Felice Levini

Il Milione

Seven of the eight works in Felice Levini’s “Genesi” (Genesis) series, 1987–1988, function as representations of or dedications to the creation, as described in the book of Genesis. The eighth piece functions as a self-portrait of the artist. Each of the eight works is composed of oil paint on an unstretched sheet of canvas and contains a very small photograph mounted on the canvas’ bottom edge. These photographs, which portray the seven days of creation somewhat literally, are placed in simple black frames and displayed on shelves that extend off the wall at 45° angles in order to meet the viewer’s downward gaze. In each of these works Levini uses two distinct background colors, always with the same pointillist application, so that the quadrilaterals that compose these irregular grids form distorted checkered patterns. Floating atop each of those canvases, in precisely painted white characters, are descriptions of the seven days of creation.

Levini’s checkered patterns seem to pay homage to that which is abstract, modern, geometricized, and ordered. Yet the patterns lack a direct, linguistic relationship with the subtitles, and are further alienated from the banal photographs. Levini ironically unites the creation narrative with emblems of the antinatural and the antimimetic: Terzo giorno: Creazione delle piante (Third day: creation of plants), for example, features a leafless tree. Quinto giorno: Creazione dei pesci e degli uccelli (Fifth day: creation of fish and birds) incorporates fields of blue and yellow points, below which is reproduced an elementary scientific illustration of different types of sharks and an image of birds in flight. These found images are simple, illustrative photocopies, which distances them from the meticulous, abstract paintings.

The eighth and final piece in this series abandons the seven days of biblical creation format. Here the syllables “Si-fa-per-di-re” can be read clockwise over a checkered pattern of blood-red or orange-red fields. The framed photograph below the canvas hosts a black and white portrait of the artist, whose mystified gaze is upwardly addressed and whose face is covered with five-pointed stars. The title of the piece forms the Italian phrase si fa per dire, which implies that something is said but not necessarily done.

In these works, Levini establishes elements and their negations. He presents his images on unstretched canvases, as if to weaken their strength and negate the authenticity of the expression. The repeated grid negates the narrative conclusions of the text and images. And the story of Genesis is both glorified and undercut, while the artist himself, his face covered with stars, looks up to the heavens and accepts his limitations.

Anthony Iannacci