Mention the American West to Italians, and they’ll likely visualize violent shootouts from the “Spaghetti Westerns” filmed in Europe in the 1960s and ’70s by such homegrown directors as Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West), Sergio Corbucci (Django), Enzo Barboni (They Call Me Trinity) and others. Lorenzo Barruscotto understands the fascination. The artist has rendered many portraits of Clint Eastwood (see P. 6), who starred in Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). The 39-year-old native of Asti, in northwest Italy’s Piedmont, has captured other Hollywood Western stars, as well as historical figures from the Old West. Yet becoming an artist was never one of his career goals.
Barruscotto was, ironically, studying medicine when he fell so gravely ill he feared he might be sent, he recalls, “to ‘watch grass from the wrong side’ a couple of times.” While in recovery he turned to illustration. “It started as a hobby,” he says. “During my darkest times, it was also a way to put shadows away.” Though he had no formal art training, Barruscotto soon won recognition for portraits of his girlfriend and participated in expositions in Milan and Turin. Eventually he turned his gaze toward the American West.
“There are many aspects that immediately bewitched me,” he says of the region. “I’m not talking about only action, hand-to-hand combat. I was always struck by that mixture of courage, hope and ardor that drove explorers to open paths and tracks in the endless territories of the American West.…For me the West is synonymous with freedom.”
“I’ve always been fond of [the] West and Western genre—comics, movies, books, history,” he says. “It’s also a sort of family tradition. When I was a little kid, my dad bought me the whole collection of [the popular Italian comic book] Tex. This comic was born 73 years ago, in 1948, and it’s still the most read in Italy and well known in different countries throughout Europe and the world.” Barruscotto has rendered illustrated tributes to the title character, Tex Willer, an Arizona Territory Ranger.
“I love Western movies,” the artist freely admits, adding that a good many of his 1,600-plus completed works center on iconic films and characters. “A good pic catches the eye more than a speech,” he says. Among his favorite portrait subjects is of course John Wayne, who more than four decades after his death remains the most famous Hollywood cowboy.
“No doubt some of my favorite movies have Duke starring in them,” he says. “I know basically every line of Rio Bravo, but I also like The Searchers, The Alamo, The Sons of Katie Elder, El Dorado, The Comancheros, True Grit, Big Jake, Chisum and his last film, The Shootist.” European Westerns interest him, too, including the Trinity series, starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill (“which gave to the genre a more light and easygoing imprint”), Silver Saddle (with Italian actor Giuliano Gemma) and Leone’s trilogy with Eastwood.
When creating an image on his own time—not on commission—Barruscotto prints a photo that “involves my imagination and inspires me,” pencils a sketch, then goes over his work with a black pen and marker. “I delete the remaining pencil lines and add shading with black charcoal,” he explains. How long it takes him to finish a portrait depends on the details. Teeth in a smile, women’s long hair, even hands can be time-consuming. He deviates from his Spaghetti Western inspirations in one notable aspect. “I don’t use colors, except on rare occasions.”
Barruscotto’s historical subjects have included Annie Oakley (“I admire her courage and how she lived in a world basically all man-centered), William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (“He came to Italy many times with his Wild West show, so it’s almost a duty”) and Wyatt Earp (“You know, [the O.K. Corral gunfight] took place exactly 100 years and a month before the day I was born. Maybe it’s in my DNA, being ‘charmed’ by that savage but fascinating time”). He also posts articles about the Old West to Italian websites.
For all his interest in the American West, Barruscotto has yet to visit the landscapes that so inspire him. “It’s one of my dreams,” he says. “For sure I would like to see Arizona, the Navajo Nation and places in Texas,” he says. “I mean places of historical importance, not just the ones for tourists.” WW