Local Artist Profile: Blanca Ruth Casanova

Blanca Ruth Casanova’s artwork is as bold as she is humble. Her pieces embrace color, texture, and emotion with an intense sense of physicality. They are more like portals than objects. They feel like spells, calling forth our own emotions and experiences. Like all brilliant art, it is intensely personal and therefore universal. Casanova mines her soul fearlessly, gifting the world with the truth she finds there.

She identifies as a neo-expressionist and her work well represents this genre. It is generally abstract, but she also experiments with the figurative, particularly the female form. She is an internationally recognized, award-winning artist whose accomplishments include the Prix Special, Salon National des Beaux Arts, Musée du Louvre (December 2009), the Premio della Critica, Italy (November 2006), and the Premio Liteco (July 2007) among many others. The most recent addition to her growing collection of accolades is the Lifetime Award presented in the prestigious annual competition the International Prize Leonardo Da Vinci, The Universal Artist, now in its 5th year, awarded in April of this year by the Fondazione Effetto Arte in Milan, Italy.

Born in Mexico City, Casanova’s talents were recognized and encouraged by her artist grandfather, Manuel Salvador Bribiesca, and her great-grandmother, Ana María Castañeda (a woman ahead of her time Casanova proudly recounts). She remembers experimenting with paint and form as early as nine years of age. Her formal art education spans continents and cultures. She studied Fine Arts and Graphic Design in Mexico, furthered her studies in the United States in New York and Chicago, and acquired a Ph.D. in England. She has exhibited throughout the Americas and Europe, and also in China and Australia.

Although Casanova is sometimes inspired by the found objects she includes in her art, emotion is her driving force. This is no surprise as the emotion in her artwork is palpable. Take, for example, her piece Huida (Escape). It is predominantly cool hues of blue and purple with warm hints of muted amber emerging from a hidden background. Arteries of pale blue, often shaded with a near cobalt, crisscross the entire surface. Thin black lines, seemingly laid down by a quill pen, form arcs, loops, and trails to nowhere. The depth and layering invite us to travel into the painting. There could be a forest behind the chaos, a sunrise, an absolute void, but something. The movement is dizzying but there is a promise of solace. My experience is, of course, subjective. Casanova’s art is necessarily subjective as she paints from her own experience and deep wisdom.

Though embraced by the international art world, she is underappreciated in her home country. She blames the lack of art education here. “The differences in art education between Mexico and Europe are huge. In Mexico, art is not taught in elementary schools, except basics . . . In Europe, kids learn about art theory, art appreciation and art history very early in school as a topic just as mathematics or biology.” The best two conversations she has had about art both occurred in Italy. And not with a fellow artist or a museum curator, but with a taxi driver and an eight-year-old boy! Casanova teaches art appreciation classes and hopes Mexico will one day see the value in reintroducing meaningful art education back into the standard curriculum.

Noting the success she has had processing big emotions with art, I asked Casanova whether she thought art therapy might be a valuable tool for non-artists. Her answer was informed by her experience as an art therapy teacher at the Gestalt Institute in Mexico City. “People who knew nothing about art or painting were able to do really gorgeous and creative works of art directly from their hearts listening to music.” The benefits in her mind were undeniable. Her conclusion is supported by research which has found, because it offers the power of choice, creative activity reduces depression and isolation.

Casanova’s formal training doesn’t bind her to traditionalist views about materials or mediums. She revels in experimenting with non-artistic objects and tools. She incorporates sand, herbs, flowers, corn, and other natural objects into her paintings and sculptures. She’s not afraid to trade her paintbrush for a kitchen sponge. She has a piece made almost entirely from plastic straws. Casanova casts her creative net far and wide, transforming the mundane into imaginative, spiritually rich works. As with all great artists, seeing the world through her lens elevates us.

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