Letizia Galli

Galleria Marabini

If it still made sense to speak of abstract art, Letizia Galli’s paintings would have to be called abstract. In her captivating chromatic compositions, often set against a background as black as icy space, galaxies of colors with indefinite boundaries take fire, gracefully arranged on the canvas so as to seem more a texture than an image. These porous boundaries result from a process whereby the color interacts with a solvent that spreads randomly across the canvas. Set in motion by the artist, the process is nonetheless outside her specific control, since the material and its contrary clash and combine without her being able to intervene after the initial gesture. The process may be conceptually motivated, as Galli stresses, but the result is strongly decorative—a word we needn’t shy away from, since the category of decoration is, after all, basic to any concept of painting.

More important, what sort of decoration is involved here? What experience underlies these twelve paintings? For many years, Galli lived and worked in London, where she trained as an artist, and where she has exhibited since 1992. She only recently moved back to Italy, and in fact the visual culture of recent English art emerges clearly in these pieces, particularly in the youthful impudence with which past models are appropriated and transformed into something different—fresh, superficial, and desirable as the fashion of the moment.

The decorative style of these works recalls the ’50s—in particular, the textures that the industrial design of the day applied to textiles, fabrics, and linens. This vague whiff of nostalgia for modernity undoubtedly gives Galli’s canvases their flavor of quotation and perhaps also their evocation of a period often presumed happier—and certainly more optimistic—than our own. Nonetheless, for this young Anglo-Italian artist (as with many English artists of recent generations) that’s not the point. This is not revivalism for its own sake, nor willful citationism. Indeed, it’s telling that the type of decoration Galli evokes does not have a high-culture pedigree. Rather, the decorative aspect of the paintings seems to be the trace of a resonant memory. It is the emotional echo of experiences linked to a domestic habitat made up of generically “modern” and somewhat shoddy furniture, flashy and gaudy wallpaper, violently colored upholstery—in a word, an environment both meager and vital, charged with energy.

The point, then, is not the identification of precedents in the history of art or design. What matters is the vital experience itself, the creative approach—in short, the self-expression and not the language in which it is couched. In fact, if these works were judged by this latter criterion—the linguistic one—the ingenuousness of Galli’s approach would be striking. But this ingenuousness, or artlessness, which might seem prejudicial to the development of an artistic language, becomes an asset in terms of spontaneity and sincerity of expression. If we fail to see or imagine behind these canvases the life of the person who painted them, they remain merely abstract paintings, with everything that phrase implies: dated, over and done with, part of a past irretrievably gone by. For now, fortunately, Galli’s work is more than that.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.