Meeting Luis Royo: Pornographer or Brilliant Artist?

Voluptuous women battling an invisible adversary, sensuous figures journeying along a destroyed world, muscular warriors hefting semi-technological weapons, as well as mysterious seductresses pouting in surreal landscapes. All this and more is represented in the art of Spanish, or should I say, international artist Luis Royo. The female figure is bold and sumptuous, decked not in finery and fripperies, but portrayed in a post-apocalyptic landscape suggestive of war and destruction.

Royo the unconventional, Royo the lover of the female form, Royo, who takes his love of women too far and depicts too much nakedness – Royo the international illustrator of fantasy themes. One cannot simply describe such an alternative figure. His works have attracted both fame and criticism. His subjects, always dark and moody, reflect the strife prevalent in the world, while at the same time proclaiming the beauty and sexy sultriness of the human form.

Royo does not paint stick women lounging amidst flowers and rainbows, he creates full-bodied luscious women, well-rounded and realistic, battling or journeying towards unknown destinations – a good metaphor perhaps, of what women face today.

He starts off his paintings in acrylics, both with brush and airbrush, and touches them up afterwards with oils or tempera. The colours he uses are sombre, hinting at dread and despair. The way he outfits his women isn’t always practical, in fact it brings more to mind certain scenes of Xena: Warrior Princess than any real battle, his women are always young and attractive, and this perhaps, gives the lie to the ‘realism’ certain critics ascribe to his works. However, one must give an artist some lee-way. After all, personal imagination is the passionate drive behind all artistic geniuses – one’s creations are always the imaginings of his secret desires and dreams.

I have always been fascinated by anti-conventional art, and Royo’s brand of creativity has enchanted me from a very young age. Some years ago, I started actually buying his prints, yearly calendars, storybooks and even a pack of tarot cards (he designed several). To be honest, I just liked looking at his creations, imagining myself in such a world, yet I never even dared imagine I might meet the great artist himself.

That suffocated dream did in fact become a reality, recently. I was at the Malta Comics Expo organised at the Mediterranean Conference Centre (maltacomicsexpo.com). I had known that he had been invited to take part, but reality only crashed upon me when I actually saw him sketching by himself on a table right next to me! He’s a quiet, introspective man, very nice and kind-looking. I spoke to him and told him how much I admired his work, and asked him for a picture and a signature. He immediately got up, introduced himself and hugged and kissed me on both cheeks (typical Latino guy). He understood English but spoke to me in Spanish (I don’t actually know Spanish, but I understood him well enough due to its similarity to Italian).

Unlike other artists who charge a set amount for their signatures, he was happy not only to sign my book for me, but also, without my saying anything, sat down to draw a small sketch on the front cover, totally live and completely original. I was astonished to say the least. The artwork was very evocative and beautiful – and he created that in a few minutes with just a few strokes of his pen! He then took up a thick dark felt pen and outlined some of the lines, creating a depth and texture to the picture that I had not thought was there. It was as though he could see something I could not see and, with an internal magic, brought it to life for me too.

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At the end, the sixty year-old artist hugged and kissed me again, and thanked me for supporting him. His humbleness amazed me, as much as his talent.

While some might see him simply as an artist who likes painting naked women, I see him as a creator – an innovator and a sensualist who is able to reflect the beauty of life, while hinting at darker fantastical realities.

Waltzing between the epic and the erotic, his art celebrates the female figure as a conqueror and warrior, a survivor in a dark cruel world.