New York

Lorenzo Bonechi

Sharpe Gallery

This was Lorenzo Bonechi’s first solo exhibition in America. Although substantially younger than Sandro Chia and Mimmo Paladino—fellow members of the Italian Transavanguardia—and still relatively unknown in America, Bonechi is by no means a fledgling artist. Like these artists, he has discovered his obsessions, developed a formal vocabulary, and evolved a mature, romantic style. If there is anything that will block Bonechi from becoming as well-known here as they, it is only the possibility that the American audience, so in love with grandiose rhetoric, will mistake his sophistication and quietude for modesty.

Bonechi is a contemporary theological artist. His paintings are allegorical narratives in which contemporary and historical images, or figures, struggle to establish a rapport. The contemporary figure is usually that of a young man, or student, while the historical ones range from corporeal angels and other Biblical figures to mythical beasts. They encounter each other in either a rugged Italian landscape (reminiscent of those painted by Sassetta) or in anotherwise deserted early-Renaissance city, or in some combination of both. The theme running through all of the paintings is the artist’s search for imagery that is viable and useful. In this sense, Bonechi is a cautious optimist. He knows he cannot resolve the impasse he and modern culture have reached; yet, instead of becoming a poseur of despair, coolly cynical, kitschy, or knowingly dumb, he has chosen to address his origins.

Bonechi’s Crucifixion, 1985, takes place on a mountaintop. Three elongated figures—Mary, Jesus, and John—are depicted frontally and close to the picture plane. Although equidistant from the lamenting Mary and the grieving john, the figure of Christ divides the painting asymmetrically, allowing a fourth figure—a man in modern dress, striding along a narrow path toward the Crucifixion—to be included in the central composition Bonechi has established a tour-de-force balance between the three larger figures and the single, more distant one; he has also infused this formal device with a wide range of emotions and speculative possibilities. The Crucifixion cannot take place without witnesses; and yet, could this scene be the approaching figure’s vision? If so, what is its ultimate meaning? These are the questions the viewer must answer. I know of no other painting in recent years that addresses the image of the Crucifixion with such authority and understanding.

Bonechi is neither an appropriative nor a nostalgic painter; rather, he depicts moments from a spiritual journey Like Franz Kafka’s, his relationship to the past is not only felt but intensely alive. The theological tradition from which Bonechi has evolved not only includes Sassetta and Kafka but also Dante Alighieri. He is a Neoplatonist whose ambition is to map the road that leads toward enlightenment.

John Yau