UNPLUGGED & UP CLOSE
MICHELANGELO RUSSO – Artist, Rock Star and gentleman.
Imagine being able to channel creative inspirations into captivating works of art and to transform your internal rhythmic emotive pulses into melody, thus creating liquid landscapes in the form of distinctive songs.
Visual artist and multi instrumentalist, Michelangelo Russo can and does so brilliantly.
I first met Russo last year whilst interviewing Hugo Race of The True Spirit band. I was charmed by the mischievous glint in Russo’s eyes, casual rock star glamour and delightful Italian accent. He oozed an unassuming yet intoxicating talent just waiting to be enjoyed. Russo plays keys, harmonica and electronica in Race’s band, and the night I caught up with Race and his band was at the Toff in Melbourne on the last leg of their Australian tour before heading overseas on their world tour. I was impressed to say the least.
Russo was born in Campobasso, southern Italy during the 60s and as an artist has exhibited around the world as well as touring the world several times as a professional musician, thus imprinting creatively on so many people.
In 1980 Michelangelo moved to Pescara where he held a number of solo and group exhibitions. During this time he performed and recorded with a local punk band, Marilyn’s Corpse.
In 1990 he relocated to Berlin, where he soon felt a strong affinity with the city’s artistic energy.
Shortly afterwards he established a studio in the heart of East Berlin, just before the collapse of the Wall. Needless to say, Berlin was fertile ground for young pioneering artists during this electrifying time.
During the Berlin period he had several solo and group exhibitions and performed and recorded with English musician, Paul Holmes and English duo, Anna Livia.
From 1994 (year of his arrival in Australia) Russo collaborated widely with musician/songwriter/producer Hugo Race and his band The True Spirit contributing to the recordings of over 10 albums as well as touring extensively with the band in Europe and Australia. Russo co-wrote several songs with Hugo: Surfing the Alpha, Ducados, Keep it On and Can you Read Me.
In 2009 he played on the soundtrack of Nude Studies, (Sydney Underground Films 2009).
Consequently with his unique flavour of harmonica and electronic keys Russo has contributed towards that much favoured sonic, industrial blues sound the band is now so famous for. It is in their latest album, The Spirit that Russo’s outer worldly electronica in tunes like Hematite and Information is very much emphasised. In particular, while they jammed around with these tunes, an impromptu structure kind of sprang up allowing the songs to take shape whereby creating the flow for Race to add his lyrics afterwards. On the odd occasion, the band will work like this and go with the flow during recording sessions.
Recently I caught up with Russo and over coffee this is what he had to say.
“I often feel inspired by music to paint and will allow the creative energy to flow through me. In fact, my latest exhibition, Bestie, held at Bird’s Gallery in Melbourne was inspired by my music. It’s a futuristic nightmare and I started painting the series the beginning of 2015.”
Russo best describes it like this.
‘The Bestie are representational snapshots -using a flash camera- of the darkest forest of our souls. Bestie; surprised, puzzled, sometimes pissed off, are blurry and overexposed. Bestie represents a travel through, but not exclusively evil, therefore some good, but also tradition, religion, sense of displacement, primordial rites and connection with the other world. In many cultures chiefs, wizards, shamans and evil legends are represented by horned figures. While researching horned characters through paganism, religion and popular beliefs, I came across many (until then unknown to me) gatherings in little villages around the area where I was born (southern Italy), where horned figures like ‘L’vomo Cervo’ (the deer) to name one, was representative of bad weather, for example, and was pushed out of the village with brooms and rakes’.
Russo claimed that the paintings seemed to assemble a life of their own whilst working on them and was able to channel his work in much the same way he does his music. As a ‘creative’, he morphed in and out of that mystical place in consuming surges of virtuosity.
I have to admit his paintings are undeniably otherworldly and each one definitely has a sense of ‘presence’ about them. All his ‘horned beings’ exude a unique personality unto themselves. Intriguing, beautiful and mysterious to say the least.
Russo’s natural charm and gentlemanly manner most likely has been shaped by his attitude of ‘going with the flow’ which he says has always proven successful for him; and this ‘flow’ has taken him around the world several times as a touring musician and as an exhibiting artist.
“I do believe in a universal plan and if you are tapped into this kind of energy things will happen for you and life will flow.”
Imbuing a genre of blues and roots in his harmonica playing has enabled him to fit into The True Spirit Band so well because all those guys have deep roots in the blues.
“In fact, Hugo and me have formed a duo playing a set dedicated to John Lee Hooker, and it’s basically straight blues with ‘cyber blues’ as they call it thrown in due to the effects used.”
Russo’s studio gallery is expansive and he teaches private classes and open workshops once a month on Encaustic art, (heated wax to which coloured pigments are added), along with other techniques. During his workshops he demonstrates how to make and mix the mediums as well as a fun way to paint with them. Something I’m looking forward to enrolling in.
Michelangelo Russo dynamism radiates in all directions and one can’t help but admire his tenacity in all that he does. As an artist he shines and as a musician he excels. All in all he genuinely appears to be a rock star gentleman indeed.
Russo is currently touring overseas in his band and expects to be back in Australia end of June. For more information please visit: www.michelangelorusso.com
By Terri Lee Fatouros music journalist