Salvatore Astore

During the ’80s, the work of Salvatore As-tore developed in two directions, which nonetheless always merged in a single poetics. On the one hand, in the two-dimensional works—on canvas and on paper—the artist investigated physiological elements from the living world, representing them on large surfaces: enormous human skulls, seen as if through x-rays sometimes with sutures between the bones that reinforced the alienating effect, sometimes with the vascular system highlighted by a tangle of brightly colored filamentlike marks. On the other hand, he also made welded-iron sculpture—installed on the walls or placed on the floor—with curving outlines and soft, frayed edges. like those of a geometric figure designed by hand.

These two directions in Astore’s work converge in his interest in anatomy—the human or animal body seen through the lens of the general physiology of living creatures. And this interest in the natural and organic dimension is also a sign of his memory of arte povera, perhaps with particular reference to Mario Merz and to Pino Pascali. But Astore is original in his own right, and he knows how to transform that cultural memory into a personal and autonomous language. The canvases in this show were all new, and they addressed a motif he had already dealt with a decade ago: the representation of animal silhouettes. Here Astore used large-scale canvases with unprimed hemp surfaces, a material that absorbs many layers of paint and then squeezes them together, one on top of another. As a result, the figure of the animal (a bull, a tiger, a monkey, a snake, an elephant) emerges slowly from the color-soaked, darkened, used-up background. The image has blurred, pliable outlines, like those of a fuzzy, somewhat out-of-focus snapshot. This is precisely what makes these works interesting both on a formal and on a figurative level. The animal has only an outline, a silhouette. There is no graphic or linear quality; these are not paper cutouts.

Astore succeeds in making us perceive the heaviness, the three-dimensionality. the luminous qualities of those bodies. For example, in the canvas that depicts a tiger, in which the animal faces the viewer, the back portion is painted in shadow, while the front is rendered in lighter, more luminous tones. Beneath the animal’s paws—alien and yet familiar presences, terrible in their power and yet somehow “domestic”—the shadows lengthen, a clear sign of a certain naturalism. The animals are seen against the light, with the luminous source of the image located directly behind their bodies. This makes the harshness, the roughness, the accidents of the living body sink into the shadows and into the darkness of the dull, choked color, like a cotton ball soaked repeatedly in a viscous, dark liquid. All this lends these images a feeling of vitality, of throbbing organicity, of hot physiology, closely aligning them with the artist’s earlier work. It is no accident that the undulating line of the backs of these animals clearly and vividly recalls the sweetly blunted outlines of Astore’s metal sculpture. Indeed, all of Astore’s work aspires to an ideal tension in which nature, even in its cycle of destruction, death, and regeneration, is finally reconciled with man. Thus, the depiction of an anatomical part of the human body or of a physically powerful animal amounts to the same thing: both derive their voracity from a natural, organic, and spiritual dimension that transcends them.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.