Nunzio Di Stefano

Galleria L'Attico

Nunzio Di Stefano’s work, previously little known, moves through the fields of painting and sculpture, drawing ambiguities rather than firm certainties from both. Here he showed 11 large painted sculptures, vaguely naturalistic plaster forms which allude to tree bark detached from the trunk, to seashells of abnormal size, to chips of corroded stone. The analogy to nature is basic. Di Stefano’s procedure is one of impressions, traces, and marks; he does not work in full relief or through the exploration of volume, but smooths the skin of sculpture. Evoking a body that slips out of sight, he lets the surface emerge illusionistically, and only from a frontal view.

The colors are also taken from an organic palette, that of the mineral and marine world—aquamarine, amethyst, emerald, smoky black, charcoal, tinny gray, swampy green. Very dilute tempera is applied with extreme casualness. The artist does not use a brush, but sprays the paint onto the plaster, letting it soak in slowly. The result is a color surface of great lightness, like a transparent skin, which counteracts the density of the plaster and gives the sculptures the look of sheets of paper leaning against the wall, ambiguous and almost immaterial. The forms, in fact, seem to annul the force of gravity, whether suspended on the wall like paintings or leaning, with minimal contact, on the floor.

The fascination of these pieces lies in their illusoriness; they are a synthesis of negations. The laws of both sculpture and painting can offer a kind of security, but Di Stefano overturns certainty. The work’s meaning lies in the provisional quality of its existence in a mutable, unstable state in which it seems impossible to remain without sliding away. The volumetric body of sculpture escapes on a tangent, disappearing along torn borders and edges, while the flatness of painting is contradicted by the imperceptible depth of the layers of color.

Di Stefano mentally checkmates us: having led us to confront the two classical forms of art, he reveals that the encounter takes place in a mine field. Mass tends toward dissolution, and the essential synthesis that arises generates a loss of the visual field in the usual terms. The walls themselves become large sheets upon which the forms are arranged like primal handwriting. Using an almost nonexistent compositional structure, Di Stefano recomposes and pieces together the space of his work to monumental effect.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.