Riccardo Prosperi, known by his artistic pseudonym Simafra, possesses a colorful personality that he shares with the world through his art. His bold creations adorn some of the most lavish locations across the globe, from cutting-edge art galleries and luxury restaurants to magazine covers and celebrity homes.
Words by Jennifer Papa - Photography by Dario Garofalo
How did you start out?
My first approach to creativity came at an early age. I used to spend afterschool hours together with my mother drawing and coloring. I would delve deep within myself, exploring and expressing my emotions. One of the major steps in my career was my first job, an opportunity that helped me find a compromise between fantasy and reality. It all started about 15 years ago when I began working in a classic restoration workshop. An extraordinary opportunity that allowed me to practice many techniques and to gain confidence in my own capabilities. Every evening, after returning from the workshop, I would go deep within myself, just like I used to do as a child, and experiment, color and scribble on anything with a blank surface. It was not long after that the results of my explorations began to take shape and I started to paint my first canvas. I haven’t stopped since.
How did you come up with your artistic name Simafra?
Simafra is an acronym. I was about 20 years old when I created this name, and I did so for two reasons. Firstly, I had a strong desire to design my own identity, completely separate from my family. Secondly, there is a painter my age who shares the same first and last name as mine. The true meaning of the name Simafra is a long story, and one I’d perhaps prefer to keep a secret.
You have a recognizable style; fairy tale-like landscapes and gestalts, rich in texture and color. What artist/artists influenced you the most on the journey of self-discovery?
I believe that an artist’s search for his or her own style and identity is a most difficult and complex journey. It requires an enormous amount of external, but above all, internal scrutiny. Many artists have influenced me during my journey of self-discovery. Some are masters and cornerstones of the 20th century, including Burri, Afro Basaldella, Morandi, Modigliani and many others. Among the contemporary artists, Ansel Kiefer still makes me reflect and dream. Peter Doig is another contemporary genius. Adrian Gheine is powerful and exciting. As you see, I could name many inspiring artists. But the search must first and foremost occur within the artist. For certain, it is possible to find esthetic and technical inspiration from the world around us, but true art comes from within.
If expressionism is an introspective art form. Would you say that the canvas is your shrink?
Absolutely. The canvas is the mirror of the soul. In fact, the hardest part in the creative process is to not be afraid of embracing your emotions and letting them out. The canvas, akin to a psychologist, does not offer answers, but often only many dilemmas. When the work is complete, rationality steps in to answer some of your questions.
Struggle, misery and criticism often lay the ground for creativity. Can positivity generate good art?
Good question! I recently talked about this with a Mexican painter. We commented on the fact that art often is connected to a state of discomfort. It is the discomfort, the crisis, that allows you to put your creativity in motion! The great masters confirm this theory. Just think of Munch or Bacon, and how their greatest work stems from their suffering.
Up until a couple of years ago, my first pieces of work were pure visualizations of my inner anguish and distress. Initially, art was therapy for me. But, just like when you find a good therapist, the wounds healed.
So, to answer your question: Can positivity generate good art? Yes. I know now that it is fully possible for art to hail from a happy place. I consider myself a serene man with a beautiful family, and I’m an artist. I believe that many young artists have understood this and, as a consequence, developed a “healthy” art style. Art initially overwhelms you, mirroring your current state. Yet with time, an artist acquires greater self-awareness and emotional control, transforming his or her current state into a wave of positive energy. This is what I try to do on a daily basis.
Does one need talent in order to be a successful artist?
In my opinion, it depends on your artistry. I consider myself neither a talented nor a successful painter, but if I measure success in terms of making a living then I am successful. If, on the other hand, success is measured by your work being exposed in the world’s stellar galleries and contemporary museums, then the road is very long.
There are many talented painters out there, but very few are successful. In many cases talented painters lack the ability to promote their work and thus are unable to create a name for themselves. And then there are less talented painters, who possess great communication skills and are able to move up the ladder to reach their goals. So, in my opinion, talent is not enough to succeed as an artist.
Besides a canvas and color, what are essential ingredients when you create?
A combination of passion and playfulness. As Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” ... and it’s true! It takes purity to paint, a purity that often is lost as we grow up.
You have a bright future in the art investment market. Does success fuel your creative side or is it an impediment?
It depends. I’ve worked hard to be able to enjoy some of the goals I’d set out for myself. In my opinion, success is nothing but a reward for a well-executed job, and a powerful stimulus if used well. Personally, my creativity is at its peak when I work toward a goal rather than when I reach the finish line. I’m 33 years old, and I still consider myself an emerging artist with some successful victories behind me but many more to come.
What’s next for Simafra?
To keep on going and never stop! This has been my motto for many years. I’m a young artist and the path is very long. Fortunately for me, I’m aware that in almost all cases the journey is more beautiful and important than the destination. That said, this year has been about sowing many seeds and forming new connections. Now I have to wait and see which doors will open. Hopefully many of these will be abroad.
Last question. What’s your signature dress code at a gallery opening?
I appreciate sober elegance. Also, because my art pieces are “gaudy” and baroque, I prefer to let my artwork take up space rather than my appearance. However, on opening nights I often wear clothes from Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and of course…Sartoria Vanni!