Critics’ Picks

Leoncillo, San Sebastiano bianco, 1960, engobe, terra-cotta, enamels, 52 x 29 x 17".

Leoncillo, San Sebastiano bianco, 1960, engobe, terra-cotta, enamels, 52 x 29 x 17".



Galleria dello Scudo
vicolo Scudo di Francia 2
December 15, 2018–March 31, 2019

In the last decade of his life, Italian sculptor Leoncillo abandoned the figurative mode that had won him acclaim to create abstractions that plumbed his material’s constructive properties and emotional resonances. For this exhibition, curator Enrico Mascelloni has brought together sixteen of these abstract works, each a testament to the master’s empathic approach and unremitting experimentation. Here, Leoncillo, known for his fluency in ceramics, allows the material to speak directly through an agitated modeling that scores the terra-cotta and contrasts it with enamel applied like an autonomous entity, as seen in Scultura con gocce rosse (Sculpture with Red Drops), 1958–59.

Alongside postwar tensions between tradition and reinvention, at the core of Leoncillo’s allusive abstraction is perhaps a profound sense of tragedy, which is deeply felt in a quartet of representations of Saint Sebastian. The black-and-white variations from the early 1960s, at almost six and a half feet tall, are completely traversed by a lengthwise fissure, imbued with a stunning metaphorical charge. Leoncillo’s subtle, influential originality is also on display in Vento rosso (Red Wind), 1958, a highly tactile assemblage that rises only slightly above the floor, renouncing any upward progression. A sort of magma frozen onto a slate surface, the red terra-cotta splashed with black via interventions with oxides and enamels, the work constitutes one of the most radical actions in the modernist path of redefining what a sculpture can be. Leoncillo—whose exhibition opening roughly marks the fiftieth anniversary of his sudden death at fifty-two—emerges as a precursor to Pino Pascali’s Il Mare (The Sea), 1966, Jannis Kounellis’s coal pieces, and Richard Long’s stones, as well as an artist whose use of forms old and new still surprises.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.