Milan

Fausto Gilberti

1000 eventi

For the past ten years, black-and-white, quasi-geometric figures—with round, bright eyes, long noses, and toothpick-thin arms and legs—have peopled the work of Fausto Gilberti. He has painted them on canvas and inked them onto photographic backdrops taken from the pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. Until now, however, the “omino” (little man), as the artist calls the recurring figure, always remained stark black and white. But as the title of his recent show, “Materia grigia” (Gray Matter), suggests, Gilberti has added a new color: gray, in all its many hues. As a result, the little man appears to have finally entered the world of volumetric pictorial space, an imaginary third dimension.

Gray entered Gilberti’s oeuvre through the medium of graphite. The exhibition included twenty-one works on paper from 2006, all 13 x 18 7⁄8 inches. The male and female figures are drawn with pencils of varying grades from soft to hard, lending each “character” a personal “identity mark,” as the artist explains. They are placed within fantastical settings dense with details from classic iconography, popular culture, and art history—sometimes all in one image: Gary Hume Sculpture (all works 2006) features one of the British artist’s snowman sculptures (helpfully identified with a scrawling script that reads GARY HUME SCULPTURE), an omino wearing a neck ruffle and labeled REMBRANDT, another figure with a bladder-shaped head and called PAUL MCCARTHY, and a bloblike creature that resembles Barbapapa, a character (whose name actually means “cotton candy”) from a series of French children’s books; they stand in front of a circus tent, with mountains in the background. All Cats Are Grey (which takes its title from a song by The Cure) features angel-like omini (they have wings) as well as one holding a scythe; another carries a platter holding her breasts, à la St. Agatha, as two streams of blood run down her chest. Other drawings, such as Il candelabro, contain legends and scrolls emblazoned with song titles, names of heavy-metal bands, and other phrases; in Crocifissione con iPod, a surreal crucifixion scene, small iPods hang from the outstretched arms of the central figure. Birds and donkeys reappear throughout the drawings, which are almost entirely set outdoors in strange, hilly vistas with scattered trees.

These gothic and expressionistic visions evoke the rich, minutiae-packed worlds of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel, or the pitiless truth and paradox of Goya’s engravings. The viewer’s gaze moves from one detail to another in a search for ever smaller, ever more hidden elements, keys to decoding the narratives of the drawings. The geometric omino—formerly flat, Pop, and comic-booklike—becomes the protagonist in a grand epic whose setting is depicted in depth. Gilberti’s gray new world, full of references, quotations, signs, and symbols, is surreal and even cerebral—as the exhibition’s title underscores.

Paola Noé

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.