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Ricardo Cinalli, Artist

August 12, 2022
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my walking tour now



Portrait by Lucinda Douglas Menzies

When artist Ricardo Cinalli graduated from the University of Rosario in Argentina, a mentor offered to introduce him to Salvador Dali, if Ricardo was prepared to travel to London. In 1973, travelling by boat across the Atlantic to Barcelona in anticipation of encountering his hero, Ricardo was unfortunately delayed by two whole weeks and when he arrived in London, Dali was gone – but instead he discovered a whole new life.

At a party, Ricardo met Eric Elstob who was buying a house in Fournier St, opening the door to a surreal world of an entirely different nature. “We came to Spitalfields on a very depressing day. My God, it was a dump! I said to Eric, ‘Are you crazy?’ It was overwhelming – the market, the rats, the prostitutes and the meths drinkers outside the house. And the minute he opened the door I could see the place was in a horrible condition. But Eric explained to me to the history of the Huguenots, and the bells in the church rang and suddenly I understood the magic. He said to me, ‘You are invited to join my life’s project to restore this house.’ I had nothing to lose, so I said ‘Yes.’ He was a brave man to want to come and live here when no-one was interested. We had no money, we did all the work ourselves.”

Sitting comfortably in a green leather chair rescued from the Market Cafe, Ricardo spoke lyrically about his memorable introduction to Spitalfields, now these Herculean labours are safely in the past. It was an era when an imaginative few first recognised the beauty in the neglected houses and set about restoring them by their own labours, as Ricardo and Eric did at 14 Fournier St, taking seven years to bring it to conclusion.“It was a very exciting time, but for a person like myself it was very difficult, because I wasn’t used to this kind of dereliction, I was brought up in a house with ceilings and floors. We restored these houses with our own hands. Gilbert & George next door, they restored the panels one by one personally. To me it was unthinkable that I could do that, I was a painter, an artist. I came from a petit bourgeois background where you get someone else to do it. Yet I really had a fantastic time – it was horrible sometimes but there were moments of great joy too. And in the process I learnt something of the history of old London.”

After pausing to collect his thoughts silently,“I did that,” said Ricardo philosophically, gesturing towards Fournier St,” and then I did this,” he continued, referring to the house in Puma Court where he lives today. “And then I said, ‘Enough is enough!'”, he added, adopting the understated heroic tone of a Roman emperor reflecting on past victories, a role that suits his gracious nature and venerable Latin features perfectly.

Until this week, I only knew Ricardo Cinalli from his portrait on one of Simon Pettet’s tiles at Dennis Severs’ House, so I was exhilarated to walk into his five metre by five metre cube studio, dug into the ground beneath his narrow old house in Puma Court, complete with a glass pyramid ceiling looking up towards the lofty spire of Christ Church, Spitalfields. With supreme politesse, Ricardo opened the panel set into the floor of the studio to show me all the proud artefacts he found in the construction of his studio, which are preserved there.

As he dug down, Ricardo realised he was excavating a rubbish dump, with broken ceramics stretching from the sixteenth to the nineteeth century, innumerable oyster shells and clay pipes, rollers used by men in the eighteenth century to curl their wigs and even a pot of perfume with an address in Paris – once belonging to one of those Huguenot weavers that Eric Elstob first told Ricardo about, so many years before.

Working in his Spitalfields studio, Ricardo creates spirited and passionate paintings that are Baroque in their emotionalism and Surrealist in their imaginative extravagance. Over a career spanning more than forty years, he has become internationally renowned for his works on canvas, his huge pastel drawings, his theatre designs and his murals which include a vast fresco in a cathedral in Umbria and now his magnum opus – more than five years in the making – a giant fresco covering all the walls of  a custom-built edifice in Punta del Este in Uruguay. An Argentinian of Italian descent, with his modest manners and ambitious paintings, Ricardo convincingly incarnates the spirit of his Renaissance predecessors in the art of fresco.

Ricardo led me from his minimalist studio into the tiny old house balanced on top of it. We ascended a narrow staircase with trompe l’oeil panelling into a living room lined with wooden panelling rescued from the former synagogue in Fournier St. Each floor comprises just one room and on the next storey is Ricardo’s bedroom and bathroom, all in one space, with every surface painted with classical designs. Finally, we reached the kitchen under the eaves with windows on both sides – like the foc’sle of a ship – allowing us exciting views in both directions over the roofscape of Spitalfields.

