Giuseppe Gallo

Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone

Giuseppe Gallo has abandoned the use of figures in precarious states of balance that characterized his earlier work. Now he subjects the very idea of painting to a precarious balance. In his recent work, oil paintings on canvas, the color black is the protagonist—this is black not as an absence of color but rather as a formative nucleus. Black is used in all its layered possibilities; it is liquid, vibrant, germinal.

The painting that I considered the cardinal piece in the show, Sogno orizzantale (Horizontal dream, 1985), contains formal and metaphorical elements that clarify this new stage in Gallo’s work. The background is a dark, indistinct space, in the center of which a whitish mass—perhaps a uterine casing or an ectoplasm—is acquiring form. Yellowish stems rise up from the low horizon, like aquatic vegetation reaching out toward the ocean’s surface. There is no narrative, only a discontinuous formation of microevents. One should bear in mind that, for Gallo, titles always play an important role in the works’ semiotics; here, the “dream” indicated in the title is that of a painting brought to its extreme elementary state, to its pared-down horizontality. Only from this point can the artist and the spectator decipher the painting’s signs, suspended between the oneiric and the primeval.

In Dieci chili (Ten kilos, 1985), the title is both hostile and clarifying. “Ten kilos” refers to the universal force of gravity; pictorially, it refers to the force that the color white exerts to prevail against the predominately black surface of the painting. But this work is less resolved, falling into the complacency of facile effect. Similarly, in Su (Up, 1985), the brilliant turquoise ground is too cleaned up and ostentatious; moreover, it has the ugly consistency of dry paste. In this case, turning up the lights doesn’t help facilitate a grasp of the work’s meaning; the radiance of the surface blinds. Praga (Prague, 1985) is a charcoal-and-pastel drawing inserted into a glass tube suspended by two ropes. The image, a bird’s-eye view of Prague, is nothing more than a slight revision of Enzo Cucchi’s biomorphic land scapes. This is completely derivative work—incongruous, insubstantial, and lost in its attempt to relate to the recent past.

But Gallo reemerges strong with Cieca (Blind, 1985), a tumultuous, exuberant work despite the melancholy image. A red skull floats at the center of the canvas, a meager shroud against the vast voluptuous surface that looms around it. Charcoal and Pompeian-red tones achieve a precise balance, an accord of silence and passion. The formal elements, extremely reduced, seem to pursue each other in a play of mirrors; the center recedes, sucked into a vortex. The eye of the figure portrayed is blind, like a backward glance seen in a mirror. The mirror reflects but it cannot interpret; it is blind and without passions. But this work, dense and arresting, is not.

Gallo’s paintings don’t lend themselves to easy interpretation. They hold off the viewer; they are not gracious. Yet this play between appearance and disappearance, between affirmation and negation, is precisely what appeals to me. Gallo is seeking a certain formal coherence, a consistency that resists deformation; and he does so with difficulty His work, even with its failures, achieves this—not because it offers us, or itself, security, but because in the moment the artist faces the risks of candid expression, he finds his most compelling voice.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.