New York

Nicola De Maria

Galerie Maeght Lelong

Although the Italian artist Nicola De Maria is well known throughout Europe, this was his first solo show in America. One reason De Maria’s work has not been exhibited here before is that he is neither a figurative artist nor a descendant of arte povera. In fact, he doesn’t fit into any of the currently fashionable trends, styles, or stances; he neither trumpets the death of the imagination nor proclaims himself painting’s savior. Given the current crisis in painting, his specialness should be seen as central. That this sense of his work is not likely to happen any time soon is more a comment on contemporary critical discourse and its concern with style than on his accomplishment, which is major.

De Maria is equally blessed and cursed with believing in the sanctity of the world. An intensely isolated sojourner into the visionary realm, he has discovered the links between moral and eternal rhythms, and all of his work evolves out of that knowledge. His intimately scaled paintings are lush abstract fields on which are usually written or drawn a few words, numbers, images of flowers, and emblematic motifs of houses, stars, and the nocturnal sky. The exhibition, entitled “Nuovi DIPINTI D’AMORE + ANGELI” (New paintings about love + angels, 1985–86), included works from an ongoing series, “REGNO DEI FIORE” (Flower kingdom). All of these paintings are at once austere and sensuous, spare and lush. The radiant colors pull us toward them while holding us at bay. In order to see the paintings, viewers had literally to pass through another work by De Maria, for he had painted the walls and ceiling by the elevator, covering them with multicolored abstract shapes; he called this work ANGELI PROTEGGONO IL MIO LAVORO (Angels protect my work, 1986).

In many of the works, the artist painted over a map, a page from a newspaper, or other printed materials. One can only reach the visionary realm by beginning in the daily world. The paint ranges from transparent layers to a rough, impastolike surface. De Maria’s lush palette comprises primary and secondary colors as well as white and black, and in addition to oil paint he uses pure pigment. In some paintings a smaller canvas is affixed to the upper half of a larger one, a combination that represents a head, according to the artist. The two green dots placed on the smaller canvas are emblematic of the internalized eyes each of us possesses—the gift of inner vision. It is from this place, behind the eyes, that the artist gazes. In doing so, he embraces his spiritual loneliness.

John Yau