Maurizio Cannavacciuolo

Galleria Franco Noero / Galleria Francesca Kaufmann

Maurizio Cannavacciuolo stands out among Italian artists because of his extremely elaborate style of painting. His pictorial surfaces are densely covered with intricate decorative patterns against which figures stand out; these figures, in turn, are overlaid with other figures or outlines of figures, whose interiors are saturated with decorative motifs different from those painted on the backgrounds. No space remains free, no interstice left empty. Cannavacciuolo's canvases are like puzzles. The viewer's eye must follow a contour to grasp forms otherwise lost in the superimpositions; one must construct the forms in one's mind, in a process of recomposition. Colors, often overloaded but sometimes reduced to black and white, are always flat, and they precisely fill the spaces delineated by the outlines. This technical bravura seems to come from an obsessive urgency that transmutes the pictorial gesture into a kind of ritual—an action that, repeated to the point of perfectionist mania, permits transgressive desires to be expressed safely. Thus the works show human bodies caught in sexual acts, particularly of a male homosexual nature, but also—and this is more interesting—a universe where the animate blurs with the inanimate.

In the exhibitions Cannavacciuolo mounted simultaneously in Milan and Turin—showing one untitled work, 2001, in each city, like a two-act play—these perverse tendencies were strongly accentuated. I am not speaking so much of representational motifs, but of style, which showed a great degree of radicalism. The artist entirely covered the walls of one room in the Francesca Kaufmann Gallery in Milan with a single, uninterrupted pencil drawing. The play of superimpositions became even more complicated because color no longer helped to articulate differences, except in tiny fragments of paper applied here and there to the walls. Thus the eye had to work even harder to distinguish the images, to detach them from the richly decorated backgrounds, and to recognize, for example, fetuses and newborns, naked men on all fours, luxurious rooms and elaborate ceilings, gigantic insects, skeletons, Chinese dragons, and whatever else inhabits the artist's overheated imagination. Discerning these images within the intricate tangle of pencil marks became not only arduous but literally painful for the eyes (the gallery was lit in such a way as to throw highlights and shadows on the walls, making it impossible to see the work all at once).

At Franco Noero in Turin, the artist covered a single wall with sheets of paper, which were in turn covered with drawings. This formed a single piece, but one that could be divided into as many parts as there were sheets of paper. Introducing a note of irony. the artist offered visitors the help of a ladder that ran along the wall, promising a closer look at all the work's parts, its most minute details—a promise kept only with difficulty, for the spotlights shining on the work mostly blinded the viewer, hindering the drawings' legibility. Thus Cannavacciuolo manages to be at the same time intriguing and irritating, amusing and wearisome, and, most strangely of all, passionate and boring.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.