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Arts & Culture

Questions for Franco Mondini-Ruiz: An interview by artist Gary Sweeney

Photo: Courtesy Gary Sweeney, License: N/A

Courtesy Gary Sweeney

Everyone’s a critic at Franco’s: The artist, Gary Sweeney and some painting-trampling goats at Mondini-Ruiz’ West Side home

How did you decide to make the transition from attorney to fine artist?
I decided while visiting the crumbling, rustic Sergio-Leone-movie-set of an art studio belonging to Alejandro Diaz, that fateful evening dominated by a large pile of russet potatoes and Mexican cigarettes among precariously stacked ancient chairs upon which dozens of huge candle-lit martinis were delicately balanced, slightly quivering to a scratchy 19th-century recording of a castrato singing in German.

Who were your major art influences?
My father, who would in the mid-1960s paint nude frescoes of my mother on the walls of our suburban tract-house, and my mom, who unwittingly turned our treasure- and junk-filled household into performance art, high-low installations, and improv.

What never fails to make you laugh?
No one right now. I fired all my funniest friends, or they fired me. I laughed non-stop from middle school until three years ago. Laughter and mirth are on hold.

Your paintings combine art and fashion. Those two worlds have been almost interchangeable for the last decade. Do you think it’s because we all want glamour in our lives?
The themes of art and fashion sell well, are easy to paint, and make me happy and solvent. One of my mottos is, “If a painting doesn’t sell, I’ll add a cat or a chandelier.” I truly feel even my lightest work can provoke poetic and philosophical discovery. I think my work’s success with the broad public lies not in that it brings glamour to the collector, but that it soothes and comforts a sense of the loss of things wonderful and fabulous, but impractical amidst the realities of our times.

Yes, the size 0 Audrey Hepburnesque figure under a chandelier, with a cat and maybe a cigarette in a diamond pave holder is so splendid, so remarkable and SO of another time. Who wants to wear long gloves in San Antonio, weigh only 100 pounds and still wear a girdle, have a huge hat bigger than a closet, smoke a deadly cigarette, own an unregistered non-neutered cat and a chandelier that is melting Antarctica, and talk to their friends in a British accent? OK, a LOT of people do! But just for a minute, and conveniently. That’s where my paintings come in handy.

Who are some of the interesting artists you’ve been able to rub shoulders with in the last few years?
Oh, I have rubbed more than shoulders with hundreds of interesting and famous artists the last few decades. My year at the Academy in Rome, or for that matter the six years in Manhattan was like living on the Loveboat. In Rome, I might find myself serving a cupcake and glass of milk to Chuck Close, having Frito pie and tequila with the statuesque viking Poet Laureate of Finland, discussing poetry with the artsy former Queen of Egypt while she’s drinking scotch. I must say, however, that I have a strong interest in the artists of San Antonio of different generations who explore, critique and interpret the historical, class, cultural and racial fusion which makes San Antonio interesting and relevant.

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