Manfredi Beninati, IX, 2012–13, oil on canvas, 63 x 78 3/4".

Manfredi Beninati, IX, 2012–13, oil on canvas, 63 x 78 3/4".

Manfredi Beninati

Galleria Lorcan O'Neill

Manfredi Beninati, IX, 2012–13, oil on canvas, 63 x 78 3/4".

The summer of 2003 was exceedingly hot in Rome, the air heavy, motionless, as if it were hostage to the sun and its scorching rays. This was a fitting context for the debut of a young artist hailing from the heat of Palermo, in southern Italy: Manfredi Beninati, who had recently moved to the Italian capital. Thinking back to that scalding and indolent summer, one can still easily recall Beninati’s early paintings and their reception: From the start, his work was endowed with a special quality determined by its ability to suspend traditional concepts of time and space. The artist still plays freely with these fundamental dimensions of thought through graphic and chromatic iterations of personal, historical, literary, and cinematographic memories. (Beninati had worked on films by the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore and Damiano Damiani.) Beninati’s modus operandi has remained essentially unvaried, although more recently he has begun translating the same approach into three dimensions, creating perspectival environments halfway between forgotten film sets and domestic archaeological finds.

Beninati’s installations have had great success, appearing in the biennials of Venice, Athens, Prague, Shanghai, and Istanbul, among others. But now the artist seems to have renewed his interest in painting. In addition to a room brimming with disorderly arrayed objects, recalling an abandoned office—the installation Il Sei Novembre del Duemilatrentanove (The Sixth of November Two Thousand Thirty- Nine), 2013—the exhibition sharing the same title included nine oil paintings, each dated 2012–13, which attest to a new maturity in his handling of the medium. In accord with the creative syntax he has been expressing for ten years—a semantic suspension between reality and unreality, current events and fantasy, and a linguistic suspension between figuration and abstraction, Impressionism and Expressionism—these paintings nonetheless seem endowed with a new grace, a lightness of line and color not seen before. Five large paintings on canvas and three small ones on board depict imaginary landscapes from which various motifs (human, animal, and plant presences) surface, as if apparitions derived from the artist’s subconscious, explicated by means of a personal kind of automatic writing. Flashes of intense light, fluid and irregular brushstrokes, and precarious and intermittent lines help to emphasize the paintings’ oneiric character, leading the viewer somewhere well beyond the terrestrial world. The atmosphere that envelops these works, somewhere between that of metaphysical and Surrealist painting, is so dense it almost seems physically perceptible. This time around, aromas, heat, and sounds do not come wafting in from the steamy streets of Rome, as with the exhibition in 2003, but directly from the internal dynamics of the paintings themselves.

Pier Paolo Pancotto

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.