Sandro Chia

Galerie Daniel Templon

Sandro Chia’s first show in Paris was notable on several counts. Firstly, it provided a reproach to an ongoing situation of several years’ duration: the egocentric spirit of French intellectuals, their lack of curiosity in developments outside France, have put the country in an isolated, marginal position (a position unjustified in the light of the actual fertility of its cultural life). Secondly, the show revealed an artist in full possession of his considerable talents. The installation was dramatic; here, in effect, was work far outclassing that of most of the French artists who have returned to the figure, with the exception of Gérard Garouste, ignored and despised for so long by his compatriots. One must regret that Parisians were denied knowledge of Chia’s evolution during the latter half of the ’70s, years of maturation and richness. But this exhibition confronted us with fully achieved works of a rare intensity.

The dozen pieces included oils on canvas, large works on paper, and two sculptures, all executed in 1983. The coherence of Chia’s thought as expressed in plastic media has found a scale and balance without repressing its speculative nature. He may borrow, even pillage and plagiarize, the styles of Modern art, but his paintings are more than nostalgic or ironic quotation. The characters, the landscapes, the formal relationships in the works show erudition in their subtle play of references; one can identify a Fauvist style, the chromatic scale of the German Expressionists, the heavy influence of certain passages of Picasso’s figures, to mention only the more salient quotations. But Chia is not content to simply accrue stylistic allusions. His work is in fact a metaphor for pictorial art, a metaphor materialized in the small painted bronze sculpture Le Peintre poète (The painter poet). Indebted to both Rodin and Umberto Boccioni, the piece embodies a desire to plunge into knowledge and to emerge transformed, free to employ both the intelligence and the senses in an embrace of the culture of all historical periods.

Chia may treat mythological themes; in Le héros du labyrinthe (Hero of the labyrinth), without commenting on the tragic level of the legend of the Minotaur, he insists on the weight, the spiritual dimension, of a basic fiction (if a no longer axiomatic one) in our collective imagination. Elsewhere his subjects lack such connotations, as in Trois personnages et un chien (Three characters and a dog), which is above all a chromatic hyperbole whose forms are simultaneously reminiscent of the work of Savinio, Malevich, and Matisse. The stout men and women who populate his landscapes are informal types, often accompanied by domestic animals, as in the superb La femme et le héros (The woman and the hero) and Figures Mélancoliques (Melancholy figures). In eliminating the hierarchies between the work’s formal aspects and its narrative function, Chia allows his painting representational status; it describes the metamorphoses of culture without cant or didacticism, celebrating both beauty and the corrupt with humor and a little cheekiness, never becoming pompous or overly lyrical. Finally Chia sees painting as a way of outstripping melancholy, while recognizing the futility of such a goal. His lucidity is impressive.

Gerard-Georges Lemaire

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.