Mantova

Fulvio Di Piazza

Bonelli ArteContemporanea

At first glance, the paintings of Sicilian artist Fulvio Di Piazza seem like precise pictorial representations of a forest whose density is accentuated by a strong, direct light that isolates every detail within an extremely crowded woodland scene. Then, as soon as we focus and enter the picture visually—as if we were walking right into the midst of the forest—things change, and the tree trunks, leaves, and animals that populate the paintings suddenly shift register. They are transformed into something unexpected: The trees have eyes instead of knots, as in Per guardarti meglio (The Better to See You With; all works 2006) and Vigilante sonnolente (Drowsy Watchman); the shapes of the trunks are at times anthropomorphic, as in the chopped-down tree that appears to scream in Spettatore interessato (Interested Spectator); the animals seem venomous and threatening in their gaudy plumage. This sort of vividly colored painting has a number of antecedents, many of them beyond the restricted realm of high art—they range from Arcimboldo to Disney by way of Salvador Dalí and Paul Delvaux, not to mention sci-fi comics from the ’50s and maybe a bit of LSD from the following decade.

When it comes to figurative painting, the what and the how are the interpretive keys to every new approach, and the more inseparable they are, the more effective the work. Di Piazza’s paintings are a perfect example of horror vacui, finding an ideal setting for expression in the forest and its undergrowth; the ancient concept of the natural meets the contemporary idea of an the artificial. This theme places Di Piazza within a rather crowded field—the work of Alexis Rockman serves as an obvious point of comparison—but what makes Di Piazza truly contemporary is the superior level of representation in his work, as well as his compulsion to fill every inch of space. In fact, Di Piazza not only paints every detail with nearly Flemish care but also manages to create an illusion of strange depth, as in those animated cartoons whose backgrounds seem to be made up of successive planes that can be penetrated by the zoom of the movie camera.

For many young artists, especially painters, this sort of horror vacui is more than a feeling—it seems to have become an expressive category, a need that is no longer just a matter of individual psychology. In the West, such total “filling” of the surface, forcing the gaze to lose itself in a space without perspective, has been an anomaly (conversely, the style has long been popular in Islamic art, with its love of decoration). In our contemporary culture, the proliferation of superimposed images exemplifies current models of communication according to which what used to be considered background noise becomes the message. The challenge today is to discern the individual sounds that make up this buzz, just as we must distinguish the components that compose Di Piazza’s luxuriant representations.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.