Rome

Stefano Di Stasio

Fabio Sargentini Associazione Culturale L'Attico

Stefano Di Stasio’s painting affirms “the presence of the past.” His ideal models range from Raphael to the 16th century to the metaphysical surrealism of Giorgio de Chirico. It is no accident that since the ’70s, Maurizio Calvesi—the critic and art historian who selected Di Stasio for the next Venice Biennale—has called the artist’s work “anachronistic.” This alone lets us understand the mental and conceptual thrust of his work, which it would be a mistake to reduce to simple, traditional “figurative painting.”

One painting here more than any other exemplified this conceptual tension. Although smaller in format than the other more impressive and spectacular canvases, and placed almost off to the side, I guardanti (The observers, 1994) radiated a disquieting charm. Two men stand back to back within an abstract, geometric interior, the only exit a very distant door from which a light is streaming. But the light, minuscule at the back of the vertiginous perspective of the bare, empty corridor, does not illuminate the canvas. One character scans the sky with a telescope; the other looks through a microscope at the tabletop on which the instrument is placed. They are indifferent to each other and to the viewer. There is absolutely no object to be seen in front of them; they look without having anything to see, they observe Platonic essences, not things, not objects. They are pure glance. This is an enigmatic and incisive image, both dense and alienating.

Di Stasio’s paintings are “literary” in the sense that they always narrate something; they tell of strange urban encounters, everyday enchantments, fantastic situations inserted into the fabric of reality. The characters in these works (the male figures are all hypothetical self-portraits of the painter) wander in isolation in the dawn of urban peripheries; they weave through the statuary steps of immobile dances; they assume culturally specific poses and stances, as if they were depositing the history of pictorial mime in their bodies, as if iconography were their very breath. Following de Chirico’s example, they are often surrounded by objects incongruous to the spaces they inhabit. These characters are pure, silent presences, mysterious and alienated, and all the more enigmatic precisely because they are inserted among the streets and buildings, the cars and buses that we see every day. Thus there is a systematic psychological and historical-conceptual disorientation to the work that tends to invert our sense of time, or better, to render it complex, stratified. And perhaps this is why Di Stasio’s “Platonic” painting—so apparently distant and cold, yet so close and intimate to our apprehensions, to our anxieties and our phantasms—tends to construct a veritable contemporary mythology that tells of the enigmas, the secrets, and the shadows that, while invisible, never cease to assault our urban spaces, launched toward a future where an archaic and inscrutable heart continues to beat. One can raise many theoretical objections to post-Modern culture and painting, but certainly Di Stasio’s work represents one of its most significant and convincing versions.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.