Guglielmo Castelli, Café Müller, 2019, mixed media on canvas, 19 3⁄4 × 15 3⁄4".

Guglielmo Castelli, Café Müller, 2019, mixed media on canvas, 19 3⁄4 × 15 3⁄4".

Guglielmo Castelli

Iposcenio, or “hyposcenium,” refers to the below-stage space where scenery and props are kept out of sight in the deep bowels of a theater. It was a fitting title for this exhibition of Guglielmo Castelli’s paintings, all tied to introspection or, rather, to the possibility of giving form to what lies hidden in the unconscious. This young Turinese artist’s idiosyncratic work contains no real narrative but offers potential plots and stories on the verge of being, or that might have been but never happened. Viewers are offered rapid glimpses into the interval between a before and an after, the time and space around an event, fractions of becoming. In this suspended dimension, Castelli stages intense, minuscule psychodramas, infusing his paintings with the raw contents of our inner lives.

Pushed by a centrifugal force, human bodies leave only a trace of their passage, trails of a presence. They often seem spirits on the run, almost ectoplasms. Others are elastic, as if made of rubber, contortionists whose topsy-turvy positions defy gravity and push them to the brink of dismemberment. Or they are abandoned bodies that conjure Fuseli’s nightmares or evoke the afternoon softness of Balthus’s adolescents. These faceless characters recall the teachings of Carl Jung, who exhorted us to embrace our dark sides as inescapable passages on the path to self-knowledge. They diligently engage in dialogue with their own shadows, with a dark elsewhere, in an attempt to reunite with their chthonic parts. The figure in Finestra di vulnerabilità metabolica (Window of Metabolic Vulnerability) (all works cited, 2019), attracted by the mysterious depth of the black on the right side of the canvas, plunges into it as if responding to an unexpected, irresistible call. In Discombobulate, another figure flees, pursued by a ferocious dog: a superego always ready to bite its target’s legs, like a pressing and untreatable anxiety. Such characters seem to be attempting to restore order to their dystopian reality, allowing the emergence of the unconscious material that generates the discomfort of life. Traversing the darkness, Castelli offers a sort of redemption to his characters, a second chance beyond existential pain.

In Castelli’s previous works, the backgrounds were for the most part monochromatic; here, they were more carefully defined, so that the setting itself became a protagonist. Animated by dense weaves of carpets and ornate wallpaper geometries, these spaces brought to mind the tonalities of late-nineteenth-century French Symbolist and Nabi painting, in particular the work of Édouard Vuillard. The rooms accommodating these figures are cut by screens and curtains, with bold colors and juxtapositions of acidic hues, where an ambiguous energy accumulates. The exquisite small painting Café Müller drags us into an early-twentieth-century scene. We find a young woman seated alone at a small bar table, like Degas’s stunned absinthe drinker, though our lady’s habits are apparently healthier, since she appears to be drinking a steaming cup of tea and eating a pomegranate. A symphony of warm reds, velvety purples, and extremely soft pinks envelops her in a sensual atmosphere. But she cannot escape the gaze of the masked monsters reflected in the mirrors behind her, with their frightful and predatory grimaces, and the scene becomes imbued with alarm. The unnatural torsion of her body speaks volumes about her solitude inhabited by nightmares. This was the show’s most intriguing painting, whose impact was most forceful in the almost illegible deformity of the woman’s face, and in the disturbing psychological space created through the interaction of setting and figure. By giving shape to the obsessions and labyrinths of the unconscious, and mixing eroticism and apprehension, Castelli has found his most courageous form of expression to date.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.