Riccardo Mayr was born and raised in Ferrara (Italy) a small city, which carries in its streets and buildings the marks of a glorious past.
During the sixteenth century, the cities of the province of Italy’s region Emilia-Romagna —although mostly small in population—were vibrant and quite distinctive, artistically and culturally. The three principal centers, Ferrara, Bologna, and Parma, were especially so, and each had a unique trajectory in both politics and the arts. Ferrara was home to one of the most important humanist courts in the Renaissance, which is known as the Este dukes.
Although small in size, Ferrara was a crucible of Renaissance thought and art. Throughout the fifteenth century, its rulers, the Este family, commissioned works from the greatest contemporary painters, including Giovanni Bellini, Fra Bartolommeo, Raphael, Titian, and Dosso Dossi.
Riccardo grew up in an early Baroque family palazzo located in the center of the city, which is over 500 years old. The Palazzo has belonged to the Mayr family for more than 200 years.
This “big building” and courtyard garden is like a real time capsule hosting paintings covering a 500 year period collected by Riccardo’s ancestors. The objects of art, pieces of ancient furniture and family memorabilia ranging from the XVI to the XX Century are a tangible testimony of ancient times, peoples and events. Living in the Palazzo, surrounded by such tangible testimony of ancient times, he grew up deeply affected by the sense of the passing of time, by century’s old accumulation of dust, by the colors and smells of time.
In the late nineties, while completing his studies as an architect at the University of Ferrara, a couple of casual events marked his sudden and crucial interest in contemporary art. First, in the Palazzo, he would watch his mother learn the technique of oil painting from a Ferrara artist and painter, Emanuele Taglietti collaborator of Riccardo for this project, who himself seemed as if he would visit the palazzo from a past era.
The second casual event was the visit of the Venice Biennale of 1997 and the casual encounter with the work of such artists as Anselm Kiefer and Christian Boltanski.
From that moment on, Riccardo was not just an architect but also a self-taught painter.
During the nineties to learn how to paint Riccardo started to use unusual materials such as rust, charcoal, ash, lead, iron and mirror debris, materials of his home surroundings. This then brought him to paint with continuity and starting exhibit in Italy and abroad.
Recently, Riccardo’s mother who had been the stoic and ever-present matriarch of the Mayr family and palazzo died of cancer. The passing of his mother, as well as his father many years prior, required that Riccardo and his sister manage the affairs of the Mayr estate including the collection of paintings put together by their ancestors during the last 200 years. Riccardo was overwhelmed with the daunting task of managing the Mayr estate and deciding the future of the Mayr family. Riccardo would pace through the palazzo with its big, dark, and treasure-filled rooms, pondering the meaning and responsibility of being not just a husband and a father but also a descendant of the Mayr family.
Riccardo asked himself if he had to accept passively the relentless passing of time and the succession of the generations. He would ponder if there were anyway, any scenario whereby he could jam this pitiless biological mechanism, even just for a moment. He would turn his sight to the walls around him, rows of ancient paintings, the testimony of an unquestionable pastime, events, landscapes, and mute portraits of ancestors would stare back at him. He began thinking about the sense of sacrifice inherent in the religious paintings of the family collection, which is similar to any parent’s sacrifice on behalf children; religious themes, ancient beliefs and offerings for relief.
At one point, Riccardo reminisced about his childhood, running through the sequence of Baroque rooms of the palazzo playing for what seemed like endless games of hide and seek, impersonating characters of the first Star Wars movies, of good versus evil, the bad and the good chasing each other with cardboard light sabers. He thought about his son, now 11 years old who has become his own Star Wars enthusiast, playing like Riccardo would in the same palazzo 35 years earlier in what seems to be the atemporal playground of the Mayr family house and garden.
It was at that point or moment of torment and mourning of his mother, that period of contemplation pondering the meaning and responsibility of being not just a husband and a father but also a descendant of the Mayr family, that Riccrado connected the dots between his past and present, between centuries old visual art traditions of Ferrara and the cinematic culture we are embedded with cross-culturally today. Riccardo realized there are links between the religious art of the family paintings and the commercial art of the Star Wars saga; both addressing the meaning of sacrifice on behalf of others, redemption and the human need for repentance.
This is the genesis of what is unveiled in this painting project, titled “Religious paintings of the expanded galaxy” Riccardo commissioned the Ferrara painter who traveled from another era to teach his mother painting techniques and together they created a new technique which integrates into original paintings from the 17th and 18th Century fictitious elements and characters taken from the popular culture of our times, the Star Wars saga. In so doing, the project represents religious faith and ethics in what it is yet a post-modern paradigm largely embedded in fictional reality through an already generational long exposure and fascination with successful science fiction movies. We also give back to figurative oil paintings a new path to a concept of truth.
*All rights to shared artworks remain with the artist and can be removed on request at any time.