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Studio Shots: Ravi Zupa

Ravi Zupa is an unschooled artist. Yet he's bright and searching and far from uneducated, and he surely channels an old soul; Ravi credits his mother, an art teacher, with providing him with artist tools and the freedom to do with them as he pleased while he was growing up. His first love is for drawing, and his skill as a draftsman is exacting and spooky. Ravi learned to draw in a living classroom that never closes shop, culling inspiration for his spiritually infused historic and religious imagery from book after book after book. But what Ravi Zupa really wants to learn now is how to loosen up. "My drawing style is generally very controlled," he opines. "I'm trying to learn how to undo that, to integrate looser stuff into my work." And it isn't easy to undo the concise gene: "The only way to do that sometimes is to look away or use my left hand." He lives and works in a room the size of a large walk-in closet, among stacked paintings and art-making detritus, with a computer as a lifeline, and he spends a lot of time doing what he calls "practicing": learning to free up his stranglehold on the pencil and the paintbrush. In the center of the room, there's an unfinished canvas that tells this developmental story in visual terms. It's full of things in half-fruition, in contrast to the deeply ornate finished works hung on the walls around it, infused with deeper meanings and decorated with demons and buddhas and saints. In another corner lies a pile of paint-heavy linoleum blocks leftover from his last show at Sputnik. Again, he notes, they were a painstaking form of "practice." He's far from done practicing, too: Ravi also dabbles in animation, surrealistic video and assemblage. There seems to be no limit to what he'll try. Of his time in the past spent as a professional animator he notes, "It was terrible for me. But if you learn how to draw well, that's boot camp. When you have to make those same movements over and over again, you get good." Behind the large unfinished painting rises an iconic animal sculpture of bones and branches tied together and wrapped in cloth, an homage Ravi-style, perhaps, to Rauschenberg's infamous goat. Half modern art and half ritualistic offering, it casts over the room a primeval thrall. I feel it in my heart: the old and the new and the forever of it. And that might just be the overall appeal of Ravi's work: its sense of the other, of becoming, of the old mixed with the new, the mulling over of history in a fresh, modern mind. "That's my goal: To help others feel what I feel when I look at an art book," Ravi says. "But I don't pretend like I'm trying to make work that looks like it came from another era. I don't pretend it's my style. I try to put myself, my own life experiences into it." What results is something boldly raw and new and street. Go to Ravi's website for a closer look.

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