Gianni Dessì

For Gianni Dessì, painting “is not a dead language that consoles and comforts, but one that requires the repositioning of the viewer.” And in this exhibition, an overview of his work from 1980 to the present, the artist allowed us to remain in the eye of the storm, a place of quiet, surrounded by the dance of material and color, which reveal themselves with explosive energy. Rule and disorder coexist in these works. Dessì seems to confront chaos without anxiety, but also without the illusion of controlling it; on the contrary, as he has stated, he relies on painting itself as a vantage point in the face of chaos in order “to take it on, to contemplate it.”

From the beginning, Dessì has been unafraid of excess, indiscriminately appropriating heterogeneous materials—among them wax, rubber, silicone, and iron—to assert a pulsating physical vitality. The center remains his constant point of reference, the place where the image coalesces and reveals itself in an assertive fashion, as with the silicone curl that forms the infinity sign (Sotto in Su [Below to Above], 2003) or a gilded metal ring (In Fede [In Faith], 1999). But his colors may also push beyond the edges of the canvas, invade their frames, flow onto the surrounding walls, and break free into space. Reviving a theme that has been one of his favorites since 1991, for this exhibition Dessì created a new Camera Picta (Painted Chamber), 1993–2006, where the color yellow invaded the ceiling, the floor, and the walls of a large room, more than 1,400 square feet in area. His signature yellow is as soft, velvety, and dazzling as Wolfgang Laib’s bee-pollen floors. It is a saturated hue that declares its luminous nature without reticence. A wooden pedestal supported a small panel, while a large white opening, shaped like a volute, was visible on the back wall, an optical encroachment that alludes to the possibility of a space beyond the wall. In the same manner, “windows” of the existing white paint were left on the ceiling and side walls, creating an additional eruption of blinding light. However, if the work adheres to an utterly Italian classical culture (the vanishing lines of the perspective clearly refer to Renaissance pictorial space, just as the volute indicates an homage to the Roman Baroque), at the same time it attests to the urgency of asserting a contemporary expressive language, where space becomes the place inhabited by painting.

Six recent fiberglass pieces, made between 2000 and 2005, mark a change from Dessì’s former rich and swollen impasto to the cool, plastic surface of chemical resin. And yet even in its patent artificiality, this decidedly nonpainterly material becomes atmospheric and declares its impermanence. The surface mimics the lightness of ancient sheets of parchment; it is constructed as a fabric, woven with warp and woof, but contains scoria and fragments of drawings, lacerations and clots of material. Just as sign and form remain at the threshold of appearing, so too the glance oscillates amid the lightness of the marks and the uneven texture of the various fields in which the structure is articulated, amid the shiny plastic quality of the surface and unexpected areas of shadow or apertures into which the form is swallowed up. Like a conductor of low-consumption energy, the surface slowly modulates, leaving the material’s uncertain occurrences the task of revealing even the most contradictory and complex narratives.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.