Gianni Dessì

Galleria Ugo Ferranti

In the paintings he executed last summer and exhibited this autumn Gianni Dessì avoided spectacular painterly effects. The prevalence of grays and blacks here is symptomatic of an ideological choice: rather than aiming for a high-pitched emotionalism through color, Dessì seeks a more low-keyed concentration and analysis. His limited repertory of tones is akin to the theoretical position of the Cubists, whereby painting defers to idea.

In Expressionist painting color is linked to symbol; it can be grotesque and mocking, carrying the weight of the emotions. In Cubism, particularly the analytical phase, colors interact within a reduced vocabulary. They are little more than a pretext, a vehicle for ideas. Dessì’s gray tones free color of its emotive qualities and become a junction point between the idea of painting and its practice. Ultimately, his grays and blacks point to drawing as their essential originating matrix; for Dessì painting is not an operative choice embodying a high as opposed to a low or minor technique. It is an ideological choice within which numerous hierarchies of meanings can be worked out.

His painting is not intended as fundamental in and of itself, but defers to “something else”—to a material, a density, an atmosphere, a lightness and a depth which assume various forms from canvas to canvas. Even the inclusion of objects (a lightbulb, scraps of paper, etc.), has no significance other than for their interaction with the painted sign; the object is merely a spot of color, an iconographic sign equivalent to that created by the paint.

In certain pieces the spatial area analyzed is not limited to the two dimensions of the surface; some canvases are cut, scratched into, incised—almost as if to establish their three-dimensionality. But Dessì is not quoting Lucio Fontana, and the cuts, like wounds, are sutured from behind with a piece of canvas so that the created third dimension remains only an allusion to depth. This oscillation between background and foreground is yet another test of the will to evade the hierarchical logic of space, color, and surface, elements which are in fact accepted as untouchable and fundamental but which are used to contrast with, contradict, and deny each other.

The space of the image often oscillates as well. In Isola sole (Lone island) an abstract rhomboidal form, somewhat like a kite, frees itself from a gray ground in a twisting, ascending motion, a subtle vortex culminating in a luminous point at the top of the canvas. But this ascent is checked by two deep marks incised into the paint, two scratches which hold the image at the center of the canvas. The human figure that appears within the rhombus seems to be imprisoned, forcefully constrained by the sides closing in on it.

Similarly, in Testimone (Witness) Dessì employs vertical and horizontal lines, closed and open forms. The different geometric structures create a web of references, like echoes and glances, crisscrossing the surface. The forms revolve and wind around a central axis; the resultant spiral thus contradicts the fixity of the basic geometric components.

Nothing can be taken for granted, for the stratification of the signs and of the signifieds necessitates further delving. The painter does not impulsively or instinctively impose signs on the surface; Dessì, both maker and observer of his work, assumes a tangential stance toward “the natural.” Aware of literary and visual traditions, he allows the symbologies tied to his iconographies to emerge, yet he avoids the hierarchy of figuration. In this work, which seems to me the most mature produced thus far by this young Roman artist, painting becomes a mental experiment.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.