Like a Song: The Art of Rodrigo Luff
If the ancient goddess Athena- goddess of wisdom whose sidekick was an owl- was alive today, her favorite artist would be the Australian painter Rodrigo Luff. Luff’s work is characterized by his goddess-esque women in mystical landscapes, often filled with whimsically rendered creatures like owls. In attempts to blend the inner spiritual and emotional world with the outer physical world, Luff creates imaginative and beautiful work that is truly unique.
Currently on display at Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City until August 3, Luff’s work truly captures something far deeper than words can express. Interestingly, Luff visualizes his vibrant, nature-inspired compositions like a song, with each character he includes, like a different instrument adding its voice to the mix. Citing diverse inspirations such as the natural phenomena of the Aurora Borealis, the romantic visual artists the Pre-Raphaelites and Alphonse Muncha, and the line drawings of Toy Story, comics and anime, Luff elegantly blends his life experiences and his observations of the world into magical landscapes. At just 26, this firecracker of an artist is one to watch. If I was Athena, I’d send him forth onto a wonderful art career with my blessings.
1. Can you tell a bit about the inspiration behind this series? What themes are you working with, with this new body of work? How long have you been working on this series? How has it evolved from your past series?
It’s about 7-8 months of work. The series was inspired by a lot of different things. For example, the Aurora Borealis, Hayao Miyazaki, images of nebulae and stars, trees and plants I have photographed, my girlfriend, a deformed baby I photographed from a medical museum in Amsterdam and neon urban lights. And of course all the wonderful personalities of owls. What I find inspiring is not so much each element in itself, but the infinite amount of connections one can draw between them, and how they can be blended with different imagery to create new forms. It’s endless how they can be brought together to form an artwork and are slowly synthesised over time and effort.
Everything that inspires me seems to have its own energetic intelligence that I aim to portray. I’m trying to arrange them into a visual song, I hope that doesn’t sound too bizarre or silly. But I think a dark, long meandering branch is like a bassline, with it’s leaves or owls sitting on top like the percussion beating away. Dark, flat areas are like silence and by contrast a bright explosion of colour is like a central melody. I want each owl to look like it’s about to move and do or say something, or sing a song and burst out of it’s body. So the pieces are all my humble attempt to condense this energy into a visual language, that moves and progresses like a song and seeing what happens from there.
A previous piece, “Owl Song” is where this idea first came about, and the birds theme has been developing since around 2010. I’m trying to make that inner world come through with the relatively small amount of skill, experience and understanding I have in art making. I never painted an owl until about a year and a half ago, so I never know exactly where my art is going at any given point.
2. How did you come to work with the mediums you use?
A lot of trial and more mistakes and failures than I can count. I spent most of my time at art school drawing in pencil. So I try to start with a pencil drawing, then build the tones of light and dark over it to give it depth. It’s really hard, but I’m trying to get better at that. If you look at some of the art that defined Woody and Buzz from Toy Story, it wasn’t a big fancy painting- It was a simple line sketch, it’s the foundation of any artwork.
After I realised I needed more contrast and colour I started to develop it more with acrylics and oil paint and pastel over the top of my drawings. I heard that the Pre-Raphaelites used layers of glazing oil paint because the pigment of the colour is more intense. The way the light bounces through multiple layers of suspended paint particles creates this effect of depth. So I started glazing my work with layers of oil paint mixed with pastel to give it more colour. I also like to use iridescent media, because I always loved how beetles and butterflies look with the shimmering green and blue colours. It’s a long and slow process, and a result of lots of experimenting!
3. Your work has the feel of mixing the spiritual and the physical worlds. What inspires you to combine your whimsical imagery with your women?
I find it more enjoyable to blend the inner, imaginative spheres of mind with the physical, and finding the balance and tension between those two worlds. My wanderlust piece was about the tension between our innermost aspirations and the restrictions of our physicality in this world. The decaying statue is rooted in place, while the ethereal owls are flying free, and I hope many of us can relate to that feeling. I also want to create images that are outside a time and place, and have a feeling of eternity that people can come back to and see and discover new things.
