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Rodolfo Villaplana The Naked and the Nude

October 18, 2014

ArtsPainting | by Maxine Kirsty Sapsford

Rodolfo Villaplana, Sleeping, Oil on Canvas, 160x160 cm, £15,000
Rodolfo Villaplana, Sleeping, Oil on Canvas, 160×160 cm, £15,000

As you walk up the stairs to the main room, your gaze is drawn immediately to the stage, and center piece: a portrait of the former Pope Ratzinger. Even though this is a painting of a familiar face, and of a photograph you have seen before, there is something intimate about Rodolfo Villaplana’s painting. It all lies in the gaze. The work of Venezuelan born artist, Rodolfo Villaplana, focuses on his fascination with the human body and what is more, its psychological aspect. Each painting draws your attention on the subject’s eyes, and expressions. Even though we are the observer, it is as if the person in the painting is staring right back at us. Even when the person is looking away, it feels intrusive.


Rodolfo Villaplana, Ratzinger Revisited, , Oil on Canvas, 300x170 cm, £25,000
Rodolfo Villaplana, Ratzinger Revisited, , Oil on Canvas, 300×170 cm, £25,000

“I know that nudity makes people uncomfortable” says the artist admittedly.

“But why is that?”


After all, we are a voyeuristic society- exposed to reality TV, internet porn, etc. Actual nudity: boobs, vaginas and penises are neither provocative, nor do they provide shock value. Nudity is plain entertainment and there’s nothing refreshing or new about it. In fact we are so accustomed to media flooding our vision with sex that it has become to our eyes what white noise is to our ears.


At the same time we are a society that stays connected thanks to globalisation and the internet. Our social networks are growing larger and faster, yet we find ourselves feeling disconnected most of the time; from reality, from peers, moreover from ourselves, because we have already forgotten what the meaning of real is, of authenticity, and for the most part we have trained ourselves to walk around with our very own shields of protection, and we have created a persona whether in reality or virtuality behind which our true “Selves” hide.


Rodolfo Villaplana, Self Portrait With Blue Sky, Oil on Canvas, 160x160 cm, Private Collection
Rodolfo Villaplana, Self Portrait With Blue Sky, Oil on Canvas, 160×160 cm, Private Collection


Similar to his neo-expressionist predecessors, such as Freud and Bacon, Villaplana’s art shows us naked people, who more than just their clothes, have stripped away their masks, revealing their own truths through facial expressions, through a certain gaze that speaks volumes yet leaves open so many questions, leaving you wanting to know more; which is what sets his work apart. Rather than sharing his analytical interpretation, he is merely implying, which forces the viewer or in this case voyeur to contemplate and come up with our own evaluation, moreover he challenges us to gaze at ourselves. What Villaplana achieves with his paintings is not exposing naked bodies for the sake of nudity, but rather for the sake of the being, of stripping them down to who they really are, actually being nude rather than naked. This has the effect of making the portraits more intimate and therefore more uncomfortable for us the observers, bringing our own fears and insecurities to the forefront of our minds.


Rodolfo Villaplana, The Drowned, Oil on Canvas 170x100 cm, £12,000
Rodolfo Villaplana, The Drowned, Oil on Canvas 170×100 cm, £12,000

As Villaplana states, “Being in a room with someone who is naked, brings up a lot of tension; sexual, physical as well as emotional… it can be very exhausting. For example this one lady was crying for a long time”.


This may be why the artist then reverts to painting banana skins, plastic cups and similar abstract items to provide some relief from the intensity of the sitters.


It is almost as if Villaplana is playing the role of a therapist when he paints. He has to internalise the energy of the sitter, feel their pain, their struggles, their hopes and dreams, and translate it all on to canvas. When asked how he is able to shake it off, the artist simply replies “once the painting is finished”. So when does Villaplana decide that a painting is finished? “When it no longer feels incomplete”. Honest, authentic and human are the qualities reflected in Villaplana’s work.


Rodolfo Villaplana’s The Naked and The Nude is on October 16-19 at the 20th Century Theatre. I encourage you to go and gaze for yourselves.


Limor Gottlieb


Rodolfo Villaplana, Self-portrait with palette, Oil on Canvas, 150x100 cm, £12,000
Rodolfo Villaplana, Self-portrait with palette, Oil on Canvas, 150×100 cm, £12,000