New York

Stefano Peroli

A self-proclaimed student of art informel, Stefano Peroli plumbs the genre in order to “slip further back in time,” that is, according to Peroli, toward Delacroix’s romanticism or Poussin’s classicism, but thanks to his engagingly candid and uninhibited approach to color and surface, his return to an earlier moment in painting never seems academic. This recent show marked the first time Peroli exhibited paintings “uncontaminated,” as he put it in conversation, by collage or other distancing and conceptualizing devices. If the most direct route to visual jouissance is through color, Peroli avails himself of its resources with a rare combination of exuberance and subtlety in works that look familiar yet remain fresh.

As compositions, his paintings are, at first glance, simple, classically centered, and monumental in a way that recalls those of Mark Rothko or Robert Motherwell. Typically, there is an encompassing color space, and within that a second, contrasting one, more or less centered; and then there will be a diagonal line crossing between them, a kind of bridge. Sometimes there is a third level of space within space within space. The color may be pure and opaque, creating a feeling of taut, impenetrable surface, but more often the field is one of unemphatic, even lullingly repetitive marks—a steady quilting of thin acrylic washes that gives the space a springy pliancy. Yet the paintings are not all fluidity: there remains a collagelike raggedness or abruptness to the transitions between these moody color-spaces that recalls the edges of torn paper. One senses the poignancy of open spaces that are perceptible, alluring, but difficult of access. Perhaps it is the poignancy of remembered space. That would explain why Peroli’s dependence on the art of the past—on art-historical memory—seems not to weigh on him as a burden. It does not freeze him into a self-conscious attitude toward the articulation of space, but, rather, induces a disengaging reverie. This is where Peroli declares his independence from his postwar precursors, turning his palette away from darkness and close values toward brighter hues and lively contrasts. Felicitously intertextual—or should I say interpictorial?—these paintings weave themselves into the present by means of gestures that press back toward the past.

What’s at stake here is more than just a taste for a certain coloristic plenitude: Perali’s indulgence of that inclination suggests that he has shed the diffidence toward painting that was once a hallmark of seriousness. Rather than doing end runs around anxiety by pretending to be a primitive or presenting supercilious glosses on modernism-as-style, he’s looking to the past to learn how to make things happen pictorially. And things do happen.

Barry Schwabsky