New York


Salvatore Ala Gallery

If we make a distinction between an art of material and an art of image, then what Leoncillo offers us is the ideal convergence of these separate modes. This merger results in sculpture wholly beyond the pale—mythical but without a collective context to justify it, and spontaneous, without a self to which the impulsiveness belongs. Leoncillo’s images seem to rise spontaneously out of material, and at at the same time, material appears as unfocused, inchoate image. Some of these objects suggest the pillar of salt into which Lot’s wife was transformed as she turned back to witness God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and others seem like the magma of His wrath. These are forbidding objects, at once infernal and divine. Amorphousness has been made high material art without need of imagistic specificity to make itself felt.

Made of terra-cotta, enamels, and engobe, these “informal sculptures” from 1958–63 are materially poetic and spatially complex. The various “slash” pieces—piles of crusts divided by extended colored gashes—suggest both figures and trees, as though some strange protean being was caught in the process of metamorphosis. Titles such as St. Sebastian, 1962, and Wounded Time II, 1963, suggest pathos and agony. The sculptures seem like mutant torsos of Marsyas or some other defiant ancient in peril of skin and life. Apart from their existential temper, works such as Sculpture with Black Drops and Omen (both 1960), convey a pronounced material excitement. From an American point of view, they would undoubtedly be regarded as precursors of the contemporary transformation of ceramic craft into high art, but this is to sell short the sense of internal struggle and upheaval that pervades his work. Leoncillo is obsessed with density and bodiliness, age-old artistic concerns that seek to externalize the innate experience of physical being. He gives us a kind of eschatology of matter, simultaneously fraught with inhuman and human significance, earthbound and incalculably sublime. Whatever the iconographic import of his meteoric material, it conveys a sense of process that seems at once geological and archaeological—a matter of cosmic as well as human measures of time. Leoncillo has a secure place in the complex history of modern Dionysian surface, in which painting and sculpture necessarily fuse.

Donald Kuspit