Newport Beach

Mimmo Paladino

Newport Harbor Museum

A small exhibition of five recent works by Mimmo Paladino proved to be one of the highlights of “II Modo Italiano,” the multivenued 11-artist survey of recent Italian art organized by the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art. Water of the Pond, a large, heavily textured, blond and yellow painting from 1980, reveals something of the reticence and beauty of Paladino’s earlier abstract style; this painting, however, derives from a time when his aspirations to scale had begun to overstress and force the subtle runs of color and areas of low relief that work so well in a more modest format. With Cometa delle Afriche (Comet of the Africas, 1982) he knows no such constraints, and the work is emphatic, self-confident, and intensely physical. Most impressive is Paladino’s ease and authority as an iconographer dealing with large, often hybrid mythic themes. The “comet” rides through the painting as a man on a roaring winged beast, triumphantly carrying a massive spear. The theme is an African one viewed through Mediterranean eyes, the painted savage stranger a figure of power and mystery.

In Pozzo di Eroi (Well of the Heroes, 1983) male and female figures travel an endless spiral path in a flawed garden full of expiring animals and lush vegetation. A weary onlooker extends his hand in a gesture of greeting. Are we seeing Adam and Eve, adrift in the fluid garden of existence, or the life raft of two lovers moving through the thicket of human experience? It has been difficult, some say impossible, to speak of such themes in the late 20th century, yet certain European artists seem to do it unself-consciously and without the common strategies of irony. Paladino is one of these, almost untouched by a cultural landscape of kitsch, somehow able to effect a renewal of timeless imagery with a youthful freshness, at once world-weary and optimistic. His work does not envelop or burden the viewer with painful self-contemplation; it soars, runs its course, and moves on, carrying so much along in its wake.

Susan C. Larsen