Max Renkel

Galleria Ugo Ferranti

The work of Max Renkel carries out a wide-ranging investigation of the procedures, logical connections, unpredictable rhythms, and imperceptible passages that, in the elaboration of an image on canvas, intervene between idea and execution. In so doing the artist draws attention to certain points of departure toward a contemporary approach to representation.

This exhibition unveiled, with an effective and deliberately ironic discretion, one of the most significant themes in twentieth-century painting as well as its absolute anachronism in the present: the dichotomy between the figurative and the abstract. Renkel creates an interminable sequence of links between these two extremes and pushes to the limit the explosive power generated by their collision, blasting an opening between one field of action and the other. He uses large-scale color samples to depict details of female figures; but because of the varying degree of enlargement, these details elude any reference back to a definitive context. The artist's decision to work with representations of women tends to signify another connection—at the boundary between neutrality and artifice—to the pictorial tradition that has so exploited this subject. Moreover, a representation based on the body takes advantage of its familiarity and recognizability, further pushing back the potential border between figuration and abstraction.

The largest of the five paintings that made up this show depicts a reclining figure without offering any physiognomic or—still less—narrative particulars.The image consists of an ensemble of clearly defined surfaces in which abstract structures can be isolated by an almost instinctive process of the imagination. If observed at a distance, the tonalities, reduced and yet still clear and accentuated, link the representation to the delineation of a form. Yet if scrutinized at close range these same tones fragment the image through the absence of chromatic gradations; the result is a puzzlelike array of fluid color patches revealing, with a deliberate absence of artifice, the illusory nature of the picture plane.

Gradually, as one followed the sequence of the exhibition, the canvases became smaller in scale, focusing on the representation of increasingly minute details, upping the ante on the challenge to perception. Silhouettes of three clothed female torsos, with nothing but the different positions of their arms to mitigate the monotony of the repeated composition, gave way to details of close-fitting fabrics stretched against skin. Through pure sinuousness of form, these seemed to reveal the final possibility of something pulsating with a vitality that lay beyond the illusion of the pictorial representation—perhaps that furthermost boundary of representation that Renkel's work exceeds, to then return, retracing its own tracks.

Mario Codognato

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

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