“Four Italians”

The frenetic, sometimes almost hysterical pursuit of subject matter of Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi is only one aspect of Italian painting in the ’80s; the four somewhat younger Italian artists Domenico Bianchi, Bruno Ceccobelli, Gianni Dessi, and Giuseppe Gallo are more restrained and lack this exhibitionist temperament. The background of these four must be sought elsewhere than in the 18th-century Neapolitan baroque imagery with which Clemente grew up, the landscape atmosphere of Cucchi, or the heterogeneous associations of Chia.

It seems to me possible that the American painter Cy Twombly and the Greek artist Jannis Kounellis, both of whom live in Rome, have had a more than superficial influence on these four. Twombly’s noticeable use of visual ambiguity is evident in the work of Dessi, whose application of paint is almost sculptural. His sober palette unites a diversity of structures into a single movement. Tensions between image, medium, and background are emphasized in such paintings as Penetrazione, where the canvas is cut open in the center. Dessi’s potential seems so rich that the work already shown must only be a fraction of his capacity.

The historical and classical allusions that form such an important impulse for Kounellis are to be found in no smaller proportion in the transcendental experiences that Ceccobelli attempts to express. He draws together fragmentary elements from sculpture and painting and gives them metaphorical meaning, consciously using classical tradition as a weapon against the status quo of Christian religion. In Morpheus, a rod, its base at the center of a whorl on the floor, leans against a gray canvas on the top corner of which sits a mask of the god Morpheus. To the right and higher up are two magnets. Ceccobelli describes this as a portrait of Morpheus, with images of motherhood (the whorl) and fatherhood (the stick).

Bianchi and Gallo seem to be the most esthetic of the four, even if this is not clear at first sight in the case of Bianchi. His gray and dull-red abstract compositions of ingenious structures, moonlike landscapes, and waving leaves offer up their nuances only slowly; these are subtle, homogeneous paintings, of remarkable restraint. Gallo, in contrast, works with a readily accessible, almost sensual, rush of color accents on large grounds. As a little cousin of the École de Paris, he runs the risk of grinding to a halt in easy designs.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Michael Latcham.