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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 spend your year in Rome: Was it more Roman Holiday or Fellini’s Satyricon?
It was more Caddyshack! Most of the Rome Prize fellows in the different fields were very fancy and serious, from Ivy League schools. At first they looked at me as if I was Rodney Dangerfield. Eventually my studio became La Dolce Vita, where some lives were saved, and some ruined.

Name three things you can’t live without.
Oxygen, water and food. The rest is gravy.

Tell me about your spectacular living compound
San Antonio is becoming uglier and less inspiring every day … Where’s the Swiss skyride? Has anyone ever heard of planting lots of trees and dramatic modern architecture? What are those hideous kiosks that look like fallen air conditioning vents doing in front of the San Fernando Cathedral? Where is the happy, gurgling, romantic, unpretentious fountain that used to be there? And why are all the fountains turned off except for the ones on the River Walk for tourists? Why can’t the richest man in San Antonio make a fabulous Tex-Mexican-German Mercado showpiece grocery store with cultural heritage, foodie fun, a mini-Fiesta downtown and the envy of lesser cities, just for the hell of it?

I stay home on my two properties and spend every free penny and minute on beauty and wonder and a sanctuary for San Antonio visual traditions and birds and goats and jobs! It also helps sell paintings to the often high-end cultural tourists that seek my oasis out and visit.

Some artists claim to do their best work in an altered state. Does that apply to you?
I find I’m not critical enough and my technique suffers when I work with relaxants. Stimulants often lead to some good work at prolific levels. In my youth, I found that being in love with someone who doesn’t love me back, while listening to Maria Callas, resulted in some very good work, but it was too high a price to pay.

In spite of your fame and success, you’ve managed to keep your artwork surprisingly affordable. Is it more important to you to make it accessible to your fans?
Yes! I need mass love and approval. I also don’t want to make baubles for the elite, even though they are a share of my market, and often extraordinary people. I know what it feels like to have your nose pressed against the glass of the fancy shop where you’re not welcomed, and I hope that I never deny anyone one of my confections because of the price!

You always seem so sunny and cheerful. Is there a dark, mean Franco lurking beneath the surface?
Sunny and cheerful? You must only see me early in the evening on the rare occasion that I socialize.

Where did you get your sense of style?
My sense of style was passed down to me by my older, stylish, opinionated gay mentors, now mostly dead. It seems many young people don’t think they need mentors. I guess it’s because everything you need to know now is at your fingertips on the internet.

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