Marco Tirelli

At first glance it seems Marco Tirelli’s work would fit within a number of familiar art-historical categories; the work could be simultaneously described as formalist, realist, minimalist, conceptual, and abstract. But, of course, this is only at first glance. For if the artist, and the painter in particular, sets in motion a “second sight”— to use a phrase coined by Franz Marc—then the viewer also needs a “second sight” in order to interpret the work of art in question.

In Tirelli’s case, those art-historical categories, while remaining important elements in the artist’s formative background, have different connotations in the actual works. Tirelli remains strongly tied to certain basic processes, as well as to traditional approaches to painting: the use of a geometry, proportion, symmetry, illusionistic plays of light and shadow, and a concern for the surface. All of these elements are constantly reintroduced in different combinations. Yet Tirelli’s painting is anything but a mere syntactical exercise. It suggests a virtual dimension that echoes the Greek etymology of the word “painting”: “skïagraphia” (writing of shadows). This show, for example, included a polyptych comprised of twenty-five pieces—which, like most of Tirelli’s work in recent years, were executed in handmade tempera mixed with casein and applied to wood panels—arranged to form a large square on the wall. Each panel contains the image of a corbel, the projecting element of which casts its shadow downward. The corbel floats like a luminous apparition against a black background that resembles an abyss, consisting of an absolute darkness that Tirelli created by applying coal dust to layers of tempera. The artificial lighting in the gallery also hit each painting in such a way that the panel and frame projected a real shadow that was added to the painted shadow.

In another piece—also a polyptych, but one comprised of twenty small panels—Tirelli seems to reproduce Barnett Newman’s “zips,” but here they are arranged horizontally, forming small bands beside the ever-present black. It is no accident that Tirelli’s chromatic system is almost always tonal in basis; he applies a flat impasto in dull yellows, murky reds, and gray-greens, always flatly, and yet with certain “naturalistic” intonations. On the one hand, Tirelli invokes the history of painting through his use of impasto and tonal gradation. On the other hand, all of this borders on a kind of non-painting, a black hole into which objects and colors can disappear. The depicted object remains as if suspended: painted according to the logic of light and shadow, it opposes and yet answers to the black’s immateriality.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.