This inner world is impossible to hold with your hand and yet we all feel, imagine and are often driven by emotions which are larger than life itself. We can only express it with metaphor, using elements from the outside world and comparing them to what it feels like. I think this layered experience is what I’m striving to capture in some way. I like combining it with women because I think it compliments the visual aesthetic. Blending these imaginative elements with the physical world in my art is a way for me to rebel against the parts of my mind that are locked into seeing it one way. It helps expand my mind and not take everything so
4. Where do you find your biggest inspiration?
Ultimately my biggest inspiration comes from what my fellow human makes, because they have taken the world around them and created something that relates to my own life. Art, music, writing, photos, movies, and even the way other people live their lives is a constant inspiration to me. I am always in awe and humbled by what I come across and it makes me want to act on that and improve what I’m doing.
5. Being from Australia, do you find that the landscape around you has inspired your work in any way?
Yes! I live right near a large area of bush. The view from my studio is beautiful, and the colour combinations are constantly inspiring me. In my wanderlust piece, the colours of the sky are inspired by memories of sunsets streaming into my studio window. Even the owls flying in the background are inspired by the large flocks of white cockatoos that fly over the misty hills in the sunrise. I can even hear the owls at night, and the local birds often stop by during the day to be fed!
6. What initially inspired you to start doing art? Have you always drawn since you were a child? Was there a certain artist or art style that inspired you? Did you attend school for art?
It was the things I loved in life. As a child, it was video games, movies, cartoons, robots and sports. In my adolescence it was comics and anime- like Greg Capullo, Miyazaki and Spawn. And then in my late adolescence it was fine artists, both modern and classical.
It was also isolation. I moved schools a lot. To fight the anxiety, sadness and difficulty of losing friends and having to start new each time, art was always a helpful way to avoid boredom and create stuff that didn’t depend on other people. Through online forums and art communities however, I was able to connect to people over the internet who also loved art, get feedback on my art and find inspiration from like minded people. It helped me find myself and define who I was and what I wanted out of life, and motivated me to work harder.
I attended the Julian Ashton Art School for three full years, from 2006-2009. A couple of the years I was on scholarship. I could have gone to university, but I wanted to learn to draw properly so badly that I chose the only place in Sydney that teaches you how to draw figures and some of the basics to get started making paintings. Not having a degree is a disadvantage when it comes to applying for visas, financial grants and scholarships, but I don’t regret it.
After I finished with art school in 2009, I went to Europe later in the year, and spent all day studying and drawing the art in the major galleries. After seeing the J.W. Waterhouse retrospective in London, a lot of Alphonse Mucha artworks including the Slav Epic in Prague/Czech Republic, the Louvre in Paris and the Velazquez, Sorolla and Fortuny paintings in Madrid, I was exploding with so much inspiration that it really gave me the energy to work on my art. I didn’t have any goals, but was contacted by Phone Booth Gallery shortly after to start having shows in LA.
7. Where is your art going next? Do you have a dream idea that you have always wanted to do but haven’t yet?
It’s going to Miami, I have to send art for the annual Art Basel Miami, the biggest art fair in the states. It’s a huge honour, and I’m terrified and intimidated, but I’ll do my best. It’s in early December and I’ve been invited by Thinkspace Gallery to send a diptych for their exhibition on display.
I have too many different ideas that I’m excited about. I’ve been obsessed with one for about a year now, and I’ve only just started to conceive of how I might be able to bring it down into a painting! It involves multiple figures. Oh and definitely more pieces involving girls and owls, I just haven’t fleshed them out yet. They are calling me… I think I’m going to go insane if I don’t start them soon!
8. Do you have an ultimate goal for your art and your life? When you look back on your life and your career in 50 years, do you want to be able to say you accomplished a certain goal?
I just turned 26 and find it hard to stretch my mind over that kind of time span! The ultimate goal is the never ending battle to give my art all my focus, love and energy every time I sit down and draw. I always seem to get in my own way, or I don’t work hard enough and I just want to do the best I can each day.
I also hope to inspire people to see their world in a different way, to make art, to value their imagination and to work hard on learning skills to make this possible.
One of my current goals is to move to the states and make a living from my paintings and drawings so that I can make art all day and not have to go to a job I hate. It seems impossible. But it’s worth fighting for, there isn’t anything else I want to do.