned the really great stuff came long ago:  Robert Johnson Blues, Early French musicians, the people who brought jazz to this country.

Describe your process.

I usually think about what inspires me and then take it from there.  If it's an animal I'm painting I'm giving a voice to something that doesn't have it's own voice. I'll listen to a story from their owner and then I try to let the animal speak through the use of color and motion.   I can tell a lot from their face and I can see their story in their eyes. 

How did you get your start?

I started out as a woodworker in a family business.  From there I practiced art but I knew I had to do something different - something that I had never seen before.  I had to have an original style.  I knew that if I couldn't be original then I wouldn't have followed this path.  It took me years to accomplish my own style.

How did you know you'd found your own style?

I don't think I knew it until someone else told me.  I just used to play with different media.  I knew I had to mix things up.  I had to burn things and get dirty -- to use pencil in a way that it had never been used before.  I was just constantly trying to improve.  And you never tell yourself that you're as good as you want to be because there's always room for improvement.

How do you know when you're finished with a piece?

When you have a balance of just enough and it's not too much on your eyes -- that's the moment to stop.  I start out with an image and basically take everything out of it except the black and white image itself.  What I add back can abstract it a lot or a little.  I think there's a point right on the line where you can say that the balance looks right.

What are you most excited about?

My new body of work.  This is the second time in my life that I feel like I'm going for something that I've never seen anywhere.  And the only reason I'm able to do that is because I don't copy anything.  My goal is to create something completely unique where people will see it and say 'wow - I've never seen this before.' I don't know if I'm there yet.  That's only for time and other people to tell me.

What are some specific influences on your art?

Seeing the Caribbean for the first time.  St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Frank Lloyd Wright.  Learning about Picasso.  Going to MOMA when I was 16 and I didn't realize that great works of art were the scale that they are because I'd only ever seen them in a book.  Those are the things that make me say 'wow, I've got to go back to that.'  I'm always drawn back.

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