As we drank our tea quietly, gazing up from the kitchen window to the spire that overshadows the house, Ricardo told me the story of how his cat “Dolce” went missing when he was living in Fournier St, while the church was being renovated. One still moonlit night, Ricardo heard a distant “miaow” coming from on high. Cats will always climb upwards, and Dolce was found at last, stuck at the top of the spire.

“Spitalfields has some magic element, don’t you think?” Ricardo proposed delicately with a sympathetic smile, casting his deep brown eyes contemplatively upwards to Hawksmoor’s bizarre edifice looming over us. Seeing it through Ricardo’s eyes, from his sunlit painted kitchen, at the top of this narrow house, perched above his extraordinary cube studio with the pyramid on the roof, it was only natural to agree.

Ricardo Cinalli never met Salvador Dali but he found his own magic instead, here in Spitalfields.

In Ricardo Cinalli’s giant mural-in-progress in Uruguay, entitled “Humanistic Homage to the Millennium,” the figures are eight metres high. Click on this image to enlarge.

The glass pyramid on the roof of Ricardo Cinalli’s Spitalfields studio.

Banana boxes that are souvenirs of the seven years Ricardo spent restoring 14 Fournier St.

Finds discovered while digging the hole for the studio. Note the eighteenth century clay curlers for men’s wigs and the Huguenot perfume pot from Paris.

Looking towards Fournier St from the rear of Puma Court.

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Cherub permalink
    August 12, 2022

    Seeing all the broken pieces of crockery reminds me of my parents old house in Scotland, it passed to me when my father died. It was very close to the long gone pottery that manufactured Wemyss Ware and we used to unearth small broken pieces all the time when digging in our vegetable garden. I would display them cheerfully along the kitchen windowsill as it overlooked the garden, I now keep them in a jar here in Switzerland with some sea shells to remind me of home.

    Ricardo’s huge mural will be wonderful when it is completed.

  2. Rachel permalink
    August 12, 2022

    Fascinating story, and beautiful portrait.

  3. August 12, 2022

    Fascinating, especially the oysters and pottery fragments! Elstob is a fairly unusual name – I wonder if Mr Elstob was a collateral descendant of the remarkable Elizabeth Elstob (1683–1756):

  4. Peter Hart permalink
    August 12, 2022

    A wonderful story thank you.

  5. Esther passes permalink
    August 13, 2022

    Extraordinary story!!i met Ricardo in1973 when he arrived in London.incredible what he has done you Ricardo ?❤️❤️❤️

  6. Sebastian permalink
    August 13, 2022

    An extraordinary artist, accomplished musician and the most wonderful person. I am privileged to call Ricardo a dear friend.

  7. FERNANDO CESTARI permalink
    August 14, 2022

    Ricardo is not just super talented he is also an incredible, funny, carrying human being and a joy to be around. Love from us.

  8. Jason Dowler permalink
    August 14, 2022

    Very fond memories of dear Ricardo (and Eric too, of course) when I lived across the road with John Gaze at 37 Fournier Street for several years in the 1980s. A rare delight of a man, a wonderful friend and a magnificent artist.

  9. August 14, 2022

    Ricordo Cinalli is truly a great artist.

  10. August 14, 2022

    I was there for most of this labor of love . Your article bought tears to my eyes remembering the incredible time I spent with Eric and Ricardo . One memorable moment was sitting atop a pile of bricks having a meal acting like it was completely normal . It was my home when ever I came back to England and I treasure every moment I spent in this gracious home with Ricardo and Eric . Great artist great friend my love always .

  11. August 15, 2022

    El talento de Ricardo es tangible a los sentidos. Agradecido de conocerlo.

  12. August 17, 2022

    What a wonderful, deeply felt and moving ‘racconto’ by Ricardo. Not only he is consumated artist with his paintings and inspiring frescoes, but also in expressing his feelings and telling his interesting and charming experiences! Bravo Ricardo!!

  13. Marcia Howard permalink
    August 22, 2022

    What a privilege to step into Ricardo’s world. Thank you.

  14. Jordi Paez permalink
    August 27, 2022

    Fascinatingly thrilling in the depths. discovering the hidden….and unknown, the human mind!
    In awe

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